After ‘Life With Father’ Lillian Gish Owns the (Chicago) Town – By Lloyd Lewis (New York Times, 1941)

The New York Times June 1, 1941


After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town

By LLOYD LEWIS – Chicago

Lillian Gish, by virtue of sixty-six weeks in “Life With Father” at Chicago Blackstone Theatre, now takes her place beside the Lunts, Helen Hayes and Katharine Cornell as a truly national star.

She has achieved this position by merely spending well over a year at the crossroads of America, the railroad center, whereas the others have had to tour arduously from Tulsa to Des Moines to Seattle to Atlanta. An amazing number of transcontinental travelers stopped off in Chicago long enough to see this Chicago company of “Life With Father,” and the Pullman people say the show did a lot for midnight bookings.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

But it was by automobile that the great bulk of out-of-towners came to see Miss Gish and the comedy which on May 24 ended its run after setting a new longevity mark for dramas in Chicago. Sedans carrying four or five people arrived constantly from everywhere within a radius of 400 miles. Hitchhikers were found during the year to have come 200 miles just to see the play. One woman in Chicago went thirty-five times. Hundreds are known to have seen it four and five times. What was common was for men to attend during a trip to Chicago and then return some weeks later with their entire families, one of the standard sights in the audiences being that of a father sitting with his home folks and watching, from the corner of his eye, their faces as, on the stage, they saw him satirized, portrayed, “taken off.”

Miss Gish, to the people of the interior, was still a shimmering memory from the silent screen when she arrived in Chicago with the Crouse-Lindsay comedy in the Spring of 1940. She had made brief appearances in spoken dramas during the past decade, but the plays had never been smash hits nor tarried long in the few large cities which they had visited. Her Ophelia opposite John Gielgud had never come West. Most of her stage fame was purely Broadway.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

But in “Life With Father” she has made herself an entirely new fame in the midlands. The Lily Maid of Astolat is no longer a dream creature in an ivory belfry nor a flower-decked vision on a dark barge. She is now Mrs. Day, mother, wife and housekeeper. Lillian Gish has come from the unreal to the real. She has made people laugh, she has made people adore her for the simplicity and humor as well with the truly great charm with which she has worn the manners and costumes of the past century. She has identified herself with a character, a scene and a play wholly American, wholly practical and realistic so far as atmosphere is concerned.

Life with f lill 58

Midlanders talk about her now as though she had never been a fabulous, distant, legendary creature of D.W. Griffith’s filmdom at all. She is now somebody everybody knows-and loves, and if she chooses, she can tour the midlands for years in this comedy, building for herself a reputation approaching that of Joe Jefferson in “Rip Van Winkle.” It would take years, of course, and it is not likely she will undertake it, for on May 24 she had acted Vinnie Day for seventy-two consecutive weeks without missing a performance or a rehearsal. Some of those weeks were, indeed, rehearsals, but they meant daily work longer and harder than actual performances and must be added to the span of her toil.

“I don’t know,” says she, “if I should play ‘Life With Father’ any longer; Helen Hayes tells me seventy-two weeks straight is too long for an actress. Other theatrical people tell me that I have thus set a new American record for an actress playing a principal role. I don’t know about this. I do know that I grew weary toward the end and only the enthusiasm of those crowds kept me going. I felt, too, that is was good for the theatre, especially in the midlands, to have a play run in one house for more than a year. That could mean the education of new thousands to the value of the drama.”

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

After a Summer’s rest, Miss Gish will decide whether to appear in another play or to return to further tours in “Life With Father.” It was from a balcony seat at the Empire Theatre in New York soon after the original company was launched that she first saw the play. After the first two acts she went to the business office of the theatre downstairs and congratulated the management. One of owner Oscar Serlin’s lieutenants then and there asked her why she didn’t head a second company. Surprised, she retired to the balcony with the statement that if the third act held up she’d see. It did, she saw, and within a few weeks she was rehearsing with the second company.

During the historic Chicago run, which bettered by one week the record set by Frank Bacon in “Lightnin’” in 1921-22. Miss Gish has done herculean work for the play outside as well as in the theatre. She has become a very impressive speaker due to the endless Kiwanis and women’s club luncheons she has addressed. She has been photographed with Mayors, water lilies, new automobiles, 4-H club youngsters. She has posed buying tickets to charities.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

In her, Chicago has seen what D.W. Griffith saw when, at the height of her career as a fragile, ultra-feminine, wraith-like spirit in films, he said “she has the brain of a man.” For the Griffith films she worked daily, every day, across nine years. When she was not acting she was writing subtitles, picking locations, coining advertising catch lines. She learned all about billposting, and bargained for one-sheets, twenty-four sheets, snipes. She coined the title for “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and once in the early 1920’s she directed for Paramount a picture called “Remodeling Her Husband,” with her sister Dorothy as star and an unknown girl-friend named Dorothy Parker supplying the subtitles.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

Not without pride Miss Gish recalls, today, that this film cost $28.000 and grossed $300.000. And she takes satisfaction in the success of “White Sister,” a film for which she raised the money, supervised the scenario, the direction, the acting, and made the releasing deals when major companies refused to handle the film because it was “non-commercial.” It was she who wrote into the script the scene that assured the picture’s success, the ceremonial at which the heroine became a nun; the scene had not been contained in either the novel or drama. Her discovery of Ronald Colman, an obscure stage actor, as a film possibility and her employment of him as the hero of “White Sister” was also a businesslike item in the story of that film. Costing $270.000 it was eventually took in $4.000.000.

So wholly did Hollywood come to agree with Griffith’s verdict that she owned the brain of a man that she had, several years ago, standing offers from companies to come back and direct whenever she wished. But stage acting has been more important to her, obviously giving her mind more nourishment than Hollywood could ever give.

Thinking back across her career, it was not the nine vacationless years with Griffith, nor the seventy-two consecutive weeks of “Life With Father” that have taxed her as much as in the long run as Ophelia in “Hamlet” with John Gielgud.

