“Arsenic and Old Lace” 1969 – Entire film (TV capture)

During one of her visits to Rapollo, Lillian was invited to co-star with her longtime friend, actress Helen Hayes, in a television production of Joseph Kesselring’s hit homicidal comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. Lillian and Helen would be playing two sweet, elderly ladies, sisters, who murder lonely old men after extending an invitation to them to visit and sample their special elderberry wine. Helen Hayes jokingly told this author at their first meeting that she and Lillian had known each other forever.

As I grow older, I get forgetful too, but I haven’t reached that point yet. And neither had Lillian when it came to work. She’s sharp as a tack then, as I discovered when we appeared on TV together in Arsenic and Old Lace. It was a challenging production, shot live on a multilevel set that would have tested Edmund Hillary’s climbing ability. (Helen Hayes)

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Dinner at Eight and His Double Life at West Coast (San Bernardino Sun, 1934)

  • San Bernardino Sun, Volume 40, 25 March 1934
  • Dinner at Eight at West Coast

“Dinner at Eight” with its superlative all-star cast, and “His Double Life,” a provoking comedy featuring Lillian Gish and Roland Young, make up the splendid double-feature program opening today at the Fox West Coast theater. The cast of “Dinner at Eight” practically tells the story, and when this array of excellent actors is combined with a plot both clever, amusing and dramatic, there is nothing more to ask for. The beloved Marie Dressler is there with John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke, Madge Evans, Jean Hersholt, Karen Morley, Louise Closser Hale, Phillips Holmes, May Robson and half a dozen more. “His Double Life” will provide plenty of laughs as well as the first glimpse of Lillian Gish on the screen in many a month. Miss Gish, who once held the brightest of spotlights in films, has devoted most of her time in recent years to the legitimate stage.

His Double Life – Photo Gallery

His Double Life – The Film (Paramount)

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Remarkable Lillian Gish to Do Broadway Musical (By Hedda Hopper) Chicago Tribune – 1965

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday August 10, 1965 – Page 34

Looking at Hollywood

Remarkable Lillian Gish to Do Broadway Musical

By Hedda Hopper

Lillian Gish and George Abbott – candid during “Anya” reahearsal

Hollywood, Aug. 9 – Lillian Gish can match careers with anybody and be way ahead. She began at age 5; did her first picture around 1910. In town doing her first picture for Walt Disney, “Follow Me Boys,” Lillian says she starts rehearsals for her first Broadway musical next month. It’s George Abbott’s musical version of “Anastasia” and she plays the empress, with George London, of the Metropolitan Opera and Connie Towers … “You’re going to match voices with London?” I asked … “It’s a comedy, dear,” she said … She gave her last performance as the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” at Stratford, Conn., on July 31, arrived here four days later. They played to 170,000 students during the months of March, April and May. They came by plane, bus, car from as west as Nebraska. The play opened to the public in June … Lillian Subscribes to Christopher Morley’s formula that a happy life is spent in learning, earning and yearning. She said: “I’m still going to school learning about acting and how to live properly. The world and the people in it are my school. As a child, I wanted to be in musical comedy and the circus. I haven’t made the big tent, but you see I am finally in a musical.”

Miss Lillian Gish as a nurse in Romeo and Juliet – Maria Tucci as Juliet

Many Actresses who devote themselves to a career end up lonely and bitter. Lillian is neither. She has no regrets about never marrying – and don’t think she didn’t have the chance. “I don’t believe in actresses trying to be wives,” she says. “You have to be one or the other – you can’t be both. I’d have been a bad wife.”

Lillian Gish in Disney’s “Follow Me Boys”

Lillian’s family admits being a fan of Beatles: “Their first picture was a new flavor in comedy. I found them charming and amusing. They are my only contact with rock and roll.” She avoids sick movies; is so busy working and rarely has time to see pictures. She caught “Mary Poppins” and “Sound of Music” and recommends both.

Lillian Gish and Percy Waram in “Life With Father”

You could say the same of Miss Gish, who was in “Birth of a Nation,” and at the age of 23 played a 12-year-old girl in “Broken Blossoms.” She did “Orphans of the Storm,” “The White Sister,” “La Boheme,” “Scarlet Letter.” After her first talkie, “One Romantic Night,” she returned to the stage for “Uncle Vanya” and “Camille”; played Ophelia opposite John Gielgud; broke Chicago theater records in “Life With Father” for 66 weeks.

