Costume, THE PERFORMING PARTNER (1990)
by JAC LEWIS and MIRIAM STRIEZHEFF LEWIS
Putting the Costume to Use – The Audition
Even a well-established actress faces the challenge of persuading a director she is suitable for a role and will turn to the use of convincing attire to plead her case. Such was the situation for Lillian Gish when Guthrie McClintic brought his production of Hamlet with John Gielgud to New York in 1936. McClintic asked Gielgud to consider whether Lillian Gish would be suitable for the role of Ophelia.
This request stirred an old memory within Gielgud. He recalled that back in the old silent film days he gazed at the advertisement of Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, which consisted of a photograph of the backs of a pair of small girls, both wearing straw hats. Underneath the photograph was the caption: “Two little strangers about whom all the world will soon be talking.”
Upon the release of D. W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm introducing the appealing sisters, the prediction came true. And now, so many years later, here was Lillian Gish appearing before him in his dressing room wanting to be cast as young Ophelia.
She came to the meeting with Gielgud wearing a light summer dress with short sleeves. A large white straw hat trimmed with black velvet ribbons rested upon her fair hair. When he commented to her that the manner in which she was dressed reminded him of her photograph in the advertisement, she replied that she deliberately recreated that image in order to convince him that she was not too old to play Ophelia. Her appearance did persuade Gielgud, and she became Ophelia to his Hamlet.
“An actor’s costume does far more than clothe the actor. It becomes the peculiar carapace, or even second skin, into which one climbs and, as one does so, feels a character quicken. How wonderful that you have recognized the extraordinary importance of costuming to the live core of an actor’s performance.” (Anne Baxter)