Up and down thru the centuries, thru a muck of blood and self-righteous guilt, stalks that murderous specter of envy and self-love-Intolerance. Apparently inspired by hatreds—religious, political or social underneath all its sickening pretense and sham lies the desire for advancement of self and lust of power.
Age after age has written, with a finger dipped in blood: “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we do.” And advancing time but furnishes us a repetition of history, for always there be with us “certain hypocrites among the Pharisees” who thank their God that they be not as other men. Emerson has described the scourge in his immortal words:
“If we would not be marplots with our miserable interferences, the work, the society, letters, arts, science, religion of men would go on far better than now, and the heaven predicted from the beginning of the world, and still predicted from the bottom of the heart, would organize itself, as do now the rose and the air and sun.” Yet, thru all the ages. Time, endlessly rocking its cradle, brings forth the same passions, the same hates and sorrows. Such is the power of the demon-Intolerance.
Nearly two thousand years ago there lived in Babylon a certain high priest of Bel, the god of the Assyrians. And of all the citizens of the world’s most powerful state, he was second in influence only to Belshazzar himself. How it happened that certain of the citizens set up altars to other gods within the city, and the fires of Bel burned without sacrifice, and the high priest was dismayed and feared his crown of power was slipping from his grasp. The people of Babylon worshiped most at the shrines of the goddess Ishtar, and the devotion was sanctioned by Belshazzar.
Thus, day by day, the high priest grew more jealous for Bel, but most of all for himself. Then suddenly – came Cyrus the Persian, storming at the gates of the city, for with her fall the world lay at his feet. For weeks the siege went on : the people sacrificed and prayed to Ishtar, while Belshazzar and his armies hurled down their enemies from the walls. At last the wearied Persian horde withdrew, and the city was delivered. Whereat there was great rejoyicing in Babylon, and the praise of Ishtar rose higher then before, and the altars of Bel were neglected.
Then the wily Cyrus secretly sent word to the high priest that should the city be given over to him, to Bel should be the honor, and worship of no other god tolerated. So the high priest opened the gates to the Persian hosts, while Belshazzar and his nobles sat feasting. And a great cry went thruout the world: “Babylon is fallen-is fallen !” Thus a great civilization fell, and a great people were treacherously sold into slavery by the grasping intolerance of a narrow mind.
Some half-century later there was a marriage in Cana of Judea, and a certain poor guest, a Nazarene, made a miracle, turning jugs of water into wine. Then some among the Pharisees, who were hypocrites, began to fear Him. They said that they held Him in contempt because He consorted with publicans and sinners, and yet they feared Him, and therefore persecuted Him. He went His way, preaching a doctrine of love and peace; so they said to one another : “Behold ! this man is threatening our power; his words shame us before the multitudes, for we cannot answer them. Let us set him from our path.” So they circulated lying tales of Him, and angered the people against Him so that later they took Him to a certain hill, and there He was crucified, for His thoughts were not their thoughts. Did it matter that. angry lightnings played about the cross? Did it matter that Calvary was shaken by an ominous thunder, or that future generations should rain condemnations on their act? The cry of the centuries rose from the throats of the groaning multitude : “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we!”
Yet again, in a later age, when that church which He died to hand down to posterity was divided within itself-when France, under Charles IX, was a hotbed of internal intrigue-that serpent of Florence, Catherine de Medici, used that same religion, founded on tenets of love and peace, as a cloak for the vilest, bloodiest wholesale murder that the world has ever known. The Huguenots were becoming too powerful as a political factor. Catherine and her aids hectored the half-crazed king until he signed an order for their massacre. On St. Bartholomew’s Eve the great bell of St. Germain tolled out the death-knell of the thousands of innocent Huguenots in Paris. Men, women and children were butchered in their beds.
Those who fled to the streets fell only on the pikes and swords of their ruthless assailants. The gutters ran with blood, and high above the screams and clamor came the solemn tolling of the great bell. The Due de Guise rode to the house of Coligny, and, standing up in his stirrups, cried: “Fling down the carrion ! I would see whether he be truly dead !” And all that was left of the great leader fell upon the upturned weapons of the mercenaries. He had wished to live in peace with his fellow men, but-he thought not as they.
