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)

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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

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Lillian Gish honored by fans she loves best – movie people – By Gene Siskel (Chicago Tribune – 1977)

Chicago Tribune – June 23 1977 Thursday, Page 21

Tempo People

Lillian Gish honored by fans she loves best – movie people

By Gene Siskel – movie critic

signed promotional full cast photo - a wedding

THE MOVIE is called “A Wedding,” but the scene Wednesday was “an affair,” an affair to celebrate the wonderful career of actress Lillian Gish, the silent film star who at age 80 is completing her 65th year in films.

Miss Gish worked three days this week in Lake Bluff in her role as a grandmother in “A Wedding,” reportedly her 100th film. Producer – director Robert Altman organized the surprise party to let Miss Gish know “it was such a thrill for us to work with you.”

The party was on the back lawn of the fabulous Lester Armour estate in Lake Bluff, where Altman is filming his comic tale of a mixed marriage between old and new money. Seated on folding chairs waiting to surprise Miss Gish were many of her costars in the film, including Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Dina Merrill, and Vittorio Gassman.

Lillian Gish - A Wedding
Lillian Gish – A Wedding

A few minutes earlier, Miss Gish had been filming her death scene inside the Armour house. Says the family doctor to her daughter after Gish’s character kicks the bucket, “I thought she was waving hello, when she really was waving good-bye.”

Robert Altman - Lillian Gish (A Wedding)
Robert Altman – Lillian Gish (A Wedding)

Miss Gish was lured outside for a supposed press party for the movie. She quickly realized it was her show, however, when she saw the cake and its inscription, “Lillian Gish – 100th film.”

“I DON’T DESERVE THAT,” she said looking at the cake as a dozen photographers and cameramen scrambled for position. One photographer got down on his knees and aimed his camera up at Miss Gish. Suddenly the surprise party became a photography lesson.

“Not up my nose,” she said. “No low angles. If God wanted people shot from low angles, he would’ve put your eyes at your bellybutton.”

The crowd roared at Miss Gish – ever conscious of how she looks – continued her impromptu lecture.

“Oh, no,” she said, noticing the bright sun, “an overhead light with no reflector!” What she wanted was the light to play on her eyes, because it is with one’s eyes, she said later, that people best reveal their emotions. “If people can’t see your eyes, how can you tell your story?”

A Wedding
Robert Altman helping Lillian Gish to cut the cake made especially to mark her 100th movie anniversary – A Wedding

The Lillian Gish film story dates to 1912, when she and her late sister, Dorothy, began making short films for D.W. Griffith, the pioneer filmmaker of “Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and “Way Down East,” all of which starred Lillian Gish.

MISS GISH successfully lobbied for the United States postal stamp commemorating Griffith issued this year, the first such honor for a filmmaker. Miss Gish said she owns 500 Griffith stamps, in addition to one gold, 20 silver and 10 bronze medals commemorating Griffith.

For years Lillian Gish has sung the praises of Griffith through lectures. Her autobiography, published in 1969 is titled “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me,” a title that describes – in order – her life’s priorities.

A Wedding
Carol Burnett, Lillian Gish and Mia Farrow – A Wedding

Predictably, the next project for this remarkable woman also involves the movies. “Most of all I want to finish ‘Silver Story,’ a television special that tells the story of films from their very beginning up until 1928.”

The stars working with Miss Gish each have own stories about her. “When I first saw her on the set,” said Burnett, “she came to me and said, ‘You have so many faces. Which one are you going to use for this film?’ I was surprised she knew who I was,” Burnett said. “I guess I didn’t believe that someone so extraordinary would ever watch TV.”

“I had met her in the ‘40s when I was a little girl,” Merrill recalled, “and I couldn’t believe it, but she remembered. She walked up to me and said, ‘Do you remember when I met you at Mary Pickford’s house? I then asked her if she remembered my mother (the late socialite Marjorie Merrieweather Post).”

“’Of course I remember your mother,’ she said, ‘Who do you think I’m playing in this movie?’

“She is an exquisite, fragile creature,” Merrill said of Miss Gish. “She still has an ethereal beauty.”

A Wedding
Lillian Gish and Geraldine Chaplin – A Wedding

After the cake cutting, Lillian Gish talked to reporters for 30 minutes. She answered each question precisely, displaying total recall of her career. When the question-and-answer session was over, the screen veteran said, “Now I’m the slowest eater in the world I must have 45 minutes to eat lunch.”

