Lillian Gish’s Genius Will Outlast Ava DuVernay and the Canon Wreckers – By Armond White, June 2019

National Review

Lillian Gish’s Genius Will Outlast Ava DuVernay and the Canon Wreckers

By Armond White June 26, 2019 6:30 AM

Instead of having the great actress’s name erased, students should see her in Griffith’s Broken Blossoms.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

Lillian Gish is considered America’s greatest film actress by most people who know anything about movie history. Gish was a key figure, acting in numerous classics from the silent era and into the 1980s. For members of the Black Student Union at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, Gish is a pariah. A victim of Millennial rewriting of inconvenient history, she has had her name removed from an on-campus theater.

Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater
Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater

After a screening of Ava DuVernay’s propaganda documentary 13th, about racism in the U.S. criminal-justice system, which cites as proof carelessly incorporated footage of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1916), featuring Gish, BGSU students sought Soviet-style revenge. Their poorly informed fervor cowed BGSU administrators even though Gish in her will endowed the college with her archives and an honorarium prize for arts. BGSU defended the censure and made lame excuses about “an inclusive learning environment.” Higher education sinks continuously lower in the dark age of political correctness.


No one at BGSU was educated about Gish’s eminence. Her worthiness was like a public statue of the unknown soldier; her commemoration should be the safekeeping of educators and cultural guardians who make sure that students and the public receive proper information about our cultural heritage.


Over 1800 have signed the petition

So when I was asked to sign a petition objecting to Gish’s mistreatment, I agreed with its declaration. Punishing Gish is part of an ongoing series of cultural defamations that began in 1999 when the Directors Guild of America stripped D. W. Griffith’s name from its annual awards (soon followed by the National Board of Review). This showed complete disregard for Griffith’s significance to film form and to American cultural history.

Last week, producer-publicist Mike Kaplan and historian Joseph McBride released the petition signed by over 50 film-culture figures. “Only 50?” a friend asked. “What about the 50,000 who didn’t sign?” No outcry from Gish Prize recipients Laurie Anderson, Spike Lee, Bob Dylan, Suzan-Lori Parks, or Anna Deavere Smith.


If American art and political history were taught well and seen clearly, more names and voices would be raised in outrage. Gish deserved defense from every filmmaker and arts person in the country for the way she and Griffith distinguished human expression. They invented the expressive close-up, with its insight into psychology and memorable illustration of behavior. Gish is an integral part of America’s complex history. Understanding her work is not just a matter of being more sophisticated than DuVernay, who opportunistically misused The Birth of a Nation and spread disinformation; it’s also a matter of appreciating the moral density of human experience in art.

Hester Prynne worried for her ill daughter - Lillian Gish - Scarlet Letter
Hester Prynne worried for her ill daughter – Lillian Gish – Scarlet Letter

We see Gish’s extraordinary range as Southerner Elsie Stoneman, innocently caught up in the factional turmoil of The Birth of a Nation’s Civil War; Thomas Hardy’s updated American Tess embodying female delicacy and strength in Way Down East; her idealization with sister Dorothy Gish as siblings separated by warring forces of the French Revolution in Orphans of the Storm; a portrayal of romantic simplicity in True Heart Susie; her embodiment of American moral crisis as Hester in The Scarlet Letter; her ageless, mythic motherhood in Intolerance; and her sound-era roles as the feminine principle in Duel in the Sun; the fearless Christian matriarch in the expressionist Night of the Hunter; a realistic variation on that role in The Unforgiven; a modern confrontation with racist dictatorship in The Comedians; her complex characterization as the officious and repentant Miss Inch in The Cobweb; and finally her iconic girlish matriarch in Altman’s A Wedding.

Gish’s fierce and clear characterizations set out the possibilities for film acting and are matched by few other performers. This year marks the centenary of Broken Blossoms, one of her finest Griffith collaborations. It is also cinema’s premier examination of Western racism and global, which is to say spiritual, fellowship. This ecumenical love story between a Chinese immigrant (Richard Barthelmess) and a white girl child in London’s Limehouse slum district is a poem of contrasts — between cultures, sexes, and sensibilities. Gish’s fright when locked in a closet by her brutal father, Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp), is the screen’s greatest moment of terror, and her adoration by the sensitive Chinese devotee turns sympathy to empathy. It is the greatest of all representation and identification movies and should be definitive proof of Griffith’s humane artistry, superseding The Birth of a Nation’s controversies.

