Silent film star receives top award (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1984)

  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 128, Number 53, 2 March 1984
  • Silent film star receives top award

BEVERLY HILLS (AP) – “She was there at the birth of an art form,” Douglas Fairbanks Jr. said as the film world saluted Lillian Gish, last great star of the silent film era. Miss Gish, 90, was presented Thursday night with the Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute, the second woman recipient in the 12 years of the honor. Bette Davis won the award in 1977. It was an evening for women achievers in the movie world, and Miss Gish presided at the table of honor in the Beverly Hilton ballroom with latter-day stars Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Jeanne Moreau, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Lily Tomlin and Cicely Tyson. “She is the symbol of eternal youth of America,” said Miss Moreau, who has filmed a documentary of Miss Gish’s life. “She had an air of serenity that made everybody calm,” said Robert Mitchum, who starred with Miss Gish in the 1955 film “The Night of the Hunter.” The silent film star was also saluted by co-workers and friends Richard Widmark. who appeared with her in “The Cobweb,” actress Colleen Moore, a friend since 1918; Eva Marie Saint, who appeared with Miss Gish in the TV drama and Broadway play, “A Trip To Bountiful;” Jennifer Jones of “Duel in the Sun” and “A Portrait of Jenny; ” and Richard Thomas, who appeared in Miss Gish’s most recent film, the TV movie “Hobson’s Choice.” John Huston recalled how his father, Walter, held Lillian Gish on his shoulder for a 1902 play in Ohio, “In Convict’s Stripes.” John Houseman, who produced two films with Miss Gish, recalled that her MGM boss, Irving Thalberg, once offered to “arrange a scandal” to enliven her reputation as the eternal maiden. She declined, and shortly after talking films began she returned to the theater, mailing occasional film appearances over the years.

The seriousness with which Lillian Gish took her work was undermined at MGM in 1927 when it was suggested that a scandal might improve her performance at the box office. “You are way up there on a pedestal and nobody cares.” said the producers. “If you were knocked off the pedestal, everyone would care.” Lillian Gish realized she would be expected to give a performance off screen as well as on. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just don’t have that much vitality.” Shortly afterward, she returned to her first love, the theater, and the cinema lost her for the better part of a decade.  What the film producers failed to comprehend was how much value for the money she gave them, for she was part of an older tradition. Griffith had imbued his players with the discipline and dedication of the nineteenth-century theater, and Lillian Gish carried these qualities to unprecedented lengths.

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An Artist Who Shaped Art of Film

And so, at last, the plowman, turning the furrows of life, comes to the boundary that divides the known from the unknown—the wilderness from the sown field. Whatever we may one day find beyond, is already there in every detail—only, I lack the clairvoyant gift, and turn for a brief backward glimpse. It is no vision of artistic triumph that comes to me tonight . . . not the memory of Chekhov’s radiant heroine . . . not the triste picture of that broken flower of the Limehouse . . . something even more real than these: a real child, trouping with wandering players, away from a mother’s care … a slim-legged little girl, who slept on station benches and telegraph tables, who running across a foot-bridge lost her poor possessions in the swift black water, who from a train or hotel window stared silently into the night.

“What are you looking at, Lillian?”

“Nothing, Aunt Alice, just looking.”

(Albert Bigelow Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

Lillian Gish, at radio studios, where she performed LITTLE WOMEN on April 21, 1935

Photo: Lillian Gish, at radio studios,

where she performed LITTLE WOMEN on April 21, 1935

Lillian Gish in 1957
Lillian Gish in 1957

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Lillian Gish, ca. 1970s

“Unless there was a klieg light present, Lillian couldn’t react emotionally, Rather than face any crisis, she would choose to withdraw and stay inside her apartment instead of talking about it, no matter what it was.

We knew her, so we didn’t push the issue. If what had happened to her were dramatized in a play or film, she would have played it brilliantly and had audiences in tears, which she knew how to do very well.

In her real day-to-day life, away from the stage or screen, she was lost. She was a slave to fantasy. She went from one role to the next, knowing just which button to press to achieve the desired effect.”

Anita Loos

actress lillian gish. (photo by time life pictures - dmi - the life picture collection) oct 1987

  • Actress Lillian Gish. (Photo by Time Life Pictures – DMI – The LIFE Picture Collection) Oct 1987

1987 globe zumapress photo

  • Miss Lillian Gish – 1987 /Globe – Zumapress Photo

VI Moscow International Film Festival, July, 7–22 1969. Soviet director Grigory Alexandrov and Lillian Gish.
VI Moscow International Film Festival, July, 7–22 1969. Soviet director Grigory Alexandrov and Lillian Gish.

Celebrity Party given by Parisian dress designer Pierre Balmain at the Restaurant Mediterranee, in Paris, France, Andre Maourois and Lillian Gish - May 10, 1949
Celebrity Party given by Parisian dress designer Pierre Balmain at the Restaurant Mediterranee, in Paris, France, Andre Maourois and Lillian Gish – May 10, 1949

with Kate Revill, who plays her in a new musical, The Biograph Girl, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, 19th November 1980
with Kate Revill, who plays her in a new musical, The Biograph Girl, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, 19th November 1980

  • Opening of the Mary Pickford Theater, James Madison Building, (Photo: Library of Congress)

1937 Press Photo Actress Lillian Gish in - Show Boat

  • Photo: 1937 Press Photo Actress Lillian Gish in – “Show Boat”

Vtg-Wire-Press-Photo-5-6-86-G-Hamilton-Elizabeth-Taylor-Lillian

Lillian-Gish-Douglas-Fairbanks-Jr-Buddy-Rogers-1978

American Academy of Dramatic Arts Honor New-York USA Cecil B Demille - 16 dec 1958

American Academy of Dramatic Arts Honor New-York USA Cecil B Demille – 16 dec 1958

May 1984 photo of Rock Hudson and Lillian Gish in Washington, DC.
May 1984 – Lillian Gish and Rock Hudson in Washington, DC.

Lillian Gish, Martha Graham, Katharine Cornell New-York USA - May 11, 1965
Lillian Gish, Martha Graham, Katharine Cornell New-York USA – May 11, 1965

Berlin, Nation of Nations in Kongreßhalle Lillian Gish in 1957
Berlin, Nation of Nations in Kongreßhalle Lillian Gish in 1957

Lillian Gish - Academy of Dramatic Arts - New-York - USA - Feb 6, 1984 (detail)
Lillian Gish – Academy of Dramatic Arts – New-York – USA – Feb 6, 1984 (detail)

Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA
Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

  • Below, a selection of photographs – Unforgettable Miss Lillian Gish

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Letter Signed Lillian Gish to Vaudeville Actor Jesse Block

Letter Signed Lillian Gish to Vaudeville Actor Jesse Block

lillian gish mono-print suddeutsche zeitung p - late 60s germany

Photo: Lillian Gish mono-print Suddeutsche Zeitung p – late 60s Germany