70 Years of Film History (1976) – by Richard Lawton

First Film Studio - 1893
First Film Studio – 1893

Introduction – by Ella Smith

A World of Movies – 70 Years of Film History (1976) – by Richard Lawton

A Delta Special

Kinetoscope-2

“Moving pictures” in America were at first shown in penny arcades. (A penny dropped into the slot of a machine called the Kinetoscope allowed the viewer to turn a crank and watch a subject in motion.) When screen projection became possible, they were shown in vaudeville houses. Finally they were transferred to the nickelodeon: a converted store with screen, projector and chairs.

Comique Theatre (nickelodeon)

By 1908 there were eight to ten thousand of these— but they were stuffy, ill-smelling places frequented by the poor and illiterate, and they would not improve until their product was good enough to attract a different audience.

1-dw_griffith_(1875-1948)
D.w. Griffith (1875-1948) Painting; D.w. Griffith (1875-1948) Art Print for sale

Into this scene came a man who would bring order out of chaos. Within seven years, David Wark Griffith would master the art of the silent film — and the motion picture industry would flourish.

Griffith began his film career with reluctance. A playwright and actor from the legitimate theatre, he was working at New York’s Biograph Studio out of necessity. (Theatre people considered movies “galloping tintypes” — a form of entertainment not likely to distinguish itself.) His first directorial effort. The Adventures of DoHie, followed the pattern set by Porter but was more successful. It led to a contract with Biograph at $1 00 a week. Griffith soon became interested in his work. He abandoned existing formulas and invented new ones. His cameraman, Billy Bitzer, would protest that something couldn’t be done— and Griffith would answer “That’s why we’ll do it.” In this manner, he advanced pictures from novelty to art form.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith while filming Way Down East — with D. W. Griffith.

He photographed a scene from more than one setup. He brought the camera closer to his players (resulting in “half an actor” — disturbing to the front office, but accepted by the public). He timed shots for psychological effect. He focused on objects— or portions of players, such as their hands—to point up ideas. And he introduced a more natural acting style to fit the intimacy of the medium. Lillian Gish, in a recent interview, said Griffith “taught that you must not be caught acting. The audience won’t believe you if they catch you acting. You must be whatever [the character] is.”

Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith, R Harron CloseUp 1914 hjk

Differences of opinion with the front office made Griffith leave Biograph in 1913 and, taking Bitzer and many of his actors with him, he became head of production for the Mutual Film Corporation. The setup, at $1000 a week, guaranteed him the right to make two pictures of his own each year in exchange for the “potboilers” he was to turn out for the company.

1915 saw the full effect of Griffith’s genius when the 12-reel Birth of a Nation was released. Its dramatization of the Civil War and Reconstruction aroused audiences and provoked controversy. Woodrow Wilson said it was “like writing history with lightning” — and the full potential of the motion picture was revealed in that statement. No matter what a film maker wished to say, he had at his disposal a powerful medium if he could learn how to handle it.

One of Griffith’s most Important contributions (the intercutting of parallel action) reached its peak in his other masterpiece. Intolerance. Here, working with four separate plots unfolding simultaneously, he gradually shortened the time given to each. By cutting with increasing rapidity, he was able to build to a climax of epic proportions.

The Birth of a Nation was a box-office hit. Intolerance— too complex for 1916 audiences— was not. In fact, Griffith spent years paying oft the debts of the latter. But the impact of both films on the future of the industry probably has no equal.

(A World of Movies – 70 Years of Film History 1976 – by Richard Lawton)

A world of Movies - 70 Years of Film History
A world of Movies – 70 Years of Film History

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Lillian Gish (Amazing Ohio – By Damaine Vonada, 1989)

Amazing Ohio – By Damaine Vonada (1989)

Illuminating Moments …

 

LILLIAN GISH

By Damaine Vonada

In 1987, when she had completed her 107th film, the producer said of actress Gish, “Inside the lace glove, there’s a hand of steel.” But only a woman of strength would have climbed onto an ice floe in the teeth of a blizzard and gambled that her celluloid hero would rescue her before she reached the falls. That footage from D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East became, of course, the definitive scene of silent films, the theatrical touchstone for the twentieth century that Eliza’s perils on the Ohio River in Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been in the nineteenth.

