Lillian Gish still favorite dish – By Marilyn August, October – 1983

Desert Sun 15 October 1983

Famed star of silent films Lillian Gish still favorite dish

By MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) France’s cultural elite is shining the spotlight this week on American actress Lillian Gish who turned 87 Friday and gained fame on the silent screen when the French were embroiled in World War I. “I really don’t know what I’ve done to warrant all this generosity and goodness,” said Miss Gish, the uncontested grande dame of silent movies who is being honored during week long festivities in Paris.

jeanne moreau lillian gish

Miss Gish charmed generations of movie-goers as the heroine in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War classic “Birth of a Nation,” as the sad mother in “Intolerance,” and the luckless damsel in “Broken Blossoms.” Miss Gish, who Thursday received the prestigious Commander of Arts and Letters Award from French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, made her stage debut at age 4.

AP Wire Press Photo Lillian Gish, Jack Lang, Arts Letters Commandeur Medal 83
AP Wire Press Photo Lillian Gish, Jack Lang, Arts Letters Commandeur Medal 83

She has been working almost non-stop ever since, winning honors for performances in 102 movies and 50 plays that included works of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. French film director Francois Truffaut says her career of 83 years “follows cinema history as closely as two parallel tracks of the Union Pacific.”

1972-paul-newman-joanne-woodward-gilleon-gish-francois-truffaut-valentina
1972-paul-newman-joanne-woodward-gilleon-gish-francois-truffaut-valentina

Miss Gish and her sister, Dorothy, are the subject of a television documentary by Jeanne Moreau to be aired soon, along with a song-and-dance tribute to their careers. Her soft face set off by curls the color of champagne, Miss Gish showed no trace of fatigue after a whirlwind week in the French capital that included newspaper interviews, dinners, receptions and television appearances.

 

 

“I suppose silent film did speak to the world in a way you don’t have today,” she said, pressing the arm of a reporter. “You had to write the words so you remember them longer. Nowadays, everything’s done for you so you can just sit there and eat popcorn.” Although she had a major role recently in Robert Altman’s “Marriage,” and believes cinema is the major art of the century, she says going to the movies today “hurts my pride.” “We used to play to packed houses in theaters that held 6,424 people,” she said. “I go to the movies today, and there are only six people in the audience and they don’t react.” Miss Gish’s love affair with France began in 1917 when she, her mother and Dorothy came to film a “movie to make America make up its mind to go to war for France and England.”

“I bet there aren’t many people here who saw Paris for the first time with not one light burning only a full moon,” she said. “We weren’t afraid because we had just come from London where they were having air raids without warning. At 11 o’clock one night a bomb hit a tramway right under our windows at the Savoy and 11 people were killed. We couldn’t stay in our rooms for the screams of the wounded.” Paris was a veritable haven, except that “we got thin and nervous, and mother got shell-shocked at the front.”

Her voice dropped as she recalled the mud, the rats and an epidemic “that came like a reminder that we were all doing something very bad.” But it was “dear Mr. Griffith,” the man who discovered her in 1912 and cast her in a movie with Mary Pickford, who determined the course of her long and brilliant career. Miss Gish never married, and many say Griffith was the unspoken love of her life. “He was older than my real father, so much more serious and fatherly. He was a genius, a poet with a beautiful baritone voice,” she said, smiling. They disagreed only over her name. “What kind of name is Gish for an actress,” she quotes Griffith as saying. “Gish, pish, fish, dish.” “Well, said sister Dorothy, if Gish was good enough for mother, it’s good enough for us.”

MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer – 1983

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Lillian-Gish-Jeanne-Moreau 60s
Lillian-Gish-Jeanne-Moreau 60s

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Desert Sun 15 October 1983
Desert Sun 15 October 1983

 

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Lillian Gish Stars in Play “Grass Harp” On TV (1960)

Desert Sun, Volume XXXIII, Number 262, 18 June 1960

Lillian Gish Stars in Play “Grass Harp” On TV

 

National Telefilm Associates’ “The Play of the Week” celebrates its twenty-fifth week in television with a performance of Truman Capote s romantic fantasy, “The Grass Harp,” starring Lillian Gish in the role of Dolly Talbo. The play will be televised Thursday, June 23. over KCOP – Channel 131 Los Angeles at 8 p. m. IN ADDITION to Miss Gish, who makes one of her rare television appearances, Russell Collins will be starred as Judge Charlie Cool and Carmen Mathews as Verena Talbo.

The Grass Harp
The Grass Harp

Capote’s drama is an idyll of the pure in heart who, like the meek, inherit the earth. The story spotlights two aging sisters with different concepts of life The gentle one, harassed by the more boisterous sister joins an aimless youth and an outspoken Negro mammy, to take refuge in a tree-house in the woods—openly defying convention. They are joined by a philosophical ex-judge, all four thumbing their noses at society THE TOWN IS shocked by this display of defiance, and an armed posse invades the woods to march the “traitors” to society back to civilization The final curtain finds everyone making adjustments and looking at life with new understanding. Featured are Jonathan Harris, as Dr. Morris Ritz, and Enid Mackey. as the baker s wife. Others in the past include Georgia Burke, Nick Hyams. Katherine Raht, Woodrow Parfrey, Edward Asner, Barbara Dana and Jane Connell.

LILLIAN GISH and Carmen Mathews - The Grass Harp
LILLIAN GISH and Carmen Mathews – The Grass Harp

LILLIAN GISH and Carmen Mathews are shown in a scene from Truman Capote’s romantic-fantasy. The Grass Harp.” KCOP’s presentation of the Play of the Week at 8 p.m., Thursday.

