The Great American Playwrights on The Screen – Jerry Roberts (2003)

The Great American Playwrights on The Screen

A Critical Guide to Film, Video and DVD

Jerry Roberts 2003

Some of the greatest plays in the history of the American theatre have also made some of the most provocative and rewarding movies and television shows of all time, from A Streetcar Named Desire to The Front Page to The Miracle Worker; Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Death of a Salesman, Picnic, The Iceman Cometh, The Little Foxes, A Raisin in the Sun… These productions on film and tape represent a treasure trove of great drama, much of it available to the public for home viewing, some of it languishing in vaults. Some titles also represent Oscar and Emmy award-winning history. Some are great teaching tools for theatre and film and television production courses. Some are pinnacles of success for the greatest star actors of their generations—Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Kevin Spacey. This book is the collation of these time-honored works by playwrights—from Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, to Beth Henley and David Rabe, to Wendy Wasserstein and A.R. Gurney—with historical perspective and contemporary and retrospective criticism. Playwrights reach their widest audiences whenever their plays are filmed or made for television, sometimes as letter-faithful productions literally filmed on the stage, oftentimes as severely altered visions earning the ire of the authors. The book solely concerns plays written by American playwrights, produced on film or tape in the English language. It covers only productions that were adapted from plays that were seen first on the stage. TV dramas that began their performance life as TV shows, and are invariably called “plays” by their authors and others, are not included here. For instances, two of Horton Foote’s dramas, The Trip to Bountiful, an original, and Tomorrow, based on a William Faulkner story, began their performance lives as TV presentations, the former with Lillian Gish in 1953 on Philco Television Playhouse, the latter with Richard Boone on Playhouse 90 in 1960. Both then became plays, then movies. The movies are detailed with break-out studies here, but the TV shows are not. Had the works begun as plays, then became movies and TV presentations, any and all movies or TV productions would be considered with individual studies.

Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – The Star-Wagon

Maxwell Anderson

The Star Wagon, about a poor and eccentric inventor who escapes his wife’s crankiness via his titular time machine, first played on Broadway in 1937 with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish. The inventor escapes to his youth, at a time when he feels he should have married a pretty rich girl rather than his wife. The evergreen theme is that if you could live your life over again, would you have made a better choice?

The Joyous Season

Philip Barry

The Joyous Season aired in 1951 on ABC’s Celanese Theatre with Alex Segal directing Lillian Gish and Wesley Addy. The 1934 play, starring Gish and featuring Jane Wyatt and Alan Campbell, concerns a Catholic nun who is asked to consult on her recently deceased father’s will after the family leaves the farm for Boston’s fashionable Beacon Street.

Sidney Howard

The Late Christopher Bean (1949, NBC, 60m/bw) Philco Television Playhouse ☆☆☆1/2 D/P: Fred Coe. Cast: Lillian Gish, Bert Lytell, Helen Carew, Clarence Derwent, Philip Coolidge, Louis Sorin, Ellen Cobb Hill, Perry Wilson. “A gifted young man, Fred Coe…sent me a script…” Gish wrote in her autobiography. “I have always been eager to try some¬ thing new so I agreed to meet him, and soon I was playing in a vital new medium very much like the early movies. The main difference was that the performance was ‘live’; you had only one chance and no one could prompt or help you.”

• “Lillian Gish made her television debut Sunday night with an excellent portrayal of the harassed housemaid, Abby…an entertaining hour.. .Sidney Howard’s amicable little play engendered the same charm the original Broadway production had.. .Miss Gish was extremely appealing…” (Variety)

Tad Mosel

All the Way Home was based by Mosel on James Agee’s 1958 posthumously Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, which explored early century coming’o Tage and family crisis issues in Knoxville, Tennessee. Producer Fred Coe planned to have it adapted for airing on CBS’s Playhouse 90, then approached Mosel, who couldn’t imagine Agee’s poetic prose being broken up by commercials. They then decided to adapt it into a play instead. It had an out-of-town run in New Haven and Boston, then opened on Broadway in 1960 at the Belasco Theatre to great reviews and no business. Coe was going to close the play after a few nights when Ed Sullivan raved about the play in his New York Daily News column, then brought the cast onto an installment of TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show. The move captured the public’s attention in a huge way; the play ran for 334 performances and the story won its second Pulitzer Prize, this time for Drama. Arthur Penn directed the stage version starring Arthur Hill, Colleen Dewhurst, and Lillian Gish.

