Chicago Tribune – Sunday, April 7, 1940 – Page 124
The Real Lillian Gish
Cloak of Frail Femininity Covers Strong Character
By Eleanor Nangle
We had thought until we met Lillian Gish, that Mrs. Clarence Day, as portrayed in “Life With Father,” represented the ultimate in feminine wisdom and winsomeness. But there is curious, happy similarity between the woman and the character she plays. Which is probably one of the reasons Miss Gish is such a superlative success in her role of Vinnie Day.
Miss Gish, like Vinnie Day, has o totally deceptive cloak of helpless femininity. She looks physically frail, and one always thinks of her as tiny. As a matter of fact she enjoys superb health, weighs a solid 112 pounds, and is 5 feet 6 inches tall. The day we talked to her she was wearing, in the restful privacy of her hours of leisure at home, tailored slacks piped in white – the kind of costume that would make the average woman look taller. But she still seemed tiny to us, which shows you what illusion can be created by manner, fine bones, and a sweet, small face.
She looks one of the least athletic persons in the world. But she’s an unusually good fencer. If she had the time to devote to this, her favorite exercise, she has her instructor’s word that she’d be good enough to go into the Olympics. She thinks fencing the ideal sport, with a favorable effect on the mind as well as the body. It seems a little incongruous, this, coming from a gentle, quiet little person seated demurely behind a low bowl filled with at least a dozen bunches of wood violets!
And, like Vinnie again, Miss Gish is a marvelous listener. Her interested eyes pay flattering tribute to the speaker. For one who has a unique intelligence and a vast breadth of interests she suffers fools graciously. Fundamentally she’s a surprisingly serious person who thinks things thru and has a perfect sense of values.
She finds it rather wonderful to hear the laughter that rocks the “Life With Father” audiences, because she is more sensitive than most to the fact that these are tragic times. Tho she seems the sort of person who should think of nothing heavier than the flavor of the next piece of candy her small fingers will draw from the box on her lap, she is actually intelligently absorbed in European affairs. There is no fiction in sight; all clippings stacked around her room are concerned with things international. She’ll tell you very gently that this is due to the fact that since she walked out on the movies she’s lived a lot in Europe and gotten rather fond of it. That isn’t the real reason at all; she’s just a serious student.
She dresses well but unostentatiously. She’s dressed by a woman in New York who has her measurements and sends things as they are needed. No clothes splurges. But she’s completely feminine about perfumes and bath trimmings. She adores them.
And she loves to wear costumes, taking almost as much delight as the audience in the be-bustled gowns Vinnie wears. She assumes a posture for them, you might be interested to know, slanting her body forward, keeping her elbows at her sides, and assuming a walk entirely unlike her own natural, easy gait. She makes it look easy, but it isn’t. Almost her favorite episode in “Life With Father” is the scene she isn’t in. Those five minutes when she is ill upstairs are the only rest period she gets in the whole show. But she’s such a marvelous actress that only she is conscious of the physical strain of running up and down stairs 21 times in an evening’s performance!
There’s much more than meets the eye to Lillian Gish. Like the adorable Vinnie, she’s full of surprises.
Chicago Tribune – Sunday, March 20, 1927 – Page 43
Lillian Gish Plays Hawthorne Heroine
“The Scarlet Letter”
Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Directed by Victor Seastrom. Presented at the Chicago theater TOMORROW.
Hester ……………………..…..…………. Lillian Gish
Reverend Dimmesdale …………… Lars Hanson
Roger Prynne …….………….. Henry B. Walthall
Giles …………………………..………..…… Karl Dane
Governor ………………………. William H. Tooker
Mistress Hibbins ……….…….. Marcelle Corday
Jailer ………………..…………….…….. Fred Herzog
Beadle ……………………….…………. Jules Cowles
Patience ……………………..………… Mary Hawes
Pearl ……………………………………….. Joyce Coad
French Sea Captain ……….…. James A. Marcus
By Mae Tinee
Good Morning; Lillian Gish looks like a saint and Lars Hanson looks like Paul Ash in this much “adapted” version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story. And I reckon why the film isn’t being presented at the Oriental is because Messrs. Balaban and Katz know the Oriental fans could never bear to see Paul suffer. SO – because Mr. Hanson, who looks like Mr. Ash, has so much to endure as Rev. Dimmesdale – he’s at the Chicago. (Maybe.)
