Quotes on Lillian Gish – by William M. Drew

  • From the interview with Eleanor Boardman in “Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1989 (page 48):

 I was friendly with Lillian Gish, too, when she was a big star at MGM. I remember when [King] Vidor was making “La Boheme” with Lillian and Jack Gilbert, she came up to Vidor’s house one Sunday morning. She wanted to play a scene a certain way and Vidor wanted her to play it another way. She wanted it her way so she came up to the house by herself and offered Vidor a great big beautiful red polished apple as a peace offering.

  • From the interview with Leatrice Joy in “Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1989 (page 63):

(Leatrice Joy recalled a scene in one of the World War I films Lillian Gish made for D. W. Griffith in 1918 and how it influenced her years later in the 1920s.) Lillian was saying farewell to her sweetheart, who was Bobby Harron . . . She was in such pain saying farewell to this fellow she loved so dearly that her expression was almost heavenly. . . .she wobbled her lip a little bit. I’d never seen any expression like that. It was so–oh, it was so heartbreaking. I put it in my little memory and I said, “Someday, I’ll use that.”

  It must have been at least ten years later that I was in a similar scene saying farewell to my soldier sweetheart. When I got to the heartbreaking part, I wobbled my lip and Mr. DeMille yelled, “Cut! Lights! Cameras!” He walked over to me and said, “Miss Joy, will you please stop trying to be Lillian Gish?” I was so embarrassed I almost died. From then on, I thought the best thing I could do was to create my own technique.

  • From the interview with Blanche Sweet in “Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1989 (Page 225):

   When I left Griffith, I began making films for Lasky. I went back to pay a visit to Lillian and Dorothy Gish. I didn’t tell everybody that I was coming, maybe I told Lillian and Dorothy, or maybe I didn’t. Anyway, Griffith eventually arrived in their dressing room where I was, and he said to me, “Would you like to see what we’re doing for ‘Intolerance?'” Well, of course, the world could see what they were doing for “Intolerance” because there was about a ten-foot fence around the place. These buildings reared up in the background and anybody could see them. So he showed me the set of “Intolerance,” hoping that I was going to say, “Oh, I wish I was back here.” I knew what was going on by that time. “Intolerance” turned out to be a masterpiece. I think it’s Griffith’s greatest film.

   D. W. used his own money for “The Birth” and “Intolerance” and the Aitkens helped him to finance his pictures. But they cost more than expected, and Griffith had to ask his actors and crew to take a cut in their salaries, and he would make it up to them after the films were completed. More than that, Mrs. Gish, Lillian, and Dorothy offered their money to help out, but D. W. thanked them and said no. That was a nice gesture from all concerned.

  • From the interview with Billie Dove in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Pages 20-1):

  After I left the “Follies,” I almost got a job in a picture in New York that was to star Lillian Gish. I was so thrilled because she was a wonderful lady and everybody thought I had it. There were so many girls trying to get into pictures–poor girls with brown hair and the same amount with blonde. Two girls would be chosen to play sisters in the picture and for some reason or other, they had to be opposites. One had to be a short blonde and the other had to be tall and dark-haired. So they placed them all up and down the line and they kept getting back to me. Finally, they had nobody but me so I played the taller, dark haired girl with every single one of the blonde girls. Then we went to dinner and one girl said, “Well, this is ridiculous. Why should we go to dinner when you know you have the part?” Well, I knew it, too–you couldn’t help but know it. 

  We came back–and I didn’t have the part. They couldn’t find a blonde girl to do the other part. I swear that was their reason. So somebody else got the job and I just went home and cried myself to sleep. I thought, “Oh, that was my chance, my one chance in this world to work with Lillian Gish and I just didn’t make it.” But that taught me a lesson. The Gish picture never finished. They ran out of money and nobody got paid. And that gave me the biggest philosophy I’ve had in my life–never depend on anything unless you’re actually doing it. Otherwise, you’re letting yourself in for a disappointment.

  • From the interview with Fay Wray in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 73):

  (Fay Wray recalled the following during the course of her making “The Wedding March” for Erich von Stroheim in 1926-7.) The only man on the film that I spent time with and talked to was Harry Carr who co-authored the script with von Stroheim. I didn’t even talk a lot with von Stroheim but I did have some nice discussions with Harry Carr. He was the top film critic with “The Los Angeles Times.” He stood in back of the camera and the first solo scene that I did without von Stroheim he was watching. He had a way of wiggling his nose–it was like a nervous tick. But it was increased nervousness–it ticked very hard as though he were pleased with me, you know. We got to be friends. I went to his house and visited with him and his wife. He took me subsequently to meet Lillian Gish where she lived down at the beach. I was happy to meet her because I had admired her so much in films like D. W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm.” I remember she was brushing her long blonde hair as we talked. Harry Carr was crazy about her and he was crazy about Ramon Novarro, too. He wrote a beautiful piece about me for one of the movie magazines and I just was charmed by it. So he was a nice man.

Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard) “Orphans of the Storm”
  • The article by Harry Carr on Fay Wray, “She’s Beautiful and Sweet,” was published in the February 1927 issue of “Motion Picture Magazine” and is quoted in the introduction to the interview with the actress on page 60 of “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties:”

  This new von Stroheim discovery proves . . . to have brains–a lot. She is, in fact, one of the most remarkable personalities I have ever known in the movies. Miss Wray makes me think a lot of Lillian Gish. She has the same patient tolerance–the same understanding heart–the same level, fearless intelligence; and a gentle distinction and dignity. By the time von Stroheim finishes her training, little Miss Wray will probably be a great actress; in any case she is sure to be a fine woman.

  • From the interview with Annabella in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 108):

  As a child, I was fascinated by the movies. Maybe I was ten years old when I saw Lillian Gish in D. W. Griffith’s “Broken Blossoms” and I thought she was wonderful. Coming back home from the movie, I remember getting up on a chair looking at myself in the mirror above the fireplace trying with my fingers to make my mouth smile as she did when she was very sad. So moving the faith I had, I thought I would like to do the same thing and be an actress like she was. I didn’t go a lot to movies since we were living in the country. . . .But the one who had made the big impression on me was Lillian Gish in “Broken Blossoms.” Some years ago, I saw her when she made a grand appearance in North Hampton, New Hampshire where my daughter has a house. She was very pleasant, very intelligent and I think she was a wonderful person.

  • From the interview with Anita Page in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 152):

  I wanted to be an actress from the time I was born, I guess, and I loved the movies. I remember getting into hysterics watching Lillian Gish running around looking for her lover all over France in “La Boheme.” I wasn’t crying. I was having hysterics. When it was all over and I went to get up, my foot had fallen asleep and I almost fell on my face. I thought, “Oh, I hope people don’t think I’ve been drinking or something.” I was only fifteen, you know. I couldn’t get my leg working but I finally got up. That’s the way she affected me. Oh, she was marvelous in this thing.

Lillian Gish – Lucy, the girl (Broken Blossoms)

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