“Do They Criticize Me?’ – By Madeline Glass (Picture Play Magazine – November 1926)

Picture Play Magazine – November 1926 Vol. XXV No.3

“Do They Criticize Me?’

So questions Lillian Gish, gently, when given an opportunity to explain her interpretation of Mimi in La Boheme

By Madeline Glass

IS Lillian Gish a great actress or merely a mechanical technician ? Is she unable to act for any one except D. W. Griffith ? Is she a genius too subtle for general appreciation? ***

These questions have for several years been hotly debated by fans and critics wherever motion pictures flourish. No actress on the screen provokes such widely differing opinions as Lillian Gish. Men like George Jean Nathan, Joseph Hergesheimer and John Barrymore have extolled her histrionic qualities, yet others whose names are less imposing but whose judgment is, perhaps, more reliable, scoff at her alleged genius and her tacit acceptance of the name bestowed upon her by her admirers—”the Bernhardt of the screen.”

Lillian Gish 1926
Lillian Gish 1926

A few years ago, Lillian was generally regarded as the finest actress in motion pictures. Her work in “Broken Blossoms” established her as a great tragedienne. Later she appeared to excellent advantage in “Way Down East.” Her characterization in that picture was superb, containing as it did exquisite interludes of pathos and several instances of towering emotionalism. At that time D. W. Griffith’s morbid predilection for depicting frail virtue at the mercy of brutal man kept Lillian continually playing persecuted heroines. After leaving Griffith’s guiding hand she made “The White Sister,” which was well received by the public, but which won only lukewarm praise from the press. Then came “Romola,” an expensive and highly pretentious picture, but a dismal failure financially and artistically. Such histrionic honors as it contained were captured by Lillian’s sister, Dorothy. And after the release of “La Boheme,” Miss Gish’s standing as an artist seemed to suffer a great deal. Critics dealt with her so harshly that I determined to seek her out and, if nothing else, offer condolence. I had read somewhere an article which quoted her as saying that she never allowed anything but finest silk to touch her skin. Which is all well and good. But, somehow, I vaguely resented it. It suggested ostentation. Then I remembered having seen her wear silk stockings while playing poor orphans and peasant girls. Could that delicate, angelic face possibly conceal a naughty nature ? Writers never tire of comparing Lillian’s beauty with virginal lilies and the Madonna, the assumption being that her character matches her face. Still, even a superficial analysis proves the fallacy of judging persons solely by the perfection of their features. We all meet at times fine, benevolent individuals who, if judged by their appearance, would be hanged without a trial. But, at any rate, Lillian has long been my favorite actress and when the studio clerk announced that she was ready to receive me I put all critical thoughts from my mind, and went forward eagerly. A few minutes’ walk through a labyrinth of hallways and miniature streets brought me to her dressing rooms. Before the maid could offer me a chair the silk curtains across the room opened and Lillian began to enter. I say began to enter advisedly. First came the lowered head bearing a graceful burden of bright, high-piled hair and a tall coronet of stiff gold lace. Then the pale face, with its large gray eyes and delicate chin, appeared. Next came the snugly dressed upper torso and arms, and last the enormous brocaded skirt which, once through the narrow door, spread about in gorgeous profusion, seeming to half fill the tiny room. Quickly the lovely figure stood erect and advanced, extending a white, blue-veined hand.

Annie Laurie crop1b

One’s first impression of Lillian Gish is her very definite air of gentle, nineteenth-century decorum. There is ladylike grace and precision in all her movements. When the usual greetings were over I remarked about the striking medieval costume. “This dress weighs fifteen pounds.” said she, in her nice, deliberate voice. “It is a seventeenth-century model. When I was in London recently I visited museums and studied dresses of that period. The material in them is much heavier than in this—they really stand alone.” “No wonder the houses in those days were built as large as the Mammoth Cave,” I observed. “The women must have required a lot of -room.” “Yes,” said Lillian. “It wasn’t necessary for them to take up outdoor sports. They got enough exercise carrying their clothes about.”

Lillian Gish - still frame2 - Annie Laurie
Lillian Gish – still frame – Annie Laurie

She spoke with delicate enthusiasm about her new picture, which is based on the famous song, “Annie Laurie.” Before our conversation had progressed very far she was wanted on the set, so the maid and I helped her gather up her trailing garments to depart. At the corner of one of the buildings Lillian and I halted while the maid went in search of a car. Presently Mae Murray came along and stopped to exclaim over Lillian’s costume. Mae, you know, is a recent bride and while she and Miss Gish engaged in brief discussion of real estate, Robert Leonard, Mae’s ex-husband, also recently remarried, walked by smiling pleasantly, and bowed to the three of us. In a few minutes Mae left us and a limousine rolled up for Lillian’s use. With the aid of every one present she got in, and made room for me. Dressed as she was, the heat must have been most unpleasant, yet she voiced no complaint. Every one on the set seemed cheerful. Courtesy and affability were constantly in evidence. Occasionally an actor or actress from one of the other stages dropped in for a brief call. Finally Ramon Novarro appeared, wearing an ill-fitting suit and a pleased expression. (He has discarded his mustache — thank Heaven !) After two hours I was beginning to grow uneasy. Lillian had been too busy to talk except for momentary intervals, and although I was enjoying myself immensely I did not forget the object of my visit. Lillian had been gone from the set for some time, but presently returned garbed in a less extreme dress and wearing a fetching blue cap which, with the golden curls, made her look very lovely. She led me away from the disturbing set to a property room near by. There were no chairs, but Lillian approached an iron bedstead and sitting down upon the springs spread her abundant skirts as a sort of makeshift cushion for me. After some preliminary small talk I mentioned, as tactfully as I knew how, the subject of criticism, both professional and “fanesque.” To my surprise, she did not seem particularly interested. So I tried again by bravely suggesting that her Mimi in “La Boheme” had not received as much praise as some of her other characterizations. She answered then—and I nearly fell off the bed.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

“Has some one been criticizing me?” she inquired. Under the circumstances her question was as astonishing as if she had looked at the Pacific Ocean and asked, “Is it wet?” Growing suddenly uncomfortable I wondered what explanation I could make. Perhaps I should not have mentioned the subject. When ignorance is bliss.

“What have they been saying about me ?” she insisted.

Hard pressed for an answer, I finally mentioned certain reputable critics who had found fault with her interpretation of Merger’s heroine.

“Yes, I remember reading those reviews,” said she. “A criticism,” she continued, “is merely one person’s opinion. For years I had wanted to play Mimi—not as Murger described her but as she is in Puccini’s opera. Our picture is based on the opera, not the story, and I feel that I portrayed Mimi very faithfully. Music lovers have praised the characterization highly. The heroine of Murger’s story was a promiscuous woman and I do not think a woman of that character could have inspired Rodolphe to write a great play. For that reason the Puccini version is the more logical of the two. We tried to depict an ideal romance, a great, spiritual love, and I think we succeeded. If I had wanted to play a naughty lady I would have chosen Camille” Her manifest lack of resentment toward ‘her critics confounded me. I wondered then I and I have wondered ever since whether her attitude is due to superb mental and emotional control or to polite disdain of the opinions of others. She sat quietly toying with the folds of her dress, betraying no sign of annoyance or concern. There was one other subject I felt I had to broach. For several years Miss Gish has been called by her admirers “the Bernhardt of the screen.” This lavish compliment has at last produced a discordant reaction. Even her fans are beginning to question the fitness of the sobriquet. Although Lillian has never publicly commented on the subject I felt that she might welcome an opportunity to clear up the delicate misunderstanding by denying any claim to Bernhardt’s mantle of glory. “Do you not think, Miss Gish,” I asked, “that your admirers have done you an unintentional injury by repeatedly calling you ‘the Bernhardt of the screen ?'” A profound silence ensued. Lillian merely regarded me with her lovely, questioning eyes as if she did not quite understand.