Those of you who haven’t read the book may find the film version of “The Scarlet Letter” to your liking. But if you are familiar with the story of Hester Prynne, I’m afraid you’re going to be up on your ear over the liberties that have been taken. The screen production is a life sized portrait of a movie magnate showing Nathaniel Hawthorne how.
There has been much bristling officiousness and the result is the most ordinary sort of melodrama instead of a picture of power and subtlety. “The Scarlet Letter” SHOULD have been one of the great pictures of the day.
Though Lillian Gish is truly beautiful in her doctored role and gives a thoughtful and finished performance, she is as different as possible from the author’s conception of his heroine who was – “tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes … characterized by a certain state of dignity.
17th February 1926: Lillian Gish (1893 – 1993) is punished for bearing a child out of wedlock in the film ‘The Scarlet Letter’, a 17th century melodrama directed by Victor Sjostrom.
Hester Prynne and Rev.Dimmesdale – The Scarlet Letter – 1926 (Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson)
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter
A Story of Old Salem
Hester Prynne was a seamstress in Salem, a New England settlement of early Puritan days. The place, you know, where they burned the witches and made Sunday such a bugaboo that no descendant of a Puritan father has to this day entirely shaken off the influence of those Sunday Morning Blues to which his forefolks clumped their mournful way to meeting along around the close of the seventeenth century.
She bore a child out of wedlock, refusing to name the father, who, the picture almost immediately shows you, was the young, earnest, and greatly beloved minister of the community. For her sin she was ordered by the town fathers to wear always and forever on the bosom of her meek and proper dress the scarlet letter “A,” which should stamp her for all beholders to see as a woman taken in adultery.
(I’m going to write in the present tense if you don’t mind. It’s easier, somehow or other.)
The minister, who loves her deeply, begs to be allowed to declare his own guilt and share her shame. This, Hester steadfastly refuses to let him do, declaring that her greatest punishment would be to know that she had interfered with his work and destroyed his influence. Besides, she is aware of what he is not, that the man to whom she had been married in England – an old surgeon – but whose wife she had never been, has arrived in Salem and, under an assumed name, is hovering about them like a black and leisurely vulture, biding his time to pounce.
This sinister, implacable, waiting man is present through the entire original story. In the picture he appears near the end providing a “WHO-IS-THIS-MAN!”, “STOP-HE-IS-MY-HUSBAND!” scene. That poor Yorick of the melodramas which you know so well.
Little Pearl, the Only Bright Spot
The tragedy develops amid the stern, monotonous, petty routine of the Blue Law ridden settlement, the only bright spot in the lives of these three actively unhappy people being little Pearl, that “child of sin,” who, by some strange rank of Fate is a joyous madcap, utterly uncowed by the outcast condition of her mother and herself.
The denouement, as you can imagine, is a dramatic one. The picture ends sadly where the book does not – which amazes me – for the author provides a comparatively happy ending, and WHEN before have the movie makers rejected a happy ending? As a rule they will make one for themselves if the story writer has not been so considerate as to provide a fadeout that will send audiences forth smiling.
In the novel little Pearl, it is told, becomes one of the richest heiresses in England and Hester Prynne, having seen her darling cared for, returns to the scene of her shame and becomes a woman generally beloved. In the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s bitterness and became a type of something to be sorrowed over and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence, too. And as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities and besought her counsel as one who herself had gone through a mighty trouble.
Passing Up Some Fine Chances
To this “tall woman in a gray robe” there came from England letters with armorial seals … “and once Hester was seen embroidering a baby garment with such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have raised a public tumult had any infant thus appareled been shown to our sober-hued community.” …
Can you FEATURE how any movie maker ever passed up the chances offered in those last three paragraphs? Mi-gosh, I can’t.
So much for the stories – Mr. Hawthorne’s and Mr. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s.
The acting throughout is splendid. I foretell great popularity for the Ash-en Mr. Hanson. Sets and costumes are picturesque and of the period. Such scenery as there is lovely and the photography is everything in the world it should be. Also there are some comedy situations which I sincerely hope you may enjoy.
In closing, fans dear, may I remark regarding this film that
“If with joy you’d on it look,
Prithee, do not read the book!”
See you tomorrow!