Photo Gallery – Anya

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The Movies in The Age of Innocence – By Edward Wagenknecht (1962) II

The Movies in The Age of Innocence – By Edward Wagenknecht (1962)

“The Ladies – God Bless Them”

Dorothy Gish

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 10
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Woman with hands at neck] [Dorothy Gish]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3547

If I speak my piece about Lillian Gish elsewhere, I must speak of Dorothy here. Film historians in general have shown a deplorable tendency to consider the career of Dorothy Gish only as a footnote to Lillian’s; this is both absurd and unjust, for Dorothy is a very gifted actress, and she would have had an important career even if she had stood quite alone. It has also frequently been declared, as if the statement were an axiom, that Mabel Normand was the screen’s greatest comedienne. I too loved Mabel Normand, and I have no desire to detract from her glory, but that she was superior to Dorothy as a comedienne I am still waiting to be shown.

I am sure that Dorothy would be more widely appreciated in this aspect if we could see again the long series of comedies which she made for Paramount after her success as the Little Disturber in Hearts of the World. Perhaps the best was that brilliant burlesque of Westerns, Nugget Nell (1919), which Mack Sennett admired and which caused so good a judge as Julian Johnson to label her a female Chaplin.

She was fine too in Remodeling Her Husband (1920), which Lillian directed; who will ever forget the brilliant scene in which, having made a bet with a husband somewhat unmindful of her charms, that she could walk down a city block and attract the attention of every man she met, she collected by the simple expedient of sticking out her tongue, while the wonderstruck male, following close behind, was simply unable to understand why all the heads turned in her direction?

But I think the climax of her brilliant career as a comedienne came with Marjorie Bowen’s Nell Gwyn (1926), produced in England under the direction of Herbert Wilcox. I recently reviewed this film at George Eastman House in company with several film specialists, none of whom had seen it before. They literally shouted, whooped, and screamed their delight in Dorothy’s performance clear through the screening.

I do not mean, of course, that Dorothy should be thought of entirely as a comedienne; even within recent years she has given many fine serious performances both on stage and screen. If we need a revival of her Paramount comedies, perhaps we need even more to review the wide variety of films she made for Mutual and Triangle between 1914 and 1917. During part of this period Lillian was absorbed by The Birth of a Nation, but Dorothy ground out film after film ; when she “returned” to the screen after two months’ absence in 1914, her employers thought it necessary to explain, in an advertisement in the trade journals, just what she had been doing and why she had been away so long! These films differed widely in character and no doubt in quality too. In his review of the year’s achievements in Photoplay for September, 1916, Julian Johnson expressed his special enthusiasm for Susan Rock the Boat, Little Menies Romance, and Betty of Greystone. The Mountain Rat was a Western; in The Little Yank she was a border girl in love with a Southern officer but loyal to the Union; in Old Heidelberg she played the Kathy everybody has come to know since with music in The Student Prince.

At the very end of the year came Orphans of the Storm, with Lillian and Dorothy Gish as the two orphans, Lucille La Verne as the hag La Frochard, and young Joseph Schildkraut as the young chevalier. This time Griffith ventured to use more hackneyed material than he had yet employed in a feature film, for not only was the play The Two Orphans as familiar as Way Down East but Selig had made it into what was then regarded as an elaborate film as early as 1911, and since then it had been directed by Herbert Brenon as a vehicle for, of all people, Theda Bara. Griffith created novelty—and fresh power—by fusing a very Dickensian French Revolution into The Two Orphans, so that he may be said to have made here his most direct and important use of the writer who had been the major influence upon his artistic life.