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Lillian Gish tops playing roles in silent movies – By Mike Hughes (1988)

Desert Sun, 11 July 1988

Lillian Gish tops playing roles in silent movies

By MIKE HUGHES Ganett News Service

She was born in a quieter century, in a cozier part of the world. Risks were rare, expectations low. “We were from Ohio,” Lillian Gish says in a film to be broadcast Monday. “Ladies had their name in print when they were born, when they got married and when they died but NEVER for anything else.” But fate intervened and her career has embraced most of the history of movies. Now it’s recalled in a masterful opener for the “American Masters” season.

Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA
Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA

In recent summers, PBS’ Monday lineup has come as a vibrant surprise. “Masters” crafts portraits with intelligence and detail; “Alive From Off Center” is both deft and daft. And now both start their new seasons in appropriate style. “Off Center” (10 p.m. locally) has two mismatched films a witty and stylish satire of a high-tech ad agency and a pointless and (almost) endless segment from the movie “Aria.” And “Masters” (9 p.m.) is at its very best with the Gish profile. Here is a life that can be illustrated through 106 movies spread over 75 years. And here is someone interviewed at just the right time; at 93, Gish overflows with rich memories. Her quiet Ohio life was disrupted because her father couldn’t keep work. Her mother “the most perfect human being I ever knew” told him not to come back until he could. “He would follow us around and beg Mother to take him back,” she says in the film. “But he didn’t have a job.” So the Gishes turned to the stage for money. At the ages of 5 and 4; Lillian and sister Dorothy became touring actresses. They were quite haughty about it,’ feeling sorry for their friend; Gladys Smith, who “had to go to the movies to make a living.”

But Gladys did well, after changing her name to Mary Pickford. Pickford also introduced them to D.W. Griffith, Hollywood’s first great director. “He said, ‘Can you act?’ And Dorothy pulled herself up and said. “We are of the legitimate theater. And he said, ‘I don’t mean reading lines. Can you act?’ ” (Mike Hughes – 1988)

Desert Sun, 11 July 1988
Desert Sun, 11 July 1988

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LEADING LADIES – 1976 (Electa Clark)

An Affectionate Look at American Women of the Twentieth Century

ELECTA CLARK

Horse drawn float declares National American Woman Suffrage Association's support for Bristow-Mondell amendment
Horse drawn float declares National American Woman Suffrage Association’s support for Bristow-Mondell amendment

The 1900s

THE DEAR LITTLE WOMAN

 

“Humanity marches on into the new and glorious 20th century!” exults a daily paper in its first issue of 1901. “Come, oh century, child of hope!” begins a long poem on page one. Another column trills, “We are 20th century women … with the dower of privilege and responsibility which enriches women in this wonderful era!”

Philadelphia Journal 1900
Philadelphia Journal 1900

The quotations are from the Republican, of Columbus, Indiana, then the center of population of the United States. All across the country, journalists, preachers, and ordinary folk rejoiced with the same exuberance. The nation was rich and would grow richer! Railroads were faster and better every day, factories were busier, cities were larger, people were cleverer, life was more stimulating than ever before!

Of course a few evils remained to be righted: child labor, sweat- shops, epidemics—but the greatest country in the world would quickly set those right.

Americans believed in America.

Votes for Women
Votes for Women

Women were pleased with themselves. “Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers,” boasts the Republican, “were handicapped in girlhood by a thousand prejudices and cast-iron traditional rules from which we are emancipated.”

Sanger On Court Steps
Sanger On Court Steps

Among the new freedoms was the freedom to join clubs, if their papas or husbands permitted. Most of these were self-improvement clubs in which the ladies read works of Browning or Dante, enjoyed the hostess’s tea and cookies, and returned refreshed to their family duties.

Prohibition W2
Prohibition W2

The 1920s – CALL IT A SPADE 

‘Behind a Veil of Silver Chiffon”

 

In a grim World War I story. Company K, author William March has a soldier in the muck and misery of the trenches draw a framed magazine picture of Lillian Gish from a pocket every night and every morning to study the sweet pictured face. Knowing that something pure and good still existed in the world was the talisman that preserved his sanity through the war.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - The Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

Lillian Gish had a similar effect on millions who saw her in the movies. She was not only talented, she had a unique quality: pure, ethereal, elusive. As if she acted in whispers. As if in her hands, the definite blurred into the indefinite. It was drama critic George Jean Nathan who described her as being “behind a veil of silver chiffon.” He courted Lillian for years, but she eluded marriage.

Lillian Gish, Dorothy and Mary Robinson McConnell (mother)
Lillian Gish, Dorothy and Mary Robinson McConnell (Mother)

She had two great loves: her sister Dorothy and her mother. Her father had deserted his family when the girls were babies. Mrs. Gish, a loving, gentle, sympathetic woman, was not the stereotype mother of actresses; she did not storm her way into producers’ offices or manage her children as if they were properties. She was simply there, warm- hearted and protective.

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) - Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) – Hearts of The World

The bond between Lillian and Dorothy Gish never weakened. How different they were! Dorothy was mischievous, fun-loving, and irresponsible. She never reached such heights of stardom as Lillian, but she had her followers, who delighted in her gift of comedy. At the same time, she suffered agonies of self-doubt. “Miss Apprehension,’’ her sister and mother called her. Again and again she played major roles in successful plays, and at rehearsals was always her rowdy self, and the cast never guessed her hidden fears; but by each opening night her conviction of failure was so acute that she was nearly ill.

Lillian, who never had Dorothy’s skylarking, slapstick moods, was always grave and dignified. Fans often wrote asking why she smiled so seldom in her movies; yet she had a serenity denied the mercurial Dorothy. In early years, the three Gishes lived together whenever the girls’ engagements were in the same city; but in later life they gave up this practice. Dorothy was too riotously untidy for the fastidious Lillian.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 3
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Girl seated with book on lap]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3479

Miriam Cooper, an actress who later married director Raoul Walsh, tells the story of an evening when she, Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, and other young members of a “Hens’ Club” held a meeting in Dorothy’s room. Lillian was not one of the group. Aloof and studious, she was considered too standoffish. On this evening, as the party became more and more high-spirited, the Hens acted on an impulse, ran across the hall to Lillian’s room, and threw open the door shouting, “Surprise!”