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
INTOLERANCE MODERN STORY
And now we see this same spirit in our own age–the age of the intolerance of wealth for poverty. Here we have a certain group of women who seek, under the pretense of social uplift and moral reform, prominence for themselves at the expense of the happiness of others. Organizing a powerful charitable foundation, they proceed to clean up a modern city, entering environments and dealing with conditions, altho they possess neither the mentality nor the experience to cope with them, and forcibly inflicting their opinions on a class which adjusts itself to its problems far better without their aid. Still, they get personal advertisement and prominence, which is really the desired result. Envious, self-seeking, narrow-minded, and only too eager to see evil in others, in spite of his disguise of civilization we see in them the latest phase of the blighting specter – Intolerance.
We have become an alarmingly endangered species, those of us who enjoyed silent films throughout the 1920s. We know that we are not alone in admiring the best of the surviving predialogue movies, but understandably, some misconceptions have crept into histories of the early period, written by those who were not around to see first-run prints of the acknowledged masterpieces, or could not have visited the resplendent palaces or the cozy neighborhood houses of more than half a century ago.
As there are today, there were those who took the existence of cinema very much for granted, saw only an occasional film because it was being discussed. And there were even a few (I never met one) who hated pictures. But there were some of us with an addiction, with fierce passion for the medium. We were militant and protective and we didn’t want it to change in any way. We loved its silence. We were devoted to the aspect ratio of the frame. As collectors, we were even enchanted by the unique scent of nitrate of cellulose. There are even fewer of us left who not only had this almost insane, passionate affection for film, but became involved in hands-on work with motion pictures, shooting, editing and screening as well as simply watching. When dialogue arrived and the silent film almost vanished, some of us were so infuriated that we actually refused, for many months, to even look at a talkie.
Douglas Fairbanks -The Black Pirate 1926
Lillian Gish – Steichen – Vanity Fair November 1924
Ronald Colman – Vanity Fair 1927
Renee Adoree – La Boheme – Musette
Lillian Gish – The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
The Mender of Nets 1912 still frame
An Art Declasse
Silent movies? Before sound films nobody called motion pictures “silent movies.” In those days the term “talkies” was already in use, but it referred only to plays on the stage to differentiate them from photoplays. As Lillian Gish never tired of pointing out, the “silent” film was never silent. Even in the primitive period, there was a pianist or an organist putting music to the film. The big downtown theatres usually began continuous showings at 10:00 a.m. Until the two evening performances, the film would be accompanied by a skillful organist seated at the mighty Wurlitzer. The evening shows boasted full orchestral accompaniment. The musicians were fine, well-paid professionals led by experts who knew very much what they were about. The top Cleveland movie orchestra was conducted by Maurice Spitalny in gleaming full dress, his exquisitely prepared profile turned toward the audience and bathed in his own special spotlight as his orchestra played the overture before the film began. Maurice was one of three Russian-born Spitalnys, all musicians. Brother Phillip conducted a famous all-girl orchestra in Manhattan. He went to Cleveland often to see his brother, whose greeting to Phillip became a local catchphrase: “Hallo, Pheel! How you fill?”
In one area Griffith did seem to be ahead of his contemporaries: by either good luck or superior perception, he was able to recruit a cadre of fantastic players. With his theatre orientation, he had confidence in even the actresses who had been professionals from childhood, so that Mary Pickford, the Gish sisters and Blanche Sweet became Biograph stars. Experience in the theatre was cachet sufficient for Griffith to hire Lionel Barrymore, Tom Ince and Mack Sennett, all of whom graduated from Biograph to major film careers that endured for many years.
American Biograph Company 11 East 14th Street NY
the Biograph Bronx Studio
the Biograph Bronx Studio 2
There were indeed some truly impressive Biographs. As early as 1909 Griffith had Pickford, Owen Moore and James Kirkwood acting in The Restoration, an involved psychological drama concerned with memory Loss.
Along with The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Broken Blossoms of 1919 is one of Griffith’s major efforts on which much of his fame rests. The original release print of the film was elaborately colored with the use of variously tinted base stock. The Museum of Modern Art Film Library people arranged to undertake the demanding and expensive project of copying the film and restoring the delicately colored version to something very much like the original.