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter
Hester Prynne – Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter – Vanity Fair Magazine August 1926
“The Star Wagon” came to the Chicago stage as welcome relief from the Lenten drougth in drama. It was the first new play, except for two WPA contributions of minor interest, to open here in four weeks, and its premiere was notable for cordiality of audience response. It brought an admirable cast, with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish as co-stars; and it told a diverting and unusual story of American life with overtones of philosophic brooding over the mystery of life and time and destiny.
After adventures into the past with his “time machine,” the old inventor who is the central figure in the tale [acted with humor and quiet emotional touches by Mr. Meredith] brings down the curtain with the following speech, which expresses the spirit in which Maxwell Anderson approached his fantastic theme:
[After singing two stanzas of “The Holy City”]: “I never believed much in a golden city, back there in the choir. I don’t believe it now. But they were right about one thing, the old prophets – there is a holy city somewhere. A place we hunt for, and go forward, all of us trying and none of us finding it. Because our lives are like the bird, you remember, in the old reader that flew in from a dark night through a room lighted with candles, in by an open window, and out on the other side.
We come out of dark, and live for a moment where it is light, and then go back into the dark again. Some time we’ll know what’s out there in the black beyond the window where we came in, and what’s out there in the black on the other side, where it all seems to end.”
Bloomers and Trousers of 1902
The second act of “The Star Wagon” is a study in American small town manners in 1902, and as such it contains the exaggerations, tending toward caricature, which are generally found in theatrical reconstructions of the past. Miss Gish’s bloomer costume for bicycle riding has almost a “Hollywood” quality in the extremeness of its design. I can easily remember thousands of bloomer girls of 1902 or earlier, and none of them looked like that. Furthermore, in 1902, the nation had become blasé to bloomers and and they were rapidly going out of fashion.
The automobile of which Mr. Meredith was the proud creator is patterned after designs that were archaic in 1902. The men’s clothing is truer to the comic sketches of the period that to the suits, hats, neckties and collars actually worn by the average male at the time.
Songs used in plays of this type are often anachronisms. For example, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” used in the film in “Old Chicago,” was composed years after the date of the Chicago fire. Eager to fix such a “time machine” error on “The Star Wagon,” I dipped into the history of “The Holy City,” but lost my bet. This song was composed in 1892; music by Stephen Adams, words by F.E. Weatherly.
Lillian Gish as she prepared to board the Santa Fe Chief yesterday.
Miss Lillian Gish, star of the silent screen, left Chicago yesterday aboard the Santa Fe for a lecture tour. The attractive actress, huddled in a raccoon coat with a matching snood, said she hadn’t realized Chicago became so frigid in November.
Chicago Tribune – Wednesday April 13, 1938 Page 23
“Star – Wagon”
Human Fantasy of Old School
“The Star Wagon”
A play by Maxwell Anderson with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish as co-stars; given at the Grand Opera house April 12, 1938, under the management of Guthrie McClintic.
Hanus Wicks ………………….. Russell Collins
Martha Minch ………………..…… Lillian Gish
Stephen Minch …..……… Burgess Meredith
Park ………………….……………… Josh Trelfall
Ripple ………………….……….. Alan Anderson
Apfel ……………………….…………. Ralph Riggs
Duffy ……………………..………….. Barry Kelley
1st Thug ………………………….. Keenan Wynn
2nd Thug …………..……….. Charles Forrester
Misty …………………………..….. John Philliber
Hallie Arlington ……….……. Jane Buchanan
Mr. Arlington ……………..… J. Arthur Young
Mrs. Rutledge …………….. Mildred Natwick
Paul Reiger ……………………… Victor Rankin
Christabel ……………..……….. Evelyn Abbott
Della …………………………….……. Edith Smith
Oglethorpe …………………… William Garner
By CHARLES COLLINS
Maxwell Anderson’s drama “The Star – Wagon,” which came to the Grand Opera House last night to improve the vacant aspect of the Chicago stage, is an engaging meditation, both emotional and humorous, on the familiar and popular theme, “If I had my life to live all over again.” Other authors have brought about such miracles by magic potions, supernatural invocations and fantastic dreams; but Mr. Maxwell turns the trick with a gadget that looks like a chromium plated radio cabinet.
Its dials are set to July 4, 1902, for time and to a bicycle repair shop in an Ohio town, for place; whereupon Burgess Meredith, as a doddering old inventor, and Lillian Gish, as his complaining wife, revert to the period of their courtship in that quaint old period of comic costumes which modern playwrights like to caricature.