At the tail end of that century, Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy were born in Ohio, where their down-on-her-luck mother put her pretty little girls to work on the popular melodrama circuit. In 1902, Gish made her stage debut on the shoulders of Walter Huston in the tiny Ohio crossroads of Rising Sun. The play was In Convict’s Stripes, and the six-year-old actress earned ten dollars a week. Director Griffith, who gave the new medium of motion pictures their “form and grammar,” needed young faces for work under the harsh lights, and at age thirteen, Gish became a leading lady for filmdom’s founding genius.

Griffith elevated movies to an art form, and Lillian, with her amazing grace and strength, earned her place as “The First Lady of the Screen” in such classics as The Birth of a Nation (1915), the first full-length motion picture. Dozens of roles in the legitimate theater, on Broadway, in the “talkies,” and even on television followed.

Lillian played Hester Prynne and Camille; she did comedy and drama, Coward and Chekhov; her 1953 teleplay The Trip to Bountiful ended up in the Museum of Modern Art. For more than eight decades now, Gish has practiced her craft, and as one critic noted, “has never failed either the author or the audience.”

 

“I’ve never known what to do except work; if you start acting when you’re five there isn’t a lot of point in trying to find something else to do when you’re 84. I expect I’ll still have a couple of days’ shooting to do when they bury me.”

Amazing Ohio 1989 Gish
Amazing Ohio 1989 Gish

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Amazing Ohio 1989

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Tenth Anniversary (Exhibitors Herald – June 27, 1925)

Tenth Anniversary (Exhibitors Herald – June 27, 1925)

THE WHITE SISTER: Lillian Gish—A wonderful picture in every sense of the word. The funny part of it was that 99 9-10 of my audience was composed of Protestants. Had absolutely no cooperation from the local priest or any of his like. Don’t have hardly any opposition for a jumping off place of this size. No, let’s see, a stock company under canvas ; a Chautauqua under canvas (until a big wind hit it and blew it down) ; and a big Ku Klux meeting, with the widow of Glenn Young as the chief attraction. Even at that I claim it is a wonderful picture. The Ku Klux boys want me to run one of their pictures. I have been stalling them off, but I sureinell couldn’t get any worse cooperation on their picture than I got from the Catholics on “The White Sister.” That’s that. If any of you boys think I am Bullshevick, Catholic or Ku Klux. you have another guess coming, because I believe like Voliva, the world’s flat ; that is, flat broke. Eleven reels.—Wm. E. Tragsdorf, Trags theatre. Neillsville, Wis.-—Small town patronage.

Lillian Gish CPA Film Stars 133 - The White Sister
Lillian Gish CPA Film Stars 133 – The White Sister

THE WHITE SISTER: Lillian Gish—A very, very good picture that people were waiting in line to see. Got a nice boost for it from the local Catholic priest. A nice business and pleased all classes. Too bad Mr. Tragsdorf had such a hard time. From the sound of his report, I would suggest he might try cooperating with the church some time. I’ve found them very fair-minded always and willing to meet you half way. Eleven reels.—Leo M. Fay, Gem theatre, Socorro. M.—Small town patronage.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and Ronald Colman in Rome during the filming of The White Sister - 1923 — with Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman.

10 More Facts (Exhibitors Herald – June 27, 1925)

Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s “Quality 52”

Exhibitors Herald 1925

Among the big star names in The Quality 52 are: LILLIAN GISH, LON CHANEY, MARION DAVIES, JOHN GILBERT, BUSTER KEATON, RAMON NOVARRO, MAE MURRAY, NORMA SHEARER, JACKIE COOGAN, ELEANOR BOARDMAN, AILEEN PRINGLE, PAULINE STARKE, CONWAY TEARLE. CLAIRE WINDSOR, CONRAD NAGEL, MAE BUSCH, LEW CODY, and many others.

Romola - Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish
Romola – Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish

Romola (2nd Place – MGM The Talk of The Industry)

Lillian Gish, the star. With Dorothy Gish. Also Ronald Colman, William H. Powell. Henry King, Director. The successor to “The White Sister.”

Exhibitors Herald 1925 c

Lillian Gish  (MGM The Talk of The Industry)

1st place on – The Fireworks for 1925 – 1926 (MGM)

Lillian Gish as Mimi - Promotional for La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi – Promotional for La Boheme

Two Big Productions This greatest star has just signed a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Miss Gish will appear in two great pictures.

Vidor to Make “La Boheme” (The Film Mart) Exhibitors Herald – June 27, 1925  King Vidor has been chosen to make “La Boheme,” Lillian Gish’s first for Metro-Goldwyn. Release has been set for November 15.

Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in "La Boheme"
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in “La Boheme”

A Big Star Name Exhibitors Herald – Aug 22, 1925

ONE after another in August you get from Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer these big stars: LON CHANEY, NORMA SHEARER, LILLIAN GISH. Week after week these popular star names in front of your theatre mean bigger crowds and bigger profits. And this is the kind of service that you can depend on throughout 1925-26. With these money-winning August releases Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starts out on what is unquestionably the most marvelous line-up ever delivered to exhibitors.

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Exhibitors Herald 1925 Tenth Anniversary
Exhibitors Herald 1925 Tenth Anniversary

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A Life In Photography – by Edward Steichen *1984

A LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHY – 1984

by Edward Steichen

Lillian Gish by Edward Steichen (Steichen, 27 January 1927). Half Tone Print
Lillian Gish by Edward Steichen (Steichen, 27 January 1927). Half Tone Print

The first time I saw Lillian Gish, other than on the movie screen, was as she walked into my studio to be photographed for Vanity Fair. As the saying goes, I was knocked for a loop. It was as if an angel had come into the place. Every movement she made and everything she said seemed full of magic. I made pictures fast and wildly and believed they were all wonderful. But that night, when I looked at the negatives, even before seeing the proofs, I realized I didn’t have anything at all. I had allowed my emotional reaction to take charge of that sitting and had lost all charge of myself. This was a valuable lesson, but a very embarrassing one, for I had to go to Miss Gish with the proofs and beg her to come and sit again for me. She was very gracious about my chagrin. When she came again, I decided to do a fanciful version of Romola, a romantic role she was planning to undertake. I put flowers in her hair and then let her own sweetness and youngness take over (plate 116).

Portrait Edward Steichen 1919 C5 Lillian Gish
Portrait Edward Steichen 1919 C5 Lillian Gish

 

Quite a few years later, on the edge of my pond in the country, I did some studies of Lillian Gish as Ophelia. We had talked about the moment, described in Hamlet, when Ophelia “fell in the weeping brook” and drowned.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia, 1936, by Edward Steichen
Lillian Gish as Ophelia, 1936, by Edward Steichen

I had thought a lot about producing the quality of Ophelia’s madness, and one of the things I had prepared was some infrared film and an infrared filter. I knew this would turn Miss Gish’s eyes into dark spots and help give a wild look. But the success of the picture lay in Miss Gish’s performance. From the moment she stepped to the edge of the pond and grasped the trailing branch of the willow tree, she was no longer Lillian Gish. She had become Ophelia, “a document in madness” (plate 117).

Edward Steichen – Lillian Gish as Ophelia, 1936
Edward Steichen – Lillian Gish as Ophelia, 1936
A life in photography
A life in photography

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“Sold For Marriage” Evening Ledger – Philadelphia, 1916

Evening Ledger – Philadelphia, Wednesday, May 10, 1916

“Sold For Marriage” Stars Lillian Gish

New Fine Arts – Triangle Film of Russia and America Comes to the Arcadia

By the Photoplay Editor

Lillian Gish - Sold For Marriage 1916
Lillian Gish – Sold For Marriage 1916

Sold For Marriage. A five – part Fine Arts – Triangle feature. Scenario by William E. Wing. Produced by William Christie Cabanne. Reviewed from private screening at the Triangle projection room and showing the balance of the week at the Arcadia.

  • Marfa – Lillian Gish
  • Jan – Frank Bennett
  • Colonel Gregioff – Walter Long
  • Ivan, the uncle – A. D. Sears
  • Anna, the aunt – Pearl Elmore
  • Dimitri, the grandfather – Curt Rehfelt
  • Georg, Ivan’s brother – William Lowery
  • The American policeman – Fred Burns
  • A desperado – Bromwell
  • Marfa’s mother – Olga Gray
  • Marfa’s father – G. M. Blue
  • The undesirable suitor – Mike Siebert
Lillian Gish - Sold For Marriage 1916
Lillian Gish – Sold For Marriage 1916

There is always a distinctive finish about a product of the Fine Arts studios. No matter what the story, good or bad, or who the players, there is always a quiet direct artistry about the film that stamps it Griffith – supervised. It may lack woefully the fine interior lighting of the Lasky forces, but, it has always atmosphere, good camera work and exceptional exteriors.