Lillian Gish holding her Honorary Oscar at the 43rd Academy Awards, April 15th 1971. (Photo by Pictorial Parade Archive Photos)
Lillian Gish holding her Honorary Oscar at the 43rd Academy Awards, April 15th 1971. (Photo by Pictorial Parade Archive Photos)

But canon wreckers and propagandists such as DuVernay would deny Gish’s accomplishments, overturning rich history for tribal grievance and its handmaiden, ignorance. It’s unlikely that DuVernay’s fascist-influenced career will ever equal Gish’s or that her poorly educated followers will ever appreciate the difference. To tarnish a star of Gish’s genius diminishes us all. “It’s not dark yet,” sang Gish prize winner Bob Dylan, “but it’s getting there.”

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

In rememberance Lillian Gish 1993 BGSU
In rememberance Lillian Gish 1993 BGSU

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The New York Times Archive – Time Machine

MOST people will tell you a centennial comes along only every hundred years. But if you’re the Metropolitan Opera, you celebrate your hundredth birthday twice.

Lillian Gish in the 80's 6

And last night as a followup to October’s big centennial anniversary gala for itself with, naturally, opera singers, the Metropolitan Opera staged an equally stellar gala with some of the biggest names in international dance. Entitled ”Celebration!,” the gala performance commemorating 100 years of performing arts at the Metropolitan Opera reminded us that the Metropolitan had never been exclusively in the singing business.

True – there were singers like Yves Montand, John Denver, Lionel Richie and even Placido Domingo, a pop star if there ever was one, to recall that popular entertainers as well as dancers had not only appeared but also been presented or toured by the Metropolitan.

But the truth is that most people had paid up to $1,000 to see possibly the very last performance that the Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso might give as Giselle, albeit in truncated form. And they had been rightly attracted by the idea of seeing Dame Margot Fonteyn, the radiant Sleeping Beauty of 1949, still radiant when awakened this time from a briefer nap onstage by her Pygmalion, Sir Frederick Ashton. If you thought Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin would make a cameo appearance to recall their exciting seasons as stars in the same old house with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, you were right.

Alexandra Danilova - Fredric Franklin
Alexandra Danilova – Fredric Franklin

But perhaps you didn’t expect Lillian Gish to fulfill a lifelong fantasy and find herself in a ballet of sorts, pretending to be asleep in a chair, as a young man in a rose-petal costume whirled around her.

If the impression is coming across that a good percentage of those onstage were hardly at the age when dancers are at their peak, it would not be incorrect. In addition to those ages 60 through 80 or thereabouts, a notable few who still managed to go through their paces were in their mid- 40’s and their mid-50’s.

As wonderful as it is to welcome back the dancers one loved most, it is just as realistic to say that this was not a gala that faithfully represented the state of dance as it is today in its completeness.

Nonetheless, it was a gala that carried on in the true Metropolitan Opera tradition. It was thanks to Otto Kahn, the Metropolitan Opera’s chairman, that Anna Pavlova made her debut in the United States at the opera house in 1910. Typically, she appeared onstage just before midnight after a four-act opera.

Anna Pavlova 1912
Anna Pavlova 1912

Those who thought they could begin nibbling at a reasonable hour on the lobster, asparagus and chocolate truffles to which a top-price ticket entitled them, found that the gala lasted four hours. In the end, they managed, despite a soaking rain, to enter the white party tent, 150 by 200 feet, outside on the Lincoln Center Plaza just before midnight.

Atmosphere, however, was what counted most. As Kenneth Schermerhorn, who is also the American Ballet Theater’s chief conductor, raised his baton in the pit at the start of the evening, Isadora Duncan’s own Metropolitan debut flitted across the mind. Invited to dance Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the opera house in 1908 by the famous conductor Walter Damrosch, Duncan had this to say in her memoirs:

Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan – Grande Marche

”When I looked down from the stage and saw the great brow of Damrosch bent over the score, I felt that my dance really resembled the birth of Athena, springing full-armed from the head of Zeus.”

One wonders what Yoko Morishita, the Japanese ballerina, was thinking of when she saw Mr. Schermerhorn’s brow – probably if it’s Sunday, it must be New York. She had flown in the same day from Tokyo to dance with Ballet Theater’s Fernando Bujones in the ”Corsaire” pas de deux.