Then they stopped, abashed. Lillian lay on her bed in a filmy negligee, golden hair outspread on a pillow. She looked up from the Shakespeare she was reading, and annoyance flashed across her face. But with instant good manners she stood up, welcomed her guests, and talked cordially as long as they stayed—which wasn’t long. They backed out, discomforted by the difference between this room, which only Dorothy had seen before, and her sister’s room.

Lillian Gish brushing her hair - Nell Dorr 1930
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish standing and brushing her hair]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3506

Dorothy’s room contained only three or four pieces of shabby Mission oak furniture, but Lillian’s had velvet draperies, gilt-framed mirrors, and lace-trimmed pillows. They were astonished too at the difference between this seductive woman and the sexless girl who walked around the studio with a book under her arm and was ignored by the men on the set.

Lillian 20 Garden

Lillian was known as “Mr. Griffith’s girl,” because they often had dinner together—in public, of course. But as Mr. G. had prim, Victorian standards of behavior; and as his young ladies were strictly supervised; and as everyone on the lot watched everyone else closely, there was no chance for hanky-panky, and no evidence that the Gish-Griffith affair was other than platonic.

Like Maude Adams and other fine actresses, she was sternly disciplined, and no amount of rehearsal was too much to achieve perfection. She never spared herself hardships, be they heat, desert wind, or around-the-clock labor.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Richard Barthelmess, Lillian Gish and Lowell Sherman

One of her early movies, made under D. W. Griffith’s direction, was the melodrama Way Down East The height of the action comes when Lillian’s inconsiderate employer, believing her to be a fallen woman, orders her out of the house into a blizzard. The silly girl doesn’t stop for hat or coat, but heads for the nearest river and begins walking the ice floes. By and by she faints and is carried downriver toward the neighborhood waterfall. Richard Barthelmess, the farmer’s son, likes the girl better than the old man does, and thinks it would be well to rescue her.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)

This was a genuine Vermont blizzard, for which the cast waited a month or more, because no flimsy studio snowstorm would satisfy Griffith. Rehearsing and shooting the river scene took three weeks.

Nobody had it easy. Mr. Griffith’s face froze. Several cameramen came down with pneumonia. To keep the camera upright during the gale, three men had to lie flat in the snow, gripping the tripod legs, and a small fire was kept going directly under the camera to keep its oil from freezing.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith on set (Vermont)

For her scene lying on the ice, Lillian Gish had thought up a piece of business that she was foolish enough to suggest to the director and then had to act upon. She let a few locks of hair and one hand trail through the water as she rocked her way downstream. It certainly added to the woe of the scene, but it also froze her hand, which forever after ached in cold weather. She lay on the ice about twenty times a day for those three weeks of rehearsal before the job was finished.

In the final take of the rescue scene, Richard Barthelmess got his. He wore a heavy raccoon coat, and in his cavorting from one ice floe to another he floundered onto one that was too small and tipped him into the water. He clambered out and that soggy coat must have weighed a ton, give or take a few pounds, but there was no time for a retake because now the rescue was for real. While he had fooled around under water, Lillian’s ice floe had jogged on, dangerously near the edge of that too-genuine waterfall. But he slogged on, scooped her up, and wrestled to shore with the poor girl pressed to that icy fur bosom.

Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish - ice floe scenes (Way Down East)
Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish – ice floe scenes (Way Down East)

Among the many fine movies that Lillian Gish made during the twenties was Orphans of the Storm, in which Dorothy Gish played the blind sister. To heighten the drama, Griffith had transposed a well-tried old plot to the time of the French Revolution. When the film was shown in France, it raised storms of fury. French pride was outraged because an American producer dared portray French history without its best dress on.

Next Lillian played in The White Sister. The whole cast went to Italy to film the story, the first American company ever to do so. Opposite Lillian Gish was a handsome new actor, Ronald Colman. When her lover is believed killed, the heroine becomes a nun, but after she has taken her solemn vows he returns, and a love scene of great power follows. An unhappy ending is arranged, however, that solves the girl’s dilemma, as he presently drowns in a flood. The White Sister was one of the great successes of the twenties.

Lillian Gish in The White Sister (Angela Chiaromonte)
Lillian Gish in The White Sister (Angela Chiaromonte)

After that Lillian Gish played in Romola also filmed in Italy; in La Boheme, opposite John Gilbert, and in The Scarlet Letter. To speak again of France, audiences there were mystified by all that fuss over the birth of an illegitimate baby.

Lillian Gish (promo - before Uncle Vanya)
Lillian Gish (promo – before Uncle Vanya)

In 1930 Lillian left Hollywood for Broadway and later appeared on TV. In that medium she played with Helen Hayes in the wonderfully funny Arsenic and Old Lace.

The Night of The Hunter
The Night of The Hunter

Even in old age, Lillian Gish never lost her special quality, that elusive enchantment of being afloat behind a veil of silver chiffon.

— ELECTA CLARK —

 

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In Search of Happier Times: Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful (1986) – Glenn D. Novak

 

In Search of Happier Times: Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful

May 1986

by Glenn D. Novak – Assistant Professor of Mass Communication West Georgia College

 

The NBC Playhouse had tradition of casting competent but relatively unknown stage actors into the roles of its television plays. Through moving performances in one or more of the better dramas produced by Coe, these actors began to make names for themselves, later broadening their careers into motion pictures. Actors and actresses like Joanne Woodward, Rod Steiger,  Kim Stanley, and others were thrust from relative obscurity into national popularity through fine performances in live television drama. Big Hollywood names were avoided, for reasons discussed by Associate Producer Gordon Duff in an interview in April, 1953:”If you have an expensive Hollywood name, more people would tune in, but I’m not sure more people would like the show. A name’s great, but we’re not in the business to keep the press agent happy” (“Grownups ‘Playhouse”).

Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)
Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)

The Trip to Bountiful represented a break with this tradition. The part of Mrs. Watts was played by Lillian Gish, 57 years old at the time. Her performance was hailed by many critics as one of the finest, if not the finest, of her entire dramatic career. Foote dedicated the play to Ms. Gish, and it is so noted on the title page to the play as it appears in the anthology, Harrison, Texas.

Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish - The Trip To Bountiful 1953
Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful 1953

A complete list of the cast of The Trip to Bountiful, presented on the Goodyear Television Playhouse at 9:00 PM, EST, onMarch 1, 1953, follows:

  • Mrs. Watts: Lillian Gish
  • Jessie Mae Watts: Eileen Heckert
  • Ludie Watts: John Beal
  • Thelma: Eva Marie Saint
  • Ticket Man_(railroad station): Dennis CrossBus
  • Driver: Charles Sladen
  • Ticket Man (bus station):Will Hare
  • Attendant: Larry Bolton
  • Sheriff: Frank Overton
  • Ticket Man (second bus station):William Hansen

The director of the production was Vincent Donehue. Fred Coe was producer and Gordon Duff was associate producer.

Lillian Gish - The Trip To Bountiful (1953)
Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful (1953)

Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful is especially significant because it marked a reversal of the common trend during the earliest days of live television drama, the reliance on successful Broadway plays as material for television. Not only was The Trip to Bountiful an original play specifically written for television (a common practice by 1953), but it became the first television play ever produced on Broadway. Time magazine commented on this unusual situation soon after the play opened: “While seeming to throttle stage and screen with one hand, television is generously offering help with the other”(“Friend and Foe”).The stage play opened on November 3, 1953, at the Henry Miller Theatre, and enjoyed a run of about a month. The producer and director were unchanged from the television broadcast, and Ms. Gish continued in her role as Mrs. Watts.

Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)
Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)

Ludie was played by Gene Lyons, and Jo Van Fleet (who would turn in a powerful performance two years later in East of Eden) replaced Eileen Heckart as Jessie Mae. The play marked Eva Marie Saint’s first appearance on Broadway, as she re-created the role of Thelma (“Trip to Bountiful” Theatre Arts). The reviews of the stage play were mixed, but the majority of negative comments seemed to concentrate more on acting and sets than on the situations or dialogue. Eric Bentley’s criticism in the New Republic, however, did raise an in teresting question regarding Foote’s characterization of Ludie Watts:”The plot, the theme, the exigencies of theatre all demand that he speak, that he explain himself, but he is maddeningly and fatally silent, pleading some fifth amendment of the dramatic constitution.”Critics were in general agreement, though, concerning the moving performances of Gish, Van Fleet, and Saint, and more than one expressed surprise and sadness at the fact that the play had such a brief run.

Playbill - the trip to bountiful - Miss Lillian Gish
Playbill – the trip to bountiful – Miss Lillian Gish

The television writing of Horton Foote can best be described as the careful and sensitive exploration of the human mind and spirit. In The Trip to Bountiful he endeavors to portray that quality in all of us which spurs us on to an important goal, the attainment of which will satisfy an intense longing.

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Lillian Gish – A tribute to a Trouper (Anita Loos – 1984)

FATE KEEPS ON HAPPENING (1984) by ANITA LOOS

Lillian Gish – A tribute to a Trouper

Now that Lillian Gish is to be honored with a formal tribute by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it might be well to update the account of her extraordinary career in motion pictures.

7c1f6-lillian-gish-1984-cbs2btv2bmoma

Lillian’s entrance into films was through a stage door. The family base was Massillon, a small city in Ohio, but Lillian and her sister, Dorothy (younger by two years), had spent much of their childhood touring with theatrical troupes through the Eastern states and the Middle West. At that time, motion pictures were shown in converted store buildings called nickelodeons. They lacked the dignity of show business, but when the girls received an offer to work in movies, their mother welcomed it. They would have to give up their native Massillon to live in New York, but it meant an end of touring and the advantage of a permanent home. Mamma Gish, an attractive young widow, could easily have had a life of her own. But her main concern was the children: to bring them up in that strange new environment to have the ideals, integrity and common sense that were a heritage from their Midwestern forebears.

vThe Gish Sisters (2)

Keeping pace with an industry that was gradually becoming an art, Lillian’s progress never faltered. She has given unforgettable performances in films that are landmarks in the history of motion pictures. In D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Lillian plays the Southern belle who reveals the gallantry of the South during our Civil War; she is the Mother who endlessly rocks the cradle in Intolerance, a performance that took only a half hour to film but will remain forever in the memories of its audience.

Lillian played the pathetic adulteress of The Scarlet Letter, the wayward Mimi of La Boheme; the helpless waif of Broken Blossoms; and she co-starred with her sister, Dorothy, in “Orphans of the Storm.” These films are occasionally shown today, and largely due to Lillian’s performances they still retain their freshness and vitality.

signed promotional full cast photo - a wedding

The list of Lillian’s films goes on and on. Her latest major release, and incidentally her 100th movie, was Robert Altman’s A Wedding, filmed in the late 1970’s. And today, as the most elegant and youthful of grande dames, she is at work on a television feature being filmed in California.