“Possibly,” I suggested, encouragingly, “some people resent the—ah—compliment ”

“Perhaps they do,” said Lillian, gently, and there the matter ended. I had hoped she would disclaim the honor or treat the matter as a jest, but as she did neither I was left to conclude that she accepted the tribute as her just desert. A fault often found with Miss Gish is her inability to play a variety of roles. It occurred to me that if she could put aside her excessive refinement long enough to submerge herself, mind, body, and soul (without the adornment of silk stockings), in a vigorous, rough-and-ready character, her versatility would be proven and her critics silenced. So I ventured to inquire if she had ever considered playing Sadie Thompson in “Rain.”

“That is a marvelous character,” said she. “Dorothy would just love to play her. But I can’t imagine any one playing her better than Jeanne Eagles.” She had not really answered my question, so I abandoned that subject and made some reference to censorship.

“Segregation is the only method of regulating screen plays,” said she. “It is hopeless, ruinous, to attempt to make every picture suitable for children. Mothers should select their children’s motion pictures the same as they select their reading matter. No one can successfully relieve them of this responsibility. My own mother would have considered it the height of impudence for any one to tell her what her children could or could not see.

“I seldom go to picture shows,” she remarked. “I am too tired to sit through the endless prologues. I hope the time will soon come when we will have theaters that show pictures exclusively. Then people who go to enjoy the film will not have to endure a series of stage presentations.” To which I heartily agreed. It was time for Lillian to return to the set, so the interview had to end. At parting she held my hand for a moment, saying rather apologetically, “I’m afraid I didn’t give you a very good story.” I assured her that she had and thanked her for the interview. She is a lovable girl in spite of her enigmatical qualities.

Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

*** Admin Note: Miss Madeline Glass (author of above interview) most definitely knew about James R. Quirk’s article published in March 1926 in Photoplay. MGM’s “hangman” wrote again pouring poison from his plume “Lillian Gish – The Enigma of the Screen,” where second and third headline were “What does the future hold for Lillian Gish?” and “Is she a genius or a mechanic?”. Possibly Miss Gish was aware of Quirk’s attack, masking her discontent with icy cold indifference. Louise Brooks unveiled MGM’s blackmail policy in hers “Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars” (Sight and Sound London 1959). Brooks noticed as well James R. Quirk’s attacks targeting MGM Star “mutineers.”

Lillian Gish, The Enigma of the Screen – By James R. Quirk (Photoplay 1926)

Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars – By Louise Brooks (Sight and Sound – January, 1959 – London, England)

 

Do they criticize me - Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1926)
Do they criticize me – Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1926)

 

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La Boheme with an Extra Girl – By Margaret Reid (Picture Play Magazine – February 1926)

Picture Play Magazine – February 1926 Vol. XXIII No.6

Looking On with an Extra Girl

Who, as one of the ensemble used in the filming of “La Boheme,” meets Lillian Gish for the first time, and follows her and John Gilbert through the successive scenes of that pathetic story.

By Margaret Reid

THE mantle of greatness is a curiously potent thing, lending a dazzling fascination to many figures that were otherwise most unobtrusive. Some wear it with regal ease, as if it were designed for them rather than they for it. Mary Pickford is one of these. She is unmistakably a great woman, a woman of achievements and power, and this as much outside her own sphere as in it.

MGM years (cca 1920) - (Irving Thalberg - MGM) - The Movies Mr Griffith and Me

On the other hand, probably heading the list of those in whom the rather awesome grandeur of supremacy seems incongruous, is Lillian Gish. Not when she is at work, of course. But outside the camera lines, the aspects of tremendous success are missing—one and all. Of course, the fanfare and trumpeting that preceded her arrival on the Coast led those of us who had never seen her to expect not only the usual in stars, but the unusual. Which latter we got, but in the opposite direction. At the time of Miss Gish’s break with Inspiration, the papers were full of rumors as to her future plans. Great film magnates struggled like urchins and cried like babies, trying to reach her with contracts proffering not only the moon but several acres of sky as well. Then the wires palpitated that Metro-Goldwvn-Mayer was a neck ahead. Breath was held. One pictured the Unholy Three—Hollywood’s pet name for Thalberg, Rapt, and Mayer—biting their nails while straining their ears over the private wire to New York.

Irving G. Thalberg, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer 1927
Irving G. Thalberg, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer 1927

Finally, one bright sunny morning—this is just for effect, since every one already knows there is nothing so viciously perpetual as the- California sun—a mammoth banner was strung at the studio entrance, from one side of the highway to the other. High above the road, it bragged to all and sundry, “M. G. M. signs Lillian Gish !” Rival bidders went home sulking and the charming services of the favorite actress of John Barrymore, Hergesheimer, and a few other people, were Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s for the trifling sum of eight thousand dollars a week. I find it impossible to call up a mental picture of eight thousand dollars a week at all, and an attempt to conceive of that amount coming in every week throws me into a high fever. But I understand it is a pretty sum. And it would seem to indicate an equally vivid payee. We knew better, naturally, than to expect in the lyrical Gish the trappings of Swanson. But we did anticipate the definite markings of personality, the subconscious dominance, little things impossible to explain, but apparent in most great people.

1927 MGM - Press retouched photo - Lillian Gish
1927 MGM – Press retouched photo – Lillian Gish

Miss Gish arrived on the same day that the elaborate dressing-room suite designed for her was rushed to completion. The following morning found her at the studio, conferring on stories. After a polite but systematic search of the studio, discovered her on the lawn, talking to one of the heads, She wore a severely plain white coat and a close hat of pale rose felt, and carried a heavy black book in her arms. No make-up, not even powder, marred the healthy, translucent pallor of her perfect complexion. The famous tiny mouth showed only its own faintly pink color, her eyes were the clear light blue of a child’s. Purists might not call it a beautiful face, but the poignant, eerie sweetness of its frailly chiseled features is the very essence of loveliness. To realize that she is a lady of great attainments and infinite fame, and eight thousand dollars a week, is a weary task. Her timid, gentle manner, her air, not only of background, but of the cultivation of art and grace through generations, make her a figure that seems not only remote from the rigors and extremes of motion-picture success but from any contact with the present age. I have been told, at one time and another—mostly by gullible males — “Do notice So-and-so, she is so quaintly old-fashioned.” So-and-so usually proves to be either dumb or to be skillfully using a highly praised “method.” The only genuinely old-fashioned girl I have ever seen —and that means typical of a gentler and lovelier age than ours—is Lillian Gish. How she has remained so through the building and maintaining of a career that has meant battle and misery and heartache, is her secret. That she has managed to do it, is her triumph. It was some weeks before a story suitable for Miss Gish was found.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)4

When the final decision fell upon “La Boheme.” there was still a long interval before the scenario, sets, costumes, and all the thousand and one plans, were ready to be put into action. And then, for two weeks, a small space on one of the stages was tightly canvassed in and jealously guarded against intruders. In this sanctum was observed the old Griffith custom of detailed rehearsal before any camera work whatsoever. At the end of the fortnight, the company gathered, en masse, on stage 3. This exclusive place is always given to the most impressive company in action at the time. It is hidden from casual visitors behind trees and shrubs beyond a wild little garden in a corner of the lot. We had not been long at work before various of the ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble were instructed to come out and be fitted for attire of the year 1830. I happened to be among the fortunates and was soon gowned in a lovely costume of hideous brown serge and a gray flannel cape. The keepers of the M. G. M. wardrobe are the nicest wardrobe women in Hollywood, but even their elastic patience is tried on days when the picture and scene require a mediocre costuming of extras.