In a significant departure from routine filmmaking, Griffith rehearsed the cast for weeks before the camera ever turned. His aim was to create a film that he thought would be as fine and important as a great play on the stage—his first love. However well intentioned his plan, his theatrical orientation lured him into a major aesthetic error that militates against one’s acceptance of the film today as a great work. Richard Barthelmess, cast as a Chinese in London’s Limehouse district, is made up as a stereotyped stage Chinaman, eyes narrowed to tiny slits, hands tucked into his sleeves and made to walk hunched over with teetering steps. All perfectly acceptable as a nineteenth-century theatrical cliche. But Griffith made the mistake of surrounding Barthelmess with real Chinese, none of whom looked anything like the chief protagonist.
In The Birth of a Nation, Griffith was betrayed by this stagecraft into the same aesthetic error. His principal players cast as blacks are white actors and actresses, their faces smeared not too carefully with blackface makeup. Neither of his villains, George Siegmann and Walter Long, have negroid features. Well and good had he been producing a minstrel show, but again, extras in the film are real blacks bearing no resemblance to Tom Wilson, George Siegmann or Walter Long. The unfortunate effect for Broken Blossoms is that the film is neither realistic drama nor effective theatre make-believe. The famous performance of Lillian Gish’s almost rescues the film from being a grotesquerie rather than simply a very much dated melodrama with Donald Crisp as the savage child beater, shown in enormous close-ups, grimacing in a way to rival King Kong himself. Griffith considered himself to be a poet, a dramatist and, only some what reluctantly, a film director. For this project he also became a composer and is credited as the author of the love theme of the film, a piece he titled “White Blossom.” Composing the music for the other portions of the film was entrusted to none other than Louis Gottschalk. As a music composer, Griffith thus placed himself in prestigious company. Lillian Gish’s performance as the slow-witted, much abused Limehouse district waif is one of the most praised in all her career. It was also the most parodied. ZaSu Pitts made a whole career imitating the uncertain, desperate gestures that were so touching as Lillian Gish had done them.
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Her Last Smile (Broken Blossoms)
The Festivals of Film Artists
The 1957 festival marked his first return to Rochester and the theatre he had known so well twenty-eight years before. Mamoulian’s wife came with him. She was a gorgeous, glamorous Hollywood type, and although the Mamoulians were only to stay overnight, she brought so much ponderous luggage that it couldn’t all be squeezed into the spartan room they were assigned in the Rochester Treadway Inn. Mrs. Mamoulian ordered an immediate transfer to a more commodious hotel. Other celebrity arrivals were also not without their own problems.
At Eastman House for the second Festival of Film Artists, in 1957: James Card, Lillian Gish, Janet Gaynor and Mary Pickford
In 1957 there were direct flights from Los Angeles to Rochester. It was in the good old days before hub airports. I was at the Rochester airport to meet a plane that carried more than any usual share of VIPs. On that flight were the director Frank Borzage, Ramon Novarro and Maurice Chevalier, who traveled with an entourage of no fewer than three comely female attendants. The plane arrived at 1:30 a.m., Rochester time. When I greeted the group, Chevalier let out a whoop and pumped Novarro’s hand. Ramon was astonished. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for years—ever since Ben-Hur.” Chevalier exulted. The two great stars not only had never met before, but had flown all the way from Los Angeles without recognizing each other. Also, they all let me know, they had had nothing to eat since before boarding the plane in California. First bit of business was to get them to food. Rochester is not known to be a swinging town after midnight. But there was a restaurant right on East Avenue, not far from the theatre itself, run by an ambitious restaurateur who thought of himself and his establishment as several cuts above the small-town reputation of Rochester. His boite he called the Five O’Clock Club, and its marquee boasted that it was “Just like New York.” I parked the car with its illustrious guests and rushed in to see if they had any food left. The owner was sitting with some friends at a booth near the door. I knew who he was—he was big in self-advertising. It was obvious at once that he didn’t know me. “We’re closed, Mac,” he snarled at me. “Can’t we just get a quick sandwich or something?” “I told you we’re closed. The chef’s gone.”
“Look, Leo, can’t you have a waiter go into the kitchen and fix three or four simple sandwiches? I have Maurice Chevalier and Ramon Novarro out here in the car. They haven’t had a thing to eat all day, and every place but yours is closed.”
The proprietor turned to his friends. “After all that trouble we had with that guy tonight, here’s another one—this one has Maurice Chevalier out in his car!”
I went back to our guests. Across the street was a White Tower hamburger place (forerunner of the MacDonald’s and Burger Kings to come). It was there that I had to take Borzage, Novarro and that noted French bon vivant and gourmet Maurice Chevalier for hamburgers. I noted that Maurice disguised his burger with a complete dousing of mustard. Without much shame, I confess to elation when, only a few months later, the Five O’Clock Club that was “Just like New York” went out of business.