“Inevitably, some of the poetry and unduplicatable intimacy of Mr. Agee’s particular expression was lost in this radical switch [to the stage]…in moving the play of Mr. Mosel into the medium of the screen. And this [refraction] is the one that}s all but done for the quality of Mr. Agee’s book and twisted it into a moist-eyed ogle that has a standard cinematic character…. in completing the transfer of some very special sentiments to the screen, Philip Reisman Jr., the film’s playwright, and Alex Segal, the director, have drained them completely of specialness. Their film.. .has no sharp cinematic characteristic, no inside-looking-out point of view (which is one of the most important and distinctive things the Agee novel has).” (Bosley Crowther, The New York Times)

Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful 1953

Horton Foote

Another four-part cycle of Foote’s Southern family mood plays became jewels of the live-TV era, even though their connections weren’t apparent to viewers: The Trip to Bountiful with Lillian Gish and The Midnight Caller with Catherine Doucet, both in 1953 on Kraft Television Playhouse, and two with Kim Stanley, Tears of My Sister in 1953 on First Person Playhouse and Flight three years later on Playwrights ‘56.

Mornings at 7 – Lillian and Dorothy Gish

Paul Osborn

Morning’s at Seven was a popular and much revived comedy of Midwestern family manners and mores originally staged on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre in 1939 by Joshua Logan, starring Jean Adair, Dorothy Gish, and Thomas Chalmers. It was produced on TV on Celanese Theatre in 1952 with Aline MacMahon and Patricia Collinge; on The Alcoa Hour in 1956 with Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Evelyn Varden, David Wayne, June Lockhart, and Dorothy Stickney; and was restaged—using the same Alcoa teleplay by Robert Wallsten—in 1960 on public television’s The Play of the Week with a cast featuring Beulah Bondi, Chester Morris, Dorothy Gish, and Eileen Heckhart.

Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish – Promo for Arsenic and Old Lace

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace (1969, ABC Special, 120m/c) ☆☆☆ Tp: Luther Davis. D: Robert Scheerer. P: Hubbell Robinson. Cast: Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Fred Gwynn, David Wayne, Bob Crane, Jack Gilford, Sue Lyon, Billy De Wolfe, Frank Campanella, Bob Dishy, Victor Killian, Bernard West. The play was filmed before a live audience, which is seen at the outset and at the curtain call. Theatrical connoisseurs relished the chance to see Gish and Hayes together.

• “…still almost as good for laughs as it was 28 years ago when Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse brought it to the Fulton Theatre back in 1941. Changes in the original script were limited to the necessary updating of a few topical gags to jive with the times plus turning the lead (Bob Crane) into a television critic and his fiancée into a TV actress. Acting was good and professional.” (Variety)

Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern – The Whales of August, 1987

David Berry

The Whales of August (1987, Circle, 90m/c, VHS) ☆☆☆1/2 Sc: David Berry. D: Lindsay Anderson. P: Carolyn Pfeiffer, Mike Kaplan. Cam: Mike Fash. Cast: Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Ann Sothern, Vincent Price, Harry Carey, Jr., Mary Steenburgen, Tisha Sterling, Margaret Ladd, Frank Grimes, Frank Pitkin, Mike Bush. Elderly widowed sisters Libby and Sarah reconvene for the summer at a seaside Maine cottage, the same one they have been coming to for generations.