La Boheme - Lillian Gish, Gino Corrado and John Gilbert
La Boheme – Lillian Gish, Gino Corrado and John Gilbert

Their sympathetic ears are deafened with cries of “But, Mother Coulter, I can’t wear this—why it’s awful !” “Can’t I at least have a pretty cape to cover up this horror?” “Mrs. Piper, you wouldn’t make me actually wear such an ugly dress!” Each feels that anything less than the very best is not her type. But to-day we were Parisians of precarious means, offering up the old wedding ring and grandfather’s stickpin in a dingy little pawnshop in the Latin Quarter. The sunlight struggling in through the grimy, cracked windows was being repaired, a carbon stick having fallen out of one of its rays, so we waited in a decorous row behind the scenes. The magician Sartov, Miss Gish’s special camera man, sat on his high stool by the camera, pulling placidly at his meerschaum pipe. The last touches were being applied to the dreary little set. The orchestra drifted into one of Mimi’s first songs, melancholy and wistful. It was almost like, but rather nicer than, waiting for the gong on the first act of the opera.

la_boheme_forum_p06

King Vidor, a young man who recently made a picture called “The Big Parade,” which is said to be quite a skit, donned a rakish smock hanging on the directorial chair. These smocks were the uniform for all the company during the picturing of the bohemian Mimi and Rodolphe, a sort of atmospheric sympathy for the locale and theme. Each smock was decorated with symbols representing the wearer’s official capacity. Now, there are directors and directors, many of them very fine fellows and clever, but if there is one thing an extra lady likes more than a courteous and considerate director, it is one who is good looking as well. Girls—stop me if you’ve heard this before—will be girls. And Mr. Vidor is an extremely personable young man with a tanned complexion, thick black hair, gray eyes, and a slow, infectious smile. Which is all every well-cast director should be. More of this paragon anon, but while we are on the subject, I might mention his brilliant young scenario writer, Harry Behn, who is also exceptionally well cast. Not only this, but his assistant director, one Dave Howard, is the extra girl’s dream of what all assistants will be when Will Hays really takes hold. And then, of course, there was Mimi’s Rodolphe—a gay, moody romantic of wicked charm.

Lillian Gish in La Boheme - Mimi at the pawnshop
Lillian Gish in La Boheme – Mimi at the pawnshop

Now he paced the floor in breathless enthusiasm, now he sat hunched over in a chair, brooding and despondent. He was very handsome. And so, amid ideal surroundings, the picture progressed. When the sunlight had been arranged to the satisfaction of Sartov, Miss Gish was called and we made our first acquaintance with Mimi. Such a sad and threadbare little Mimi, before her whirlwind rescue by Rodolphe. Faint shadows hollowed her cheeks and her eyes were haggard with fatigue and hunger. In her arms was clasped a ragged bundle which she timidly offered up. The coin thrust at her was too small, and with tears in her eyes and quivering lips, she tenderly placed her shabby, moth-eaten little muff on the counter. The orchestra breathed faintly one of Mimi’s gentle laments—oh! the pitiful little Mimi! I fumbled blindly for a handkerchief, feeling I couldn’t stand it any longer without doing something about it—anything to allay the misery of that wistful face. When the camera stopped, she peeped round it, with a birdlike gesture, the tears still shining on her eyelashes.

“‘Was that one all right, Mr. Vidor? Or shall we try it again?”

“Well, let’s try it this way, too, and see how it looks” —in Mr. Vidor’s soft, lazy Southern accent.

So Mimi is unhappy this way and that way and several other ways, until she receives her scanty loan and turns slowly away and goes out the door. That was all of Mimi for that time.

(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish retrouvaille, caleche, diligence, cocher, chevaux d'apres le roman de Henri Murger detail

When next we saw her. it was at a picnic in the woods of Ville D’Avray, near Paris. A rural frolic. of citizens of the Ouartier Latin—artists and their ladies. The costumes for this were charming—bright organdies and taffetas of one of the quaintest of periods. The preliminary details of this picnic one must omit as being too unfestive—the two journeys to the studio at six on successive mornings only to find the call canceled, and the old man on the outskirts of the crowd who turned away with weak tears in his discouraged eyes.

Lillian Gish John Gilbert Gino Corrado (rear) La Boheme

But the third morning saw the jinx thwarted, and at eight o’clock the buses were loaded and speeding along the thirty miles through Los Angeles, past the great estates of Pasadena, to Arcadia—a little town of orange groves at the foot of mountains that reach straight up into lofty snow fields. In a grassy meadow, sheltered by oak trees, the picnic was spread. Miss Gish’s town car, with its shades drawn, was already parked at one side. Through the back window of an expensive coupe, a black head swathed in a towel indicated the transformation of John Gilbert into Rodolphe. In another car were Louise and Phemic. Phemic was played by a fiery Russian, Yalentina Zamina, late of the famous Battalion of Death. Between scenes she sang wild, strange songs of her native steppes, eyes half closed in recollection. Louise was none other than the director’s little sister, Catherine Vidor. Catherine is a charming child, shy and soft voiced, with lovely deepblue eyes. This was her first appearance before the camera, which alone was sufficient to prostrate her with excitement, even without the surrounding circumstances. You see, Catherine’s favorite actor, bar none, is Edward Everett Horton. “Oh, the Saturday afternoons I’ve spent in the front row center at the Majestic!”—which is the Los Angeles stock theater where Horton plays. “I just adore his acting, it is simply perfect.”

La Boheme full cast and crew
La Boheme full cast and crew

Now, Louise’s beau in “La Boheme” is Colline, and Collin e was being played by Edward Everett Horton. Thus we have all the elements of a truly dramatic situation, besides a most auspicious beginning for a budding career.

Mr. Horton is an inordinately quiet gentleman, emerging from the fastnesses of a book only for work. There is a sort of old-fashioned courtliness in his bearing, a throwback from the manners of the time of Colline himself. He has a humorous expression, and smiles quizzically and contagiously with his eyes alone. With Renee Adoree, the Musette of the picture, was her sister Mira who, like Renee, was originally a dancer but who has only recently turned to pictures. Also like Renee, she is an impish comique, although she lacks Renee’s wistfulness. Renee is a mischievous, gypsylike person, of chuckling, ready laughter. Her eyes are about the loveliest I have ever seen—large, beautifully shaped and violet blue, brilliant and long-lashed, equally eloquent in tears or flirtation.