Orphans of the Storm was a richly mounted, very beautiful film, full of excitement and excellent acting. It began as abruptly as a Biograph with the antecedent slaying of the father of the “orphans,” creating a necessary condition for the story with the least possible expenditure of effort. Griffith surprised many people by casting Lillian Gish as the energetic Henriette and making Dorothy the pathetic blind girl Louise, which she made one of her most sensitive characterizations. The camera played lovingly over the investiture of the old regime, and when we came to the revolution even the workings of the guillotine had to be demonstrated, as the trap in the gallows floor had been tried out in Intolerance. When the revolution begins the camera moves in on a wholly empty street. One drum appears at the extreme right; the drummer is invisible. Presently it is played by a pair of hands, but we do not see the body to which they are attached ; gradually the whole screen fills up with the incipient revolutionists who have been waiting for this signal. It might be argued, however, that the “meaning” of the film is superimposed upon it rather than rising directly out of it. Like Dickens, Griffith approved of the French Revolution but deplored its excesses, and he could not resist telling us, in long subtitles at the beginning of Part II, that while the French Revo-lution rightly overthrew a bad government, we must exercise care not to exchange our good government for “Bolshevism and license”


Griffith’s relationship to the Communists is interesting. The influence of his films upon Soviet directors has already been mentioned. Iris Barry says: “Lenin arranged to have Intolerance toured throughout the U.S.S.R., where it ran almost continuously for ten years.” Watching such scenes as those in which troops shoot down the workers, one realizes that the appeal of the film was not wholly technical, and it may be that without Intolerance, Lenin would have been slower to recognize the potentiality of the cinema as an instrument of propaganda. But Griffith’s anti-Communist stand in Orphans of the Storm left no doubt in anybody’s mind where he stood personally, and during later years left-oriented critics have persistently disparaged him; see Seymour Stern, “The Cold War against D. W. Griffith.” – Edward Wagenknecht

The movies in the age of innocence
The movies in the age of innocence

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An intimate story of the Gish – Part III, Movie Weekly, April 1st, 1922

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final installment of the Gish girls story.  This third and final instalment gives you more inside light on how various pictures in which the two girls starred, were made.



Lillian Gish, Sid Grauman and Dorothy Gish at The Egyptian
Lillian Gish, Sid Grauman and Dorothy Gish at The Egyptian

YOU have been chatting now with the Gish sisters for several hours. Night is falling. They have an engagement at the theatre. Jim Rennie is coming to call for Dorothy. You leave them, and promise to return to hear the rest of their fascinating tale on some other day. When you visit them again, you find that Dorothy has gone to Louisville to attend the premiere showing In that city of “Orphans of the Storm.” Lillian comes to greet you. She is in the midst of packing for the journey to join her sister. Her long, wavy hair hangs about her shoulders. “Please don’t mind my’ appearance:’ she apologizes, “but with so many girls wearing their hair bobbed these days, you’ll hardly notice the difference.” But you do notice, the difference, for Lillian’s hair is full gold, and the sun shines through it as she sits beside, the window.

The First Lady - Edward Steichen Vanity Fair
The First Lady – Edward Steichen Vanity Fair

“Now, let’s see.” she resumes. “I suppose I ought to take up the story from the days when we were making ‘Hearts of the World’ in England and France. We came back to America and we were all ready for a long vacation, but Mr. Griffith had bought the studio at Mamaroneck. He looked it over, found it in a mix-up, and decided to go south for a time. He told me I could start the first of Dorothy’s series of comedies for Famous Players there, so I undertook to direct Dorothy in the picture that was later known as ‘Remodeling a Husband.”’

Lillian laughed as she recalled her first efforts at directing. “I thought I knew a great deal about directing, the camera and acting,”but when I got on my first set and the cameraman, the electricians and the carpenters all came to me for instructions, I was hard up for ideas. The carpenters wanted to know how high the walls should be, how deep the moulding; the electricians wanted to know where each light should be placed. I didn’t know what to say, but I just plunged in. The first set was lighted badly because the back wall was too high, but otherwise I went through the job successfully. Of course I made mistakes and I suppose I hesitated and was slow, for the cameraman, who had just come back from France and who was very nervous used to pace about and make remarks about my way of directing a picture. The lights crew didn’t know me from Adam, and I had my hands full, but we managed to get the picture out in good shape, at any rate.

motion picture lobby card for the greatest thing in life cve detail2 (library of congress)

“Then began the production of a half dozen program pictures by Mr. Griffith. During this period Dorothy was busy with her comedies. Among the pictures Mr. Griffith made were two in which some of, the war scenes we took in France were used. and they also included ‘The Romance of Happy Valley,’ which Mr. Griffith has called his last vacation. He took his time with this film, filming many of the scenes over, just for the sake of making them. The characters were drawn from life from Mr. Griffith’s home town, and the picture, which was a pastoral story was beautiful, but was not particularly liked by the critics because it was not in Mr. Griffith’s spectacular vein.”