“And it wasn’t the work that did that,” she says, “it was the emotional strain of Gielgud’s Hamlet. Every night his performance was as emotionally exhausting to me as to the spectators. His was truly great acting.”

Hamlet 1936
Hamlet 1936

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After 'Life With Father' the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941
After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941

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Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941
Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941


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Young Boswell Interviews Lillian Gish (New York Tribune, 1922)

Young Boswell Interviews Lillian Gish

New York Tribune, Friday, November 24, 1922

Because she is a tragedienne of motion pictures, she best understands the pushed-off-in-a-corner woman. Her beauty is fragile and her emotional appeal subtle. “Broken Blossoms,” though a tragedy, was the finest film, artistically yet produced.

She has created a “movie” technique apart from the stage technique, she has sailed to Italy to produce a new masterpiece.

print of a scene from D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1919) with Lillian Gish as Lucy Burrows and Richard Barthelmess as the Chinaman Cheng Huan
print of a scene from D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) with Lillian Gish as Lucy Burrows and Richard Barthelmess as the Chinaman Cheng Huan

The entire passenger list of the Providence followed LILLIAN GISH to the boat deck, where photographers swarmed to snap her while she checked her trunks, which had already been checked, and said premature goodbyes to her sister Dorothy and Mary Pickford, who had come to see her off.

“She really is lovely looking” remarked one lady through her lorgnette. “And those orchids are just the right flowers for her,” “I like that gray suit with the fur collar,” commented her daughter. “And mother, I want a little black hat like hers, with a lace veil.”

Young Boswell drew Miss Gish away from the photographers to a quiet corner behind a bow ventilator.

Young Boswell: What are you doing in Italy?

Lillian Gish: We are going over to do “The White Sister,” by Marion Crawford.

Young Boswell: Oh, yes. I drove out to this villa in Sorrento. Beautiful view of the Bay of Naples from there.

Lillian Gish: You know he wrote perfect continuity. He built his stories up to the sort of climax which the scenario has to have. He used our technique. My only regret is that he isn’t alive to see his work produced. “The White Sister” is set in Naples and Rome, and we are going to do several scenes on the island of Capri. I hope it will be a good picture. It’s a tragedy like “Broken Blossoms.”

A belated photographer pushed Young Boswell aside, to run a few feet of film for the weeklies.

Young Boswell: Don’t you ever get tired of being photographed?

Lillian Gish: No, I really love it. Did you see “Hamlet” last night?

Young Boswell: I couldn’t get in.

Lillian Gish: Well, one of the critics called John Barrymore the best Hamlet of his generation. I can’t imagine a better Hamlet of any generation. It was an extraordinary performance. I hope it’s still running when I come back. I should like to see it again. I’m coming back in about four months.

And then the foghorn blew a deep blast. Lillian Gish clung to her sister Dorothy, and began to cry. Mary Pickford tried to comfort her.

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

Lillian Gish: I really ought to be happy going abroad. I was when I went over before, during the war.

She looked out into the mist settling over the harbor, veiling the passing tugs and ferries, and the gray water below. “I guess it must be a gloomy day,” she said. The whistle blew again. “Good bye Dorothy; good bye Mary. Good bye Young Boswell.”

When Young Boswell was wandering toward the nearest subway he thought of the stateroom she was to occupy – not large and luxurious and decorated like a florist’s, as one would expect – and of what she had said when asked to explain the pushed-off-in-a-corner woman. “All of us are like that. Struggling and defeated and trying to make good. We are all Saint Peters in our minds.”

“No,” thought Young Boswell as he dropped his nickel in the slot, “she isn’t a typical ‘movie’ actress. She is a very real person, a sincere artist.”

Lillian Gish – Returning from Rome (White Sister) after visiting the HH Pope (International Newsreel)
Lillian Gish – Returning from Rome (White Sister) after visiting the HH Pope (International Newsreel)

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A New Hero of the Films—Ronald Colman (Vanity Fair 1927)

Vanity Fair – FEBRUARY 1927

A New Hero of the Films—Ronald Colman

The Young English Actor, First Sponsored Here by Henry Miller, Has Become a Popular Screen Star

AFTER a brief apprenticeship on the London stage, Ronald Colman came to „ America some six years ago to act in the spoken drama and failed to make any impression whatever on New York playgoers. Appearing in a hit on the stage of the Empire Theatre with the late Henry Miller and Ruth Chatterton in Henri Bataille’s La Tendresse, he did not “take” the managers, the press, or the public.

It remained for motion pictures to discover him. Henry King, the film director, introduced Mr. Colman to the screen in a picture featuring Lillian Gish—The White Sister—and again with Miss Gish in Romola, made from the George Eliot novel. After five years as a leading man who helped a dozen famous stars of the cinema out of their motor cars and into their sables, Ronald Colman became a motion picture idol. He became in turn the screen lover of almost every personable lady of the films; of Norma Talmadge, May McAvoy, Blanche: Sweet, Constance Talmadge, Marie Prevost, among others.

Lillian Gish - Romola
Lillian Gish – Romola

But time proved him to be more than a foil for celluloid sentiment. He had a curious method of acting that was both restrained and adroit. Then came Stella Dallas—a lachrymose and shopworn opus dedicated to mother love and adultery, which, strangely, made three stars—Lois Moran, Belle Bennett and Mr. Colman himself. He became,, after this, a hero to the multitude, who was also admired by the discriminating. His sponsors have given him the implausible appellation of “the man you love to love”, which phrase has unbelievably enough added to his popularity. Abovehe appears as a Spanish bandit in his latest picture, A Night of Love, in which the final close-up leaves him draped in the arms of the fair Vilma Banky.