King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme
King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme

Among the jollymakers were Loro Bara, the young blond sister of Theda ; a dear little couple whose adored son is George K. Arthur ; the now w. k. Harry Crocker —his delicious wit the riotous center of the assembly and Gloria Hellar, a charming discovery of Mr. Vidor’s, recently proclaimed one of the seven most beautiful unknowns in Hollywood. Which means that Gloria is somewhat of a knock-out and presages great things. When Miss Gish stepped out of her car and began work, it was like the arrival of a limpid, fragrant wood elf, so exquisite was her costume and so beautiful was she herself. No woman could resist its festive quaintness, and I could not help remarking, in particular, on the air, organdie sleeves.

Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

“It is sweet, isn’t it?” Miss Gish said. “We took it from an old painting. And the sleeves are especially effective on the screen. Thev catch the light, and when Mimi runs, it looks as though she had wings, the wings of a moth.”

Her voice is a sharp surprise. You expect soft, throaty accents, but instead she speaks in clear, firmly pitched tones. A sort of healthy voice, pitched rather high, like a child’s. There is much about her that is reminiscent of extreme youth, besides the pure, cherubic contour of her face. She has, not just poise and courtesy, but manners. Careful, adorable politenesses that she is never too tired or worried to forget, even down to the unfailing, smiling “Thank you’s” for the little attentions continually showered upon her by the slavish electricians and prop boys. Much like a very wellbrought-up child she is, and utterly disarming.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)5

“All right, Dave, let’s get started,” called Mr. Vidor in his impersonal way, as if nothing in particular were pending. If he has any conscious method of direction, it is his air of ease and pleasant dallying. He accomplishes a great amount of work, but this fact is never as apparent to his players as the casual, unhurried comfort of the way in which it is done. In particular, he has a skillful feeling for the charm a scene may contain, for the loveliness that may be put into a situation. This one sequence of the picnic is sure to stand out by itself in the picture, no matter how splendid the rest is. It is seldom that the full effect of an entire scene is at all understandable when seen in the making. The interruptions and waits and changes damage any impression one might get. But this seemed to hold continuity and sweep, despite the spasmodic way in which it was necessarily assembled. Like a bright little bird, Mimi flitted from group to group of the bohemians, laughing and exclaiming while administering to their needs. Then, when the drowsy background sprang to life at the music of rustic fiddlers, and every one else ran off to dance but the smoldering Rodolphe, she slipped away into the shadows of the woods, peeping back over her shoulder, coquetting and teasing.

Lillian Gish Renee Adoree Catherine Vidor Valetina Zimina (La Boheme)
Lillian Gish Renee Adoree Catherine Vidor Valetina Zimina (La Boheme)

When the shots of our dance in the pavilion were done, we had leisure to follow Mimi and Rodolphe through the forest. As opposite as possible, in every way except talent, Miss Gish and Mr. Gilbert make a stunning picture. Though each seems to accentuate the individuality of the other, they are yet such perfect foils that no salient quality of either is dimmed.

1926 duotone rotogravure of an ad for La Boheme directed by King Vidor and starring Lillian Gish, John Gilbert, Renee Adoree and Roy D'Arcy
1926 duotone rotogravure of an ad for La Boheme directed by King Vidor and starring Lillian Gish, John Gilbert, Renee Adoree and Roy D’Arcy

Mr. Gilbert works with abandon, throwing self and surroundings to the winds when he enters a scene. My private opinion, held ever since “The Snob,” is that he is the screen’s greatest actor, without peer or rival. My friends, who have had it expounded to them rather often, would say it is not a very private opinion. And since seeing him work. I can think of several other choice points to add to my arguments. One is that he leaves lack Gilbert sitting in his canvas chair when he takes up the joys and sorrows of Rociulphc, or Danilo, or a doughboy, as the case may be. With boyish vigor, he charges into the heart of a character, bringing it forth to show to you. with sensitive, unerring artistry, and with supremely unconscious skill. Toward the end of the day, they set up the camera at the foot of a path that twisted up a hillside between the gnarled trunks of ancient trees. Up and down this path Mimi ran, hack and forth like an excited squirrel, pausing a moment to peep round at Rodolphe, then up the path again like an arrow. The company watched from behind the camera, laughing.

Renee Adoree and Lillian Gish in La Boheme (Musette and Mimi)
Renee Adoree and Lillian Gish in La Boheme (Musette and Mimi)

“Stop her!” Jack cried. “She’s gone mad. Mimi’s gone quite mad!” At the finish, she ran past the camera into the crowd, laughing and breathless.

“I hope I looked nice and French,” she said. “All the monkey business with the hands was supposed to be French.” (Lesson C: Only the greatest great can observe themselves in a humorous light, and not as God’s special Christmas gift to the world.)

When I start to write of Mimi as I last saw her, I am reminded of the sensations I had as a child, when mother used to tell me in vain that whatever I was reading was. only a play or a story. I was convinced that Eva actually did ascend, in a melancholy manner, to the angels, and that a little match girl really had heen found, cold and stiff, one Christmas morning. Thus I keep assuring myself that Miss Gish is a young lady who makes enough money to live on very comfortably, and that she has beauty, fame, and adoring friends. Yet there keeps recurring the picture of our last work in ”La Boheme,” and of the sobbing, dying Mimi struggling across Paris to Rodolphe. Her miserable clothes were in rags, and illness had carved deep hollows in her face. Clinging to the steps of a bus, fighting weakly through crowds, falling into the gutter and crawling on upon hands and knees, stumbling from a moving carriage, she slowly made her way, her long, pale-gold hair falling down over shoulders and back. Between shots, you might have thought Miss Gish was playing a bit in the picture, so unpretentious was her manner.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)3

If her skirt had to be dirty for a close shot, she did not hail a prop boy, but knelt on the cobblestones and made it grimy herself. She almost never looks into a mirror. Her skin is so lovely that her make-up seldom needs repairing, yet even in her elahorate costumes and make-up, she used to go through scene after scene without even touching her hair or powdering her nose, although I must say that she never seemed to need any improvements. Toward the end of the sequence, she was scratched and bruised from her numerous falls and tumbles, her clothes were ragged and mud-stained, her beautiful hair tangled and dusty, waited so patiently for the lights to be arranged on each shot, now standing on the rough, sharp cobbles, now collapsed on a step. As she sat in the gutter, waiting for Mr. Vidor’s signal, she smoothed her apron—a dirty, tattered piece of black cotton—with a delicate gesture.

“See my lovely apron”—she held it out for our inspection—”Mr. Erte created it for me.”

The preservation of an illusion through realitv is always a feat, an illusion being of such fragile, rarified substance. Usually, we learn to be satisfied with treasured remnants.

Thus, it is with pride in my good fortune and with gratitude to Lillian for being what she is, that I present to you an illusion, not only intact but even increased in value — Miss Gish.

Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Looking for an Extra Girl - Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)
Looking for an Extra Girl – Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)

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My Friend, Lillian Gish – By Louise Williams (Picture Play Magazine – November 1920)

Way Down East - Anna Moore Detail
Way Down East – Anna Moore Detail

 

Picture Play Magazine – November 1920 Vol. XIII No.3

My Friend, Lillian Gish

The screen really tells you almost nothing about her

By Louise Williams

 

IT’S queer, the ideas you get about stars, isn’t it? Some of them fit right in with your daily life perfectly ; it’s easy to imagine yourself going to the movies with Constance Talmadge and strolling down to the corner drug store for a soda afterward, or being asked to a bridge party at Anita Stewart’s, or driving off somewhere for a picnic with Corinne Griffith. And then, again, there are others that haven’t any point of contact with your own affairs at all ; you see them on the screen, like them, and that’s about all there is to it. Lillian Gish used to be one of those people to me. I couldn’t imagine myself knowing her. I cried over her in “Hearts of the World” and “Broken Blossoms,” and privately considered her just about as human and knowable as the Dresden china figure on my mantelpiece. Then, one day, in a hotel lobby, Richard Barthelmess said quite suddenly :

“There’s Lillian Gish ; let’s go over and say hello to her.”

Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East - Vanity Fair June 1920
Lillian Gish Tease Way Down East – Vanity Fair June 1920

“No, I don’t want to,” I retorted, sinking farther down into my chair. “I’m afraid I might not like her.” A bombardment promptly began. Had I ever seen her off the screen ? No. Ever met any of her friends? No. Why didn’t I want to meet her? Well, she seemed so ethereal, so fragile, so out of the world, somehow. If he didn’t mind, I’d rather not even turn around and look at her. But he did mind—and two seconds later I was being introduced to a slender girl with a little black hat drawn close over her light hair, and a black tulle scarf drawn up close around her throat, and she was clasping my hand warmly and saying:

“I don’t see just why you should want to meet me—but I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” I had a guilty feeling at that; I’ve told her about it since. For you see, she’s one of my best friends now, though I don’t believe she knows it. Lillian Gish is one of those people whose personality makes for her a wide highway to your very heart. She’s frank and unassuming, except about her sister Dorothy, for whom she claims the world and the fullness thereof. You don’t feel like going around gushing fatuously about her—but you just like her so well that you feel as if you’d known her forever and ever. The people who compare her to lilies in the moonlight and violin music in a garden at dusk and all that sort of thing are perfectly right ; she does suggest things like that. She has great, deep-blue eyes, and a wistful mouth, capable of the most heart-breaking smile, as the fans know all too well. But she has a sense of humor that carries her through even when the cellar of her house is flooded, in midwinter, and the floor of the garage gives way and lets her car into the abyss beneath. And when there’s something practical to be attended to she’s no more the sweet, girly-girly type of person than is her own sister Dorothy.

Lillian Gish - Anna Moore (Way Down East)
Lillian Gish – Anna Moore (Way Down East)

For she’s one of the most practical people I know. The theory that if you have lots of money you must spend it like a South American millionaire, which governs so many actresses, has no part in her scheme of things. When I discovered that she planned the spending of her income as carefully as I do that of my allowance I was rather startled. One of the Talmadges had phoned her, and that led to a discussion of the gorgeous clothes which they wear. Mrs. Gish suggested that Lillian find out where Norma had bought the frock she’d worn the evening before.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish — Anna Moore

“Oh, mother, I did—and I never could afford to go there !” Lillian exclaimed, aghast at the mere thought of such a thing. And since then I’ve learned that she never rushes out and just spends for the joy of spending; that she orders the use of her money just as wisely as she does that of everything else. The last time I saw her was just as she was beginning work at the head of her own company. She might have been a young man just going into business for himself, opening a garage or a plumbing hop or a lawyer’s office, from the way she talked. Her years in the motion-picture business have not been spent with her eyes shut; she knows just how a picture’s market value affects the production end, the things you’ve got to consider when you buy a scenario, and why not even an artistically unhappy ending is as successful as an out-and-out happy one.

Lillian Gish (Anna Moore) - Way Down East
Lillian Gish (Anna Moore) – Way Down East

“There’s no telling how this new venture of mine is going to turn out,” she told me that day. “Maybe I’ll be back in Mr. Griffith’s company at the end of my two-years’ contract with the Frohman Company, that’s starring me. Well, we all have to find out some time whether we’re the kind of people who can stand alone or the kind who must lean on someone else.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish (Anna Moore’s wedding dress)

“I’m going to do some rather tragic roles, I think.” she went on. “Of course, it’s the people in the little country towns whom I must please ; they are the ones who are really responsible for the success of a picture. Having New York like us is flattering—but I’d rather be popular in Camden, Maine, than on Broadway.” Which, while its’ a wise choice, isn’t really a necessary one, in my opinion ; from what I know of Lillian I’d wager that both Broadway and Camden will be at her feet when she makes her stellar debut.

My Friend Lillian Gish - Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1920)
My Friend Lillian Gish – Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1920)
My Friend Lillian Gish 2 - Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1920)
My Friend Lillian Gish 2 – Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1920)

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Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Tea with Lillian Gish (Picture – Play Magazine March 1921)

Picture – Play Magazine March 1921

A Girl’s Adventures in Movieland

The writer, a fan who knew the movies only through reading and through attending the seaters in her home town of Plainfield New Jersey, was selected from among the many persons who have written letters to this magazine – on account of her intense enthusiasm for motion pictures and her keen observation – to make a trip through the Eastern studios and to write her impressions to our readers.

 

SHE SCARCELY RECOGNIZED HERSELF!

“I was like the old lady in the Mother Goose rhyme—I couldn’t believe it was I! The person on the screen seemed familiar, and yet a stranger.

“Then my heart began to sink. Why had I grinned in that strange way? If I could only do it over again, how differently I would act.” That was the writer’s impression on first seeing herself on the screen.

 

Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square - Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square – Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)

Tea with Lillian Gish

That afternoon I had another quite different and wonderfully pleasant experience. I had tea at the Claridge. I had read many times, of course, of having lunch or tea at the Claridge—so many stars seem to be interviewed there. But what made this doubly exciting was the fact that I was to meet Lillian Gish. It was beginning to get dark as we went up Broadway toward Times Square, which is tine center of motion – picture life in New York City. Crowds of holiday people were pouring out of the theaters—for it was matinee day. The famous electric signs were just beginning to glow through the twilight, high in the air above us. Everything seemed so exciting and wonderful—I felt sort of prickly all over. We went up to the offices of the company which is starring her, and in the elevator with us there were two girls who were on their way to the same offices, to see about applying for a part in some picture. They powdered their noses before the mirror and rouged their lips, and talked about this picture they’d been in and that one—just extras, evidently.

Times Square New York 1921
Times Square New York 1921

And I could see that they felt awfully superior to me. But—you should have seen them when, while they sat on the bench just inside the office door and waited for some assistant to somebody to talk to them, Lillian Gish came out of an inside office and right over to us, and was as sweet and charming as if we’d been her oldest and dearest friends! Their eyes nearly dropped out of their heads. We started out for the Claridge then—quite a party of us, for Jerome Storm, the director who helped make Charlie Ray famous, and Herbert Howe, who writes for Picture-Play, went with us. What seemed queer to me was that, as we walked along the street, hardly any one recognized Miss Gish. I had supposed that a star as well known as she is couldn’t stir a step without having people crowd around her—judging by the mobs I’ve been part of when stars made personal appearances at theaters back home, I’d expected that the police would have to be called out to keep order.

