Lillian Gish, My Religion, Helen Keller, and Jim Patterson – 1974

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller’s “My Religion” to vinyl recording for distribution to libraries for the blind. (Photo – Talking Books Studios and Swedenborg Foundation.)

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974
Photo Caption: Lillian Gish, silent screen star of the 1920’s, recently recorded My Religion, a personal account of Helen Keller’s faith, for talking books. Miss Gish did the recording at the request of the Swedenborg Foundation, Inc. and because of her personal friendship with Miss Keller. The book was Miss Keller’s tribute to Emmanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish scientist and theologian. (American Federation of the Blind Newsletter, vol 9, No 3, October 1974.)

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974 b

In a typed note by Marguerite L. Levine dated July 9, 1974,

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974

Subject: Meeting with Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios.

Miss Gish came today to the talking Book studios escorted by Mr. Darrell Ruhl, Editor of the Newsletter of the Swedenborg Foundation, in order to record “My Religion,” one of Miss Keller’s works.

Miss Gish met Helen Keller first in Hollywood in 1918 when Miss Keller was making the film “Deliverance.” The Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy, were invited to join Helen Keller and her party on a horseback riding excursion. Dorothy refused as she expected it to be a dreadful experience, but Lillian went along and remembers it as one of the gayest times she ever had. Helen was obviously having great fun and shared her pleasure with her companions.

Another memorable occasion for Miss Gish was the premiere of “Helen Keller in Her Story” at which she sat next to Poly Thomson who interpreted for Miss Keller who seemd to follow the film with the greatest interest and ease.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 e

There was never any correspondence between Miss Keller and Miss Gish but they met frequently through their respective lives.

Miss Gish will return July 11 to continue her reading of “My Religion,” At that time we will visit the Helen Keller Room together and take pictures for the AFB Newsletter and the Swedenborg Newsletter.

From Box 35 of Lillian’s Papers:

Box 35

Letter from Darrell Ruhl, Swedenborg Foundation, March 5, 1974,

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974 c

Background: “Helen Keller her wonderful life of service which inspired countless numbers of people the world over. Helen Keller was a reader of Swedenborg In 1927 Helen Keller wrote a tribute to Swedenborg an eloquent little book entitled “My Religion” in which she credited the Swedish author with her spiritual development. The book has inspired thousands over the years and has been reprinted 13 times. It was made into a “talking book” for the disabled many years ago but Swedenborg lost the recording.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 c

“We want to re-record it and make it available free of charge to libraries for the blind and offer it at cost to anyone else. The last time this book was recorded it was read by a man, but this time we feel it should be read with the feeling that Miss Keller herself were talking. It would have so much more impact than an impersonal voice.”

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 d

“We feel you would be an ideal actress for this project and would be most interested to learn your feelings regarding the undertaking of recording this book. We are aware that your time is valuable and your stature is such that your professional services might well be prohibitive, but unless we approach you, we’ll never know.

“If you can find the time to read “My Religion,” I think you will find it as poetic and inspiring as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale did as you will note in his introduction to the book. “

Darrell Ruhl, Assistant to the Manager, March 5, 1974.”

March 12, 1974 letter from Darrell Ruhl to Miss Gish:

“Thank you for telephoning yesterday.  I was most pleasantly surprised and certainly pleased to hear from you.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 b

“We are thrilled that your reaction to Helen Keller’s book was so favorable. It has long been a goal of mine to have this book recorded again and preferably by an actress who could make the book live. You have the necessary qualities. As a matter of fact, I wrote to you first thinking I would start at the top and go from there.

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