Ronald Colman - Vanity Fair 1927
Ronald Colman – Vanity Fair 1927

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“Romola” (Moving Picture World – 1924)

November 15 1924 – MOVING PICTURE WORLD

(Advertising “ROMOLA”)

Lillian Gish to Appear for Metro in Specials

LILLIAN, GISH, through her. contract with Charles H. Duell, Jr., becomes an ‘exclusive Metro-Goldwyn star, according to the announcement by Nicholas M. .Schenck, vice-president of Metro-Goldwyn. The deal is one of the most important that has occurred in the film business this year. It not only marks the first independent production of Charles H. Duell, Jr., but it sets at rest endless rumors regarding the future affiliations -of Miss Gish.

Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Cover
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Cover

As the popular’ star of “The White Sister” and of “Romola,” shortly to be released by Metro-Goldwyn, she has been spoken of for several ‘famous roles, and her services have been sought after by every American company and .several foreign producers. “Romola,” made by Inspiration Pictures, is a Henry King production and was directed by him in Italy.. By the terms of the Duell contract, Miss Gish will appear exclusively in a series of special productions for Metro-Goldwyn, it was stated by Mr. Schenck. Metro-Goldwyn regards the new Lillian Gish series as among the most important it has ever handled. Mr. Schenck stated: “Our arrangement with Charles H. Duell, Jr., for the new series of Lillian Gish specials is particularly gratifying to us, as it will enable us to give exhibitors absolutely one of the most popular box-office stars before the public. Mr. Duell’s name connected with a picture has always been a guarantee of splendid artistic quality as well as assured box-office values. ‘ The White Sister” and “Romola” prove that. We anticipate immense success for Miss Gish’s new series, and are happy to continue our association begun with ‘The White Sister.’”

The new arrangement follows almost directly on the deal closed several weeks ago between Mr. Duell for Inspiration Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn for the distribution of Romola, a Henry King production over a year in the making at Florence, Italy. Dorothy Gish is featured in “Romola” with Lillian, who is starred. This is George Eliot’s famous novel. No announcement has yet been made by Mr. Duell regarding the producing organization that will surround Miss Gish. Several stories are under . consideration for the first picture under the new contract. When this decision is made, preliminary work will be started at once. In all likelihood the first production will be filmed in the East, which has been the headquarters of Mr. Duell’s picture activities.

Lillian Gish and director Henry King - Romola candid on set

“Romola” Editing Completed

Gish Girls Picture Hailed One of Greatest Films Ever Produced Lillian Gish, star of Henry King’s “Romola,” and Dorothy Gish, featured player, are ready to be seen by the public in their newest and greatest roles. The editing and titling has been completed and the production was reviewed in its final form by Metro-Goldwyn executives last week. Metro-Goldwyn will distribute the big Inspiration Picture special, which was over a year in production at Florence, Italy. The verdict of those who saw “Romola” as it will be presented to the public is that Henry King’s production is unquestionably one of the greatest screen achievements brought to the films. It is claimed that the spectacular scenes in the film have never been surpassed. The story is of the time ‘of Columbus’s discovery of America and is laid in Florence. Lillian Gish is seen as a Florentine maid and Dorothy Gish as a peasant girl lessa. William Powell and Ronald Colman have important roles.

Lillian Gish and William Powell - Romola
Lillian Gish and William Powell – Romola

December 13, 1924 MOVING PICTURE WORLD


Lillian Gish Starred in Pictorially Beautiful Adaptation of George Eliot’s Classic Novel

Reviewed by C. S. Sewell

George Eliot’s classic novel, “Romola,” with its story laid in Florence, Italy, in the fifteenth century, has reached the screen as a Henry King production for Inspiration Pictures, Inc., with Lillian Gish as the star and Dorothy Gish featured, and is being distributed through Metro-Goldwyn. The most striking feature of this production is its magnificence and wonderful pictorial beauty. Filmed on the actual locations called for in the story, so finely has it been handled, with such painstaking attention to accuracy of detail, that it is a vivid presentation of the life of that period, and the spectator is made to feel as if he has been actually transported’ back to Florence in the days of the de Medici. “Romola” is certainly a masterpiece of beauty and splendor, with wonderful shots of the city of Florence, its palaces, streets, market-places and cathedrals, with striking interior scenes, gorgeous costumes and wellhandled mobs. We doubt if there has ever been a picture that can excel it in these respects.

Romola Motion Picture Magazine Page Lillian Gish
Romola Motion Picture Magazine Page Lillian Gish

As to the story, while there are scenes that are dramatically and emotionally effective, they occur mostly in the latter part of the picture. Narrative in form, it is lacking in love interest, and concerns mostly the rise to fame of the rascally adventurer, Tito, and his marriage to Romola, who does not love him, while her love for Carlo is only suggested and he is provided with no opportunities of a romantic nature. As presented at the Cohan Theatre in New York, this picture is in thirteen reels, and particularly in the first half there is a noticeable slowness of movement due to the elaborate attention to details and the holding of some of the scenes too long. The tempo quickens in the second half and there is no lack of real action in the climax. These sequences have been effectively handled, and the scene where Savonarola is fastened to a pole and a fire built under him is undeniably impressive, but it is unpleasant and, although rain puts out the fire, he apparently meets death as a martyr, by hanging. The scene where Tito is choked and held under water by the foster-father he has disowned, until he drowns, is decidedly gruesome. The performance of the players is uniformly excellent.

Lillian Gish Profile Romola

Lillian Gish is not only strikingly beautiful as Romola, with an ideal spiritual type of beauty, but her acting is remarkably effective. Dorothy Gish as the little peasant girl shows to advantage and contributes excellent comedy and human interest touches. W. H. Powell as Tito has the lion’s share of the action and is not only a remarkably good type for the role but makes a distinctly fine impression and gives a wonderful performance. Charles Lane does excellent work as Baldassarro, and Bonaventura Ibanez likewise as the blind father of Romola. The portrayal of Savonarola by Herbert Grimwood is remarkably effective and he bears a marvelous likeness to the pictures of the Florentine ecclesiastic painted by the Italian masters. Personally, while we felt its pictorial charm, the story did not get a strong hold on our emotions and the interest was weakened by the maze of detail and incident, and we doubt whether the magnificence, splendor and beauty of this picture, plus the excellent work of the cast, will outweigh these other considerations in the minds of the average patron. In a word, its box office reaction will rest largely on its pictorial appeal.