Maniya, Makarova, Morishita and other Giselles in Manila
Maniya, Makarova, Morishita and other Giselles in Manila

As it happened, Mr. Bujones and Miss Morishita, along with Natalia Makarova in another pas de deux, provided the only dancing that could be compared to greatness. Miss Morishita is a thorough professional and perfection is in her every move. As for Mr. Bujones, he is simply one of the finest dancers in the world and he delivered the goods, excitingly and eloquently, that the audience had been waiting for all evening. This was dancing.

There was also nostalgia and sentiment. There were two moving moments. When Alicia Alonso and her Cuban partner, Jorge Esquivel, danced an adaptation of the pas de deux from Act II of ”Giselle,” there were some in the audience who felt history had come full circle. Miss Alonso danced her first Giselle in 1943, at the Metropolitan with Ballet Theater. She had always wanted to dance her last Giselle, a role with which she has been identified for 40 years, in New York.

Alicia Alonso, Jorge Esquivel en Carmen
Alicia Alonso, Jorge Esquivel en Carmen

The fact that she is partially blind and just past age 60 is well known. New Yorkers have not seen her for more than five years, and if one did not expect her to be fully the same, it was not surprising that the essence of the role is still with her. If anything she seemed more like a 19th-century lithograph than ever, and as usual her fabulous entrechats brought down the house.

A similar moment occurred when Miss Makarova, who is rumored to be retiring from classical roles, danced the adagio from Act II of ”Swan Lake.” For this occasion, she brought out of retirement Ivan Nagy, her former partner at Ballet Theater. Granted, Mr. Nagy retired in the 1970’s in his 30’s, but it was good to see him back, as considerate as ever with a ballerina whose crystalline dancing was lyrical in every move. Her onstage musicians, incidentally, were Itzhak Perlman and Lynn Harrell.

Natalia Makarova as Juliet
Natalia Makarova as Juliet

The evening opened with Dvorak’s Carnival Overture by the opera orchestra, followed by the Martha Graham Dance Company in ”Diversion of Angels,” Lynn Seymour wonderfully militant and tragic in Sir Frederick’s ”Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan” and Miss Gish with the high-leaping Patrick Dupond of the Paris Opera Ballet in ”Le Spectre de la Rose.”

PARIS BALLET CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION Lillian Gish and Patrick Dupond of the Paris Ballet - Le Spectre de la Rose Sunday afternoon, at the New York Metropolitan May 14 1984

Jean-Charles Gil of France’s Roland Petit Company held the stage strongly in a quirky solo by Mr. Petit to music, believe it or not, by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Jerome Robbins came onstage to present a bouquet to Alexandra Danilova. The Royal Danish Ballet sent Lis Jeppesen and Arne Villumsen for the balcony pas de deux from Sir Frederick’s ”Romeo and Juliet.” Marcia Haydee, Richard Cragun, Antoinette Sibley, David Wall, Karen Kain, Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, Carla Fracci, Tamasaburo Bando, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, jiving with Mr. Richie and his musicians to ”All Night Long” rounded out a superstar cast.

Alexandra Danilova - The Making of Markova
Alexandra Danilova – The Making of Markova

Produced by Jane Hermann, the Metropolitan’s director of presentations, and staged by Donald Saddler, it was an evening that stressed the past more than the present. Like dance, it had its treasured ephemeral moments – notably Sir Frederick handing Dame Margot four roses, one by one, in a gloss upon the Rose Adagio in ”The Sleeping Beauty” before they tripped off in a sequence known, after its creator, as the Fred Step.

Fantasy merged into reality, however, when the those who came in black-tie (many did not) made their way toward the dinner tent. ”I thought it was great,” said Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the Chrysler Corporation. ”I enjoyed it all. I don’t get to do these things too often. Lionel Richie livened things up. It was a great thrill to be here.”

Former Gov. Hugh Carey thought the evening was ”the usual great New York display of talent,” and Barbara Walters ventured that the gala was ”beautiful but long,” and ”wonderful nostalgic commentary for those of us who could remember, but it’s a little long for those of us who have to go to work the next day.”

Legend of stage and screen, Lillian Gish, appears with Patrick Dupond and fulfills a lifelong dream at the Metropolitan Opera Gala, celebrating 100 years of performing arts at the Met. In her introduction, Miss Gish recalls a performance of “Le Spectre de la Rose” with Vaslav Nijinksy that she had attended with her sister Dorothy and Charlie Chaplin over 65 years before.

Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911
Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911

Taped on May 13, 1984. ” ‘Le Spectre de la Rose’ is a ballet of the Ballets Russes based on a poem by Théophile Gautier. The music, by Carl Maria von Weber, was taken from his short piece Invitation to the Dance. Choreography was by Michel Fokine and set and costume design by Léon Bakst. It premiered on April 19, 1911 by the Ballets Russes in the Théâtre de Monte Carlo.

The story is about a debutante who falls asleep after her first ball. She dreams that she is dancing with the rose that she had been holding in her hand. Her dream ends when the rose escapes through the window. The dancers at the original performance were Vaslav Nijinsky as the Rose and Tamara Karsavina as the Girl.”

Lillian Gish Patrick Dupont

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Retain the name of The Gish Theater! Please sign the petition!

Follow this link to sign the petition

I strongly oppose the effort to rename Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater honoring two talented native Ohioans, Lillian and Dorothy Gish.  Recently a similar petition was taken to the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The Gish sisters made distinguished, unmatched contributions to the performing arts, including motion pictures, stage, radio, and television. The removal of the name of the Gish Film Theater would be a sad, ignorant, misinformed waste and an insult to these great women’s legacy. There are campus activists at BGSU who want the Gish Theater name removed because of Lillian Gish’s role in the controversial D.W.Griffith film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Miss Gish was not a producer, writer, or director  and therefore had no role in its content.  She was a twenty-one year old actress fulfilling her contractual obligations.

Regarded as THE PREMIER SILENT FILM ACTRESS, Lillian’s oeuvre encompasses roles that are anti-racist and pro-feminist including such classics as “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East,” while Dorothy, who was one of the silent screen’s most popular actresses and did not appear in The Birth of a Nation, had a significant part in the anti-Klan film, “The Cardinal.” To remove these sisters’ names from the theater would be a blow to artistic expression and would not further the cause of racial justice and women’s contributions in film.To blacklist a performing artist simply for appearing in one film or play, as in the disrespectful phrase, “Ditch the Gish,” is outrageous, narrow-minded and sexist. It is clearly an embarrassment to the establishment from which it came, and the decision-makers should be cognizant of that, as well as Lillian Gish’s great legacy and trail-blazer as a successful woman in film who transitioned beautifully from the ‘silents’ to the ‘talkies.’ She was, and always will be, a fine example and credit to the film industry.

Instead of renouncing the well-deserved honor bestowed on these two great actresses with the establishment of the Gish Film Theater in 1976 there should be a ‘re-awakening’ celebration of the Gish sisters’ achievements instead, which could be accompanied by lectures on these women by well-known film historians and the showing of such anti-racist and pro-feminist movie classics as “The Cardinal,””Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East.” This could have such a beneficial ripple affect on the entire campus, even beyond the Film, Drama, and Women Studies Departments, which it would directly benefit. Retaining the name of the Gish Theater would also increase Bowling Green University’s respect and admiration as an institution, world-wide.

Ralph Wolfe and Eva Marie Saint Return to Bowling Green Fall 1976
Ralph Wolfe and Eva Marie Saint Return to Bowling Green – Fall 1976

I had the privilege of meeting Lillian Gish when I was a graduate student in painting at Bowling Green State University on October 14, 1979. It was her 80th birthday and she gave a warm, articulate lecture on “Way Down East” at the Gish Theater, a silent film in which she played the heroine.  Afterwards I asked if I could take her picture for my sister, Jane Gaines, now a published film historian who teaches at Columbia University.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Let’s have a picture taken of the two of us for your sister. I had a sister once, and I miss her very much!”

These kind women’s legacy in film needs to be REMEMBERED and HONORED at Bowling Green State University and in their state of Ohio and the rest of the world, NOT ERASED!

Anne Gaines and Lillian Gish 1979

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The Gish Film Theater Hanna Hall - View from the projection room
The Gish Film Theater Hanna Hall – View from the projection room

Reasons For Signing The Petition for retaining the name of The Gish Theater


“DITCH THE GISH” – Strategy

The Gish Theater Saga


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We need to remember the long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema.

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.