Our cast on the stage of the Eastman Theatre almost made the event look like a rerun of 1955, for there, again, were Lillian Gish, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Frank Borzage, Dick Barthelmess and Charles Rosher, but with the added attractions of Gloria Swanson, Josef von Sternberg, Janet Gaynor, Ramon Novarro and Maurice Chevalier, who, of course, stole the show. Chevalier’s onstage technique was unforgettable. Offstage, standing or sitting surrounded by his personal entourage, he looked almost asleep, gloomy and brooding. But in the instant before he stepped on the stage, his face would light up as though he’d turned on a set of bulbs. His whole body seemed to have been electrified; his face was flushed with energy and breezy enthusiasm. When he stepped off the stage, the appearance of somnolence fell over him like a curtain. Chevalier’s off-and-on act reminded me of Buster Keaton at the first festival. Offstage, of course, he smiled—and often. He was a cheerful, friendly charmer. And everywhere he went, both amateur photographers and newspaper cameramen would try to ambush one of those smiles. But Buster teased them with an almost supernatural sense of timing: he could sense just the instant they were about to fire their cameras, the smile would snap off his face, and the trademark, solemn Keaton look would be all they’d catch.
The second Festival of Film Artists was the last. Before we could do another, General Solbert died. As of this writing, every other actor, actress and director who won awards in those festivals has also departed. General Oscar Solbert was an exceptional individual. He exasperated me to the point ofmy resigning three times. Three times he tore up my letter of resignation. I miss him the way I miss my own father. Subsequent directors of Eastman House have tried to have festivals of film artists. But they miss the salient point of the two originals—that the artists chosen for the Georges were chosen entirely by their fellow film people. The later, spurious awards have been given to celebrities chosen by Rochester socialites.
Lillian Gish Archive to Go To Performing Arts Library
By William Grimes – Jan. 23, 1997
The New York Times – January 23, 1997, Section C, Page 15
Lillian Gish’s personal archive of letters, business documents, photographs and scrapbooks has found a home at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Gish, the legendary stage and film star, died at the age of 99 at her home in Manhattan in 1993, leaving a rich repository of material on her life and career.
”These materials will be of invaluable use to scholars investigating any aspect of the 20th-century dramatic arts,” said Paul LeClerc, the president of the New York Public Library. ”We are thrilled that we can preserve them and make them accessible as part of our Billy Rose Theater Collection.”
The correspondence addressed to Gish, perhaps as many as 10,000 unpublished letters from friends, colleagues and business associates, forms the heart and soul of the archive. The names are dazzling. In addition to Gish’s sister, Dorothy, they include D. W. Griffith, Helen Hayes, George Abbott, Sean O’Casey, Maxwell Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Brooks Atkinson and Sir Alec Guinness. There are thick folders of letters from her agent, A. George Volck; Sir John Gielgud and Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill.
The O’Neill relationship dates from the late 1920’s, when Lillian Gish optioned ”Strange Interlude” for $75,000 as a possible vehicle for herself. The document is included in the archive. Gish had to drop the project when the play became the subject of a nuisance lawsuit against O’Neill. The film was eventually made in 1932 and starred Norma Shearer and Clark Gable.
The collection includes letters from the French director Abel Gance in 1926, asking Gish to play Joan of Arc. In a lengthy telegram in April 1925, Mary Pickford tries to persuade Gish to join the United Artists studio, arguing that she would be treated as an artist and not asked to turn out too many films. A year later, Pickford writes to apologize for an interview in Movie Weekly in which it appeared that she was trying to make herself seem younger than Gish.
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and Dame Judith Anderson in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia in 1936 Hamlet G McClintic
Photographer Vandamm – NYPL Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Guthrie McClintic’s Hamlet 1936 – detail
One highlight is a 1936 letter from the Broadway producer George Abbott, who had seen her playing Ophelia opposite John Gielgud’s Hamlet and decided that she needed to be cast against type. ”I think that you are swell in the mad scenes and unconvincing in the ingenue scenes,” he wrote. ”I think you were marvelous in ‘Camille.’ You have not aged in face or figure, but you are a more mature person. You have a more adult soul, and those parts in which the key note is freshness are not so well suited to you as those in which there is a woman and a soul.”