Lillian Gish - Romola
Lillian Gish – Romola


Romola ……………………………. Lillian Gish

Tessa …………………………….. Dorothy Gish

Tito Melena ………….. William H. Powell

Carlo ………………………….. Ronald Colman

Baldassaro …………………….. Charles Lane

Savonarola ………….  Herbert Grimwood

llarilo Bardi ………. llonaventura Ibanez

Adolfo Spini …………………… Frank Puglia

Brigida ……………… Amelia Summerville

Nello …………………………….. Fduilio Mucei

Based on novel by George Eliot.

Directed by Henry King.

Length, 12,S>74 feet.

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


A boat approaching Italy is set upon by pirates and Baldassaro, a noted scholar, gives his adopted son Tito a ring that will be a passport with all men of learning. Tito escapes but Baldassaro is captured. Tito reaches Florence at the time that the people incited by the priest, Savonarola, has risen and cast out their ruler, Piero de Medici. Accidentally he aids Bardi, a blind man and noted scholar and is received with honors, finally winning consent to his marriage to his daughter Romola who loves Carlo, an artist. Through the aid of Spini, an adventurer who has become the real power behind the government, Tito rises to the post of chief magistrate. In the meantime he flirts with Tessa a peasant girl, going through a mock marriage during a carnival, which is very real to Tessa, so he installs her in a house and a child is born to them. Tito shows his real nature when he sells the priceless books of Bardi, and Romola leaves him. He issues a decree that means death to Savonarola but his ambition overleaps itself and he is chased by the mob. Jumping into the river he meets death by drowning at the hands of Baldassaro, whom he has refused to recognize. Romola meets Tessa and befriends her, and finally finds happiness with Carlo who has remained faithful to her.

Lillian Gish - Romola (mid)
Lillian Gish – Romola (mid)

Europe Praises “Romola”

“Such a work of art merits every success,” was the statement by Georges Clemenceau, former premier of France, after witnessing Lillian Gish in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” a Metro-Goldwyn picture, with Dorothy Gish in a featured role. Numerous other European celebrities have expressed their enthusiasm over “Romola,” including Giavonni Poggi, resident director of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, and curator of all the royal galleries of Tuscany; P. Bonnard, one of the greatest living French painters; Leonce Benedite, director of the Luxembourg Museum and the Rodin Museum in Paris; Santiago Alba, former Minister of Fine Arts in Spain; Dr. Guido Biagi; and Firmin Gemier, director of the Odeon National Theatre, Paris.

William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola
William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola

“Romola’s” Great Beauty Fascinated N. Y. Critics

BEFORE a distinguished audience Lillian Gish’s long-awaited appearance in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” with Dorothy Gish, occurred on December 1st at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York. “Romola” is a Metro-Goldwyn picture, based on George Eliot’s greatest novdl, and it was acclaimed by metropolitan critics. There was a large delegation of film stars. Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, Joseph M. Schenck, Edward Mi Bowes, William E. Atkinson, Jesse L. Lasky, Harry Rapf, Hiram Abrams, Nicholas M. Schenck, David L. Loew, Leopold Friedman, Charles K. Stern, Arthur M. Loew, David B. Bernstein, J. Robert Rubin, Charles C. Moskowitz and Messmore Kendall were among the prominent executives in the industry who were present. After the opening night it was reported that the remainder of the week was then practically sold out. “Personally, I like ‘Romola’ better than ‘The White Sister,’ ” said Louella Parsons in the New York American the morning after the premiere. As the story was filmed on the actual locale at Florence, Italy, the unrivaled beauty of the settings received marked comment from the press, Miss Parsons said, “The scenery in ‘Romola’ will please the most fastidious and act as a tonic for those who believe films the lowest form of art.” “It seems a perfect product,” was the praise of Harriette Underhill in the New York Herald Tribune, adding that, “it reppresents the art of the cinema in its highest form.” Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times wrote: “This is a film to be remembered, and the gorgeous scenes will never be forgotten.” “To the end the charm of the Gishes hold one,” wrote the reviewer of the New York Morning World, calling it “amazingly wondrous to behold,” adding that “the mob scenes are excellently done,” and stating that “the aesthetic pleasure of admiring the profile of Lillian is almost enough for one picture.” “An ambitious picture,” was Mildred Spain’s endorsement in the New York Daily News, adding that the picture “boasts the rich tale by George Eliot, superb  photography, able direction, noteworthy backgrounds.” “Henry King has produced a lovely work of art,” said the New York Evening Post, adding that many shots are “lovelier than words can describe.”

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

Grauman Books Lillian Gish in “Romola” for Hollywood

ONE week after its world premiere at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York, the Lillian and Dorothy Gish special, “Romola,” will go into Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, for a long run starting December 8.

Sid Grauman plans to give Henry King’s new Inspiration production, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn, the most elaborate prologue he has staged in the Egyptian Theatre. As the Egyptian prologues are famous for their lavish beauty, Mr. Grauman’s intention in regard to “Romola” indicates that the production is expected to achieve a record run there. With “Romola” playing at both ends of the country at the same time, the publicity from these two engagements is expected to “cover” the entire United States territory in which the picture will afterward play. “Romola” has an immense audience waiting for it, as the George Eliot novel on which the picture is based is one of the most famous standard books, and the reunion of Lillian and Dorothy Gish in the picture is counted on to prove a big draw. Dorothy has a featured role in the production in which Lillian is the star.