If the present period is one of heightened concerns about race, it is also one with a reawakened feminism, a fresh emphasis on the need to recover and remember a long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema. In the age of the MeToo movement, one sure way to rebuild support for the Gish Film Theater is to remind people of the roles of Lillian and Dorothy as strong, emancipated women at a time when females were struggling to obtain the vote and define themselves as something other than the property of their husbands. The sexist overtones of the hashtag, “Ditch the Gish,” means that the Black Students Union have lost whatever moral high ground they thought they might have gained by harping on the Klan and the “Birth” controversy.The New Gish Theater BGSU Front

Please consider that all the material related with this above mentioned attack is marked on as SPOILER. If interested only in the seventh art and theatre please do not read it.

Thank you kindly for visiting Miss Lillian Gish fan page.

Black Student Union on Twitter - Hashtag - DITCH THE GISH
Black Student Union on Twitter – Hashtag – DITCH THE GISH, upper left corner a logo (fist combined with the map of Africa, colors Red-Green-Yellow)

The Gish Theater Saga

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Eva Marie Saint cancels trip to BGSU

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.


An Evening with Eva Marie Saint, scheduled for Friday, March 29, has been cancelled.

Dean Raymond Craig of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a notice addressed to Friends of BGSU Arts that: “Ms. Saint regrets that she will not be traveling to Bowling Green State University this spring.”

The Academy Award winning actress and graduate of BGSU was schedule to perform with students during the evening event.


Dave Kielmeyer, spokesman for the university, said that the change of plans was not related to the controversy over the name of the Gish Film Theatre. Plans for the event just were not coming along as well as the university would want, he said. “It’s as much on us.”

Saint’s appearance was originally scheduled as part of the rededication of the Gish Film Theatre in its new space in the Bowen Thompson Student Union. However, that was cancelled when members of the Black Student Union questioned the venue being named in part for Lillian Gish, who starred in “The Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 D.W. Griffith silent movie epic has been tied to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist depictions of African-Americans.


“…But as that in effect amounts to an embarrassing situation it might be that the university administrators, as horrible as this is to say, will feel less embarrassed by simply pretending the Gishes never existed and eliminating any sign of them on the campus. If in a glaring anticlimax they do return the Gish Film Theater to its original location or some other less prominent place, then the grand reopening they had in January with Eva Marie Saint becomes in itself a source of discomfort.
   I can only say that if there is enough pressure from those who care about Lillian and Dorothy Gish and their place in history, then it may become clear to the BGSU administration that they will face far greater embarrassment all over the world if they drop the name than if they retain it. For this reason, I feel an online petition is the best way to go to prevent this from happening.”
   William M. Drew
“…As for your suggestion of a possible museum for the Gish sisters, the problem with that is there are very few such memorials dedicated to pioneer film artists. Off hand, I can think of only three in the Los Angeles region that house museum displays–the homes of Nell Shipman, William S. Hart, and Will Rogers who also has a major memorial in his hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma. Several of the old studios where structures and other sites survive have had museums dedicated to them, too. In my own Bay Area, there is the Essanay studio in Niles, California, Hollywood has the famous DeMille barn that marked the start of Paramount, while on the East Coast there are the American Museum of the Moving Image located in Paramount’s Astoria studio, the Fort Lee Film Commission with a museum dedicated to the East Coast Hollywood, the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum in Jacksonville commemorating the years the Florida city was a center of film production, and the Wharton Studio Museum in Ithaca, New York devoted to the many films produced there in the 1910s.
  With the exception of Fort Lee, none of these sites have anything to do directly with Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The three studios where they worked with Griffith–the Biograph in Manhattan, the Fine Arts in Hollywood, and the Mamaroneck in New York–have all since vanished. In Hollywood, they lived mainly in rented bungalows and never established a big permanent residence like Pickfair. In New York City, they lived in an apartment for years, but that is not likely to become the site of a museum. So, for the foreseeable future, the Gish Film Theater and Gallery in Bowling Green is probably the closest thing to a museum display that commemorates them–that is, if it is allowed to continue there.”
William M. Drew
Gallery: Orienta Point, Mamaroneck (former Griffith Studios and sets from “Way Down East” and “Orphans of The Storm”)

As a film historian \ I am very concerned about the current agitation at Bowling Green

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.