Times Square 1921 center
Times Square 1921 center

And I must confess that I was rather sorry that people didn’t know her; I was so proud of being with her that I’d have liked to have all New York know about it. Probably her hat was largely responsible for people not recognizing her. It was a small black satin one, with a lace veil that reached to her nose, quite concealing her eyes. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t dressed at all as I’d supposed an actress would be for the street. The coat of her suit was sort of a French blue, with a border of gray fur, and buttoned right up to her throat, and her skirt was black. She wore black slippers with straps—not those very exaggerated French ones that so many girls wear now. She looked awfully well dressed, but nothing startling—I know lots of girls whose mothers would be perfectly happy if their daughters would dress as simply and sensibly as Lillian Gish did. It was just a few minutes walk to the Claridge, which is the hotel where theatrical people congregate.

Lilly From Ohio (1921) - Kenneth Alexander - Detail
Lilly From Ohio (1921) – Kenneth Alexander – Detail

I didn’t wonder that they like to stay there. Really, it is sumptuous. Thick, soft carpets, glittering chandeliers, an atmosphere that is quiet and luxurious, in spite of the fact that so many people are sauntering about. There were so many beautiful women, so many men, who might have fitted into a picture, that I almost expected to hear a camera clicking. It is a grand, pretentious sort of place, yet Mr. Storm, who lives there when he is in New York, said to the head waiter, “I want that little corner,” and immediately we were installed in such a cozy spot that I felt perfectly at home. Just outside the windows Broadway roared—the clang of street cars, the honking of automobile horns, the shouting of newsboys, with the traffic policeman’s shrill whistle piercing them all, makes a sound that you can never forget. Cushioned seats are built in around the sides of the dining room, which at first seems like sort of a funny thing—I mean, to be at a table and not have to sit up straight in a chair. I wish that they built dining rooms in homes that way—it is much more comfortable than stiff chairs. I felt just as if I were in a play — sort of lounging there in that great black-and-gold room, with music floating down from a balcony, and lovely Lillian Gish sitting there beside me. And she is lovely. That word was made for her. Her skin is very white, her eyes are a wonderful, deep blue, and her hair the same pure blond that you’d imagine it to be. She looks very fragile and delicate —almost too good to be true. Yet when she shakes hands with you she takes hold of your hand so firmly, and she speaks rather briskly, definitely, as if she knew exactly what she wanted to say and why she wanted to say it. There’s nothing hazy or dreamlike about her, though she’s so ethereal on the screen. I wish you could have heard her talk with Mr. Storm. He is directing her first starring picture, “World Shadows,” you know. He looks just like a successful business man ; I mean, not the way the fans usually think movie people do. He is awfully interesting, and I imagine is lots of fun to know. Mr. Howe called him “Jerry,” but Miss Gish called him “Mr. Storm,” and she spoke of “Mr. Griffith” and “Mr. Fairbanks”—no familiarity at all with people you’d expect her to talk about the way the fans do, who’ve never seen them. To hear her say “Mary and Mr. Fairbanks” sounded so funny. Then she and Mr. Storm started talking about directing pictures, and he gave her lots of advice that would help her if she ever directed another. My, the way they carelessly mentioned thousands for this and thousands for that just made my head spin. Even though the conversation was so interesting, I found time to watch two girls who sat at a neighboring table. They looked just as you’d expect the girls in a big metropolitan hotel to—very smartly dressed, with lots of make-up on, and smoking cigarettes with such a blasé, sophisticated air. I’d always imagined that motion-picture stars were like that, but, judging by those I’ve met, I’ve changed my mind. Miss Gish had with her a little round basket with a cover and a handle, which, she explained, was for all the papers and things she has to carry about with her.

Lillian Gish 1921 - The Girl Back Home
Lillian Gish 1921 – The Girl Back Home

“Dorothy brought me this beautiful thing from Paris,” she said, showing me the prettiest bead purse I ever saw, “but it’s so small that it would never hold all these things.” And she showed me the important looking documents that were in her basket. Now, what impressed me was this : She could have bought a beautiful big leather case for those papers, or, if she wanted a basket, she could have had the prettiest one in New York. Instead of that, she had a basket that anyone could have had; nothing at all pretentious or expensive. That’s exactly like her, it seems to me—just to do the natural thing in the very simplest way, instead of spending a lot of money and trying to have everything she does effective. Lillian Gish simply worships Dorothy; to hear her talk you’d think she herself didn’t amount to anything much, and Dorothy was the most wonderful person in the world.

“She’s just gone back home to Ohio, to the town where we were brought up—Massillon,” she said. “Can’t you imagine her in all her Paris clothes in a town of less than twenty thousand inhabitants? Oh, but it’s such fun to go back there, where you know everyone you meet on the street!” “I see by the papers that Dorothy’s engaged,” laughed Mr. Storm. “Oh, wasn’t that terrible? I don’t see who circulates those rumors. Dorothy called me up awfully early this morning, simply wild, to know if I’d seen the report. ‘It’s in the morning papers, and it sounds so official—they’ll have me married by the time they get out the evening editions,’ ” she said, and she was just about crying. Lillian paused to laugh about it, too. “She seemed to think that if the papers said it, it would be true.” I asked her about “Way Down East,” especially the rescue scene on the ice, and she laughed. “I still get excited about that.” She said. “I often go to the theater, to see how the audiences take my work, but when it comes to that part I find that I forget all about the audience and just watch the screen.” “Afraid that some time Dick Barthelmess won’t get there in time and rescue you?” asked Mr. Storm, laughing.

“Just about,” she answered. “And oh, you should have seen my mother the first time she saw that part of the picture—she hadn’t known it was so exciting, and—well, next time I go on location she’ll probably insist on going right along !” Well, I certainly didn’t blame her mother for feeling that way. It was getting late by that time, and she had to go back to the office with Mr. Storm to see about some business matters, so we went out to the sidewalk and then said good-by. I felt like Cinderella leaving the ball. And yet, somehow, Lillian Gish had been so friendly that I felt that always, after this, when I see her on the screen I’ll feel as if we had had a visit together.

Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square - Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square – Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Times Square 1921
Times Square 1921

 

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Dorothy Gish – The Girl on the Cover, By Elizabeth Borden (Photoplay 1925)

The Girl on the Cover

By Elizabeth Borden

Photoplay Magazine – August 1925, Vol. XXIX No. 3

Dorothy Gish Cca 1920 CS

DOROTHY GISH had gone down to Clinton Street, in the heart of New York’s East Side, to do some shopping. To be exact, she had to buy some costumes for her new picture. “The Beautiful City,” in which she plays a member of New York’s Four Million.

In a little hat shop—one of those funny burlesques of the Fifth Avenue establishments—a typical East Side flapper engaged Dorothy in conversation. After some talk of fashions, the girl stopped and looked at her.

“Do you know,” she said, “you look the image of Lillian Gish? Yes, you certainly look just like her! Did anyone ever tell you that before?”

“That’s what my mother says.” answered Dorothy.

The flapper sighed. “Lillian Gish looks like an angel.”

“Do I look like an angel?” asked Dorothy seriously.

Again the flapper studied her.