One suspects that Lillian Gish took exactly 45 minutes to eat lunch. Maybe a few minutes less, but, always a professional, not one minute more.

Illustration

Yes it’s a cake and, yes, it’s also on the set of “A Wedding” in Lake Bluff, but the occasion is the 100th film of Lillian Gish (cutting cake). Director Robert Altman samples the pastry while actresses Amy Stryker (left) and Dina Merrill look on.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 23 Jun 1977, Thu Page 21
Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 23 Jun 1977, Thu Page 21 (A Wedding cast celebrating 100th Gish film)

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Lillian Gish – A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine – By Pat Colander (Chicago Tribune 1973)

Chicago Tribune November 24 1973 Saturday Page 162

Lillian Gish

A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine

By Pat Colander

Can you do anything with this poor, tired face? inquired Lillian Gish from behind an impish grin. Of course the question is ridiculous. After 73 years of practicing her delightful brand of charm, she knows that anyone she meets is more than happy to do her bidding, even before she asks.

Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 - New York
Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 – New York

From the top of her faded blonde head to the tips of her tiny feet, Lillian Gish is a cornball prototype of the real-life, genuine heroine. Her beaming countenance recalls all the good things named traditional, just in case anybody she meets has forgotten how good it is to be free and own a television set.

“I always think of movies as the big screen and television as the little screen,” she chirped. “Of course, both are forms of the greatest power that the world has ever seen.” Miss Gish equates the film industry with Shakespeare and the Bible.

BUT EVEN this movie proponent will admit that something’s rotten in Hollywood. “I wish we could bring back good taste and beauty,” she moaned. “I think we’ve lost it.” Lillian Gish shakes her head, there have been roles that she’s had to turn down. “I wouldn’t be a part of what the movie had to say. I believe in the influence of a film,” she added “and I don’t like the wicked man winning out over the good man.”

Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes
Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes

The recent Supreme Court ruling on pornography isn’t the answer however. “Censorship isn’t the American way,” Miss Gish said. We ought to be able to control ourselves by not going to those movies that are bad. Don’t you agree?”

She dismisses modern political scandals with theatrical boredom. Her ideology has become hardened in the face of many social upheavals she’s watched pass by. “Those things have been going on all my life,” she smiled some more, “only we called it Democrat and Republican. Certainly our country’s never been better. More people have more things and are more prosperous.”

THE THING she does feel that she knows about is the college crowd, after lecturing on the nostalgia circuit during the last few years. She defends the Pepsi generation with the characteristic line, “We just don’t hear about affirmation and the really good people on the campuses.”

opening of uncle vanya june 4 1973 h hayes l gish
Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish at the opening of Uncle Vanya, 1973 edition. Thus a full cycle is complete, the first play Lillian Gish starred in was Uncle Vanya (1930) an her last, Mike Nichols’s production.

Personally, Lillian Gish had little use for higher or lower education. Her star-crossed career began at 4 when Lillian and her little sister Dorothy hit the Broadway footlights. “We always felt lucky that we didn’t have to stay in one town and go to school,” she chuckled. “We were educated as we went thru the country.”

“I used to have an inferiority complex,” she moaned, but justified her lack of formal schooling with the deeper curiosity that developed as a result. “The future of education lies in television. Some man or woman will come along and harness it.”

Lillian Gish isn’t happy with the current form of educational broadcasting. “You know, in England they don’t approve of Sesame Street.”

CHICAGO IS an indelibly etched chapter in Lillian Gish’s new memory book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish” [Charles Scribner’s Sons, $19.95], a picture album sketching her lenghty career. “Chicago has more civic pride than any other city,” she said. “They pushed the city back and built it around a lake.”

uncle vanya - 1973 mike nichols
Lillian Gish and Mike Nichols – Uncle Vanya – 1973

The Windy City topic opened a pandora’s box of anecdotes. “I had a favorite taxi driver here when playing the Blackstone Theater,” she remembered. “When there was someplace that I couldn’t take my little dog Malcolm, Mr. Marcus would take care of him. Actually, I think he liked Malcolm and put up with me.”

Altho this little bundle of ancient energy has just closed in Mike Nichol’s New York production of “Uncle Vanya,” and by mid-afternoon has been doing interviews since 6 a.m., she thinks it would be thrilling to go dancing in the evening. After all, the this-is-the-first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life philosophy by now comes out sounding like a Lillian Gish original.

