Re-Meet Lillian Gish (A 60 seconds close-up) 1942 – by Jerry Mason

This Week’s Spotlight

Re-Meet Lillian Gish (A 60 seconds close-up) 1942 – by Jerry Mason

Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Lillian Gish and Paul Muni in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)

When I went to see Lillian Gish, I expected to find a version of Whistler’s Mother, You know — nice gray hair, sensible arch-support shoes, specs, maybe an ear trumpet and everything else to go with the star of “Birth of a Nation” in 1915.

Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) – promotional

What I found was an entirely different proposition. She’s five feet six, and her figure consists of an appealing 112 pounds. She is one of the smartest looking ladies I’ve seen in a long time. Still unchanged are the smile and the face and the eyes that broke a million hearts in “The birth of a Nation,” “’Way Down East,” “Orphans of the Storm.”

  • The answer is easy:

she was only 12 when she made her first movie in 1913. The name of that one was “The Unseen Enemy.” In 10 years she made 10 pictures which earned between 60 and 70 million dollars. That is probably an alltime high. But she walked out on Hollywood in 1930; she didn’t like taking pictures. She went back to the stage and and stayed there, enjoying herself until Lester Cowan, producer of Columbia’s “Commandos Strike at Dawn” persuaded her to try the camera again for his story of Nazi-occupied Norway.

lillian gish, links, vor ort in victoria, british columbia, mit lokalen bit player lillian commandos strike at dawn 1
lillian gish, links, vor ort in victoria, british columbia, mit lokalen bit player lillian commandos strike at dawn 1

The picture was made at Victoria, British Columbia. Lillian spent two months working on it. She plays the wife of a Norwegian patriot and says it was the best of all possible parts for her screen return — much of her role is pantomime. She was thrilled by the picture: it’s an action-packed, documentary story of Commando work. Battle-scene participants — -both Allied and Nazi — are Canadian soldiers.

Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) – missing battle scene from the restored film

“It’s so real,” she says, “it looks like a newsreel. I don’t know how those boys managed not to kill each other.” When she finished work, she said it was the best vacation she’d had in years. She was amazed at what the sound track did to movies: all of the work is out of them.

Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Lillian Gish in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) with William Mellor on set

No more of the old, intense business of crying, laughing and emoting harder than any normal human being. (In the D. W. Griffith days, it got so that she began visiting insane asylums trying to find new gestures to suggest surprise, glee, disappointment, fear.) At first, she was a little worried — she wasn’t sure she’d know how to be a movie actress again. But she did fine.

Mary Pickford (center ) has a party to celebrate Lillian Gish (right) signing to appear in COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN for producer Lester Cowan (right), 1942
Mary Pickford (center ) has a party to celebrate Lillian Gish (right) signing to appear in COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN for producer Lester Cowan (right), 1942

Producer Cowan has already signed her to star with Monty Woolley in “The Late Christopher Bean.’’

Observers say that for a newcomer she has a great future in the movies.

—Jerry Mason

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Re Meet Lillian Gish 1942
Re Meet Lillian Gish 1942

Back to Lillian Gish Home page