A Romance of The Happy Valley - Lillian Gish
A Romance of The Happy Valley – Lillian Gish

“Then came ‘Broken, Blossoms.’ The actual shooting of ‘Broken Blossoms’ took just eighteen days principally because Donald Crisp, Richard Barthelmess and myself, wlto played the three leading roles, knew by the time the actual taking began just what to do, and we went through the scenes with little correction. When Mr. Griffith Completed the picture, he knew he had something, but he was not certain exactly what it was. The picture fascinated him. He finally decided to give it a private showing in Los Angeles. Those who saw it were enthusiastic about it, but Mr. Griffith was not yet sure they were right, so he took it to New York and showed it privately. Again it was hailed as the perfect motion picture. He then decided to release it as a special and he put it into the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York.

“It was the means of establishing his fame in Europe. Joseph Conrad saw it and wrote to Joseph Hergesheimer: ‘Who is this man Griffith? Why is it I have never heard of him before?’

It was the most popular picture of the year in France, and in all of the other European countries it was very successful. The Dowager Queen of England wrote to Mr. Griffith congratulating him.

“The next episode was that of ‘Way Down East.’ We had been in the south when we heard that Mr. Griffith had paid $175,030 for the story alone. When he offered the leading role to me, he gave me the choice of accepting or declining it. I felt like declining it at first, for according to the story, the burden of the success of the film rested on me, and I felt at the time that the whole $175,000 was on my shoulders. And of course we did not know at that, time that we would be able to get the thrilling ice scenes.”

Lillian paused in recollection of the difficulties of taking that memorable film.

“We went to Vermont for the ice scenes and we spent eight weeks in that part of the country. We sleighed to farmers homes to acquaint ourselves with the types we were supposed to portray, and we found that everyone knew about ‘Way Down East’ but there were some who had never heard of Charlie Chaplin, and many, many who had never heard of us. It was a new sensation and a pleasant one, too, to be unknown for a time.”

Way Down East - Vermont
Way Down East – Vermont

The two scenes which caused the greatest comment in ‘Way Down East’ are first of all, the ice thrillers and secondly, Lillian’s remarkable acting in the episode during which Anna Moore, played by Lillian, loses her little baby. Lillian, however, didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about, so far as her acting was concerned.

Way Down East - "I baptize thee Trust Lennox ..."
Way Down East – “I baptize thee Trust Lennox …”

“Those were real tears I shed in the scene during which I portray the grief of Anna Moore over her loss. Anyone who says that glycerine tears are as good as the real thing doesn’t know anything about it,” she said emphatically. “And it is equally untrue that you can act as forcefully and bring tears just as easily if you think about some sorrow of your own. The Camera catches the thoughts as well as the expression of those thoughts. You have to get under the skin and into the mind of the character you are playing in order to realize for the camera the emotion  you are endeavoring to express. A western critic who was present when we were taking that scene with the baby said that it lost 75 percent in effectiveness on the screen because the voice was lost to screen audiences. He said that as he saw the scene in the studio it was the most realistic grief he had ever seen portrayed. That was due to the fact that I really felt that  bad about Anna Moore’s loss.

“As for the weeks during which we shot the ice scenes they were among the most unusual of my ,career. All we did during those weeks was to get up in the morning, go out on the ice and wait for events. The machinery behind those events consisted of a charge of dynamite up the river which blew up the ice and released the floes downstream. We would go out on the ice, wait for the charge. I would lie down on one of the cakes, which were each day cut out in various shapes by ice-cutting machines, and downstream we would go, a half dozen cameramen chasing us’.