By William M. Drew

I am writing you to express my concern about an attempt to remove the names of the Gish sisters from a campus theater in Ohio as a consequence of the constant, non-stop demonization of D. W. Griffith over “The Birth of a Nation.” I am hoping that, by alerting you to this, you might be able to get the word to others in the academic community seriously committed to the study and appreciation of film art. Perhaps this can lead to a coordinated protest so that this effort will not succeed.

What has happened is as follows. Back in 1976 when the United States was still a democracy, people at Bowling Green State University, Ohio decided to name a campus theater after Ohio native daughter Lillian Gish. Lillian refused the honor unless it also included her sister Dorothy so they then named it the Gish Film Theater with which Lillian was quite happy. The theater was in operation for many years and Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe put together a collection of memorabilia associated with the Gishes which was on display there. As the theater was in need of renovation by 2016, however, it was felt its function, including the name, should be transferred to another location.

Eventually, they found what they felt was an ideal campus location for the Gish Film Theater–a building that is also used by the students union. So in January of this year, 2019, the Gish Film Theater reopened at its new site in a dedication hosted by Eva Marie Saint, now 94 and a longtime friend of Lillian Gish, who had come all the way to the university for this special event.


Soon after, however, campus activists led by the Black Students Union began demanding that the name of Gish be dropped from the theater because Lillian had played the leading feminine role in “The Birth of a Nation.” They claimed that the reason they had not objected to the Gish name being attached to the theater previously is because it was in a much less visible, almost hidden part of the campus than it is now. Pressure has continued to mount and the university president says he will render a decision on whether the Gish name stays or is removed in May.

Students attending to Black Issues Conference - Gish Theater

As the saying goes, we’ve seen this movie before. In 1998, 21 years ago, there was a similar controversy on another college campus, Northern Kentucky University in Covington, over Red Grooms’ sculptures of D. W. Griffith and Billy Bitzer filming Lillian Gish on the ice in “Way Down East.” The sculptures had occupied a prominent situation on the campus since being placed there in 1979. For years, they brightened the otherwise dreary-looking campus without any controversy. But with Griffith’s reputation beginning to disintegrate in the 1990s as more and more attacks were launched against him in the media, perhaps it was inevitable that this would have an adverse effect on any monument or memorial to him even if, as in this case, it had nothing whatever to do with “The Birth of a Nation.” With students and academics demanding that NKU get rid of this monument to a “racist” filmmaker, the college administrators bowed to their demands and the sculptures were removed and then dismantled.


With this perhaps as a precedent, the following year in December 1999 Griffith’s name was removed from the Lifetime Achievement Award that the Director’s Guild of America had been giving to outstanding filmmakers since 1953. The Guild said that they were doing so because Griffith had perpetrated “intolerable racial stereotypes” in his films. Unlike the NKU controversy which attracted little attention outside the northern Kentucky/southern Ohio region, the DGA’s decision was widely reported, eliciting a variety of comment, pro and con. In the ensuing years, while the denunciations of Griffith over “The Birth of a Nation” have never ceased and with very little attention paid to his other works, there have not been similar efforts to dishonor him publicly for the simple reason that there are few memorials of any kind to commemorate his existence. There are no other awards bearing his name, no grand museum honoring his life and work, no cities and parks named after him nor theaters, either, no towering statues of him. It seemed that all those who had come to despise him could do was continue writing and producing vitriolic books, articles and documentaries about him in which he was forever blamed for just about all of America’s racial problems.


Now that the Gishes are being targeted, I suppose I should utter that old cliche that I’m not surprised. But actually I am. For example, there is the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize established by provisions in Lillian’s will to reward worthy artists. One of its more recent recipients was none other than Spike Lee who had no objections at all to receiving an award bearing the name of the actress who played Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth of a Nation.”


With no apparent controversy over this prestigious award and with numerous film critics and historians continuing to bestow on Lillian Gish the praise that they now generally withhold from Griffith who is more often than not reviled these days, I had actually thought she was immune to this kind of attack. But since the few memorials to the director have long since vanished, it is evidently Lillian’s turn to be denounced and dishonored as a surrogate for Griffith. And if they succeed in removing any honors to Lillian and sister Dorothy who, unlike Lillian, was not in “The Birth of a Nation,” will they then target Mary Pickford who was not in “The Birth of a Nation,” either, but who also did indeed work for Griffith?

d.w. griffith, mary pickford, charlie chaplin (seated) and douglas fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing united artists motion picture studio

I don’t think it is hyperbole to observe that what we are seeing these days with all the attacks on memorials to iconic historical figures is an American equivalent of the Cultural Revolution that decimated China’s civilization in the 1960s and with much the same stated objective. While this kind of frenzy scarcely began amidst the meltdown caused by the disgraceful and incompetent administration of Donald J. Trump as witness the earlier anti-Griffith agitation of the late 1990s, there is no question that his repellent antics have only intensified the madness of the so-called resistance. If unchecked, it could spread to many other outstanding cultural figures, not only in cinema but in the older arts as well.