Egyptian Theater -1922
Egyptian Theater -1922

“Romola” was filmed in Florence, Italy, more than a year being required for the massive production, which abounds in spectacular features.

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Critics Praise Lillian Gish in “The White Sister” – Moving Picture World – 1924

Moving Picture World – February 1924

Critics Praise Lillian Gish in “The White Sister”

San Francisco Critics Find “White Sister” True to Life

LILLIAN GISH’S latest feature, “The White Sister,” which Metro is to release under the terms of the contract recently closed with Inspiration Pictures, Inc., came in for praise by San Francisco newspaper critics, following its opening at the Capitol Theatre in that city.

“Words are futile things with which to describe the charm of the tragic romance. Lillian Gish is the star of The White Sister and as always, this supreme tragic actress of the American films holds the eye by her wistful beauty, frail intensity, her restrained pathos,” said the San Francisco Journal.

“The sincerity of Miss Gish’s acting is the greatest tribute to her genius. The balance of the cast have been expertly chosen,” is the opinion of the San Francisco Examiner critic.

“Beauty, reverence, the swirl of wild passion, the power of purity, a man’s sacrifice for his fellows — these are some of the impressions brought away from looking at The White Sister,” stated the San Francisco Chronicle.

“There are two outstanding features of The White Sister. One, and that which is called first to the attention of the viewer, is the beauty of the production. The second is the acting of Lillian Gish in the title role,” said the San Francisco Call and Post.

Theatre Magazine August 1923 - The White Sister
Theatre Magazine August 1923 – The White Sister

“The White Sister scored an artistic success upon the speaking stage, but no greater success than accorded The White Sister of the screen,” wrote the San Francisco Bulletin. “In every respect it is infintely worth while, a screen classic. A critic would have to scatter superlatives to do justice to the production and the star,” stated the San Francisco Herald.

“Filmed entirely in Italy, the background is romatic to a high degree, and the photography, to say nothing of the acting of Miss Gish and the Italian principals, directed by Henry King, noted for his work in Tol’able David, make the picture one of the most important of the year,” is a portion of the review in the San Francisco News.

The White Sister
The White Sister

Lillian Gish in “The White Sister,” the inspiration picture that Metro will soon give national distribution, played the Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee recently. “With no stretch of the imagination this picture can at once be placed in the list of the best productions,” said the Evening Sentinuel.

“Miss Gish has never done better work.” “Lillian Gish is better in ‘The White Sister’ than in anything she has ever done,” said Peggy Patton in the Wisconsin News.

“From any standpoint it is splendid.” “ ‘The White Sister’ unquestionably is an out-of-the-ordinary contribution to the screen,” said the Milwaukee Leader.

“When you see a certain actress in a certain role and you say to yourself, ‘There’s no one else in the world could have played it as she does’ then you know it’s a pretty splendid performance. And if you are that rare combination—a film fan and book reader—you can tell in advance what the fragile and lovely Lillian Gish would make of F. Marion Crawford’s novel, ‘The White Sister.’ To tell you more would be to steal from your enjoyment of the picture.” Thus wrote Mary Mac in the Milwaukee Journal.

Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 1
Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 1
Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 2
Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 2

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My Pulchrist Experiment in Verisimilitude (Jesse Waugh – 2013)

Paintings 2013 (Jesse Waugh)

My Pulchrist Experiment in Verisimilitude

Having lived as an experimental ‘artist-at-large’ for the past two decades, I took it upon myself to try my hand at representative oil painting this year. I moved to Florence, Italy, in December, 2012, because I wanted to see how renaissance painters created Beauty on canvas.

What I found was that far from being hyperrealist in the execution of their paintings, the Old Masters simply attempted to create Beauty in as realistic a way as was possible. Trompe l’oeil was and is a niche technique. The unitiated often fetishise hyperverisimilitude, believing it to possess the greatest intrin­sic artistic value. But my goal is to create Beauty. I’ve even created my own art movement which I call Pulchrism. So I attempted realism in painting this year merely as a potential vehicle for Beauty.

Drawn somewhat unconsciously to silent movie imagery, I began this quest with a still image capture from an old movie, interpreting its general form into my Sacred Hermaphrodite diety 5=6 who descends onto Florence’s Via del Moro.

From there I pursued more realistic body contouring with Suffrage and Beauty Disarming Love, learning about background detailing along the way.

Finding a beautiful head shot of silent movie actress Lilian Gish on the Inter­net, I was inspired to recreate a version of her in oil paint. I fell in love with her at first sight, and therefore had to name her Galatea.

When the summer came to Florence I decided it was time to migrate to my air-conditioned apartment in New York City’s Bowery District. There I paint­ed Cascading Orchids as a still life practice exercise in preparation for Butterfly Goddess – a much larger, more complex work. I soon after completed Unicorn Purifying Water, an accomplished work in my estimation, one inspired by an exhibition of unicorn imagery at the Cloisters in northern Manhattan.

After spending a month in Japan seeking out Shinto shrines and Japanese Art Nouveau, I finally returned to the UK and ventured to recreate hothouse flowers in Pitcher Plants.

Having a strong desire to make large canvases depicting beautiful butterflies, I endeavored to reproduce the extraordinary colour of the Madagascan Sunset Moth in my last painting of the year.

JESSE WAUGH Paintings 2013 - Galatea (Lillian Gish)
JESSE WAUGH Paintings 2013 – Galatea (Lillian Gish)

Jesse Waugh, November 2013


Oil on canvas, Florence, Italy

“The image reminds of me the intents of the pre-Raphaelite… perhaps its emphasis on simplicity and purity.”

– Liliana Leopardi, Art Historian, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Galatea gazes lovingly upon Pygmalion as she completes her metamorphosis. A torrential rain cascades down while a Morpho butterfly hovers above an­nouncing the event.

Inspired by Louis Gauffier’s depiction of Galatea at the Manchester Art Gal­lery, and modelled after a famous portrait of the silent movie actress Lillian Gish, Jesse Waugh’s Galatea is the first fully Pulchrist work of painting, em­bodying all of the tenets of Pulchrism, the art movement advocating Beauty in the arts.