Lillian Gish – Big on the big screen

1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times
1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times

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1980 David Wark Griffith Awards (Films in Review – March 1981)

1980 DW Griffith Awards - Myrna Loy, Lillian Gish
1980 DW Griffith Awards – Myrna Loy, Lillian Gish and Gloria Swanson

Films in Review – March 1981

1980 David Wark Griffith Awards

The Second Presentation

 

Monday afternoon, January 26th, the National Board of Review and Films in Review, its membership publication, presented the Second Annual David Wark Griffith Awards at Luchow’s on Fourteenth Street in New York City, a few steps from where Griffith had his Biograph Studio and where he frequently dined. Lillian Gish and NBA Director, Blanche Sweet, who were Griffith stars, were some of the glittering stars of motion pictures and television who were a part of the Awards Ceremony.

Lillian Gish, Sissy Spacek and Gloria Swanson exchanging greetings (DW Griffith Awards)
Lillian Gish, Sissy Spacek and Gloria Swanson exchanging greetings (DW Griffith Awards)

Robert Giroux, President of the National Board, told how the NBA began in 1909 to fight censorship … “We fought that good fight, and we won it. Today we are fighting for a more elusive cause, the cause of quality – professional excellence, the one thing every intelligent audience, and certainly every real artist, wants … the one thing we never get enough of, neither on television screens nor in movie theatres.” He then introduced Dina Merrill who charmingly directed the short ceremony. Governor Hugh Carey sent a message to the winners and to Gloria Swanson through his Director of the New York State Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, Mrs. Elizabeth Forsling Harris.

Ron Schwary and Lillian Gish - 1980 (DW Griffith Awards)
Ron Schwary and Lillian Gish – 1980 (DW Griffith Awards)

New York City Mayor Edward Koch sent similar messages through his Director, Nancy Littlefield. When Miss Merrill introduced Lillian Gish, the star-studded audience rose to greet her, as the television cameras of both NBC and CBS recorded the event for later broadcast.

Sissy Spacek and Myrna Loy - 1980 (DW Griffith Awards)
Sissy Spacek and Myrna Loy – 1980 (DW Griffith Awards)

Miss Gish reminded the group that when she first started with Griffith, there were signs in the hotels reading “No Dogs or Actors Allowed”. But, she noted, ” progress has indeed been made … Princess Grace in Monaco and now, we have a President”. In Robert Redford’s absence, Ron Schwary, producer of Ordinary People, accepted Mr. Redford’s awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

Myrna Loy prefaced her introduction of Sissy Spacek, Best Actress for Coal Miner’s Daughter, with the note that her Career Achievement Award last year, was ” one of the few awards that really touched me and I thank you”. After which she read a congratulatory telegram to Sissy Spacek from Loretta Lynn. In accepting her plaque, Miss Spacek whispered, ” I’ve forgotten everything I was going to say, but the icing on the cake is being in the company of Miss Loy, Miss Swanson and Miss Gish; it makes me proud to be an actress”.

1980 DW Griffith Awards 1
1980 DW Griffith Awards – cover

 

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Lillian Gish chats with Merv Griffin (The Way It Was – CBS Thu. Jan. 14, 1970)

Lillian Gish chats with Merv Griffin

The Way It Was – CBS Thu. Jan. 14, 1970

Lillian Gish, one of the major film stars of the pre-talkie era, chats with Merv Griffin about the early days of motion pictures, in “A Salute to the Silent Screen,” a special edition of “The Merv Griffin Show,” Thursday, January 14 (11:30 PM – 1:00 AM, Est) in color on the CBS Television Network.

Photo Division CBS Television Network Press Information, 51 West 52 Street, New York 10019

  • CBS 39779-R1-2a-Full
  • 12/24/70
  • Subjects: Lillian Gish, Merv Griffin
  • Program: “The Merv Griffin Show”
  • On Air: Thursday, Jan. 14
  • 11:30 PM – 1:00 AM, Est
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970 detail
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970 detail

“A Special Salute to the Silent Screen”, with film clips of great pictures (including “Ben Hur” with Francis X. Bushman and “Way Down East” with Lillian Gish.)
Merv’s guests are Buddy Rogers, Betty Bronson, Jackie Coogan, Richard Arlen, Laura La Plante, Neil Hamilton, Chester Conklin, Ken Maynard, Minta Durfee Arbuckle, Babe London, Beverly Bayne, Betty Blythe, Viola Dana, Eddie Quillan, Dorothy Devore, Vivian Duncan and Carter deHaven.