1945 Lionel Barrymore Lillian Gish Helen Hayes and Anita Loos Press Photo - Duel in The Sun

Lillian and I have been friends for almost 50 years. Our first encounter was by remote control. I had just mailed my first scenario to the Biograph Company in New York from my home in San Diego. With beginner’s luck, it was directed by D.W. Griffith himself, with Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore playing the leads. In those days, D.W. used his entire troupe when extras were required, and in a crowd entering a church are Lillian and Dorothy Gish.

Later on, the Biograph Company moved to Hollywood and D.W. asked me to join them as permanent scenarist. When I first arrived at the studio, Lillian was away on location, but I met Dorothy. She was a bit of a clown, both on screen and off, and we became cronies, but it was some time before I really got to know Lillian. I never worked on her pictures. My stories were largely satires in which Lillian would have been out of place. Satire requires a touch of malice and of this Lillian has none. Dorothy and I loved to tease her by pretending she was “stuffy,” which wasn’t true. But she has a delightful sense of the ridiculous. There was no lack of fun in Lillian’s whereabouts; we became good friends. Lillian’s beauty; the benevolence in her smile; the wide blue eyes and golden hair, have always suggested an angel that belongs at the top of the Christmas tree. But of late, listening to Lillian on the trends that films have taken is to invite an Angel of Wrath into your parlor. Her viewpoint on films has been unique; she considers themas Power; a power that generates energy as great as that of Arab oil or the nuclear stations. “There’s no question,” she says, “that films influence the entire world as nothing has since the invention of the printing press. But the impact of the printed word is nowhere near as strong as a visual experience. And the ‘entertainment’ foisted on our young people today is terribly disturbing. “It is hard to understand the prevalence of degrading movies in view of the fact that they are far out grossed at the box office by such legitimate entertainment as The Turning Point or Kramer vs. Kramer. It seems that they must be the product of some evil intention.”

1980 Lillian Gish and Anita Loos - Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
1980 Lillian Gish and Anita Loos – Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

One day Lillian and I sat in my New York living room, discussing the changing viewpoints since we were teenagers at the old Biograph Company in Hollywood. She recalled with a sense of pride that her sister, Dorothy, had once turned down a contract from Paramount of a million dollars to make eight comedy films. It was an offer that would have forever banished the ghost of poverty that haunts every actor, but Dorothy turned Paramount down.

Dorothy Gish Cca 1930 FSF

“Oh, no,” said she, “to have a million dollars at my age might ruin my character.”

Mother Gish’s training in common sense had taken root. Looking back on those early days I remembered that Lillian had a premonition about the importance of films that few of us shared. It was Lillian alone who took those silent flickers seriously. We others looked on them as a fad that would soon lose public interest, as did those projectors of snapshots that were gathering dust on every parlor table. Even the fact that we were working with D.W. Griffith, who would one day be acclaimed a genius, failed to impress us; as it did Griffith himself for a time.

As a young actor he had dreamed of becoming a playwright; a modern Shakespeare who would bring poetry to the Broadway stage. His first play was so dismal a failure that D.W. realized the theater was not for him. He returned to picture making with a resigned bitterness that seemed to mark the end of his career. But Lillian had a remarkable vision of a future toward which D.W. might be heading. Watching him direct, she began to sense that D.W. was viewing his effects with the eyes of a poet.

Motion Picture Magazine (M.P. Publishing Co., 1914)

It took Lillian a long time and thousands of feet of film to build up D.W.’s satisfaction in his work or to  recognize his own unmatched talent. It was Lillian’s delight in watching rushes in their projection room and her appreciation of certain subtleties of direction that raised D.W.’s opinion of films and, little by little,  released his inspiration.

Lillian grew to be sort of an all-purpose collaborator to D.W.; she acted roles of every type and even coached other actresses when D.W. felt a need of female intuition. Which brings to mind an episode in which a certain star playing “Judith of Bethulia” had a torrid love scene. To D.W. it was a touchy situation, for Judith’s costume was scant and D.W. didn’t want to flaunt verity by adding to it. So he ordered a placard to be propped against the Babylonian setting which stated, viz, “During Judith’s love scenes the actress was chaperoned, off-screen, by her mother.” I may have had some part in the removal of that placard, but as I remember both Lillian and I giggled over D.W. ‘s prudery. Such was the “porno” of that innocent day. But on reflection, it now appears that much of the sensitivity in D.W.’s work may have been rooted in what was to my irreverent view a lack of sophistication.

D.W. grew to consult with Lillian more and more, even on lighting and the cutting and editing of scenes. He told her, “You know more about films than I do.” And once when D.W. was forced to go on a trip to raise money, he turned over an entire production to Lillian.

Her experience served to increase her awe of the medium and her respect for its infinite capabilities, “which,” says Lillian, “we haven’t yet even begun to realize.”

DW Griffith and Lillian Gish
DW Griffith and Lillian Gish

Absorption in work kept D.W. and Lillian as close as if they were sweethearts, which the public, always ready to jump to wrong conclusions, decided they were. But D.W., in spite of his sensitivity to all human emotions, gave little thought to his personal affairs. Early in his career he had married an actress from whom he was divorced several years before he even met Lillian; she never even met D.W.’s wife. At any rate, she had no time for romance, unless it was taking place on screen.

Lillian Gish, Mrs. Robinson (Gish) and Dorothy after Mother had a stroke
Lillian Gish, Mrs. Robinson (Gish) and Dorothy after Mother had a stroke – press photo taken on the roof top of their apartment in NY

Lillian’s devotion to her mother required much of her time and energy. Mother Gish had suffered from a stroke that confined her to a life of inactivity. And, with disarming pride, she seemed to think that nobody but the girls could manipulate a wheelchair.