“No,” she said, finally, “you don’t look a bit like an angel, but you do look like Lillian Gish.”

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 15
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Portrait of Dorothy Gish view 7]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3554

And there, in a little anecdote, you have the history of the career of Dorothy Gish. Because Lillian looks like an angel, Dorothy has played the role of an imp. Because Lillian has been a tragedienne, Dorothy has been asked to play the comic. As soon as she finds a suitable story, Dorothy will be starred. Just at present she is playing opposite Richard Barthelmess. Barthelmess considers her an ideal leading woman. She is one of the most versatile and resourceful actresses on the screen. She is intelligent and keen-witted, and her suggestions are invaluable. Dorothy is one actress whose mental horizon is not limited to the screen and the studio. Her friends and her interests are varied. Just as her viewpoint is always fresh, so she imparts to her work an unfailing variety and vitality.

Her presence in a picture is valuable, not only because of her popularity, but because of the clear, analytical quality of her mind. When Lillian departed for Hollywood she left these instructions with Dorothy, “Watch my work and watch it carefully. “If you find me doing anything wrong, if you feel that I am being influenced by the accepted Hollywood standards, wire for me to come home immediately.”

Dorothy is married, as you know, to James Rennie, one of Broadway’s most popular actors. It is not only a happy marriage, it is a genuinely congenial one.

She lives in New York, near Gramercy Square.

The Girl on the Cover - Dorothy Gish - Photoplay 1925
The Girl on the Cover – Dorothy Gish – Photoplay Magazine – August 1925, Vol. XXIX No. 3
Photoplay Magazine – August 1925, Vol. XXIX No. 3
Photoplay Magazine – August 1925, Vol. XXIX No. 3 – Dorothy Gish

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“Diane of the Follies” by Thomas C. Kennedy (Motography – September 30, 1916)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Motography – September 30, 1916

“Diane of the Follies”

 

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish has appeared in five Triangle plays to date, and is beginning her sixth. Her first play for this company was “The Lily and the Rose,” followed by “Daphne and the Pirate.” “Sold for Marriage,” “The Innocent Magdalene,” and a symbolic drama now being titled and assembled. Lillian Gish will next be seen on the Triangle program on September 23 in “Diana of the Follies.”

In her latest play, “Diane of the Follies,” Lillian Gish gives an imitation of Sarah Bernhardt, with whom she once appeared as a fairy dancer. Lillian Gish’s latest Triangle play, called temporarily, “Diana of the Follies,” is considered one of the best stories of the year by the Fine Arts scenario department.

Lillian Gish in Fine Arts-Triangle Comedy.

Reviewed by Thomas C. Kennedy

 

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

LILLIAN GISH essays a role quite different from anything she has previously attempted in “Diane of The Follies,” and as a very temperamental show-girl she does remarkably well.

There is nothing in the way of adverse criticism prompted by Miss Gish’s performance, but after sitting through the full five reels of “Diane of The Follies” one, even if one be most charitable, cannot down the feeling that the producers should have found another story about a show-girl if they were anxious to have Miss Gish play such a part.

Diane has plenty of spirit and breeziness but none of the other characters has, nor does this story by Granville Warwick ever threaten to get anywhere in particular. Diane is a showgirl and she marries an amateur writer and is not happy with him and goes back to the “Follies.” That rather brief sentence would do as an outline of the play. The only semblance of plot comes after Diane leaves her husband and child. The latter becomes the victim of some dramatic illness or other and dies before Diane receives word of the trouble. And that was to be expected from the moment Diane gazed longingly upon the child before taking her departure from Christy. The ending of the play finds Diane again back on the stage and her husband, whom she wishes every happiness and success, continues to live as he did before meeting her.

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

“Diane of The Follies” presents some quietly amusing situations and Miss Gish by sheer force of her own acting is a bit interesting upon occasions, but these events are too far between. The production is good in all particulars save one, and that one is the show given to the theater-going public of Stamford. If Stamford could applaud a show like that, why there is hope for “Diane of The Follies,” in Stamford at least. This comedy from the Fine Arts studio was produced by W. Christy Cabanne. Sam De Grasse as Phillips Christy does nothing at all. Others in the cast are Lillian Langdon, Howard Gave, Wilbur Higby and Wilhelmina Siegmann.

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Were Surprised, Lillian!

Lillian Gish has adopted a course of training as strenuous as a professional pugilist in order to get into the best possible condition for her “rough house” work in the Triangle-Fine Arts production. “Diana of the Follies.” Miss Gish has several free-for-all fights in the picture, including one at her husband’s house and another on the stage of the opera house in which several chorus girls mix in.

In the theater scene one of the chorus girls emerged with a black eye as the result of coming in too close contact with demure Miss Gish. Miss Gish’s portrayal of the temperamental actress in “Diana of the Follies” is expected to make other celebrated temperamental ladies of the screen look to their laurels to preserve their reputations as “Champion Temperamentalists of the World.” W. C. Cabanne directed the production.

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Diane_of_the_Follies_-_1916_newspaper
Diane of the Follies – 1916 newspaper advertisement

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DIANE OF THE FOLLIES – 1916 (reviews)

Diane of The Follies still - D444

DIANE OF THE FOLLIES – 1916

Breaking her (Lillian Gish) even further out of the mold was Diane of the Follies, again directed by Cabanne, with a pseudonymous scenario by Griffith. And judging by the extravagant production stills, the loss of this film is particularly regrettable since they show Lillian as never before seen and never to be seen again. The producers were marketing a completely different Lillian Gish in a film that was “the final proof of her versatility, for the little star who has been sweet, submissive and sobby so often and effectively has suddenly become a dashing and temperamental chorus girl in her newest and most startling vehicle From the quickie Biograph one-reelers of just two years before, Lillian now found herself in a movie rated sumptuous even if we discount the exaggerations of press agents, who touted her nineteen costumes and $75,000 worth of precious jewelry. The film presumably featured “a full musical comedy” staged in a theatre before an audience of fifteen hundred. Its plot recalls the 1912 Oil and Water, in which Lillian had a bit part. Here, Lillian plays Diane, a showgirl who marries and then leaves husband and child to return to the stage when she tires of domesticity. Not even the entreaties of a forgiving husband and the death of her child induce her to give up the Follies. The production stills show her at turns saucy, vampish, impertinent, aloof, all in suitably outlandish regalia. Lillian relished the role: “Naturally, I was happy not to be playing another ‘Gaga-baby a term we gave to sweet-little-girl roles, which were actually difficult to do. It took more effort to play one of them and hold an audience’s interest than it did to portray ten wicked women. (Charles Affron)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

THERE WERE NO LOVE AFFAIRS

The pictures she made at this time were important only as they were steps of development—program pictures, little remembered today. “Diane of the Follies,” in which she played a kind of vamp and wore remarkable costumes, was more memorable. “But Diane was very easy to play,” she said afterwards. “Anybody can play a character of that sort—it plays itself. It is the part of a good woman, whose colorless life has to be made interesting, that is hard.”