JESSE WAUGH Paintings 2013 -cover
JESSE WAUGH Paintings 2013 -cover

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“When we said Lillian is cutting “Romola,” we meant it” (Screenland – 1924)

Screenland – December 1924

Behind The Screen

“When we said Lillian is cutting “Romola,” we meant it”

Lillian Gish was much surprised the other day to discover that she had gone to France at the request of composer Charpentier (no relation to Georges) to appear in a silent screen version of his celebrated opera, “Louise;” she had gone to Germany to appear in a continental company’s production of “Faust,” as Marguerite; she had signed with Famous Players to take Elsie Ferguson’s place in the title role of the filmization of Molnar’s play, “The Swan;” she had made a new contract to star in a series of pictures for Metro-Goldwyn.

Lillian Gish and William Powell - Romola
Lillian Gish and William Powell – Romola

Lillian was surprised because she was the last to hear about these reported activities. None of them is true. As a matter of cold, hard, businesslike fact, Miss Gish is just at present completing the editing and cutting of “Romola,” the picture which she and her sister Dorothy made in Italy, and wondering what she is going to do next. Her managers have not yet decided and meanwhile the Gishes are keeping their well-known eyes open for new stories.

Lillian Gish and director Henry King - Romola candid on set

By the way, when we said Lillian is cutting “Romola,” we meant it. Many stars superficially supervise their productions. But we met Lillian the other day coming out of a stuffy little projection room where she had been viewing thousands of feet of film herself, and giving directions as to the actual cutting. Her long career as a Griffith heroine gave her valuable experience along these lines, for D. W. always called his leading lady in to watch the “rushes” and to give him advice as to what bit should stay in and what sequence should be ruthlessly amputated.

In fact, Lillian is one of the few stars in pictures interested in something besides her own close-ups.

Romola Motion Picture Magazine Page Lillian Gish
Romola Motion Picture Magazine Page Lillian Gish

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The Mona Lisa of The Movies – By Delight Evans (Screenland – June 1924)

Screenland – June 1924 Vol IX No.3

The Mona Lisa of The Movies

By Delight Evans

Is it because Lillian Gish’s life has been devoid of glamour that she shrinks from the uncertainties and perils of romance?

If an intrepid producer today decided to do Cleopatra, who would you select as the most likely interpreter of the title role? Cleopatra, enchantress of the Nile; with Salome, holding the vamping championship of the ages; Egypt’s luscious queen called Cleo by the vulgar varieties and tin-pan alley. Nita Naldi? Barbara La Marr? Theda Bara—she made it once, you know. No.

An Innocent Magdalene 1916 Lillian Gish
An Innocent Magdalene 1916 Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish.

Now that the uproar has subsided and the hoots and hisses have died in the distance, let me repeat: Lillian Gish. That same Lillian whose last name has come to be a verb among film followers. Famous as the Little Nell of the silent drama; the most persecuted heroine of all time; the victim of more unfortunate circumstances than any other girl who was ever cast out in a cape into the night that was forty below. In short, the sweet seducee of hundreds of celluloid chromos — what, she, Cleopatra? Exactly. Lillian Gish is the only logical candidate for the role. You may picture Cleopatra as a large and luscious lady; a voluptuous creature with black, black hair and sloe eyes; a mouth that looks always as if it has just been kissed. A combination of Naldi and Negri and La Marr with a dash of piquance a la Alma Rubens.

Wrong again.

Lillian Gish cca 1933s portrait

Cleo Was a Ingenue. Cleo could be classified, according to type, only as an ingenue. She was essence of ingenue, de luxe. She was very, very slender; she had wide, innocent eyes. Feminine, soft, soothing and sweet. She had her own way, but in her own way. She caressed and cajoled, as ingenues have always done. She would have fitted in beautifully in any gathering of the Ladies Aid of Alexandria. She was a little lady—and the most dangerous one of her day.

Lillian Gish - Hoover Art LA cca 1914
Lillian Gish – Hoover Art LA cca 1914

Oh, yes, Cleopatra was an ingenue. A devastating darling with an iron will and a fixed purpose. A slim, bright sword in a shimmering sheath. It was a noted archaeologist who said that her twentieth-century celluloid incarnation was none other than Lillian Gish. The girl who has been for years the screen symbol of female virtue, modesty, and meekness. He looked at her, so the story goes, and exclaimed: “Cleopatra!” “What?” said the surprised maestro, Mr. Griffith. “Miss Gish?” “Ah—she is the perfect type! She has everything any actress needs to play the part.” “But she’s an ingenue,” protested her great teacher.

“That may be,” smiled the authority on dead ages and living ladies. “Nevertheless, she has it—that inflexibility, that subtlety that Cleopatra exhibited, to the ultimate degree. If, my dear sir, you do not film Cleopatra with Lilian Gish in the leading role you will be overlooking an opportunity—a very great opportunity, indeed.”

Doubtless the showman side of D. W. G. foresaw the public’s inability or reluctance to view a re-creation of Cleopatra other than in the well-upholstered person of Nita Naldi. He smiled and said nothing. And Lillian Gish went her own way with her own company, and D. W. went his. Hence Cleopatra and Miss Gish have never gotten together.

Lillian Gish - Hartsook 3094a

Lillian, an Enigma

Lillian seems determined to confine herself to the portrayals of unvarnished virgins; to dedicate her art and her subtle smile to the perpetuation of many more Anna Moores. A pity. Because the screen has never reflected the Cleopatra complex in our most stainless heroine. Her adorers would shudder to see her in the arms of Antony; her littlegirl fans of all ages would stop sending her crocheted doilies if she ever enacted a person of adult passions and intelligence. The virgin queen of the screen is an enigma if there ever was one. Where is her Leonardo? Griffith, as her professional da Vinci, painted her as the Gioconda of the gelatines, as faithfully, perhaps, as anyone ever will. But the Griffith Gish was never half so baffling as the curiously quiet, gentle-voiced woman who is the real Lillian.

