Lillian Gish: A Night to Recall The Glory Years – By JUDY KLEMESRUD (The New York Times – 1980)

ap wire press photo actress lillian gish london 1980

Lillian Gish: A Night to Recall The Glory Years

By JUDY KLEMESRUD

The New York Times – September 20, 1980

Members of the “Old Hollywood,” who reigned on the screen during the film industry’s glamour and glory years, turned out in force Thursday night to honor Lillian Gish at a party celebrating a retrospective of her films at the Museum of Modem Art. “This must be heaven,” the 84-year–0ld Miss Gish told the star-studded audience after a program that included tributes from some of her friends and excerpts from five of her films, beginning with “Broken Blossoms” (1919) and ending with “The Night of the Hunter” (1955). Miss Gish looked as glamorous as she ever has in any film role. She was wearing a long black floral-printed gown covered by a layer of black chiffon. Her blond hair was swept up and caught in the back by a single white carnation. Several people who greeted her in the receiving line could be heard whispering about “Lillian’s beautiful blue eyes” and her “fabulous white skin.” Helen Hayes, one of Miss Gish’s closest friends, began her tribute in the museum’s auditorium by saying: “What do you say about the godmother of your son, the godmother of your grandson? And she’s a good godmother, too. She does her job.” Sir john Gielgud, whom Miss Gish has often described as her favorite leading man, recalled the time in the 1930’s when he was asked to play Hamlet in New York, with Miss Gish as Ophelia.

Lillian Gish and Sir John Gielgud in "Hamlet"
Lillian Gish and Sir John Gielgud in “Hamlet”

“My response was, ‘Is she still young enough?'” Sir John told the black-tie audience of 350.

Not long after that, he recalled, he was getting ready to go on stage one night when he saw “a tiny little head” peak around his dressing room door, saying, “Am I still young enough to play Ophelia?” She certainly was, he noted. Sir John then peered out into the audience in Miss Gish’s direction and said: “At a time when there are not so many great actresses as there were when I was young, we just cherish those we have left;”

Blanchette Rockefeller, president of the museum, who stood next to Miss Gish in the receiving line, read tributes to the actress from Francois Truffaut, Princess Grace of Monaco, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Eva Marie Saint.

At the party afterward in the museum’s penthouse, many of the guests paid their respects to Miss Gish by stopping by her table to hug and kiss her.

Lillian Gish - John Gielgud
Lillian Gish – John Gielgud

Hugging and Kissing

Ruth Ford, noting what was happening, commented to her escort: “It’s hard to embrace her with a drink in my hand.” So she handed her drink to him and then strolled over to Miss Gish and hugged and kissed her. And of course, since it was September and the first party of the season for many of the guests, and theater people being theater people, there was much hugging and kissing among them, too.

“Mo!” exclaimed Irene Worth, when she ran into Maureen Stapleton at the cheese board. “Irene!” Miss Stapleton exclaimed back. Both actresses emitted slight screams, and then embraced each other. Anita Loos, another good friend of Miss Gish, arrived too late for the tribute In the auditorium but was in time to indulge In the pastries and cheeses at the party. She said she had been at an auction at the Waldorf-Astoria where Charles Hamilton auctioned off her original manuscript for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” as well as a letter to Miss Loos from William Faulkner. The manuscript drew $3,200, the letter $1,900. Among the other partygoers were Morton Gottlieb, the Broadway producer, who arrived, as usual, on his bicycle; Joan Fontaine: Joan Benett; Adolph Green; Betty Comden; Arlene Dahl; Ruth Gordon and her husband, Garson Kanin; Hermione Gingold; Celeste Holm and her husband, Wesley Addy; Nedda Logan; Fritz Weaver; Patrice Munsel; Jack Gilford; Ruth Warrick and Vera Maxwell.

Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz” and who now plays Cora in coffee commercials, sat at a table with Joan Bennett, drinking something that smelled a lot like Scotch and water.

“Oh, it’s Maxwell House coffee – of a kind,” Miss Hamilton said with a laugh. Toward the end of the party, Darrell Ruhl, an actor who made a documentary film about Johnny Appleseed with Mis5 Gish this year, walked up to the actress and said: “If you get a good agent, you might make it.”

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Miss Gish laughed.

“I always say that to her,” Mr. Ruhl explained, “and she usually tells me, ‘You’ve got to eat more.'”

The Lillian Gish film retrospective opened yesterday and will run until Oct. 7 at the Museum of Modem Art. It includes 19 of the 100 films the actress made and spans her entire career, from her first film, “An Unseen Enemy” (1912) through her latest film, “A Wedding” (1978).

Lillian Gish - A Night to Recall The Glory Years NYTimes Sep 20 1980
Lillian Gish – A Night to Recall The Glory Years NYTimes Sep 20 1980

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