• “With its two beautiful, very different, very characteristic performances by Miss Gish and Miss Davis, who, together, exemplify American films from 1914 to the present, Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August is a cinema event.. .It’s as moving for all of the history it recalls as for anything that happens on the screen.. .In its way, The Whales of August is tough, but it has a major flaw that David Berry’s adaptation of his stage play isn’t strong enough for the treatment it receives from the director and his extraordinary actors…Mr. Berry is no American Chekhov. Though minutely observed, the lives of Libby and Sarah evoke no landscape larger than this tiny Maine island to which they’ve been returning every summer.. .There are references to lost childhoods, dead husbands, wars survived and estranged children, but the references are more obligatory than enriching. There’s nothing really at stake in the course of the day.” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times)

The Great American playwrights on the screen – cover

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Lillian Gish and Film Preservation (AFI 1984)

The American Film Institute

1984 Achievement Award in honor of Lillian Gish

NEWS

Lillian Gish and Film Preservation

The first time Lillian Gish ever heard the words “film library” was when an English lady named Iris Barry asked her to use her influence to get D.W. Griffith to give her some of his films. At Lillian Gish’s suggestion, D.W. Griffith complied, and so began the film library at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In a similar fashion, Ms. Gish convinced Mary Pickford of the importance of preserving her Biograph films, which Ms. Pickford subsequently donated to the Library of Congress collection.

AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr – Photo – Globe

It is our good fortune that these events transpired. Had they not, the collection of Biograph films which record such a vital segment of Lillian Gish’s career might have been gone the way of films made by such early studios as Lubin, Essanay, Vitagraph, Selig, and Thanhauser — and be lost forever.

As it is, a near-miraculous number of Lillian Gish’s silent films have been saved for future generations, — but not all of them. Gone forever are REMODELING HER HUSBAND, which Gish directed in 1920; ANNIE LAURIE, (1927); THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (1914); and THE ANGEL OF CONTENTION (1914). For many years ROMOLA, a 1924 film in which Ms. Gish starred with William Powell, was effectively “lost,” until an 8 mm copy, made for home use, was discovered and transferred to 16 mm film.

American Film Institute D.W. Griffith Awards vtg 1984 Press Release

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1979)

Chicago Tribune – Thursday March 29, 1979 – Page 22

Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish

Tempo

Her own first stage appearance came in a little theater in Rising Sun, Ohio, in a melodrama called “In Convict’s Stripes,” with Walter Huston as its star.

“There was an explosion in a stone quarry as part of the play, and when I heard the noise, I ran down to the basement to hide. They came and got me, and I took my first big curtain call perched on Mr. Huston’s shoulder.”

The Gishes at that time were friends with Gladys Smith, another child actress who had appeared in “the flickers.” When they went to visit her at the Biograph studio in New York, nobody knew her, and when they said they were sure they had seen her in the Griffith film “Lena and the Geese,” they were told, “Oh, you must mean our Mary.” Gladys Smith had become Mary Pickford of the movies, and it was she who introduced them to Griffith.

“Mother and Dorothy and I each got $5 for taking of our hats, putting on a little makeup, and sitting in the audience as extras,” Miss Gish recalls. “That was $15 a day, a lot of money in that time, even if it was in the movies, and not in the legitimate theater.”

‘My pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of “The Scarlet Letter” on television and I swear every one of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today.’

By 1912, the Gish girls had been featured in Griffith’s early social melodrama, “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” and in 1914, while still a teen-ager, Lillian was a leading lady in the epoch-making “The Birth of a Nation.”

“We had to be young then,” she says, “because the photography was so bad. Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because camera made everyone look so old. When I saw the film, I told Mr. Griffith, ‘Oh look, I have a mole on my face.’ Mr. Bitzer (Griffith’s cameraman) gave me a mole.’”

She learned everything about the movies from her beloved Mr. Griffith. Of her, “he always said, ‘Well, she’s a woman, and she has no brains, but 85 per cent of my audience is women, so I want to have her reactions.’ He made me look at all the rushes and pick the shots I liked best. I helped write the subtitles. I watched him rehearse the actors, shoot the scene, develop the film.”