1937-LILLIAN-GISH-Famed-Film-Actress-Mother

Meanwhile Dorothy had married the film actor James Rennie, and her husband required most of her  attention. So for years it was Lillian’s chore (and her delight) to take Mother Gish window shopping whenever duties at the studio permitted. While other film stars were indulging in a succession of husbands, fiances, and love affairs, Lillian has kept aloof from all such involvements. And this is not due to any lack of opportunity. Suitors have pursued Lillian all her life, and in her fan mail, the love letters outnumber all the rest. I recall a comment on Lillian’s sex appeal made by Cedric Gibbons, our set designer at MGM. One day he happened to overhear a group of girls discussing sex appeal, of which MGM had a corner on the market, viz. Garbo, Crawford, Del Rio, Shearer, Loy, et al. Cedric interrupted the discussion. “What does any girl know about the things that excite men?” he chided. “There’s more sex appeal in Lillian Gish’s fingertips than in all you flamboyant sex pots rolled together.”

They subsided and gave Cedric the decision. After all, he was married to Dolores Del Rio and knew whereof he spoke. A time finally came in the association of Lillian and Griffith when her box-office value reached astronomical proportions. And D.W., all of whose earnings were poured back into his films, persuaded Lillian to accept one of her many offers. To be separated after their three years of idyllic collaboration was heartbreaking. After their parting, when Lillian’s career was at that high plateau from which it has never descended, D.W. made a confession to a writer, which she later quoted in a memoir.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) With D.W.Griffith and his wife Evelyn in their West Coast home — with Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith.
The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) With D.W.Griffith and his wife Evelyn in their West Coast home — with Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith.

“I never had a day’s luck after Lillian left me,” said D.W. “But D.W.,” gasped the writer, “Lillian didn’t leave you . . . you chucked her out!” “I ‘chucked her out’ because I was cheating her of the fortune she could earn with another producer. I allowed money to come between us.” “But you were only thinking of her” “I was thinking of my own ego. Lillian never thought of money. I did!”

1939-LILLIAN-GISH-David-Griffith-Meet-On-set
1939-LILLIAN-GISH-David-Griffith-Meet-On-set

The friendship between D.W. and Lillian remained as strong as ever. And when D.W. in his later years married a childish little bride, Lillian assumed a sort of guardianship that included both bride and groom. D.W. needed Lillian in yet another capacity. He had become an alcoholic.

Lillian Gish and DW Griffith on set - candid, duel in the sun
Lillian Gish and DW Griffith on set – candid, duel in the sun
Anita Loos and Lillian Gish - Griffith Stamp ceremony
Anita Loos and Lillian Gish – Griffith Stamp ceremony

Foremost among the heritage of Lillian’s pioneer ancestry is her pride and devotion to her country. “The time was,” she explains, “when I used to visit Europe every year to see my foreign friends and study their work. Those days are over. Now all my friends visit America because they know it to be the best and freest place on earth. I need go no further than the Algonquin to visit them.

“As to the future of films, I take heart that the theme of D.W.’s Birth of a Nation is just as vital today as when it was filmed. Only recently there was an active demonstration in a San Francisco theater where the Birth was shown. And there are other issues of American life just as dramatic as our Civil War. Hollywood has never filmed the dramatic story of Thomas Jefferson, which culminated in our Constitution.

the-birth-of-a-nation-1915-us-1921-reissue-lobby-card

“If Americans must be materialistic, we possess resources, opportunities, luxuries, comforts and gadgetry of which our pioneers never dreamed. But we’ve lost our self-esteem. Let’s strive to get it back.”

“We don’t need to be ‘born again’ with infantile thinking that has brought about the sorry state we’re in today. We need to regain the pioneer spirit of our beginnings … a respect of our ideals that will bring a measure of hope, appreciation and joy to our moving picture screens once more.”

Intolerance Original Program 1

 

Anita Loos wrote during almost all of her ninety-three years and enchanted the civilized world with her glittering and irreverent classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, introducing the deceptively naive innocence or its observant heroine Lorelei Lee, who, The New York Times commented, like Twain’s Tom Sawyer is an American original, and will surely live as long as they. Fate Keeps on Happening includes Anita Loos’s best short writings never before collected and twelve new pieces never previously in print, all written over a span or nearly sixty years.

Fate keeps on happening : adventures ofLorelei Lee and other wri
Fate keeps on happening : Anita Loos (1984)

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An Interview with LILLIAN GISH – MAGILL’S CINEMA ANNUAL 1983

An Interview with LILLIAN GISH

By Ronald Bowers

  • MAGILL’S CINEMA ANNUAL 1983
  • A Survey of 1982 Films Edited by FRANK N. MAGILL

There is simply one “First Lady” of American cinema, and she is Miss Lillian Gish. Her career in motion pictures is without equal. Along with her mentor, D. W. Griffith, she was a pioneer who created her own art form. Imitated by generations of performers, she has herself always been a pioneer, never an imitator. “D. W. Griffith was the father of film form and grammar,” she explains. “The French had hinted at the possibilities of film before him, but he put it all together first.” The same could be said of Lillian Gish and her self-evolved style of screen acting.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and her mother — with Mary Robinson McConnell and Lillian Gish early 1896

Lillian Diana Gish was born on October 14, 1896, in Springfield, Ohio. Her father, James Lee Gish, was a traveling salesman from the Pennsylvania Dutch country, and her mother, Mary Robinson McConnell Gish, numbered among her ancestors the poet Emily Ward and President Zachary Taylor. Gish’s father’s work required the family to live in various cities before the turn of the century, and it was in Dayton, Ohio, that her sister, Dorothy, was born on March 11, 1898. Eventually, Mrs. Gish separated from her husband and took her two daughters to New York City to look for work. As Dorothy once explained in an interview: “We were practically destitute. [Mother] rented one of the old fashioned railroad apartments, and advertised for ‘genteel lady roomers.  One of the genteel ladies who rented a room was an actress [Dolores Lome], and after she had been with us a few weeks, she had an offer for a part in a road company production of East Lynne, provided she could find a small child of either sex to play the part of Little Willie. She asked Mother if she could borrow me for the role, and Mother was willing, and so, at four, I became Little Willie. Then Lillian got parts too, and so did Mother, and there we were, all three of us, actresses.”

