Miss Gish made her stage debut in a melodrama called ”In Convict’s Stripes” in Rising Sun, Ohio. ”I was 5,” Lillian Gish said, ”and the only acting lesson I ever had was, ‘Speak loud and clear or else they’ll get another little girl!’ ”
”We had to do something to live in the summertime,” she recalled yesterday, ”because theaters closed down. No air conditioning.”
Her mother and her younger sister, Dorothy, also turned to acting with various touring companies, and thus the family supported itself.
Gish made her acting debut, as Baby Lillian, with Huston in ‘The Convict’s Stripes’ in a barn-turned-theater in Rising Sun, Ohio. She was 5 at the time and the daughter of a struggling actress. You can safely say that about stage players, for their performances survive only in the memory. But Lillian Gish’s performances exist in films that have been subjected to scrutiny again and again. The verdict is always the same: Lillian Gish is astonishing.
“You had lectures, you had performances, you had basketball games held in the opera houses, commencement ceremonies, that sort of thing,” said Michael R. Hurwitz, of Historic Opera Houses. “These opera houses at the turn of the last century were built in small communities to be a community center, to provide entertainment and were the heartbeat of the community.
(An opera house) truly was the community rallying point and the community center for all of these small towns throughout America.”
All historic opera houses have a connection to the rich history of their communities, but some boast especially significant ties to national history. An example of this is the Risingsun Opera House with its connection to actress Lillian Gish.
“Risingsun is historic, it is well preserved, and it has the cache of having Lillian Gish, who in theatrical circles and motion picture circles is truly one of the great pioneers of American theater and American film who performed on that stage. It’s a very significant piece of our history — Ohio’s history — but also theatrical history,” Hurwitz said.
Gish, nicknamed “The First Lady of American Cinema,” had her very first performance on the stage of the Risingsun Opera House when she was 5 years old. Along with this association to Gish, the Risingsun Opera House is notable because it is very well preserved.
Hurwitz, a theater technician, describes it as still being in “remarkably good condition,” as it appears to still be structurally sound and still has the stage, seating and balcony intact.