One of the more peculiar letters is from Joseph Medill Patterson, publisher of The Daily News, who in 1930 thought, erroneously, that Gish intended to play Desdemona opposite the black actor Paul Robeson. Patterson pleaded with Gish to drop the idea, which, he wrote, ”would have a disastrous effect on your popularity in many parts of the country.”
Conspicuously absent from the archive are any love letters from the critic George Jean Nathan, with whom Gish had an affair.
In addition to the correspondence, the archive includes production photographs from many of the plays and films in which Gish appeared, family photographs, medical records, appointment ledgers, scripts and books.
”This is one of the great American working lives in film and theater, and these are the working documents,” said Robert Marx, the executive director of the performing arts library, which is in Lincoln Center. ”There’s a solid professional correspondence that balances the personal correspondence.”
In her will, Gish left instructions that her archive be left to a university or research institution and not be sold. Her trustees conducted a yearlong search before choosing the Library for the Performing Arts last March. The library decided to delay an announcement until it had done preliminary cataloguing and preservation work and organized a public program on Gish’s life and work.
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Lillian Gish and Raymond Hackett in Camille Central City, Colorado; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.308
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); [Camille–Gish, Lillian, and Raymond Hackett] [Made at Chappell Home, Denver]; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.176
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Camille–Gish, Lillian, [And] Raymond Hackett [Made at Chappell Home, Denver]; 1932; Platinum print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas, Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.193
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Lillian Gish, Central City; 1932; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1979.240.5
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Lillian Gish as Camille. Central City, Colorado; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.309
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Gish, Camille [Miss Gish]; 1917-1950s; Nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth Texas; P1979.240.69
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Gish, Camille [Miss Gish]; 1917-1950s; Nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth Texas; P1979.240.70
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Gish, Camille [Miss Gish]; 1917-1950s; Nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth Texas; P1979.240.71
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Camille–Gish, Lillian Central City, Colorado; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.87
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); [Camille–Gish, Lillian] [Central City, Colorado]; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.192
Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932
The trustees chose the library because it is in New York, where Gish spent much of her life and career, and because it already contains abundant material, like the Helen Hayes collection, that dovetails with the Gish archive. As it happens, Gish was the first actress to use the theater collection. In 1931, officials allowed her special access to research the title role in ”Camille,” which she was preparing to play on Broadway.
”Lillian Gish Remembered,” a series scheduled to run at the performing arts library from March 6 to June 2, will feature readings and reminiscences by friends and colleagues of Gish and screenings of her films. The archive will be available to scholars in the fall, after the library has completed its cataloguing and preservation work.
At eleven months, I landed my first job. Most of my peers were three or four years old. Others were jobless until eight or ten. Some of us were local kids. Others descended on Hollywood from Detroit or Cleveland or London or Atlanta. A number spent several years developing their talents before tackling Hollywood. Usually, they took their families with them. In the main, we were Depression kids who supported our families, frequently our studios, occasionally the entire movie industry, and at least once—according to President Franklin Roosevelt—the nation. “As long as our country has Shirley Temple,” FDR reportedly said, “we will be all right.” The 1930s and early 1940s in America were a throwback to the Dickensian era a century earlier, when children were perceived as little adults. Important to Hollywood’s economy and to the public’s need for escape, each of us was a representation, a cliche: Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney were irrepressible little adults who could accomplish more than real adults, and solve their problems.
Jane Withers was the tough kid who broke the rules; Elizabeth Taylor, the symbol of beauty and serene perfection; Jackie Coogan, the little ragamuffin who broke your heart; Roddy McDowall and Freddie Bartholomew expressed intelligence and refinement; Stymie of “Our Gang” was the little “pickaninny,” the only black among us; Spanky, the fat boy of the Gang, was intended to be laughed at. I was Dickie Moore, innocent and pure, who specialized in reconciling wayward parents and bringing enlightenment to folks like Marlene Dietrich. Hollywood stars were the closest thing to royalty America produced. So as children we tasted a life immensely privileged, but laced with deprivation. All of us were extraordinary people at a very early age. All of us shared common lives and times, huge responsibilities, and salaries that shriveled fathers’ egos. Do you recall your homeroom class? Roughly a score or so of children, right? All studying together, kids sorting out life’s early clues; assembled briefly, then dispersed by differences in class assignments, neighborhoods, and fathers’ jobs.
