Picture Play Magazine – November 1920 Vol. XIII No.3
My Friend, Lillian Gish
The screen really tells you almost nothing about her
By Louise Williams
IT’S queer, the ideas you get about stars, isn’t it? Some of them fit right in with your daily life perfectly ; it’s easy to imagine yourself going to the movies with Constance Talmadge and strolling down to the corner drug store for a soda afterward, or being asked to a bridge party at Anita Stewart’s, or driving off somewhere for a picnic with Corinne Griffith. And then, again, there are others that haven’t any point of contact with your own affairs at all ; you see them on the screen, like them, and that’s about all there is to it. Lillian Gish used to be one of those people to me. I couldn’t imagine myself knowing her. I cried over her in “Hearts of the World” and “Broken Blossoms,” and privately considered her just about as human and knowable as the Dresden china figure on my mantelpiece. Then, one day, in a hotel lobby, Richard Barthelmess said quite suddenly :
“There’s Lillian Gish ; let’s go over and say hello to her.”
“No, I don’t want to,” I retorted, sinking farther down into my chair. “I’m afraid I might not like her.” A bombardment promptly began. Had I ever seen her off the screen ? No. Ever met any of her friends? No. Why didn’t I want to meet her? Well, she seemed so ethereal, so fragile, so out of the world, somehow. If he didn’t mind, I’d rather not even turn around and look at her. But he did mind—and two seconds later I was being introduced to a slender girl with a little black hat drawn close over her light hair, and a black tulle scarf drawn up close around her throat, and she was clasping my hand warmly and saying:
“I don’t see just why you should want to meet me—but I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” I had a guilty feeling at that; I’ve told her about it since. For you see, she’s one of my best friends now, though I don’t believe she knows it. Lillian Gish is one of those people whose personality makes for her a wide highway to your very heart. She’s frank and unassuming, except about her sister Dorothy, for whom she claims the world and the fullness thereof. You don’t feel like going around gushing fatuously about her—but you just like her so well that you feel as if you’d known her forever and ever. The people who compare her to lilies in the moonlight and violin music in a garden at dusk and all that sort of thing are perfectly right ; she does suggest things like that. She has great, deep-blue eyes, and a wistful mouth, capable of the most heart-breaking smile, as the fans know all too well. But she has a sense of humor that carries her through even when the cellar of her house is flooded, in midwinter, and the floor of the garage gives way and lets her car into the abyss beneath. And when there’s something practical to be attended to she’s no more the sweet, girly-girly type of person than is her own sister Dorothy.
For she’s one of the most practical people I know. The theory that if you have lots of money you must spend it like a South American millionaire, which governs so many actresses, has no part in her scheme of things. When I discovered that she planned the spending of her income as carefully as I do that of my allowance I was rather startled. One of the Talmadges had phoned her, and that led to a discussion of the gorgeous clothes which they wear. Mrs. Gish suggested that Lillian find out where Norma had bought the frock she’d worn the evening before.
“Oh, mother, I did—and I never could afford to go there !” Lillian exclaimed, aghast at the mere thought of such a thing. And since then I’ve learned that she never rushes out and just spends for the joy of spending; that she orders the use of her money just as wisely as she does that of everything else. The last time I saw her was just as she was beginning work at the head of her own company. She might have been a young man just going into business for himself, opening a garage or a plumbing hop or a lawyer’s office, from the way she talked. Her years in the motion-picture business have not been spent with her eyes shut; she knows just how a picture’s market value affects the production end, the things you’ve got to consider when you buy a scenario, and why not even an artistically unhappy ending is as successful as an out-and-out happy one.
“There’s no telling how this new venture of mine is going to turn out,” she told me that day. “Maybe I’ll be back in Mr. Griffith’s company at the end of my two-years’ contract with the Frohman Company, that’s starring me. Well, we all have to find out some time whether we’re the kind of people who can stand alone or the kind who must lean on someone else.
“I’m going to do some rather tragic roles, I think.” she went on. “Of course, it’s the people in the little country towns whom I must please ; they are the ones who are really responsible for the success of a picture. Having New York like us is flattering—but I’d rather be popular in Camden, Maine, than on Broadway.” Which, while its’ a wise choice, isn’t really a necessary one, in my opinion ; from what I know of Lillian I’d wager that both Broadway and Camden will be at her feet when she makes her stellar debut.