A Timely Interception - 2 Biograph
A Timely Interception – Biograph

So many think they know her. Her hordes of girl interviewers swarm about her and come away worshipping, calling her by her first name and devoutly believing they have been admitted inside the shell. Her co-workers admire and often adore her—I know this is old stuff, but it’s fact this time. I remember Kate Bruce, who has played with her since Biograph days, when her eyes filled with tears as she said: “God bless her! She’s a wonderful girl. Always the same; always kind and patient. She works harder than any of us. That guillotine scene (they were making Orphans of the Storm) was done a dozen times, and she was better every time.” They used to stand on the sidelines out at the Griffith studios and watch her go through a scene. When she had wrung the hearts of the studio spectators and the camera had captured her tragic tears she would look around at the friendly circle as if surprised she could stir them so. Always, she was the calmest of them all.

Lillian Gish 1919 AX

The Ingenue Grows Up

I’ve watched her grow up. Not from baby days. But from an ingenue leading woman to one of the three or four outstanding women of the silver-sheet. I saw her for the first time, in Chicago, about seven years ago. It was after Hearts of the World had been a triumph for Griffith and for the Gish sisters. It made Dorothy, the Little Disturber, a star. Lillian and Mrs. Gish wired me to meet them at the station where they had an hour before boarding an east-bound train. Lillian took my breath away. She was so ethereal I couldn’t believe the evidence of my own eyes in her earthliness when she ordered and ate an artichoke. She was carrying a tall cane really a wand—which she used for the exercises she performed faithfully every day. Always frail—but her indominable indominable courage has made her strong. For one old Griffith picture she learned to turn cartwheels. She taught herself to swim a few years ago. Work—work—work—that has been her whole life. She is absolutely selfless and sincere in it. Her inflexibility is incongruous with her smooth, suave surface. She is as delicate and as dainty a creature as you would want to see. Faint perfume; a soft “veil”; perfect gloves and all that sort of thing. A clever author once remarked to me that she was a great woman because she was so adaptable.

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

She is a chameleon. She is a lovely mirror in a quaint frame. In any salon, at any court in the world she would not be out of place. All the more remarkable when you consider that her youth was spent almost entirely on the stage, and not the New York stage. The stages of small towns’; the hard, relentless life of a trouper was hers until the movies, that fairy godmother of so many Cinderellas, lifted her from obscurity to fortune. Disillusioned by Hard Knocks There was one time of her career when she lived in a little hotel near Washington Square and cooked all her meals over a one-burner gas stove. When she actually did not get enough to eat. David Belasco told her afterwards he thought she was wasting away. There were times when she and her mother and Dorothy could not be together; when the exigencies of their uncertain profession called them apart. Her training was a stern school. She has known all the hard knocks, all the disappointments; and I have always thought her a little disillusioned. In the years I have known her I recall a glimpse here and there that interests me—for no particular reason except that it reveals something of the real Lillian—a creature as varied in mood and mind as anyone I have ever known. She has always seemed to me to be an unconsciously complex individual. Exteriorly, she is somewhat of a Pollyanna, with a respect for the good, wholesome, middle-western things.

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

I saw her after she and Dorothy and Mr. Griffith had lunched at the White House with the Hardings. She marvelled a bit that the President and his wife were so much like other human beings—just plain, simple folk like ourselves. It was apparent, too, a long time ago, when I went with her and her mother to see Broken Blossoms. The audience contained several representatives of the higher social order of Manhattan. We went to an ice cream emporuim afterwards and over our sundaes Lillian thrilled at the fact that the once-lowly movies could now attract the creme de la creme of the aristocracy. And yet she cannot help being the friendliest and most democratic of souls. Sympathy is within her and she has made up helpless little extras and taken under her wing pretty aspirants for screen honors. She is one of the few stars of importance who will go out of her way a little to help someone, without thought of return.

Lillian Gish - Hoover Art Studios LA
Lillian Gish – Hoover Art Studios, Los Angeles

Really Old-Fashioned

She is really old-fashioned. Her dressing-table drawers are neat and orderly. She used to keep piles of pretty silk underthings, and hundreds of handkerchiefs, and never wear them. Her sister and James Rennie once escorted her to a smart hotel where the youthful fashionables were wont to cavort. Lillian couldn’t believe young people really acted like that. Her visit to the suburban home of a famous novelist and his wife opened her wistful eyes still wider. “And they say that motion picture people are gay,” she exclaimed. “Why, I never saw anything like it in all the time I have been in pictures.” An eminent and elderly French artist asked her to pose for him. He did some charming things of her and called her his most entrancing subject. I heard him rave. He bent over her hand. He gave her a rose and asked her to pose for another head. Lillian thanked him prettily and told me later that she always took someone with her to the sittings. Her shyness and her modesty are genuine, not assumed. But I do not doubt that, if her role called for it, she would do a Lady Godiva without a murmur. When she is working she is impersonal. I spent a week-end with the Gishes when they lived in Mamaroneck. The family retired early. On Lillian’s bed-table was her prayer book with its “L. G.” on the cover. The next morning she was up at six and at the studio at six-thirty. It was Sunday. She was directing Dorothy in a comedy while Mr. Griffith was in the South. She made it a good comedy by sheer determination and desperately hard work. Everything happened to hinder her that can happen in a studio. The electrical apparatus wouldn’t work. It was a grind. In her severely simple suit, with a green shade over her eyes, and a huge megaphone, she was L. Gish, director, and a darned good one. Not a vestige of the girl the world knows. She was the most impersonal director I ever saw on a set. Her own sister might have been a casual acquaintance. Patient, tactful—yes. But business-like. She hardly had time or the inclination to pose for publicity stills. I have always handed it to her for her work with that comedy. It was an achievement entirely unassisted by personality.