Crisis gripped the set. The scene called for the actors to give the crying infant a bottle filled with wine. Mother hadn’t been aware of that. “You’re not going to give my little Dickie wine,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” the director said. “It’s only Coca-Cola. We wouldn’t give wine to a baby.”
“You’re not going to give him Coca-Cola, either. He’s only eleven months old,” said Mother.
So production stopped, one hundred people stood around on salary. Paralysis, Hollywood’s most dread disease, suddenly quarantined the set because Mother was protecting my digestion.
John Barrymore, star of the film, who just happened to be on the set that day (he wasn’t in this scene), came over to see what the commotion was about. He peered into the crib at me, the kid with the big brown eyes, then announced majestically, “Jesus Christ, it’s an owl!”
Our Pay and What Happened to It
Money was the only reason that Lillian and Dorothy Gish—two of the most celebrated actresses ever to appear in theater and films—began acting as children. Tiny, delicate, astonishingly beautiful at eighty-eight, Lillian Gish poured tea for me in her New York apartment as she reminisced about her life when Theodore Roosevelt was President. To support the girls, their mother, who had never worked, got a job in a department store. “She gave Papa the money to pay the man when he came for the furniture we were buying on the installment plan. But he didn’t pay it, so she said, ‘Well, look, I can support three people, but I can’t support four. You go out and get a job, and when you can support us, you come back.’ ” Miss Gish spoke precisely.
To supplement her earnings, her mother rented out the girls’ bedroom to two actresses, who encouraged her to try the stage. The Proctor’s Stock Company hired her as leading ingenue. An actress with a company that needed a four-year-old girl took Lillian with her on the road. Another actress took Dorothy. Each girl earned ten dollars a week; their mother, fifteen dollars. They saved enough to get them through the summer, when theaters closed; air conditioning hadn’t been invented. Came summer, Lillian, Dorothy, and their mother visited Aunt Emily in Ohio: In Ohio, hotels had signs saying: “No actors or dogs allowed.” We asked Mother why. We thought actors were such nice people. Mother said it was because actors often got stranded and had no money to pay their hotel bills, so they slid down the water pipe at night and left without paying their bills.
After I went into the movies, Griffith [D. W. Griffith, in whose films the Gish girls starred] ran out of money while we were filming Birth of a Nation. He had only fifty thousand dollars and the picture cost sixty-one thousand. We all worked without salary because we knew he was honest, and we wanted to help. Mother had saved three hundred, which was a fortune for us, and she went to Mr. Griffith and offered to put it into the picture. But he said, “No, I won’t take it. You might lose it all.” I earned a thousand a week in the movies. Mother said, “You think you’re getting a thousand a week? You’re getting fifty dollars, five percent. See that you live on that.” Mother put the rest away for us.
Sex Can Wait?
Marriage was a way for us to prove that we had grown up. Children don’t get married, right?
Wrong! But we didn’t know it then. Not surprisingly, nearly all of us entered into at least one marriage that failed: Jane Powell, Donald O’Connor, Freddie Bartholomew, Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, Jane Withers, Gene Reynolds, Peggy Ann Garner, Bobs and Delmar Watson, Cora Sue Collins, Gloria Jean, Sidney Miller, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Stymie, Jackie Cooper, Jackie Coogan, Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Kathleen Nolan, Ann Rutherford, Darryl Hickman, Marcia Mae Jones, Edith Fellows, Dean Stockwell, Spanky McFarland, Diana Cary, me. Mickey Rooney was married the first time when he was twentyone, to Ava Gardner. “I needed to be married like you need to paint Shea Stadium at midnight,” Mickey told me. “But I’m happy I did it, because it was part of growing up.” Lillian Gish is among a handful of former child stars who were never divorced. Miss Gish believes that “an actress shouldn’t ruin a good man’s life by marrying him,” so she never married anybody.
Do you recall your homeroom class? Roughly a score or so of children, right? All studying together, kids sorting out life’s early clues; assembled briefly, then dispersed by differences in class assignments, neighborhoods, and fathers’ jobs. It was not that way for us. Homeroom was a clutch of tiny, sometimes solo classes strewn from Culver City to Burbank. Spelling and arithmetic spanned whole careers. Our lives touched each other’s, drew apart, touched again, receded—waves hissing on a beach. From Lillian Gish to Margaret O’Brien, ours was a class of intimate strangers bound by the common experience of being child stars.