Way Down East - filming the "Ice Floe Scene" (Lillian Gish)
Way Down East – filming the “Ice Floe Scene” (Lillian Gish)

“One cameraman was especially active. His name was Allen, and we would see him jumping from cake to cake, always trying to get as close as possible to me, to show that no one was doubling for me. Once or twice he fell in, camera and all but he was safely fished out.

Lillian Gish on the ice floe - Way Down East
Lillian Gish on the ice floe – Way Down East

“Then I made a suggestion which has caused me considerable suffering since. I thought it would be more realistic if I dipped my hand in the icy water and let it die there, while the camera took a closeup and a long shot of my hand. If you have ever put your hand in ice water – well, don’t! Ice water feels just like a burning flame. When I took my hand out of the water, I found it was cramped and stiff, and ever since I have suffered from painful rheumatism in the palm of my hand and the fingers.”

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)

As for “Orphans of the Storm,” the incidents of its production were few. Lillian Gish believes it is the greatest of Mr. Griffith’s productions, and in her trips about the country, during which she and Dorothy are appearing personally with the picture, she has found similar response on the part of the public. In the course of these trips she has been remarkably surprised at the spontaneous enthusiasm which their appearance has evoked, especially in these times when members of the film industry have been under fire.

As Dorothy said before she left for Louisville the attacks upon picture actors and actresses have affected her kneely: “When I walk down the street nowadays and someone recognizes me, I feel like turning my head so that I won’t hear them say: ‘Oh, there’s another one of those picture actresses. I wonder when her story will be told on the front pages of the newspapers.

“When we went to New Orleans,” Lillian related, “We were fairly swept off our feet by the greeting extended us. Our train stopped at some little station en route  and we heard some voices outside. It was early in the morning and we did not want to rise but we received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from an old gentleman who had heard that the Gish sisters were on board and wished to send them a mark of his esteem.

“North of New Orleans an advance agent of the theatre in which we were to appear boarded the train. He looked a little shamefaced and we wondered what was the matter with him.

Crowd at the train station

When we reached New Orleans we discovered the cause of his embarrassment. There was a mob at the station; a brass band to escort us to our hotel, the mayor greeted us and gave us the keys to the city, and whenever we went to the theatre we had to storm out our way through the crowds. We were dripping wet by the time we reached the hotel the first day, and Dorothy said , ‘Now I know how it feels to be President,’ for we were so busy standing up in the car so the people could see us and nodding greetings to them that we were worn out by the time we ended our stay in the south.”

This evidence of their popularity was deeply appreciated by both Lillian and Dorothy especially as it occurred during the very week when the Hollywood wired were busy bearing the reports of the Taylor mystery. They were both eager to assert that they believed the self-respecting members of the theatrical and motion picture profession ought to make some effort to reply to the scandalous attacks to which the newspapers have given so much publicity.

Film Director Taylor killed - unsolved murder 1922

In their long career both of the Gish girls have made many friends among the members of their profession. They have moved in the more social-minded group of film player of the cast. In addition to their friendship with the Pickfords born of the early days of the film industry, they count the Talmadges among their old friends. There is spontaneity, a freshness and youthfulness about them which is rare among those devoted to the drama. They are unaffected, genuine persons, with simple tastes. Real girls as to many of their friends testify.

The kid company “Oh Jo!” was so happy a vacation to Mamaroneck way as any party of young folk could conceive. “Oh Jo!” was one of Dorothy Gish’s comedies. It was taken on Long Island Sound, in the Mamaroneck studio. The members of the company, Dorothy, Mildred, Marsh, sister of Mae, Glenn Hunter, Tom Douglas and others were all youngsters and they enacted the film with the vigorous enthusiasm of youngsters. Playing in pictures, playing on the beaches, tea-time dances, it was a glorious vacation combined with glorious interesting work. And Dorothy’s infectious laughter, her gay spirits, dominated this business of playing. Only Dorothy Gish could maintain such a spirit and keenly enjoy picture playing in this manner, this sane, clean and peppy way of working.

So it is with the other aspects of Dorothy’s work. She enjoys working as much as she enjoys living, and that is a very great deal. Her husband, an actor of note himself, returned recently from the coast, to engage in a play on Broadway. She lives with him on East 19th Street, New York, and theirs is a happy ménage indeed. When she has spare time, she spends it with her beloved sister and her beloved mother.