Lillian Gish - Sold For Marriage 1916
Lillian Gish – Sold For Marriage 1916

The new release starring Lillian Gish, “Sold For Marriage,” is a case in point, as patrons of the Arcadia the rest of the week will discover. Its story is by no means novel or powerful – simply a tale of the attempts of some Russian immigrants to marry off their niece and ward to the highest bidder. The relations of all the characters are developed slowly, but consistently. The various incidents are none of them hair-raising, but they follow with straightforward logic.

Lillian Gish - Sold For Marriage 1916
Lillian Gish – Sold For Marriage 1916

As for settings and acting, both are close to perfection of Mr. Griffith’s studios. Lillian Gish, Frank Bennett, Walter Long and A. D. Sears carry the principal parts excellently. The scenes in Los Angeles’s Little Russia are as suggestive of our hybrid ghettos as the wilder and more obviously effective glimpses of Russia during a Pogrom.

Lillian Gish - Sold For Marriage 1916
Lillian Gish – Sold For Marriage 1916
Evening Ledger Philadelphia 1916 - Sold For Marriage
Evening Ledger Philadelphia 1916 – Sold For Marriage

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First great movie star Gish – Boston Globe, 2001

First great movie star Gish: A woman of taste, talent, tenacity

June 20, 2001 By Jay Carr, The Boston Globe.

Lillian Gish (promo - before Uncle Vanya)
Lillian Gish (promo – before Uncle Vanya)

The subtitle of Charles Affron’s new biography, “Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life” (Scribner, 445 pages, $35), signals Affron’s awareness that the legend and life were not always identical. Not that there was a lot of scandal in Gish’s life. She was almost as ladylike off-screen as she was when she and producer-director D.W. Griffith in effect invented movies.

Lillian Gish Photoplay February 1919
Lillian Gish Photoplay February 1919

Gish, born in 1893, lived for 99 years. A working actress for all but the first few and last few years of her life, she never married, never had children, saw life early on as a choice between career and marriage, and chose career. Her mother and her sister Dorothy, deserted early in life by an alcoholic father, were all the family she needed. She came close, however, to marrying a Manhattan blueblood, Charles Duell, who conned her out of no small amount of money.

Charles H. Duell - Inspiration Pictures Director 2
Charles H. Duell – Inspiration Pictures Director

A few years later, Gish began a nearly decade-long romance with critic George Jean Nathan.

George Jean Nathan Chateau Du Plessis France 22

Affron puts first things first, by recognizing and documenting Gish as America’s first great movie star. She and Mary Pickford were the silent era’s queens of film — Pickford with her plucky heroines in ringlets, Gish with her more serious approach, staking film’s claim to artistic respectability.

Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish

Pickford, then known by her real name, Gladys Smith, introduced Lillian and Dorothy to Griffith in 1912.

Gish’s breakthrough role came in “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), the racist but technically trail-blazing blockbuster. Thereafter, she recycled vulnerability, heartbreak and endurance in melodramatic roles transfigured by an artistry of which the ingredients, she later was to say, were taste, talent and tenacity.

DW Griffith and Lillian Gish
DW Griffith and Lillian Gish

Affron avoids the mistake many writers make in assuming silent film to have been primitive. He’s good at describing the process of improvisation during which the performance took shape before the camera, with the actress responding to Griffith’s off-camera prompts and urgings. Eventually, Griffith stopped directing Gish, realizing her grasp of the process.

It can be argued that silent film culminated in “The Wind” (1928), which Gish made with Victor Sjostrom for MGM after leaving Griffith.

Turning to the stage, Gish starred in a successful “Uncle Vanya,” played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet, and played the forbearing mother in a protracted tour of “Life With Father.”

She returned to movies, most notably as the steadfast grandmother of two orphans threatened by Robert Mitchum’s psychopathic killer in “Night of the Hunter” (1955). She also embraced television during its early days of live drama.

Though most of Gish’s story is known, we’ve never had it told with such balance and completeness.

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(Original Caption) Former actress Lillian Gish in her New York apartment.
Lillian Gish in her New York apartment.