Baby Peggy (her real name was Diana Cary) was, in the early 1920s, Hollywood’s first four-year-old self-made millionaire. Her parents probably hold the distinction of running through her money fastest. She was broke at six.
Then came Jackie Coogan, who shares with Shirley Temple the greatest, most enduring fame ever achieved by a child at any age at any time. He was the first child to be merchandised on a national scale. There were Jackie Coogan clothes, Jackie Coogan candy bars, toys—even a Jackie Coogan haircut, which, while copied around the world, could not command a royalty.
Shirley was the first child to carry the full weight of a talking, full-length, “A” picture on her small but willing shoulders. Her every motion picture was a “Shirley Temple picture.” It wasn’t just a film in which Shirley Temple starred. When I bestowed her first screen kiss, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the world was watching—literally. The event was recorded on the front page of every major newspaper. My timid peck on her cheek was the symbolic loss of the world’s most beloved and famous child, the little girl whose energy, pluck, and irrepressible good cheer allowed folks to forget the Great Depression—at least for ninety minutes. There will never be another Shirley Temple. Today, there are kids who make a splash, but they will never command the lifelong recognition we still have. Their films are not rerun on television. The continuity of product isn’t there. And, in Jackie Coogan’s words, “There’s nothing charming about children anymore.” Our group is still around. Try today to track the people you shared first grade with. Most have evaporated, raindrops in a desert.
Perennially visible, we have no place to hide.
Life on the fast track is the seven o’clock news. When you’re the topic of discussion, no one else exists. But when another story breaks, you might as well be dead. And it doesn’t have a thing to do with you. Why did I want to cry? Was it the pressure of unbearable, still buried feelings, feelings of being nobody now because I was somebody once? Was it a montage from the past, of cameras, people, lights, a buzzing noise all focusing on me, the center of attention; so important, so indispensable, until the director yells, “Cut!” and I am whisked into a blackout while someone else moves into camera range?
Even on the set when two or three years old, I must somehow have been aware that this shattering contrast between darkness and spotlights was unnatural. But you can’t handle such emotions at so early an age. So, belatedly, I found myself fighting back the tears.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star : but don’t have sex or take the car – Cover
Twinkle, twinkle, little star : Lillian and Dorothy Gish (Orphans)
Twinkle, twinkle, little star : but don’t have sex or take the car – back cover
Twinkle, twinkle, little star but dont have sex or take the car – Dickie Moore
The New York Times – October 30, 1932, Section BR, Page 20
LIFE AND LILLIAN GISH.
By Albert Bigelow Paine. Illustrated. 303 pp. New York: The Macmillan Company. $3.50.
LILLIAN GISH had her first dramatic try-out, made her first triumphant entrance upon any stage, at the age of 3 in Baltimore on the shoulder of Nat Goodwin. He was serving as Santa Claus for a big Christmas tree on the stage of Ford’s Theatre, and needing a particularly angelic-looking child to perch on his shoulder and distribute the gifts, little Lillian Gish was chosen. Three years later she bad become, under stress of economic necessity, a little trouper playing in a barnstorming company which was presenting melodrama in one-night stands. Through several seasons she traveled with this and other companies, economizing on food to the edge of hunger, sleeping on telegraphic desks in cold stations, riding all night in day coaches, rarely having rest in a real bed.
During the Summers her mother had a candy and popcorn stand at the Fort George amusement grounds in New York City, and Lillian, in a timorous little voice, would try to help sales by saying gently to the passers–by. “Wouldn’t you like to buy some popcorn?” But her sister Dorothy stood on the counter and joyfully did “ballyhoo” for the enterprise by calling “out, “This way for the best taffy and popcorn in New York” The Smith family, mother, two daughters and son, afterward to become famous as the Pickfords, were living with Mrs. Gish and her little girls in her apartment, and then and afterward the two families were very close in friendship and work.
The narrative of Lillian Gish’s life reads like a fairy story. American biographical literature is full of marvelous tales of material success wherein poor boys starting out with nothing but good heads, willing hands and determined wills win through to high achievement and heaps of gold. But heretofore not many of them have been about women. And among these few there has been none so wonderfully fairylike in material and texture and denouement as the story of Lillian Gish. Albert Bigelow Paine, veteran author and man of letters, with perhaps two score of books of varied kinds to his credit, tells the story with a sensitiveness to its peculiar quality and a sympathetic response to its heroine’s appeal to eye and heart and mind that intensify the likeness. He tells it in straight narrative form that deals almost wholly with environment and conditions of life and Lillian’s share in them, with privations and struggle and hard work and dazzling achievements. But throughout he does enable the reader to envisage her “ln the round” whether as child trouper, young girl dashing on horseback over Oklahoman plains with an Indian girl playmate and trying hard to get an education in the intervals of work on the stage, successful movie actress, gaining world-wide fame on both screen and stage.