Pickford, Griffith, Chaplin, Fairbanks - United Artists
Pickford, Griffith, Chaplin, Fairbanks – United Artists

Mark Twain could come under fire, not for “Huck Finn” but for “Tom Sawyer” due to the racially stereotyped character of Injun Joe. You could have activists running around Oakland demanding that the name of Jack London Square be changed because several of the writer’s statements seem racist to some. Not long ago I came across a college paper in which the “scholar” tried to argue that, based on passages in their works, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all racists or bigots. That this analyst appeared to be confusing the attitudes expressed by some of their characters with the personal views of the authors was clear enough to me. But in a time when critical thinking and reasoned debate has all but disappeared in this country and many other Western nations, this approach has become all too common.

United Artists Corporation Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, David Wark Griffith
United Artists Corporation – Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, David Wark Griffith

I believe therefore that it is imperative for all those concerned with cinema art to express their opposition to this attempt to remove the Gish name from the theater. If this attempt by the professionally outraged is not halted in its tracks, it will simply encourage more and more such assaults on our cultural heritage. From a feminist standpoint, it effectively applies an “Adam’s rib” conception to both Gish sisters in which they are no more than projections of a now despised and much misunderstood male artist without any individuality or creativity of their own. In an era in which women’s voices and contributions are supposed to count, scapegoating Lillian and Dorothy Gish for a portrayal in just one film that was conceived, not by Griffith but by the crackpot writer Thomas Dixon, Jr., the only person connected with “The Birth of a Nation” who merits censure, is utterly ridiculous.

the sisters - 1914 — with dorothy gish. 4

One of the high points of my viewing classic films was the time in 1995 when I witnessed a revival of “Way Down East” that proved electrifying in its emotional effect on the audience. The denunciation of the sexual double standard and the traditional male patriarchy elicited loud cheers and applause. I have never experienced such a response to any other film in all the years I attended theatrical screenings. It was this film that inspired those fighting for women’s rights all over the world including China in the 1920s where it proved enormously influential. But the continued attacks on Griffith which are now starting to engulf Lillian Gish as well have caused this to be almost completely forgotten.

I would very much appreciate it if you would consider contacting those of your colleagues in the film history field who conceivably could circulate a petition requesting that the name of the Gish Film Theater remain intact. If enough people sign it, I believe we might be able to prevent this effort at name change and public dishonor from going through.

As a film historian who enjoyed a very nice correspondence with Lillian Gish over the years and who has written extensively about D. W. Griffith, I am very concerned about the current agitation at Bowling Green State University to drop the name of Gish from the Gish Film Theater as a result of the never-ending controversy over “The Birth of a Nation.” Sadly, given the past history of such incidents where this issue is concerned, it is likely that the university will give in to such pressures unless there is a strong enough counter-protest to defeat this attempt.

  I have in mind getting up a petition that could be sent around for cinephiles and others concerned about the arts to sign. It could then be forwarded to the university president and if there are enough signatures on it, it might have the desired effect. I have other information about the Gishes, D. W. Griffith and many others from those years I will be happy to share with you. In the meantime, I am including in this e-mail a copy of a letter I’ve started sending out to film academics and others with a particular interest in this. It gives a background history for the situation that has now arisen. 

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you about this rather urgent matter soon. I will be very interested in any suggestions you may have.



    William M. Drew


The Gish Theater Saga

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For me, Lillian Gish put BGSU on the map!

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.

From: Adrian Paul Botta <>
Date: March 17, 2019 at 8:21:31 AM EDT
To: Rodney Rogers <>,,,
Subject: [EXTERNAL] Keep Gish name, respect American History!