Runtime 1 hr (60 min)
Sound Mix Mono
Color Black and White | Color
Aspect Ratio 4:3
Negative Format Video (NTSC)
Printed Film Format Video (NTSC)
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970 X
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970 X
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970
Lillian Gish at Merv Griffin Show Thu Jan 14 1970

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Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art – Edited by CORNELIA BUTLER and ALEXANDRA SCHWARTZ

Modern Women

WOMEN ARTISTS AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Edited by CORNELIA BUTLER and ALEXANDRA SCHWARTZ

 

Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art represents the culmination of a five-year initiative known internally as the Modern Women’s Project. It is our ambition that this unprecedented, institution-wide effort will ultimately influence the narratives of modernism the Museum represents by arguing for a more complex understanding of the art of our time. The title of this volume, Modern Women, immediately maps the territory of its contents. This is not a history of feminist art or of feminist artists, although a number of the artists featured here claim feminism’s accomplishments or insist on a feminist discourse to contextualize their work. With some important exceptions, this is not a group of artists that coheres beyond the rubric of gender. And, certainly, it is only a sampling of the work by women artists in the Museum’s collection. This publication is, in a sense, a work in progress, an artifact of a continuous effort to research our collection and rethink the consensus of art history. (Glenn D. Lowry Director, The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Lillian Gish cca 18 years old - theater scene

I would call “feminine” the moment of rupture and negativity which conditions the newness of any practice. —Julia Kristeval

I don’t believe in “feminist art”since art is a mysterious filtering process which requires the labyrinths of a single mind, the privacy of alchemy, the possibility of exception and unorthodoxy rather than rule. —Anne-Marie Sauzeau-Boetti

Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East - Vanity Fair June 1920
Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East – Vanity Fair June 1920

Early – Modern

LILLIAN GISH (American, 1893-1993)

Essay by JENNY HE

“A movie star since movies began,” actress Lillian Diana de Guiche was born the same year that Thomas Edison introduced the motion picture to the American public. This coincidence, however random, proved fateful for Gish, a defining artist of early film history. Known as the First Lady of the Silent Screen, Gish made her most significant cinematic contributions during the silent film era, but the prolific actress enjoyed a career that went five decades beyond her last silent film. Over a seventy-five-year career, Gish made more than one hundred films, almost half of which reside in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, including landmark works such as her first film, An Unseen Enemy (1912, no. 1), and her last silent picture, The Wind (1928, no. 2).

An Unseen Enemy - Lillian Gish Dorothy Gish
An Unseen Enemy – Lillian Gish Dorothy Gish

Gish spent her entire life acting—on screen, stage, and television. Her persona is one of Victorian womanhood—genteel, vulnerable, and innocent—often reflected in Madonna like characters (The Mothering Heart, The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, Intolerance, Way Down East, The Scarlet Letter). Her heroines are unadulterated in both innocence and madness, adversity and triumph, as they deflect wanton men hell-bent on defiling their virgin characters (The Birth of a Nation, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm, The Wind). Cast often in melodramas, Gish played characters who tenaciously fought to gain redemption after the violation of their virtue.

D. W. Griffith's The Battle at Elderbush Gulch and John Ford's Straight Shooting
D. W. Griffith’s The Battle at Elderbush Gulch and John Ford’s Straight Shooting

Gish’s doe eyes, button nose, and pixie smile belied a charisma and passion that materialized in front of the camera in her performances. Adept at both comedy and tragedy (often in the same film), Gish possessed an emotional range that could alternate between restrained (Broken Blossoms) and grand (Orphans), with everything from subtle facial nuances to frenzied body movements in full hysteria in her acting repertoire. In all her facets she personified endurance.

orphans of the storm - lillian gish is henriette girard - promo wb
orphans of the storm – lillian gish is henriette girard

Her characters—put-upon women facing tribulations from the injustices of the French Revolution (Orphans), the persecution of Puritanical society (The Scarlet Letter), and the ravages of nature in the American West (The Wind)—endured in the face of betrayal, rape, death, and abandonment. Often characterized as a waif, Gish was a dichotomy of fragility and resilience. This was true of her life off screen as well as onscreen. Fellow female film pioneer Frances Marion knew her to be as “fragile as a steel rod.”