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 6

Officially, Gish made her stage debut when she was five years old, in Rising Sun, Ohio, in a play called In Convict’s Stripes; as she recalls, “I took my first curtain call on the shoulders of the handsome leading man, Walter Huston.”

Lillian Gish, Dorothy and Mary Robinson McConnell (mother)
Lillian Gish, Dorothy and Mary Robinson McConnell (Mother)

On rare occasions, the three Gishes were able to act together in the same play, but for the most part, they worked separately, with Mrs. Gish accompanying her younger daughter and Lillian being chaperoned by a family friend. During one period of unemployment, the Gishes worked at a candy concession in Brooklyn’s Fort George Amusement Park, where they were joined by another temporarily out-of-work family, the Smiths, consisting of mother Charlotte and three youngsters named Gladys, Lottie, and Jack. Gladys eventually became known as Mary Pickford.

Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Mary Pickford

In 1905, nine-year-old Lillian was employed as a dancer with the Sarah Bernhardt stage company, then on tour in New York City, and Gish recalls that the divine Sarah “was kind, . . . but discipline was rigid in that company.” The Gishes continued to act in road-company productions, and 1912 found both Lillian and Dorothy in Baltimore. Gish remembers: “We weren’t children, but we weren’t grown-up either. Whenever we had saved up a nickel, we would go see Biograph pictures. They were the only ones we liked. So when we saw that our friend Gladys Smith was in a movie called Lena and the Geese (1912), we went to see it. However, we thought she must be in some kind of trouble if she was in the movies instead of acting in the theater, because we didn’t think movie acting was quite legitimate then. But later we learned that Lionel Barrymore worked there, and Mother said. ‘Well, if there’s a Barrymore there, it can’t be all that bad.'” Leaving Baltimore, the Gishes returned to New York City and paid a visit to the Biograph Studio at 11 East 14th Street to see their friend Mary Pickford who by then had appeared in more than one hundred motion pictures (mostly one-reelers) and had become Biograph’s most popular actress. Pickford introduced her two friends to the formidable D. W. Griffith, and that same afternoon, Gish says, he hired them at five dollars a day and began rehearsing them. “His rehearsal consisted of chasing us around the room and firing a gun filled with blanks at the ceiling to see how we could express fright. We thought we were in an insane asylum.”

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) The Musketeers of Pig Alley 1912 — with Lillian Gish.
The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) The Musketeers of Pig Alley 1912 — with Lillian Gish.

Both Gish sisters worked as extras with Griffith’s stock company, and soon they were cast as sisters in leading roles in a melodrama entitled An Unseen Enemy (1912). Griffith then chose Lillian to play the sweatshop worker who is harrassed by hoodlums in The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) important as an early example of Griffith’s expert directorial technique.

While the family welcomed the money—often their weekly salary in theater had been only ten dollars—Gish’s aspirations were always for the theater. Late in 1912, she signed with David Belasco to appear with Pickford in A Good Little Devil. The play opened in January, 1913, but shortly thereafter Lillian fell ill with ‘pernicious anemia.’ As was his practice during the winters. Griffith took his Biograph players, including Dorothy, to California. Before leaving. Griffith offered Lillian fifty dollars a week to join them upon her recuperation. Gish did giving up her theater ambitions for the time being to participate in a revolutionary era in motion-picture history.

DW Griffith directing Lillian Gish - background Robert Harron
DW Griffith directing Lillian Gish – background Robert Harron

From the very beginning of their association. Griffith never told Gish, or any of his performers, how to act. Gish says, “He never taught us how to act. He simply said study the human race. And he was right. That’s the best way to learn. And also one should play ever) game, like tennis, that one can. I took fencing lessons and all kinds of dancing lessons so that I learned to control the way my body moved. But nobody can teach acting. Just speak loud and clear and learn to have absolute control over your body and voice.”

Fine Arts Griffith Stars 2
Fine Arts – Griffith Stars Back Row: Dorothy Gish, Seena Owen, Norma Talmadge Middle Row: Robert Harron, Harry Aitken (producer), Sir Beerbohm-Tree, Owen Moore, Wilfred Lucas Front Row: Douglas Fairbanks, Bessie Love, Constance Talmadge, Constance Collier, Lillian Gish (Marfa in Sold For Marriage), Fay Tincher, DeWolfe Hopper Photograph – Raymond Lee of Roy George Association

From the outset, Gish took her responsibility to this new medium very seriously, and as early as 1913, she was quoted as saying: “To play for thepictures is mostly a matter of the face and of learning to think inside.” Griffith himself, in 1914, stated modestly: “I did not ‘teach’ the players with whom my name is linked. We developed together; we found ourselves in a new art, and, as we discovered the possibilities of that art, we learned together.”

1980 Lillian Gish and Anita Loos - Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
1980 Lillian Gish and Anita Loos – Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Gish perfected her craft in picture after picture, and in 1912 alone she appeared in three films with Pickford and Lionel Barrymore, most notably The New York Hat, which was based on the first screenplay written by the inimitable Anita Loos. Gish and Loos remained lifelong friends, and Gish recalls: “We called her Mrs. Spinoza’ because she was so wise; we didn’t open our mouths around her. She wrote stories and subtitles and was a talented, beautiful, and funny lady.”

Pickford soon left Griffith to establish her unique place in silent films, but she and Gish remained lifelong friends. “Mary always credited me with her successful career playing a child,” says Gish, “I told her to play a child. I had seen her play Essex the child in Little Lord Fauntleroy and I suggested she do a full-length film about a child. At the time, Marguerite Clark was successful playing children on the screen because she was tiny four feet, ten inches] and weighed only about ninety pounds. But Marguerite was dark and a different type, so I told Mary she should try it also. And she did.”