Her own life could hardly be said to be exciting. There were no love affairs. Plenty of opportunities, but she was always too busy for such things, or for the social life, of which there was now a good deal. “I was not gay enough for the parties; Dorothy was sought, for those. They didn’t care much about me.” And once she wrote:

“When Dorothy goes to a party, the party becomes a party: When I go to a party, I’m afraid it very often stops being a party…. She, as I once heard a girl described in a play, is like a bright flag flying in the breeze. “All music, even the worst, seems so beautiful to her. All people amuse her…. I have fun, too, but it is only the fun I get out of apparently never-ending work.” (Albert Bigelow Paine)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Diane of the Follies,

written by D. W. Griffith (as Granville Warwick), was Lillian’s attempt at vamping, but this cinematic journey into the private life of a Follies girl was a very guarded excursion. Even with material dealing with showgirls, Griffith was a moralist. With Lillian, his fantasies had limits … Lillian’s character was a radical departure from the “Gaga-baby” sweet little girl types. Follies girl Diane is trapped in a boring marriage to an amateur sociologist who married her to raise her level of intelligence by exposing her to what he thinks is the best of what culture has to offer. When the opportunity presents itself to return to the theatre, she leaves her husband and their daughter, Bijou. Bijou dies, and Diane announces to her husband that they can remain married, but they must never see each other again. One cannot help but comment upon the daughter’s name, Bijou. Had Diane produced twins, would she have named her other daughter Rialto? Was Bijou Griffith’s attempt at humor? Or were his frustrations at not succeeding as a playwright so overwhelming that, had he been a playwright, would his plays have been mounted at theatres named Bijou and Rialto? Was the separation that occurs between Diane and her husband parallel to Griffith’s from his wife?

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Anita Loos offered her thoughts on Griffith’s literary ambitions: Mr. Griffith, for all of his film successes, was a frustrated playwright. He regarded himself as a playwright. The more success he had as a filmmaker, the more reluctant he was to try to return to the theatre. The theatre world was less secure than pictures. A play closes and is hopefully forgotten. Nobody makes anything from a flop. A movie can partially recoup its losses, should it play small towns for a very short time. Some money can be made, but not much. Mr. Griffith, whether he liked it or not, always thought in cinema terms: big, lots of people to fill the lens. Lillian’s theatre work at that time was very limited, but I think if Mr. Griffith were willing to take the chance, she would have returned to the theatre with him. With Lillian, Griffith or no Griffith, work always came first. It is highly likely that Griffith had attended a few performances of Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1916, which was playing in New York at the time he was working on a film for Lillian that could place her in more worldly- but still acceptable – circumstances. The Follies of 1916, with a cast that included Ina Claire, Fanny Brice, W. C. Fields, Ann Pennington, and Bert Williams, had sketches using a “Shakespearean” theme (Ina Claire as Juliet and Bert Williams as Othello). The beautiful Follies girls in period costumes in front of a Sphinx background must have convinced Griffith that filming in New York and utilizing the Follies name would appeal to a substantial metropolitan audience (as well as audiences across the United States who may never have the opportunity to see any part of a Ziegfeld show). With the inclusion of Lillian as the lead, this latest Triangle film might be a box -office bonanza. Dancer Ann Pennington, who headlined in the Follies of 1916 (and eight other Follies editions), easily remembered meeting Lillian Gish in her dressing room a few times after evening performances. Accompanying Lillian on all of the visits were her mother and Mr. Griffith. Fifty-four years later, in 1970, Pennington still remembered meeting Lillian Gish:

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

Mr. Ziegfeld told us to try and help her [Lillian] for this film about a Follies girl. She [Lillian] was as beautiful up close as she photographed on the screen. She had reddish-blonde hair and large blue eyes that the camera loved. At Fanny’s [Brice] suggestion, we took Lillian and her mother and Mr. Griffith on-stage and watched Lillian walk around a few times, then take a few turns on the runway. She had a very good figure, but she wasn’t Follies girl material. I don’t think Mr. Ziegfeld would have hired her, had she shown up for an audition. She had no … allure, and her balance was a little off. You could tell she never practiced walking to music. Mr. Griffith should have taught her how to walk, but maybe that would be later, when the actual filming started. I always thought she should have come backstage alone. Then we could have talked about our lives, and she could have picked up some simple dance steps. With Watching Mama there, we were very polite, and the conversation never really went anywhere. Lillian was very professional in what she asked and how she asked it. We couldn’t talk about men, and men were certainly a big part of our lives. Men were one of the reason pretty young girls came to New York. They wanted to be in the Follies, and they wanted to meet men. Men who met Follies girls were always wealthy, and they could show you a good time, and, if you played your cards right, you could get one of them to marry you, if you know what I mean … Lillian never became a Follies girl in that film. There was nothing inside her character. She didn’t know what a Follies girl was, or what she had to go through everyday. It isn’t just walking down a staircase, or smiling on a runway to beautiful music and wearing pretty clothes. But Lillian Gish did look wonderful, and the clothing fit very well. It would have been a better picture if Joan Crawford or Clara Bow played that part. Men fantasized about Joan Crawford and Clara Bow. Lillian Gish was only Mr. Griffith’s fantasy. He was very Victorian, and she was very prissy. Why did she always bring her mother? Her mother gave me the impression that being a Follies girl meant you were only slightly better than a chorus girl, and chorus girls were low class …. When I saw the film, I thought Lillian Gish reminded me of an eleven-year-old girl playing dress up! (Stuart Oderman)

Diane of The Follies - Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish
  • (Miss Lillian Gish) Lillian Gish ……….. Diane
  • Sam De Grasse ………………… Phillips Christy
  • Howard Gaye ………………….. Don Livingston
  • Lillian Langdon ……………….. Marcia Christy
  • Allan Sears ….. Jimmie Darcy (as A.D. Sears)
  • Wilbur Higby ……………. Theatrical Manager
  • William De Vaull …………………………….. Butler
  • Wilhelmina Siegmann ……….… Bijou Christy
  • Adele Clifton …………………………… Follies Girl
  • Clara Morris …………………………… Follies Girl
  • Helen Wolcott ………………………… Follies Girl
  • Grace Heins ………………………….… Follies Girl
Diane_of_the_Follies_-_1916_newspaper
Diane of the Follies – 1916 newspaper advertisement

Triangle Program at Mission Theatre

“Diane of The Follies” with Lillian Gish as the Vivacious Star

Interesting to women are the marvelous gowns, 67 in number, which are worn by the women in the cast. Nineteen are worn by Miss Gish herself, which makes the play a wonderful fashion show as well as a dramatic entertainment.

The Jewels worn by Lillian Gish were loaned by a jeweler of Los  Angeles. She adorns herself with a pearl necklace worth $30,000.00, a coronet worth $20,000.00, rings worth $7,000.00; and a bracelet worth $3,000.00, in addition to her own Jewelry valued at $15,000. The total is $75,000 worth of precious stones, which every woman will want to see.

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Lillian Gish (Triangle) Pictorial 1917

Lillian Gish (Triangle) Pictorial

Photographed by Carpenter

Motion Picture Magazine – July, 1917

Starry – eyed and sunny – haired Lillian Gish, whose charm lights every angle of Triangle.

Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle (Carpenter)
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle – Photographed by Carpenter
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle 3
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle (Photo – Carpenter)
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle 5
(July 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle (Photographed by Carpenter)
Motion Picture Magazine (Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle 6
(Jul 1917) Lillian Gish Triangle (Photographed by Carpenter) postcard

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