TRIALS OF AN ACTRESS
Lillian Gish Is Working in the Mojave Desert—Wind, the Menace
The New York Times July 3, 1927
A VOICE asked over the telephone in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer New York offices the other day:
”Could you tell me where Miss Lillian Gish is now?”
”Miss Gish is somewhere out in the Mojave desert making scenes for her new picture, ‘The Wind,’ ” was the reply.
And that question and answer, not unusual in form, resulted in a 230-mile motor jaunt into the Mojave desert on the off chance that just what Miss Gish was doing might make interesting reading. And the first glimpse that the visitor from Culver City, Cal., had of Miss Gish-a small, shabbily clad figure standing in front of a little shack while nine roaring airplane propellors drove sand at her. The sun poked the mercury in its shaded glass tube up to the number 120, making artificial illumination entirely unnecessary.
The visitor was informed that the Wind, with a capital letter, is the villain of this particular film, just as it was of the novel of the same name by Dorothy Scarborough. It’s the Wind, howling, whistling, shrieking, yelling and caterwauling with never a pause for breath; the Wind slamming doors shut and banging them open; the Wind clawing with sandy fingers not only at the physical, but also at the psychical entity of the heroine, which drives her with awful and unescapable persistence from one unstable act to another-up to and including murder.
So, Victor Seastrom, the director, who said, after doing „The Scarlet Letter” with her, that one of the greatest pleasures of his working life would be to do another picture with Miss Gish, took the star and the players, including Lars Hanson and Montague Love, to this particular spot in the desert where man’s thirst is raised for him, and any wind he might desire to raise couldn’t possibly bother any neighbors, unless rattlesnakes and such be included.
The little shack was built there, near a corral, penning thirty or forty head of cattle. The studio equipment was stuck roundabout.
Of course, there were the cameras, the generators, and all the rest of the studio equipment necessary-and the wind machines.
Miss Gish, the Toiler.
The creation of wind is rather the usual thing than otherwise in the films these days, from the tiny breath of air which lifts a leading lady’s curl, to the galloping gale that rips the roof from a house.
When Miss Gish was spied on this occasion scores of men were grouped in a circle out of camera range – workers and players not having anything to do at the moment. They all wore high boots (against snake bites) , wore grease on their faces (against sunburn), and goggles. Miss Gish. because she was acting, couldn’t wear anything except the low shoes and the dowdy clothes that the part calls for. Her job was to run through the sand, blown in to her face, in the shack, and then to run again out of the shack- all nine wind machines going all the time like nine mechanical devils.
“It is without the slightest doubt the most unpleasant picture for me that I ever have made,” Miss Gish said in response to a question during a breathing spell. “It’s so uncomfortable.”
“I don’t mind the heat so much, but working before the wind machines all of the time is nerve-racking,” she continued. “It isn’t very hard for me to enter into the state of mind of the character I’m playing, I can assure you.
“You see, out here the wind blows the sand all the time, but they didn’t think that was enough, so they added sawdust. And then that didn’t give quite the desired effect, so they added smoke pots to the mixture. I’m glad to report that none of the flying cinders have gotten into my eyes yet, although a few have burned my hands.”
It was mentioned that while Miss Gish was exposed, all of the workers were well protected. She said:
“That’s the lot of an actress”
They Live in Pullmans.
During the interlude of wind-the period from 11 A. M. till 1 P. M. Was for rest not because of the disconfort to human beings but because the glare was too much for the cameras – Miss Gish sipped iced lemonade and discussed general subjects-art, music, books, pictures, politics. The star of “The Wind” always surprises those who have just met her by her interest in so many subjects. She also surprised this particular visitor, it might be included, because of the stoic endurance she showed in the blasting heat and the wind, endlessly going through her performance for the whirring cameras.
On this occasion, Lars Hanson, who gained his first screen fame in his native Sweden, but who plays a Texas cowpuncher in this picture, and Montague Love, who was born in Calcutta, and who grew up in England, weren’t working before the camera. Neither were two rattlesnakes that had just been caught on location and put in a box.
Miss Gish, Mr. Seastrom and the entire company were living in Pullman cars a few miles away. The baggage car was the projection room, where the rushes or each day’s work were run off every night. All of the film had to be kept on ice-or at least, in humidors- to guard against its melting.
Last view of Miss Gish, the sun was still on the job, and so were the wind machines, and the sand and sawdust and the smoke pots. Miss Gish just then was busy piling sand over the body of the man she had killed. And the wind kept blowing away the sand, and it looked as It she never would be finished.
When inquirers over the telephone ask just where film players are at the moment, and just what they are doing, they might be surprised sometimes if a truthful answer could be given. In many instances they aren’t swimming, or playing tennis, or yachting, or ordering new gowns, or dictating to secretaries, or signing new contracts. They’re just working.