My name is Adrian Paul Botta, even if I’m more than ten thousand miles away, I’m very sad and frustrated after reading all that is happening at Bowling Green State University. I grew up as a poor kid behind the Iron Courtain in the seventies. First time I’ve had the chance to see Miss Lillian Gish was in a old Cinema Magazine and since then I’m in love with her memory, trying to find out facts from her prodigious career. So I read about her childhood in Springfield, Massillon, then Baltimore, her ascension and her ups, and downs known being the fact that actors of that era were the main propaganda instruments. Miss Lillian Gish, a career that span over eighty years, more than we “mortals” have lived biologically.


So I’ve heard of Dr.Ralph Haven Wolfe and his initiative to invite Miss Lillian to visit BGSU. After she kindly accepted that a theater, a student workshop would bear her name, she donated memorabilia and with generous contribution from many personalities like Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Eva Marie Saint, another photographic collection from Museum of Modern Art found a home at BGSU – Gish Theater.

Thus Miss Gish put for me on the map Bowling Green State University. Never heard of that Institution before, kindly forgive me but it’s not so renown as Yale, Harvard, West Point or some other well known universities from the civilised world.


To make the long story short, for me as European is very hard to comprehend what’s happening with the Gish Film Theater. She brought BGSU name in world attention, linking it to her fame. She ACCEPTED for the theater to bear her name. For her, a lot of personalities made donations, funds for expanding the theater.

Suddenly a group of wannabe’s decided to enter through hystory’s back door destroying a reputation, a memory of one of the greatest personalities in American culture, the so called “American Institution”. By the way this brings in my memory that fellow who shot in 1980 John Lennon in the back, (Dakota Building archway). “Grand” way to write one’s name in the History Book.

Gish 2 X Theater

Now if I’m not mistaking, Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize was presented to a number of African American artists, among them Spike Lee, who received 300.000 US Dollars for “Malcolm X”. And if I remember correctly, Lee accepted the prize.


Kindly consider my opinion as many others from a lot of different countries. I believe Miss Lillian Gish represents America, (for me certainly does, the better part of America anyway). It’s not enough that only some of the Gish museum is on display in the Union, the rest of it is in the archives – the Jerome Library and in the Brown Pop Culture Library? Her legacy torn apart, certain amount of contributors investment lost …


The Union theater also does not have the historical significance of the Gish, as Lillian Gish had visited BGSU when the theater was first dedicated to her. The Gish has been a symbol for film culture and history for over 40 years. It was a workshop, where young artists could compare and debate their work as well. I close this letter with a heavy heart, hoping that common sense will prevail, and BGSU will remain a neutral cultural institution, dedicated to provide opportunities for different views.

Above letter (edited) was published by Toledo Blade on March 31, 2019 as follows:

Toledo Blade - Letters to the editor - March 31 2019

The Gish Theater Saga


Back to Lillian Gish Home page

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Lillian Gish autographed - 1920s
Lillian Gish autographed – 1920s

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

The Gish Theater Saga

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Gish sisters are an important part of film history

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.

The New Gish Theater BGSU Front

photo by Reghan Winkler

(BG Falcon Media) Wally Pretzer Mar 14, 2019

The Black Student Union at BGSU would like to see the Gish Film Theater name removed from the Student Union. These students should know that the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize has been awarded to several African Americans, including Spike Lee.

In 1915, D.W. Griffith produced “The Birth of a Nation”, a racist movie that put the Ku Klux Klan in a favorable light. Lillian Gish played a nurse from the North caring for wounded soldiers. Because of her appearance in the film, the Black Students Union has implied that she is a racist; her sister, Dorothy, who was not in the film, is, by association with her sister, also, apparently, considered a racist. “The Birth of a Nation” has never been shown in the Gish Film Theater. President Rodney Rogers, assisted by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Ray Craig, appointed a task force of students, faculty and other stakeholders to review the controversy to decide whether the name should be removed.


What is appalling is that there is this movement afoot to defame the stellar film achievements of Lillian and Dorothy Gish, born and raised in Ohio. There is no doubt in my mind that if these black students succeed in their defamation of the characters of Lillian and Dorothy Gish, they will have destroyed important film history. Ralph Haven Wolfe founded the Gish Film Theater in 105 Hanna Hall in 1976. Ms. Gish came to the BGSU campus at least four times to be honored.


If the Gish Film Theater name is removed, I think that it will indicate to the world that Bowling Green State University, as an institution dedicated to providing opportunities for differing views, has failed in that endeavor.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

The Gish Theater Saga

The Gish Theater Saga

Back to Lillian Gish Home page