Dorothy Gish, James Rennie and Lillian Gish
Dorothy Gish, James Rennie and Lillian Gish

Perhaps the shadow of this mother’s illness saddens the girls somewhat at this time. She has been seriously ill for many months now. A trained nurse is with her constantly, and it is pleasant to record that she is gaining appreciably in health, although she is still too ill to greet her many friends. Mrs. Gish is a frail woman; she has spent a difficult life. Those who are acquainted with her are eager to express their hope that she will live a long time to enjoy the fruits of her efforts and of those of her daughters.

Lillian Gish, Mary McConnell Robinson and Dorothy Gish
Lillian Gish, Mary McConnell Robinson and Dorothy Gish

Lillian Gish has had the more extensive experience of the two sisters. Her peculiar wistfulness of expression, her ability to portray the simple girl struggling against the manifold difficulties of life and her remarkable dramatic power have elevated her to an enviable position as an actress. She has that sort of intelligence which is based upon the assimilation of experience by a capable mind. She has attained power through herself, and is thus the more sure of expressing that power to others. She is an eager reader; on her library table are to be found many standard works, numerous of the better class of recent novels, and other evidences of her interest in the intellectual life.

Lillian Gish Close Up Way Down East MW1922

She surprises you most by her combination of knowledge and youthfulness. As you look at her now, she is just a girl like many other girls you have met. She might be plodding her way home from market in some little Middle Western town; she might be sitting with you in the parlor of her home, the daughter of a prosperous business man. But when she speaks to you, you readily note her superiority, her somewhat precocious wisdom.

Lillian Gish Way Down East MW1922

She startles you from time to time with her knowledge of pictures and picture making. She has taken her work seriously, she can direct mob scenes. And she has similarly taken life seriously; she maintains an active interest in public affairs. She has been watching with interest the struggle between the friends and the enemies of bonus legislation, She wonders whether the bonus bill, if passed, will not affect business unfavorably. She notes the difficulties of the present winter for the average actor. She tells of her observations of business conditions about the country, of soup lines in Sandusky, of how Pittsburgh was the last city to feel the business depression. She is, you note, keenly observant.

"Parting of Ways" finally a high resolution - From left Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Dorothy Gish aboard cruise ship, on their way to Europe, 1920s
“Parting of Ways” – From left Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Dorothy Gish aboard cruise ship, on their way to Europe, 1920s

Then with her regard to her personal life, you find she possesses warm friendships. She remarks that Jerome Storm, who directed her for a time in her sole individual effort, has written that he is the happy father of a “bouncing baby,” and laughs with pleasure at Jerry’s good luck. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for Mr. Griffith. He is the king of directors to her; she marvels at his ability, his versatility and breadth.

Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding - Orphans of The Storm)
Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding – Orphans of The Storm)

Best of all, she loves her mother and her sister. There is perfect harmony between these two girls; that you know at once. Only such harmony could have created to delightful scenes of the departure of the two orphans from their village home, the vivid pantomime of their first encounter with the world on the road to Paris. An Lillian’s mother, and Dorothy’s mother, is a rock upon which both of their lives are founded.

Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Mary Robinson McConnell Gish (Mother) cca 1930

“Come again, very soon,” she calls, as you bid her good-bye.

You know you’ll come, as you close the door, and hear her call: “By-By”


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His Double Life 1933

HIS DOUBLE LIFE, Lillian Gish, Roland Young, 1933 DDF

Lillian Gish and Roland Young in “His Double Life” (1933) poster – brit


Director: Arthur Hopkins

Writers: Arnold Bennett (novel) Clara Beranger (adaptation)

This film is an Eddie Dowling production; Paramount Pictures production number 1473. It was sold off by Paramount to Atlantic Pictures Corporation for re-release in 1938, and then to Astor Pictures Corporation for re-release and television presentation in 1940, and is now believed to be in the public domain. This film is one of over 200 titles in the list of independent feature films made available for television presentation by Advance Television Pictures announced in Motion Picture Herald 4 April 1942. At this time, television broadcasting was in its infancy, almost totally curtailed by the advent of World War II, and would not continue to develop until 1945-1946. Its earliest documented television broadcast occurred Sunday 4 January 1942 on New York City’s pioneer television station WNBT (Channel 1); after WWII, WNBT gave television viewers another look at it Tuesday 6 September 1949, and it was frequently shown thereafter. The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film’s copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.