Lillian Gish – Returning from Rome (White Sister) after visiting the HH Pope (International Newsreel)
Lillian Gish – Returning from Rome (White Sister) after visiting the HH Pope (International Newsreel)

A Good Sport

Then, the first time she left Griffith, the company that was to have starred her in a series of features fell through, she was a good little sport. She had made up her mind it was time for her to make money—compared to the salaries of other stars, her Griffith remuneration was small, indeed. But when her company failed she went- back and quietly became a part of the Griffith organization again. It must have been a keen and bitter disappointment; but if it hurt her nobody knew it. She played her parts in the Griffith pictures more exceptionally than ever before. She shared, more than any other Griffith player, the director’s triumphs. At one of the premiers, the audience called for Mr. Griffith; and after his speech, applauded thunderously for his heroine. Griffith smiled. “You are looking in the right direction,” he said, waving at her box. Somehow a Griffith first night has never seemed so colorful since she has left. Now she is an established star in her own right. She has made The White Sister and Romola in Italy. She shops in Paris and Rome. She has met and grown to know men and women of the world; the substantial things of life are hers. And has she changed? Of course, she has. She has taken on a new poise and a fresh charm. Her contact with another world—the bigger, polished existence outside a studio—has left its impression. She is mentally more alert—and more silent than before.

German postcard. Ross Verlag No. 8442. British-American Film A.-G. (Bafag), Berlin. Lillian Gish in the film The White Sister (Henry King 1923), shot in Italy.

A Trifle Tired

The thought has occurred to me about her that she is a trifle tired. She has accomplished so much in a few short years. Not yet thirty, she has been accorded a niche next to Duse. Her personal popularity is greater than Maude Adams’ ever was. John Barrymore has called her a truly great artiste. So have many others. With the illusion that she, a real actress, a conscientious, devoted artiste, loved and lived only for her work, I once said to her: “But, of course, you wouldn’t be happy if you weren’t always busy.” She turned to me, and her lovely eyes—the only eyes I have ever seen which could be called limpid—were a little weary.

“Oh, yes I could,” she said. “Do you think any of us would work if necessity didn’t demand it? I would love to have money enough and time enough just to follow spring around the world.”

Alfred Cheney Johnston Lillian Gish 1922 Orphans outfit

Her earnings have been considerable. And the Gish family has never lived exorbitantly. Theirs has been the life of the usual prosperous home. But the long and serious illness of Mrs. Gish, with its heavy expenses—for nothing was spared that their beloved mother might be well and strong again—was a severe drain on the finances and the courage of the sisters. Speaking of courage, Lillian has it. Mrs. Gish lay ill in the hospital while Orphans of the Storm was being made. Lillian and Dorothy often dashed to town from the suburban studio for a moment’s visit. They did the greatest work of their careers while their hearts were heavy and their nerves at the breaking-point. Their mother has always ben their first consideration. Studio mamas have been kidded, and often with justice. But here is an exception. Mae Gish is one of the finest women whose fortunes have ever been associated with the films. Slight and pretty, with Lillian’s gentleness and Dorothy’s sense of humor, she has sympathy and savoir faire. Her son-inlaw adores her. What higher praise? She is well again and with her girls in Italy.

Lillian Gish and Joseph Shildkraut - Orphans of the Storm - Promo V22
Lillian Gish and Joseph Shildkraut – Orphans of the Storm – Promo

Lillian is Old-World

Somehow I think Lillian has always belonged there. She is old-world. I can imagine her among the ruins of the Renaissance; in those serene places where the lustrous ladies she rather resembles used to linger. I’d like to have her play Beatrice d’Este, that capricious child of Milan, with her dwarfs and her festivities and her gem-encrusted gowns. Lillian would rather play Isabella, I suppose! If she could only be persuaded that her dramatic future lies along different lines. She has played too long the passive part. Except in a few of the old Triangle films, such as Diana of the Follies, she has been the instrument of a cruel fate. If she would shake off the shackles of conventionality, she would be truly great. She has courage. Why not use it and play Cleopatra; or Mona Lisa, or Beatrice? Perhaps, like her friend Mary Pickford, she is bound by cinema traditions. Mary is firmly convinced that she dare not trifle with the public affection to the extent of portraying a human being; and so she keeps on playing her pretty, innocuous children. Does Lillian Gish dare to do a Cleopatra? I had hopes when I read the reports that she was at last to embark upon the high sea of real romance. The rumors of her engagement to Charles Duell, the president of her company, Inspiration Pictures, still persists despite cabled denials from Italy. And only the other day I heard that a young naval officer had given up his post to follow her to Rome and Florence, and that she was as enamoured of him as he of her. Again, denials. Let Lillian Gish allow herself to indulge in a little amour, away from the blinding studio lights and the ceaseless click of the camera; let her marry and even retire for a while—and the screen will be richer for her experience. Is it because Lillian’s life has been devoid of glamour that she shrinks from the uncertainties and perils of romance?

The White Sister
The White Sister

A young man in England used to send her poems, all nicely bound and expressive of his undying devotion. Lillian was pleased with them, and showed a little-girl eagerness for the next edition. Will life cheat her of the passions and perplexities she has never enacted before the camera? Will her own existence resolve itself into a repetition of the passive part she has played on the screen?

You may answer that in Way Down East; her Anna Moore suffered, and suffered, and suffered. I know she did. But Anna Moore was a dumb-bell. Almost without exception, the girls she has geen called upon to act have been dumb-bells. They suffer, but only physically. You feel that they have learned nothing from life. Lillian has absorbed. She has a receptive mind and a retentive memory; and, unlike her heroines, she has grown up, with the potentialities for honest emotion and drama. Lillian Gish is not a dumb-bell. She is a remarkable woman. And the sooner she proves it upon the screen the better.

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