New York critics have written about this play in terms of the fourth dimension, curved space and the Einstein theory, which makes it seem alarmingly profound and mystifying. The simple approach, however, makes it more enjoyable; for in essence “The Star – Wagon” is a sound, human, old school fantasy, which treats the eternal wish about living all over again with improvements in a hearty and appealing American style.
In the first act Mr. Meredith, whose vibrant voice has a way of winning emotional sympathy, appears as a snuffy, absent minded, unsuccessful inventor, over 50 years old and earning only $27.50 a week. His talents have been exploited, it seems, by the hard hearted capitalists who pay his pittance, and his haggard wife is highly annoyed by his lack of worldly success. His troubles, which include losing his job, cause him to grab the handles of his recently completed “time machine,” with his faithful henchman by his side, and whisk himself back to the start of his career, determined to give it a different direction.
Then the audience sees the young Mr. Meredith, who has just invented a self-starting automobile, and the young Miss Gish, a belle in a new suit of bicycling boomers, and the manufacturer’s daughter, whom Mr. Meredith intends to marry, and their circle of small town friends. A church choir rehearsal, which forms the most effective scene in the play, gives Mr. Meredith a chance to sing “The Holy City” like the ardent choir boy he used to be before he started acting.
The life of a prosperous inventor and capitalist in which Mr. Meredith finds himself in his new career is harrowing to his soul. His male associates are crooked; their wives are wenches, and he himself has lost his sense of honor. In desperation, therefore, he and his satellite patch up the old “time machine” and flick themselves into the humble reality from which they have fled. Then the old inventor and his wife live happily ever afterward, and the benign spirit that watches over sentimental endings to plays even arranges for them to improve their income.
Mr. Meredith characterizes the inventor richly; Miss Gish acts the old wife vividly and truly, and the bicycle girl with the ethereal coyness of 1902. The other members of the cast contribute skillfully to a performance that is always interesting. Russell Collins, as the inventor’s eccentric henchman; Jane Buchanan, as a pretty old style husband hunter, and Mildred Natwick, as a prudish chaperon of Sunday school picnics must be mentioned for admirable behavior.
We talked backstage recently with Lillian Gish, player of the leading role in one of Broadway’s hits of the season, “Star Wagon”. We found her with her waist-length hair hanging, a sight that gladdens the eye unaccustomed to hair rarely even more than shoulder length. Miss Gish’s hair is a beautiful color, too. A silvery ash blonde that she claims has darkened as this type of hair usually does, but it still is, to us, a beautiful silvery ash tone.
We asked Miss Gish how she managed to survive the temptation to cut the long locks, after she admitted never having succumbed once to the urge for short hair. She explained that her hair had been earning her living for her since she was a youngster and that now she has a superstition about cutting it.
Incidentally, we had been at a smart hair showing previously and observed the coiffures built up high. Maybe they are coming in, after all the protest. Anyway, we saw a half dozen of them that afternoon and noted a something that won’t ever bother Miss Gish. The something was the stray wisps, reminiscent of another day when those stray wisps were the bane of our sex. Today’s wisps naturally are the result of hair cut too recently for the high up dressing, so that women who have weathered the scissors storm will be the best models for the high up coiffures.
Miss Gish’s silhouette is slim as can be. She is one of those luckies who can eat all and sundry without watching a scale. She thinks, as a consequence, that fat is a matter of glands, not food, although some of the rest of us have good reason to suspect otherwise. No doubt the fact that Miss Gish has been a dancing school fan and attendant since she was a youngster has much to do with her slim figure. She does think dancing good for that, a good exercise for anything. But after taking up fencing her enthusiasms have swung over to it as the perfect exercise for women’s figures and also for the eye and mind alertness it encourages, or rather demands. More women are going in for the fencing, she reports, realizing it to be one grand all around exercise.
Speaking of dress and best dressed women, Miss Gish recalled a remark once made to her about certain women appearing to wear two or even three dresses in one because of the one frock being weighted down with trimming and other gewgaws. Her favorite dress designer is patronized by Miss Gish because of her great skill in turning out a frock completely shorn in those fatal extras.
One superb quality Miss Gish possesses is a great calm, a “quiet,” as we choose to call it, and nominate it top place in exposition of charm. Not an excess motion, a useless play of expression, or a distracting gesture.
Pictorial Star Wagon
Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – The Star-Wagon
Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – The Star-Wagon
Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – The Star-Wagon
Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – promotional for ‘The Star-Wagon’
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
*** 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.