Lillian Gish - The Wind (1928) - Nov 27 USA BX
Lillian Gish – The Wind (1928) – Nov 27 USA

Gish was a woman holding her own in the early days of Hollywood, and she amassed enough clout and influence to call her own shots. As a vocal proponent of film preservation, she made it her lifelong mission to ensure that her work and the work of all film artists would survive. “Art is the most lasting product of a civilization,” Gish said, and “the only lasting aristocracy.” Gish contributed greatly to the aristocracy of her art, and her legacy as an iconic figure in film history will also endure.

Lillian-Gish-8X10-Studio-The-Wind-Montagu-Love-Train-arrival-scene
Lillian-Gish-The-Wind-Montagu-Love-Train-arrival-scene

After debuting in a production of In Convict’s Stripes in 1902, Gish began acting in touring troupes in New York City. Her tenure in New York and on Broadway led to a friendship with fellow actress Gladys Smith, who years later would change Gish’s life through a chance meeting with film director D. W. Griffith. Attending a nickelodeon showing of Lena and the Geese (1912), Gish immediately recognized the actress in the film as her old friend Gladys. Spurred by the star sighting, Gish, along with her sister, Dorothy, and their mother, Mary, decided to look up her friend by visiting the studio that filmed Lena, American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, located in Union Square.The visit not only reconnected the Gishes with Smith (now Mary Pickford) but also introduced them to Griffith, who was immediately struck by Lillian’s “exquisite ethereal beauty.” He ushered the sisters into a casting session for An Unseen Enemy, a one-reeler about two sisters fending off a larcenous maid and her safe-robbing accomplice. Impressed with their ability to respond to direction, Griffith recast the film with the Gishes, even though he had already begun rehearsals with other actresses, and began shooting Lillian’s first screen appearance the next day.

The Mothering Heart - 1913
The Mothering Heart – 1913

Gish became one of Biograph’s stock players and appeared in more than thirty Biograph films over the next two years, including significant shorts such as The Mothering Heart (1913) and The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913). Griffith left Biograph in 1914, joined several other film companies—Reliance- Majestic,Triangle Film Corporation, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount), and United Artists—then eventually built his own studio in Mamaroneck, New York. Gish followed him, and under his tutelage she developed her acting talents and honed her screen persona. G. W. Bitzer, the director’s longtime cameraman, recalled that “Griffith conditioned [Gish] to the part she was to play, and once she had the action in mind, she wouldn’t forget or deviate by so much as a flicker of the eye.

Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)
Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)

Her interpretation would be as directed, without waste of precious film.” Gish practiced something akin to Method acting (long before the phrase was coined) and studied dance choreography, but her ability to invent on the spot, born out of in-the-moment emotion, meshed perfectly with Griffith’s directorial style. The chemistry between director and actress resulted in some of Gish’s greatest performances, in silent cinema classics such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919), and Way Down East (1920). Gish also matured professionally behind the camera. When Griffith was filming The Love Flower (1920) in Florida, he entrusted the care of his studio to Gish. He also encouraged her to make her own feature film, stating that Gish knew as much about making pictures as he did, and more about acting.

Elaine The Lilly Maid Dreaming of Astolat ... Lillian Gish - Way Down East
Elaine The Lilly Maid Dreaming of Astolat … Lillian Gish – Way Down East

Orphans of the Storm (1922, no. 3), the last of Gish’s collaborations with Griffith, marked a turning point in her career. She convinced Griffith to make the film, based on Adolphe d’Ennery’s play The Two Orphans (1874)— although he had intended his next project to be Goethe’s Faust—and to cast her sister as Louise (his first choice was Mae Marsh).

Orphans of the Storm
Orphans of the Storm – La Guillotine …

During rehearsal for the climactic scene at the guillotine, in which Gish’s Henriette seems to be moments from certain death, Gish disagreed with Griffith’s direction and felt that the scene required a “greater depth of emotion.” After rehearsing the scene her way, Gish recalled, “Without a word, he walked up to me, sank to one knee and kissed my hand before the company. Thank you,’ he said.” In nine short years, she had evolved from ingenue to Hollywood powerhouse.

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 4
Hester Prynne – Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter

Gish pressured MGM to make The Scarlet Letter (1926), based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, which had been blacklisted by the censorship office of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America due to outcry from church and women’s groups. Undaunted, she took it upon herself to secure clearance for the film. No roadblock was insurmountable for Gish if she believed in a project. For her swan song to the silent era she chose The Wind, based on a novel by Dorothy Scarborough.

Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian - backstage The Wind
Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian – backstage The Wind

The actress hand-picked her director (Victor Sjostrom) and leading man (Lars Hanson) and was asked by MGM’s Irving Thalberg to produce. Gish’s career continued over the next sixty years— her sound work is represented in the Museum’s collection by films such as Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) and her last film, Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987)—but her legacy was long secured by her first sixteen years in film.

Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper in The Night of The Hunter 1955 Laughton
Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper in The Night of The Hunter 1955 Laughton

On June 25, 1935, The Museum of Modern Art presented to the public its Film Library (now the Department of Film), whose mission was “to preserve [and] exhibit… all types of films, so that the film may be studied and enjoyed as any other one of the arts is studied and enjoyed,” with Iris Barry as its inaugural curator. Gish’s relationship with MoMA’s Department of Film, like her relationship with film itself, began at its inception.

Mike Kaplan and Lillian Gish during filming for 'The Whales of August'
Mike Kaplan and Lillian Gish during filming for ‘The Whales of August’

It was through Barry, in the mid-1930s, that Gish first heard of the nascent concept of film preservation. Inspired by Barry and her own belief in the value of film as an art form, Gish maintained frequent correspondence with the department throughout her life in their joint efforts toward film preservation.

As Eileen Bowser, a former curator in the Department of Film, noted, “Convinced of the power of film to change the world,” Gish was a “dedicated fighter for every cause associated with the art of the film.” Not only was the actress instrumental in the donation of scripts, films, and funds to the Museum, but she also valued the input of its film curators, with whom she discussed her projects and from whom she sought advice regarding film preservation.

The acquisition of the D. W. Griffith Collection—one of the first major film collections to enter the Film Library—might not have occurred had it not been for Gish’s intervention. In the summer of 1935 Barry and her husband, John Abbott (then the Film Library’s director), visited Hollywood in an attempt to convince directors, actors, and studios to deposit films with the Museum. When they approached Griffith, he declined. In 1938, when D. W. Griffith, Inc., was in receivership and the director’s films were on the verge of being lost, Gish interceded and convinced Griffith to entrust his films and legacy to the Museum.

In 1954, when actor Charles Laughton set out to make his directorial debut, he prepared for The Night of the Hunter by screening Griffith films at MoMA. An admirer of Gish since Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, Laughton sought her out for the pivotal role of Rachel Cooper—an evolution of her silent film heroines—who protects two vulnerable yet resilient orphans from a soulless preacher intent on their destruction. Richard Griffith, then curator of the Film Library, acted as an intermediary between Gish and Laughton during their discussions surrounding the film.

From 1963 to 1980 Gish undertook an ambitious endeavor to tour universities, libraries, and museums throughout the world, lecturing on the art of film, concentrating on the period from 1900 to 1928. In preparation for these lectures, the actress engaged in constant dialogue with the Museum regarding film material and preservation methods. In exchange, Gish took her knowledge to the public and provided the Museum’s Film Preservation Program with resounding advocacy. It was fitting that when Gish became the fourteenth life member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on November 25, 1982, the ceremony was held at MoMA. The celebration of her devotion and contribution to the art of the motion picture took place at the institution that continues to collect, preserve, study, and exhibit her work.

first time on lecture platform 1932

Modern women : women artists at the Museum of Modern Art
Modern women : women artists at the Museum of Modern Art

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The Time of Laughter – By Corey Ford (1967)

The Time of Laughter

By Corey Ford (1967)

Foreword (by Frank Sullivan)

THE TIME OF LAUGHTER. It is a proper title for Corey Ford’s account of New York and Hollywood in the Twenties and early Thirties, that lively era before the storm clouds gathered. Ford himself was a cause of a good deal of the laughter of that time. I can think of no American humorist who excelled him in the subtle art of parody. The parodies of the then current best sellers he wrote for Vanity Fair under the name of John Riddell are still fresh in the memory of readers they delighted. (They did not usually amuse the authors of the books he impaled.) I wish he were in a mood to take on some of the stark novels of today, the output of the solemn, humor-less emancipators of the four-letter words, so like little boys chalking dirty words on sidewalks.