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‘Way Down East’ Looks Real Only Because It Is Real (New York Tribune, Sep. 1920)

New York Tribune, Sunday, September 12, 1920

David Griffith confesses ‘Way Down East’ Looks Real Only Because It Is Real

By Harriette Underhill

“Way Down East” was nine months in the filming and costs more than $800.000, but we doubt if these figures impress any one very much. Usually the more a picture costs the less we like it, for vast fortunes are squandered on these huge spectacle things, where all the critics come out the next day and say that it was historically correct, or that it wasn’t historically correct, and that dancing girls in Nero’s time did or did not wear tunics.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish (cast and crew)

But “Way Down East” is reassuring because you know that Mr. Griffith did not, could not have spent any of that $850.000 in strings of beads for Nero’s favorite, for palace walls to crumble up later, nor for Roman armies.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Richard Barthelmess, Lillian Gish and Lowell Sherman

Even after you see the picture you wonder what makes it so expensive. Of course, as the young man from Boston who goes to the movies with us says “It is thrillin’, excitin’ and grippin’,” in fact more so that any picture we ever saw, but none of those things makes it a “gorgeous spectacle,” nor puts it in the million dollar class. So we decided to talk to Mr. Griffith and find out all about it. “Way Down East” is a picture every one should see three times: the first time to see how perfect it is in every detail; the second time for the ice scenes and the third time for the ice scenes.

 

The second time we saw it was with the producer himself, and after the three brides had been kissed by their respective husbands and the people had stopped cheering we went up to the office of the Forty-fourth Street Theater to talk it over. Mr. Griffith is one of the persons in whose presence we thrill. The others are Charlie Chaplin and Elsie Ferguson.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Griffith demonstrating his rapport with animals — with D. W. Griffith.

“Will you tell us the truth and will you answer any questions we want to ask about the picture?”

“Yes,” answered the greatest director in the world, “if you don’t ask me something I don’t want you to know.”

“Well,” we said, starting off easy, “what makes ‘Way Down East’ so expensive?”

“Principally the ice.” We gasped as though we had received a dash of cold water in our face.

Way Down East - Vermont
Way Down East – Vermont

“Oh, the ice you had to buy it? Wasn’t it real?” And we had visions of each refrigerator giving up its chunk and of property men dumping them into the river, perhaps a nice peaceful summer river, and all of our illusions were destroyed. We felt as though we had just learned that there was no Santa Claus.

“Oh yes, of course the ice was real – too real. That is why it was so dangerous and cost so much money.”

D.W. Griffith - Ice floe Scenes (Vermont) Way Down East
D.W. Griffith – Ice floe Scenes (Vermont) Way Down East

“And was it so dangerous?” we asked breathlessly, feeling almost as we felt when we watched Lillian Gish hanging off a cake of ice which was floating over the falls and Dick Barthelmess trying to grab her from another pitching cake of ice. “Was it as dangerous as it looked?”

“Well,” began Mr. Griffith, “perhaps not” –

“Was it almost as dangerous as it looked?” we interrupted.

“I guess I can safely say that it was that, all right. Why, you know that was a real river and real ice and real falls and that was really Lillian Gish on the ice.”

Way Down East Icefloe detail X Mamaroneck Arch

“And no doubles and no dummies, honestly? And was that Dick Barthelmess who did all of that ice jumping that would make the most agile Eliza look like a picker? And where they really hanging on the edge of the falls like that and Barthelmess leaping from chunk to chunk with Miss Gish in his arms?”

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

“It all happened just as you saw it. There were no doubles and no dummies, but of course it all had to be timed and that is why it took so long and was so expensive. We used five different rivers to get the effect, for after the ice breaks up it disappears very quickly. And we had to build dams to keep the water from flowing too fast and we had to use dynamite to change the course of the river at times, and we had to build bridges for the camera, and sometimes the rivers would rise and sweep away our bridges and our platforms and we had to wait around for a regular storm to come so that Anna Moore could be driven into it.”

Lillian Gish in Way Down East
Lillian Gish in Way Down East

“And how surprised Anna must have been when she found herself out of that storm – the most terrible of her career. No torn up paper and salt drifts there!”

“There were not. Those pictures were taken in a seventy-mile gale with zero weather and all of the icicles on Miss Gish’s face were real icicles. However, I was the only one who suffered any great hardship. In my zeal I froze my face. I shouldn’t care to do another ‘Way Down East.’”

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith while filming Way Down East — with D. W. Griffith.

“And yet wasn’t that just when you selected it – for the snowstorm? Every one said so.”

Mr. Griffith shook his head. “No, for the story; every one likes melodrama. Not that a story matters much, though.”

“And you paid $50.000 for ‘Way Down East’?” we asked, insisting on all the ghastly details.

“Seventy-five thousand dollars, to be exact. And yet I say a story matters very little.”

 

“Yes, and when you say that you – you are voicing our own sentiments.” Which is a ladylike way of saying that which no lady ever would say – at least not to Mr. Griffith. “I isn’t the tale, it’s the telling.”