In 1920, while Griffith was away filming, he entrusted her with the direction of a romantic comedy she and Dorothy had written, “Remodeling a Husband.”

“I always felt that Dorothy had such a wit and a great gift for comedy. She used to say such clever things,” Miss Gish recalls, “and it was this quality I wanted to capture, so I found a little magazine story I thought was right for her. It was about a girl who tells her husband that men really admired her looks, and to prove this, she walks down the street and sticks out her tongue at every man she meets to make sure they’ll look at her. Years later, they used the same device in that movie with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, ‘Easter Parade.’ So that’s where that came from. That movie was actually a success. We made it for $58,000 and it grossed $700,000.

“But I was too frightened to do it again. I was so young to be directing all those experienced actors, and in those days, you had to know everything about the movies, including the carpentry, to direct a film. Well, I didn’t even know what feet or inches were, so, I was always getting the dimensions for the scenery wrong.”

She made many films for Griffith – “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East,” “Intolerance,” and “Orphans of the Storm,” among others – but after “Orphans” was completed, Griffith gently told her it was time to leave the nest and earn the salary she could then demand.

Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish – Orphans – Vanity Fair November 1921

“Mother thought Dorothy should be the one to leave,” Miss Gish remembers, “because I got along with him better, ‘Don’t tell me; show me,’ he always used to say; but Dorothy wanted to talk about it first, and he was too much in a hurry for that. When Dorothy did talk to Mr. Adolph Zukor, the producer, about making pictures for him, she came home and told us she had refused his offer of $1 million for a series of comedies. We wanted to know why on Earth she had turned him down, and she said, ‘All that money! It might ruin my character!’ I felt like telling her, ‘Give the money to Mother. I won’t ruin her character!”

Typically however, when Miss Gish did go off on her own, she made sure that she struck a deal in which, besides making money, she had approval of the pictures she was to make and the people with whom she was to make them.

Lillian Gish, Cheryl Callaway, Bill Chapin, Mary Ellen Clemons, Sally Jane Bruce, 1955 The Night of The Hunter

“We always liked to work with the best people,” she says. “That’s something I learned from Mr. Griffith and I tell it to young people today: ‘Go with the people, not with the money, and you’ll be happy in your work.

Actresses had to be young then, because the photography was so bad. ‘Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because the camera made everyone look so old.’

When she went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making a salary of $1,000 a week, “I couldn’t sleep at night because I was making all that money and not working regularly, so I went to Irving Thalberg, who ran the studio – oh, I adored him – and told him I had a couple of stories in my trunk that I wanted to make. These included “The Scarlet Letter.” But they told me I couldn’t do it because the women’s clubs and churches would object. I said, ‘Why should they object? It’s an American classic; they teach it in schools.’ So I wrote to women’s clubs and churches all over the country and said I wanted to make the movie, and I got enough good response to convince the MGM people that we could make the movie.

“It was my film from the beginning to the end. Lars Hanson was the leading man; Victor Seastrom was the director. I’m still very proud of it.”

Miss Gish made one other memorable film with Seastrom, “The Wind,” before she left MGM in the early 1930s and returned to work on the stage. She returned to films in 1940s, when she laughingly told friends that now she was playing “old ladies.” In 1955, she made an unforgettably gallant, indomitable “old lady” in “The Night of the Hunter,” the only film Charles Laughton directed. She has remained active on stage and screen ever since, completing her 100th film here in 1977 with director Robert Altman’s “The Wedding.”

A Wedding

“When I first started making movies, we would shoot them in one or two days, and that was that. But we always rehearsed them carefully first. That’s why Mr. Griffith took only people who were experienced in theater or ballet or music. He wanted them to have the discipline of that training. Today, it takes months and millions of dollars to make a film, and they rarely rehearse anything. We never rehearsed with Altman; he doesn’t work that way.”

I asked her, finally, if she could tell, from her long experience, how and why some actresses endured as movie stars. Was it, after all, because they played well to the camera?