Many years later, the mature, retired Mary Pickford announced that she was going to burn the prints of all of her old films. Gish heard about it and intervened: “I told her she had no right to destroy her films. They don’t belong to you,’ I said. They belong to the world.’ And thank heavens she listened.” In 1913, Griffith starred Gish in a picture developed expressly for her talents — The Mothering Heart—then cast her as the young mother in his four reel epic, Judith of Betluilia ( 1913). When he left Biograph at the end of 1913, Lillian and Dorothy followed him to the Mutual Company. Gish quickly grew in popularity with the American public, and consequently Griffith cast her as Elsie Stoneman in The Birth of a Nation (1915), a part originally intended for Blanche Sweet. The film remains a hallmark in American motion-picture history and in Gish’s career. “We shot that picture in nine weeks. We rehearsed it extensively and then shot it—every scene but one— in one take. We had to shoot Mae Marsh’s death scene twice because she forgot to wrap the Confederate flag around her waist.”

The Birth of a Nation (1915)Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh
The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh

It had become Griffith’s practice to rehearse his actors repeatedly to save both money and film when shooting time came. “We rehearsed extensively and never with a script,” remembers Gish. “Nothing was written down. He called the part out to us, and it was up to us to find the character. During those nine weeks on The Birth of a Nation, we stopped only here and there so he could go out and get some more money. That film cost sixty-one thousand dollars, and he had only fifty thousand dollars, so he would borrow from anyone he could. One day Mother offered him three hundred dollars, andhe asked how much money she had in all. She said just that three hundred, and he refused to accept it. He always considered others before himself. And when he died, even though he was broke, he owed no one a penny. He was a true Southern gentleman.”

Thereupon followed Gish’s star years with Griffith: Intolerance (1916); Hearts of the World (1918), with her sister, Dorothy; Broken Blossoms (1919); Way Down East (1920) ; and Orphans of the Storm (1921). again with Dorothy.

Lillian Gish in Intolerance (1916) - The Cradle Endlessly Rocking
Lillian Gish in Intolerance (1916) – The Cradle Endlessly Rocking

In Intolerance, Gish’s part was a small but pivotal one. Swathed in white, she was the mother rocking the cradle in the scene which linked the four part story together. Hearts of the World was a popular and important film, but Gish’s favorite among her films is Broken Blossoms, in which she starred to great acclaim with Richard Barthelmess. It was in this film that she gave her highly personal lyrical style its fullest  expression. By this time in their association, Griffith had complete confidence in Gish’s talent; “I give her an outline of what I hope to accomplish and let her work it out her own way. When she gets it, she has  something of her own. Of course she is imitated. A dozen actresses copy whatever she does and even get themselves up to look like her, which obliges her to change her methods.”

Gish worked in two more Griffith films, Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm, and then, by mutual consent, she struck out on her own. It was simply a matter of economics. She was worth more than Griffith could pay her, and as he had done with other actresses before her who had gained stardom under his aegis—Mary Pickford, Blanche Sweet, and Mae Marsh — he suggested that Gish should seek the fortune and acclaim she so richly deserved. “Thus,” she says, “in the most friendly way, an artistic and business association of many years was broken off as casually as it had begun.” In 1922, Gish signed an eight-year contract with Inspiration Pictures for $1,250 a week plus fifteen percent of the profits and story approval. Her first Inspiration film was The White Sister (1923), directed by Henry King. Gish played a nun, and the picture was shot in Italy during a period of seven months.

Silver Nitrate White Sister Lobby Card Negative
White Sister Lobby Card (Inspiration Pictures)

Shortly before the cast and crew were scheduled to sail for Europe, there was still no leading man. Gish recalls: “Ronald Colman was appearing on Broadway in La Tendresse, with Ruth Chatterton. The photographer James Abbe, who was going to photograph the stills for The White Sister, saw him in the play and told me about him. and so Henry and I went to see him. I thought he would be an excellent choice for the part of the Italian Captain Severi, and so we went to talk with the play’s producer, Henry Miller. That was on a Thursday. Miller graciously released Colman, and we sailed on Saturday.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and Ronald Colman in Rome during the filming of The White Sister - 1923 — with Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman.

“Colman was a charming man, but there was one scene which caused him difficulty. He was British to the core, and the scene called for him to lose his temper like an Italian. He was too British to unbend. So one night at dinner. I suggested to Henry that we give him too much to drink and shoot the scene that night. We did,” she laughs, “and he finally did unbend.”

Romola (1924), also with Colman, was Gish’s second and final picture for Inspiration; she had experienced contractual difficulties with Charles H. Duell, the company’s president, from the beginning. She signed an $800,000, six picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; the films were to be made during a two-year period, and she was to have  approval of both story and director.

La Boheme - Lillian Gish, Gino Corrado and John Gilbert
La Boheme – Lillian Gish, Gino Corrado and John Gilbert

At M-G-M, Lillian worked closely with Irving G. Thalberg. Her first picture for them was La Boheme (1926), about which she says, “I adored Irving from the beginning. Next to Griffith, I respected him the most. Louis B. Mayer was the businessman, but it was Irving who was so sensitive and artistic. And he was greatly overworked. When I went to M-G-M, I asked him to screen The Big Parade (1925) for me, and after seeing it, I asked him to get me the director [King Vidor] and the leading man [John Gilbert] for La Boheme. I also requested photographer Hendrick Sartov, who had photographed a number of my Griffith films and who had invented a soft-focus lens which he called the ‘Lillian Gish lens.’ Irving agreed, and he let me do it my own way.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)4