October 14, 1893, Miss Lillian Gish …

  • October 14, 1893, Miss Lillian Gish …

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Photo: Lillian Gish, ca. early 1950s (detail)

On an evening in October—the 14th, to be exact, 1896
—in a very modest dwelling, in Springfield, Ohio, May
Gish—Mary Robinson Gish (born McConnell)—waited
for her first child. She was barely twenty, and it was
hardly more than a year earlier that James Gish, a travelling
salesman—young, handsome, winning—had found her
at Urbana, and after a whirlwind wooing, had carried
her off, a bride, to Springfield.

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Photo: Lillian Gish, ca. early 1950s (HD Grandma Moses)

No one knew very much of Gish. From that mysterious
“Dutch” region of Pennsylvania, he had drifted into
Springfield, made friends easily, and found work there,
with a wholesale grocery. He might be Dutch himself;
“Gish” could easily have been “Gisch”; or French  a
legend has it that the name had once been “Guise” or
“de Guise” … all rather indefinite, today.
On the other hand, everybody in Urbana knew about
pretty May McConnell.

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Photo: London – BBC 1969 set photograph

A girl child, born with a caul . . . supposed to mean
good fortune, even occult power. Mary Gish did not much
concern herself with this superstition; she had been rather
strictly raised; when she gave her daughter the name of
Lillian, and added Diana—Lillian because she was so fair,
and Diana because a big moon looked into her window she thought it a happy combination and hoped well for it —no more than that.

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Photo: Lillian Gish, ca. early 1950s

“My sister Dorothy and I were lucky. We never lived in just one place or went to school like other children we knew. We were child actors. We belonged to traveling theatrical companies that performed plays in small towns and big cities. While most children our age were sleeping soundly in their beds at home, we were jouncing along on milk trains in the small hours of the morning, moving on to some distant city.

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Photo: London – BBC 1969 set photograph (detail)

One morning I woke up and I realized that here we were – all together at last. We had the house I had dreamed about years before as a small traveling player. We were warm. We could afford good foods, lots of books, and nice clothes. Mother didn’t had to worry one bit about money anymore. Everything we had wanted as children now was ours. It was like a fairy tale: “And they lived happily ever after.” We wondered if we would. (Miss Lillian Gish) (An Actor’s Life for Me! – As Told to Selma G. Lanes – Lillian Gish)

 

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