“It’s got to be more than that,” she said. “There’s something more basic. It’s research and study and rehearsal and preparation. Why, my pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ they’re showing on television, and I swear that everyone of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today. When we made movies, Mr. Griffith would say, ‘Don’t just study your character. Study the whole world around you.’ That’s the thing they don’t remember to do today.”

It was time then for her to get ready for the picture taking and for her appearance onstage at the Opera House, an appearance that was to be greeted with a standing ovation.

First, however, she wanted to fuss with her makeup a bit. She stood at the mirror in the little dressing room and took out a few pins so that her hair fell down. She turned to ask a question, and in that moment, with her braids now flowing down to her waist, she looked exactly as if she was ready to go before the cameras again, the lovely heroine of the silent screen who had somehow defied the years and survived with all her innocence and strength intact. It was another moment that will not be forgotten.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too – By Jon Anderson (TV writer) 1984

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday, April 17, 1984 – Page 37

Tempo

Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too

By Jon Anderson (TV writer)

Compared with the awkward, boring, tedious spectacle of the Academy Awards, last month’s American Film Institute salute to actress Lillian Gish was graceful, warm and human. In Hollywood, those qualities are so rare that John Houston, stunned, later rang up George Stevens Jr., producer of the show, and told him: “George, I’ve been around this town for 40 years and I saw something the other night I’ve never seen before in this community. Affection!”

In this tribute, to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CBS – Ch. 2, the stars [and there are lots of them] don’t seem stiff, stilted or ill-at-ease. When cameras catch their faces, they look like they’re having a good time. When they talk, they seem to mean what they say. There isn’t a wooden scripted, flat joke in the whole 90 minutes.

AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr – Photo – Globe

This didn’t just happen. “We really tried to make people comfortable and secure,” producer Stevens said in an interview. He barred Teleprompters, those cue-card projectors that make show-folk squint or, as in the case of Frank Sinatra at the Academy Awards, look over-served. Before the show, writers worked with the stars “to bring out their feelings,” go over what they wanted to say and suggest phrasings. Then stars did their bits the old-fashioned way; they memorized their speeches and, strange for TV, spoke them naturally.

The producers also sensibly avoided spinning graphics and other electronic nonsense. Instead, they hired a 37-piece orchestra, struck new prints of notable early Gish scenes and ran them at proper speeds, with musical accompaniment. [Silent cameras, cranked by hand, exposed anywhere from 16 to 22 frames a second compared with today’s standard of 24 frames a second. ***(1) That’s why silent movies, shown on modern equipment, speed up.]

Hambone and Hillie – Photo Gallery

Gish’s screen career began in 1913 ***(2) bloomed under director D.W. Griffith [“Birth of a Nation”], for whom she made 40 movies, and continues today. [She’ll star in the forthcoming film “Hambone and Hillie.”]

The clip that got the biggest hand [from “Way Down East”] showed her limp body on a slab of ice, headed towards the falls, with an anguished man in a fur coat leaping from berg to berg trying to rescue her. It was Gish’s idea to trail her hair and one hand in the icy waters, a stunt so chilling that, even today, Gish’s right hand aches when she is out in winter cold.

A fundraiser for the American Film Institute, best known for its work in preserving old movies, the gala black-tie dinner for 1,100 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in March was enlivened by speeches, waves and smiles from Sally Field, John Houseman, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Mary Steenburgen, Jennifer Jones, Mary Martin, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Eva Marie Saint, Richard Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Richard WIdmark and Chicago’s own tie to the glorious motion picture past, Colleen Moore Hargrave. She got a hug from the guest of honor.

Life Achievement Award, Lillian Gish. 1984

Also remarkable was that so many veterans of a perilous craft, that of being a movie star, still looked so sparkling.

“Lillian Gish was there at the birth of an art form,” said the evening’s host, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 75. “I am kind of an emissary, a link, if you like, from those pioneers who were with her at the beginning, my father, my stepmother, Mary Pickford; Charlie Chaplin; and all the others whom Lillian refers to as those charming ghosts.”