Ford has done an entertaining job of recalling the years he has chosen to chronicle; the fun-makers and humorists of those days, and the world they moved in. I cannot think of an ornament of the period he has not placed in the proper niche and to whom he has not given proper appreciation. It was a pleasant time on the whole, full of agreeable souls who had a lot of fun along with their share of cares, and were not unduly given to self-pity. I doubt if Shakespeare and Ben Jonson at the Mermaid Tavern, or Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds at the Mitre, had any more fun or any more good fellowship than Mr. Benchley, Harold Ross, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, and their friends had at the Algonquin, Bleeck’s, Moriarty’s, and “21.”

Ford enjoyed his white elephant for a number of years, then tired of it and sold it at a sacrifice, and with some difficulty. He moved to the livelier and more congenial Hanover, to which to date he has not imported any trees, nor, as far as I know, any snow in January.

The syndicated philosophers tell us of the geriatric bloc not to dwell upon the past. Live for today, they urge. Well, a hell of a today to live for is all I can say. I plan to dwell on the past anytime I choose, especially the past Corey Ford recounts here, and I thank him for reviving a charming era so vividly, and bringing to life so many lively and dear people, with whom I have laughed and drunk and argued and in general made the welkin ring.

The welkins you hear ringing today sound flat to me.

FRANK SULLIVAN

Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East - Vanity Fair June 1920
Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East – Vanity Fair June 1920

This Side of Parodies

Vanity Fair prided itself on being a pioneer. It was the earliest magazine to recognize Negro artists, portrayed in Steichen’s lovely camera studies of Paul Robeson and Florence Mills, the popular torch singer of Bye, Bye, Blackbird, or in his dramatic photograph of the March to the Promised Land in The Green Pastures. It introduced modern painters like Marie Laurencin and Raoul Dufy, causing its advertisers to protest about the “decadent and distorted” art in the magazine. There were cartoons by Punch’s George Belcher, wax figurines by Hidalgo (who described himself, with a straight face, as a half Aztec sculptor), and full-color caricatures by William Cotton and Miguel Covarrubias.

Its pages, as you look back over them today, are a faithful record of the era. Among the pictured or cartooned celebrities of the theater and politics and sport (and so many of them have already retreated into the shadows) were Nazimova, Tilly Losch, Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur, Lillian Gish, the Barrymores, the Lunts, the Astaires, the Sitwells; Katherine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Clarence Darrow, photographed by Steichen at the time of the Leopold-Loeb trial: George Bellows’s canvas of Dempsey being knocked out of the ring by Firpo; Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, Max Schmehng, William T. Tilden, Amelia Earhart, and Aimee Semple Mc- Pherson, who was nominated for Oblivion along with Chic Sale, Raymond Duncan, Ursula (Ex-Wife) Parrott, Lou Tellegen, Belle Livingston, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Queen Marie of Rumania.

The time of laughter - Frank Sullivan
The time of laughter – Frank Sullivan

My Ugly Roomer

Today Sullivan is the dean of living American humorists; his essays have been collected in half a dozen books (the title of one, Broccoli and Old Lace, was adapted by Lindsay and Crouse for their Broadway hit) and reprinted in countless anthologies; but never, for my taste, has he surpassed the dizzy heights of his “Interview with Lillian Gish,” written for the Sunday drama page of the World. Mr. Sullivan, it develops, has forced his way past the Gish butler by the ingenious device of tossing a wig of golden curls about his head and posing as Mary Pickford. He and Miss Gish embrace, and then she holds him at arm’s length, and studies him more closely. “But you’re not Mary Pickford,” she says after a moment of deliberation.

“I’m sorry,” Sullivan explains glibly. “I’m the President of the United States.’’

Miss Gish sneers. “Oh, you are, are you? Very well, then, perhaps you can explain who this gentleman is!” and she opens a curtain, and there in the conservatory stands President Coolidge.

“I made a mistake,” apologizes Sullivan. “I’m not the Presi- dent, of course. I’m really the Vice-President.”

“Is that so!” says the butler, and snatching off his side-whiskers he stands revealed as Vice-President Dawes.

Things are coming too fast for Sullivan. He decides to make a clean breast of it.

“My intentions were honest,” he tells them. “I was only trying to draw Miss Gish into an interview. I won’t lie to you anymore. I’m Frank Sullivan.”

They all start laughing, and President Coolidge says, “Is that so!” and opens a door, and there stands Frank Sullivan. . . .

Lillian Gish - Santa Monica - Vanity Fair June 1927
Lillian Gish – Santa Monica – Vanity Fair June 1927

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