Vanity Fair – October 1983
Lillian Gish Jeanne Moreau
This is a summit meeting: a queen paying homage to an empress. Of course, Lillian Gish, far right, is no truer a blueblood than any other homespun midwesterner. But wherever she goes now, she is treated like a monarch, acknowledging standing ovations in allAmerican palaces like Radio City Music Hall. Her admirers aren’t really applauding her 101 films (she has just completed the 102nd, about a sweet old lady and her sweet old dog). They may never have seen her slim but supernally intense performances in the D. W. Griffith masterpieces or in the Victor Sjostrom classics she made in the late ’20s at MGM.
But they sense in her the grace, the purity, the wealth of symbolism that royalty sustains. Gish’s companion here, Jeanne Moreau, radiates a similar authority; what Gish was to the cinema of the ’20s, Moreau was to the cinema of the ’60s. “There is something fascinating about the destiny of an actress,” Moreau says. “You belong to the world. You transcend class.” That’s what her directorial debut, Lumidre, was about, and that’s what her latest film is about too: it’s a television documentary on Lillian Gish. Moreau insists it’s a coincidence that she is celebrating Gish as all Paris does the same thing. On October 12, the Cinematheque Frangaise kicks off a film retrospective of the actress’s career. Two days later, the cinema’s dowager empress will turn eighty-four, according to the 1899 birth date on her passport. But Who’s Who says 1896. A Seattle paper said 1843. Miss Gish prefers this last date, “because even on a bad day I’ll look pretty good.”