Through it all, Gish was very much the center of what seemed, at times, like a family get-together, her face radiating what critic Alexander Woolcott once called “a strange mystic light not made by any electrician.”

Some praised her acting. [John Houseman described her Ophelia as “convincingly lunatic.”] Some, her canniness. [As Mary Steenburgen put it: “I figure an actress who’s been a star for 72 years must have a pretty good head for business.”]

By general agreement, at 87, Lillian Gish is also still a going concern – with a strong sense of camera angles.

Last December, she appeared in the CBS made-for-TV movie “Hobson’s Choice,” one friend recalled, and chewed out a cameraman for placing the camera too low. “Young man,” she said snappishly, “If God had meant you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your belly button.”*** (3)

***(1) Mr. Jon Anderson is referring probably to an older filming system, [and 24 fps theatre film projectors] pre-NTSC (29.95 fps) known being the fact that PAL (Phase Alternate by Line) used in Europe has a 25 fps standard using fields to compensate the difference from 30 fps of US-NTSC. Indeed in the 70’s there were still in use film cameras, not digital or streaming over network via satellite like today. So, in order to have news broadcast, every decent TV station had a huge laboratory for processing the film, cutting it old school style and converting it for TV broadcast in a post process.

Starting before CBS color even got on the air, the U.S. television industry, represented by the National Television System Committee, worked in 1950–1953 to develop a color system that was compatible with existing black-and-white sets and would pass FCC quality standards, with RCA developing the hardware elements. The first publicly announced network demonstration of a program using the NTSC “compatible color” system was an episode of NBC’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie on August 30, 1953, although it was viewable in color only at the network’s headquarters. The first network broadcast to go out over the air in NTSC color was a performance of the opera Carmen on October 31, 1953.

***(2) Actually Lillian Gish’s career began in 1912 with “The Unseen Enemy”.

***(3) The famous “eyes in the belly button” remark was made by Lillian Gish while celebrating her 100th movie [A Wedding] during the party organized by director Robert Altman. And it was a photographer, not a cameraman. The incident was documented by Kevin Brownlow.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln – By Larry Wolters (Chicago Tribune 1956)

Chicago Tribune – Monday February 13, 1956 – Page 70

Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln

By Larry Wolters

Lincoln: Every year television devotes more programs to Lincoln around February 12, and every year the equality of the Lincoln tribute seems to improve. Outstanding this season were two productions: “Good Friday, 1865,” written by John Lewellen of Glen Ellyn for the Robert Montgomery theater of last Monday, and “The Day Lincoln Was Shot,” based on Jim Bishop’s best selling book and presented Saturday night on Ford’s Star Theater [quite different from Ford’s theater in Washington where Lincoln was shot]. Both plays were telecast in color as well as black and white.

“Good Friday,” as previously reviewed was a notable production. “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” was even more satisfactory. Produced with the lavish hand of Hollywood, the cast ran to 103 persons, with more than 50 reading lines. It was headed by such actors as Raymond Massey, who has come to be an almost legendary Lincoln; Jack Lemmon as Booth, Lillian Gish as Mrs. Lincoln, and Charles Laughton as narrator.

This combination, under expert direction by Delbert Mann, created a mounting sense of the oncoming tragedy, tracing hour by hour the various plot threads that were climaxed at 10:15 p.m. As the play proceeded, you felt an almost unbearable suspense. Lemmon, who usually plays comedy roles, proved a great Booth, handsome and sinister, a young firebird obsessed with carrying out a conspiracy which, except for the greatest of luck, could never have been executed.

Monolog: Booth was at his best in a monolog [or soliloquy] when, speaking of the future, he said: “You [Lincoln] know nothing of me but our names will be linked in all eternity. Lincoln and Booth, perhaps Booth and Lincoln.”