“Where is the story in ‘David Copperfield’?”

“Where?” we murmured.

“The story in ‘Vanity Fair’ is nothing – the tale of an ambitious woman.”

“Exactly,” we acquiesced.

“Where are there any new stories? Show me a new story.”

“Can’t do it – haven’t any, unless you take the one about the girl who loves the good true country lad, but is lured away by a good looking city chap, but repents and is taken back to the honest heart of a country boy.”

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish – Final scene, rescued from the blizzard

“But that isn’t new.”

“No, but they’ll think it is when you get through it, Mr. Griffith.”

“There are not more than five plots in the world.”

“Five plots – and ‘The Bat,’ we agreed.

“And what is your next picture going to be? Do another ‘Broken Blossoms.’”

Mr. Griffith shook his head.

“You couldn’t,” we challenged. “That still remains the most beautiful picture we ever have seen or ever hope to see.”

“And yet I’ll warrant you that ten persons will like this one where one liked ‘Broken Blossoms.’ It was not a play for the masses. It was not a failure, but neither was it a great financial success. Over in Europe, however, it has far exceeded the record of any other picture ever shown there.”

Way Down East, Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish
Way Down East, Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish

“Well, there is no doubt but that they are going to like this picture. Why, every one who came out of the theater said it was the best picture he ever saw. There is only one suggestion: When the heroine is driven out into the blizzard, won’t you please have the orchestra play

“Annie Moore, sweet Annie Moore,

We’ll never see sweet Annie any more”?

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish (ice floe scene, Vermont)

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The New York Tribune - Sep.1920
The New York Tribune – Sep.1920

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Lillian Gish Tells How Ice Scenes Were Filmed (Washington Herald – 1921)

Lillian Gish Tells How Ice Scenes Were Filmed

The Washington Herald – Sunday, March 20, 1921

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

Star of “Way Down East” Had Her Face Frost Bitten Making Picture

The dangers of the scenes on the ice in the D.W. Griffith production of “Way Down East” were real – not only immediate through likelihood of drowning in a raging torrent of icy water, but also through the probability of colds and pneumonia.

Mr.Griffith, himself, fell on the ice and cut his cheek so badly that he had to give up directing for several days, and Lillian Gish, who is seen floating on an ice floe to destruction over a fall, was frostbitten on her cheeks through exposure to a blizzard.

D.W. Griffith - Ice floe Scenes (Vermont) Way Down East
D.W. Griffith – Ice floe Scenes (Vermont) Way Down East

“We worked for a long time in the snow and ice scenes,” said Miss Gish, in telling of her work in “Way Down East.” “Most of the time we worked alone, for the weather was terrifically cold. When there was something of mildness in the air, the countryside turned out to observe us. Mr. Griffith spurred us on, and he did not ask anyone to do anything that he would not do himself. Mr. Barthelmess was warm enough in his heavy fur coat, and I think he was too warm when he had to carry me about. My garments were lighter, they were so of necessity because of the part. Of course, that way of lying on the ice with my hand in the water was anything but a joy. We would get through with the scenes as quickly as possible, and there would be someone on the bank to give me a heavy wrap and to serve hot coffee. The only way I could get my hands warm was to grasp mechanical hand warmers, and to thrust them in my pockets.

Lillian Gish - Ice Floe Scene - Way Down East
Lillian Gish – Ice Floe Scene – Way Down East

“Struggling through the blizzard was the most exhausting part of my work. We couldn’t photograph every day, but were obliged to wait until conditions were just right. Every snow storm would be greeted with delight and we bundled up at once to go out into the storm. We were in New England and there were some truly frigid days and nights.

Lillian Gish in Way Down East
Lillian Gish in Way Down East

But when the spring came and we had finished with the snow and ice, we were back in Mamaroneck finishing the picture and getting those beautiful vernal glimpses that are so greatly admired in the picture.

We had a great deal to do and we kept steadily at it. No one relaxed in the effort and we could feel that Mr. Griffith was creating a masterpiece. Then came the completed work after ten months of effort – and a real hit. Now I am having a little leisure before begin under independent management as a picture star.”

And while she is waiting for a new role, Miss Gish is enjoying life in her customary quiet fashion. She likes her home so much that she is usually there of evenings and the theater or the picture house scarcely knows her.

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Washington Herald March 20, 1921
Washington Herald March 20, 1921

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