Roland Young and Lillian Gish in a Picturization of Arnold Bennett’s Novel “Buried Alive.” By MORDAUNT HALL.B.R.C. Published: December 16, 1933

That punctilious and prolific writer, the late Arnold Bennett, might have objected to the title of his play “The Great Adventure,” which he adapted from his own novel “Buried Alive,” being altered for the motion picture version to “His Double Life.” But, one might reasonably hazard, he would have welcomed the work of Roland Young in the leading rôle, for it is one of the finest portrayals even that able actor has contributed to the realm of shadow entertainment. Arthur Hopkins, the stage producer, with William C. de Mille at his elbow, has done extraordinarily well by the direction of most of the picture, but in one episode he is overzealous for the fantastic and the scenes are too much like some recent musical comedy screen offerings. Such flights of imagination should have been eschewed, particularly in this story. Judging by the critical comments on the stage presentations in this city of “The Great Adventure,” the picture is infinitely superior to the play, the principal reasons being the efficient work of Mr. Young and the excellent performance of the pale and slender Lillian Gish as the young woman who becomes the wife of Priam Farrel (Mr. Young).

His Double Life 1933 poster, starring Lillian Gish and Roland Young

It is a highly intelligent type of comedy, one that arouses amusement rather than loud laughter. In some respects it is apt to bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The Bennett piece concerns a celebrated but unusually timid artist who permits the world to think that he has died and assumes the name of his valet, whose body is interred in Westminster Abbey. Priam Farrel, the genius with the brush and oils, has lived most of the time in the country, but he is impelled to flee to London with his valet, Leek, to escape the attentions of a designing woman. Immediately after his arrival in his musty London house, Leek falls sick with pneumonia. Because he is looking after the patient, physicians mistake Farrel for Leek and the dying man for the artist. As executor for Farrel’s estate, Duncan Farrel, a cousin who has not set eyes upon the artist for many years, pays off the supposed menial, and Farrel hies himself to the Great Babylon Hotel, where he encounters Mrs. Alice Young (Miss Gish). She is waiting for Leek, whom she has never seen, but with whom she has carried on a correspondence during which he sent her a photograph of both himself and Farrel. So Farrel is really Leek to her and the more he persists that he is Farrel the more she believes him to be suffering from a temporary mental shock due to his master’s sudden demise.

lillian gish, roland young, 1933 promo for his double life - photograph used for film poster

Farrel and Alice are married and eventually Farrel starts painting again. When the various canvases are picked out by experts to be genuine Farrels it complicates matters, for although the pictures are unsigned it is discovered that they were done after Farrel is supposed to have died. The interest in the film gathers impetus as it progresses and, as one might surmise, Farrel is permitted finally to settle down to a life of peace and quiet. It is a compliment to the Atlantic Coast that this film was made in the Eastern Service Studios in Astoria. The scenes are pleasantly designed and the sound recording is excellent. Mr. Young can be said to be just the man Mr. Bennett would have wanted for the part, for he succeeds in adding credibility to the tale.


Miss Gish is thoroughly natural in what is by no means an easy rôle.

lillian gish, roland young, 1933 promo for his double life (detail) photograph used for film poster

Montagu Love does capable work as Duncan Farrel, and Lumsden Hare makes the most of the part of an art expert. (The NY Times) HIS DOUBLE LIFE, an adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s novel, “Buried Alive”; directed by Arthur Hopkins; an Eddie Dowling production; released by Paramount. At the Times Square and Brooklyn Paramount.

Roland Young and Lillian Gish at Trial - His Double Life
Roland Young and Lillian Gish at Trial

Mrs. Alice Hunter . . . . . Lillian Gish

Priam Farrel . . . . . Roland Young

Duncan Farrel . . . . . Montagu Love

Mr. Oxford . . . . . Lumsden Hare

Mrs. Leek . . . . . Lucy Beaumont

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Lillian Gish and Roland Young, Key Book Photos (below)