Photo: Gish, Lemmon and Massey in – “The Day Lincoln Was Shot”

Massey and Miss Gish were indeed Abe and Mary Lincoln except that the actor has put on a little too much weight and no longer looks too much like the Civil war President and Miss Gish has too small a face. Furthermore her blonde hair should have been converted to black to match Mary Todd Lincoln’s.

Photo: Lillian Gish in – The Day Lincoln Was Shot – promotional

Intrusion: The Ford theater reconstruction was especially effective in color. Viewers were able to understand the whole layout, with the Presidential box overhanging the stage. The scene or two from the play, “Our American Cousin,” provided a change of pace. This was comedy at its corniest, reminiscent of the Abbotts and Costellos of today. There was one break of pace we were not prepared for. As the tension mounted there came a sudden intrusion by Bing Crosby plugging Thunder-Birds an also a promise from the sponsor that Bing would be in great form for ”High Tor” four weeks hence.

Raymond Massey – Lincoln

Then the action shifted back to the assassination, Booth’s escape and the long confusing night in Peterson house, with Secy. Stanton playing the role of dictator for eight hours before he got to the fateful: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

This fantastic yet true story of a tragic day in American history gave television 91 years later just about its finest hour.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Grandma Moses Life To Be Told Friday On TV (Chicago Tribune – 1952)

Chicago Tribune – March, Sunday 23 1952 – Page 67

Grandma Moses Life To Be Told Friday On TV

Lillian Gish will star in the title role of “Grandma Moses” when the biography of the American Artist is presented on Playhouse of Stars over WBKB at 8 p.m. Friday. The television play will highlight episodes in the life of the painter which reveal how she happened to undertake her work at the age of 80. In addition to Miss Gish, three other actresses will portray Grandma Moses – in scenes depicting her early years. Denise and Jane Alexander, sisters, will play the painter at the ages of 12 and 5 respectively and Georgianne Johnson will have the role of Grandma Moses at 26. Sidney Smith will portray Otto Kallir, art connoisseur who discovered the artist.

Adapted by David Shaw from Mrs. Moses’ recently-published autobiography, the play had Lillian Gish in the title role spinning tales to her grandchildren on her early life and how she won recognition with her colorful American primitives after she had passed 80. Story flashed back from camera shots of Grandma Moses paintings to the related incidents in her life, which was a clever technique. This was one spot, though, where color TV was urgently needed.

With Miss Gish etching a warmly human characterization of the nice old lady who was as eager to receive compliments for her strawberry preserves as for her life on a farm dating back to the days when Abraham Lincoln was President. Sisters Denise and Jane Alexander were competent as the artist at the ages of five and 12, respectively, and Georgianne Johnson turned in a sympathetic portrayal of Mrs. Moses at age 26. Russell Hardie was good as her husband, and Sidney Smith limned an okay role as the art connoisseur who discovered her artistic talents.

Joseph Scibetta reined both the actors and the cameras through their paces in fine style. Sets and other production mountings were standout. Durward Kirby again handled the Schlitz commercials, tying them cleverly with the sets of the play.

Illustration below: Lillian Gish with Grandma Moses painting, a gift from the artist to Miss Gish

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Performance of Lillian Gish on Broadway Found Stirring – By Hedda Hopper (Chicago Tribune – 1953)

Lillian Gish by Forbes - Advertising the new version of - The Trip To Bountiful - play - Stars in Goodyear TV Playhouse ...
Lillian Gish by Forbes, Advertising the new version of “The Trip To Bountiful” play – Stars in Goodyear Television Playhouse …

Chicago Tribune – Saturday, November 21, 1953 – Page 14

Looking at Hollywood

Performance of Lillian Gish on Broadway Found Stirring

By Hedda Hopper

New York, Nov. 20 – Lillian Gish put a lump the size of a golf ball in my throat during her performance in the play “The Trip To Bountiful.” She literally breaks your heart into little pieces. You want to choke her daughter-in-law, played brilliantly by Jo Van Fleet. The entire cast is star studded.

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

… After the play, I met the author Horton Foote, and his wife, who was named for Lillian. What’s more, her sister’s name is Dorothy. When Lillian was our top picture star, many babies were named for her. She kept a supply of gold christening rings, and when she heard about each child she sent a ring. I’ll never forget how Lillian fought for a place in the movies for her friend, the late D.W. Griffith, the last time she was in Hollywood …

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

I’m always appalled at stars’ dressing rooms in New York theaters. Compared to ours in the movie world, they’re little better than lean-tos. I guess that’s why stage actors are so hardy and have so much steel in their backbones.

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

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Lillian Gish Still Devoted to Career – By Hedda Hopper (Chicago Tribune – 1963)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 2nd, 1963 – Page 39

Looking at Hollywood

Lillian Gish Still Devoted to Career

By Hedda Hopper

Hollywood, Sept. 1 – When actors complain about their short span of earning years, I think of Lillian Gish who began her career at 4, never went to school, was a D.W. Griffith star in such famous silents as “Birth of a Nation,” and “Broken Blossoms.” In June she completed a Broadway run with an all-star company in G.B. Shaw’s “Too True to be Good.” I saw her recently when she came here to do a segment for a “Mr. Novak” TV at M-G-M. Thruout her entire life she’s worked continuously contributing unforgettable characterizations in all acting mediums … We shared a pint of ice cream at my desk in lieu of lunch while she told me how Bob Preston, Glynis Johns, David Wayne, Cyril Ritchard, Eileen Heckart, Ray Middleton, Cedric Hardwicke and herself all worked for cut salaries in the Shaw play because they wanted to do it.

Photo - Eileen Heckart - Lillian Gish - Robert Preston - Glynis Johns
Photo – Eileen Heckart – Lillian Gish – Robert Preston – Glynis Johns

“The theater is sick today, but actors like to act and this was the only way we could put it on with such a cast. We signed for a limited run, March to June, because we were in the big 54th Street theater which holds 1,500, a house for musicals and far too large for a little comedy with a cast of eight. They call it the ‘Penalty Theater’ because a nonmusical play like ours has to pay salaries to four musicians for sake of unions.”

Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, Ray Middleton, David Wayne, Eileen Heckart, Robert Preston and Lillian Gish. Too Good To Be True 1963
Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, Ray Middleton, David Wayne, Eileen Heckart, Robert Preston and Lillian Gish. Too Good To Be True 1963

“We talked about bringing in actors to replace those who had to leave and considered moving to a smaller theater,” she continued. “It was prohibitive, would have cost between $15,000 and $20,000 … After opening night we met the backers of our play at a party; I’ve never seen such young-looking angels. Most appeared to be barely out of their teens. Hardwicke, who was in and out of the hospital here last summer and had an operation for asthma, never missed a performance; neither Bob Preston. He fell on the ice at his country place breaking three ribs, and must have suffered great pain, because his part called for him to be thrown all over the stage. But these are true pros. Glynis Johns had a yelling part and almost lost her voice; we used to hold our breath on Saturday night before that first shout, we were so worried, wondering if she’d have voice enough left to make the whole show.

GB_Shaw_Too_True_To_Be_Good_2D

Lillian lived in Hollywood nine years when she was with D.W. Griffith’s company, and never had a contract. She finds movieland very changed. “As I came up here, I found some of the streets ugly, and I found myself resenting that it was no longer beautiful. You used to smell orange blossoms when you stepped off the train, and at night, if there was a fog, the flower fragrances were held down to earth.” She spoke of Griffith’s widow, Evelyn, whom she’d seen before leaving the east coast: “She’s remarried to a Swedish-German, and they went to Europe this summer, her first trip there.”

GB_Shaw_Too_True_To_Be_Good_7

 

GB_Shaw_Too_True_To_Be_Good_8

Playbill 1963 Robert Preston, Lillian Gish
Too True To Be Good 1963

Back to Lillian Gish Home page