Lillian Gish in The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
Lillian Gish – The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
Lillian Gish – Hoover Art LA cca 1914
A Romance of Happy Valley – Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish
Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish
The Lily and The Rose (1915) – Lillian Gish
The Lily and The Rose (1915) – Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish – The Great Love (1918)
It is a complete story from her birth in 1896 to the present time, and although it does deal mainly with the outward aspects ot its heroine’s life, Mr. Paine endeavors to portray the outlines of her character and give the reader some understanding of her aloofness, her quiet serenity under all conditions, her orderly mental processes, her sense of duty. The book is the outcome of long talks with Miss Gish in which she went over with him her recollections of her life from her earliest years and of information obtained from her family and friends. Mary Pickford has made many contributions to the story of the period in which they were much together in their home and in their movie work. It was Miss Pickford who opened the doors for her entrance into the film world.
Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
The biography is written in the romantic temper and in the spirit of a connoisseur of beautiful things who holds in his hand some piece of glass or gold or cloisonne and regards its exquisite loveliness with admiration and reverence. His feeling is not only for the nunlike, elusive beauty of her countenance, but also for the artistic qualities and the impressive, haunting beauty of her characterizations. Toward the end of the book there are some attempts to estimate the value of Lillian Gish’s contribution to dramatic art and some quotations from her conversations with him disclosing her ideas about the comparative values of the silent and the sound film, and the film and the stage.
Kindly access the link below to download the PDF format of “Life and Lillian Gish” book, by Albert Bigelow Paine – Macmillan,1932
Overacting, fluttering feminity and D.W. Griffith went out of style, but Lillian Gish refused to go.
Her Legend, Her Life. By Charles Affron.
Illustrated. 445 pp. New York: A Lisa Drew Book/Scribner. $35.
CHARLES AFFRON admires Lillian Gish’s life, as who does not? It is in most respects admirable, even exemplary, particularly in her refusal to surrender to old age. She started acting in 1902 when she was 9 years old and continued, seemingly immune to all the vagaries of her profession — bad roles, bad reviews, public controversies and private disappointments — until she was, astonishingly, 94. She outlived most of her show business colleagues, outworked them all with the possible exception of John Gielgud and, always the uncomplaining trouper, rarely missed a day because of illness, not a minute because of egomania.
It is her legend, self-created and self-propagated, that causes — justifiably, in my opinion — a steady murmur of discontent to arise from Affron’s judicious biography, ”Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life.” The problem, as he sees it, is Gish’s excessive — not to say slightly loopy — idealization of her discoverer and mentor, D. W. Griffith. She and her sister Dorothy entered the movies under his aegis in 1912, when Lillian was 18 — not 12, 14 or 16, as she variously suggested through the years. Affron, who teaches French at New York University, calls her to rather stern account on this question, but it is more to his point that it was for Griffith she did most of the work that permanently crystallized her rather curious image.
She thought it necessary, beginning in the 1920’s, to exaggerate Griffith’s genius as a director, his vision of the movies as a force for world peace and brotherhood, the general superiority of silent movies over sound pictures because their pantomime made it easier for them to cross language barriers than dialogue pictures could. She was tireless — and not a little tiresome — in this matter because, as Affron puts it, ”The cult of Griffith was, after all, the path to her own artistic apotheosis. If Griffith’s legend were to die, so would her own. If his legacy was forgotten, she would lose her place in movie history.”
That Griffith — a father figure to many of the impressionable young actresses who worked for him, many of whom, like Gish, grew up without their actual fathers — was the great love of her life cannot be denied. Whether or not that included a sexual relationship is disputable. Affron rather thinks not; I rather think so. Whatever the case, Gish’s devotion to Griffith was willfully blind and vastly misleading. It is true that Griffith often expressed vaulting ambitions for his medium, but he was a bit of a humbug in the grandiose manner of 19th-century actor-managers, on whom he modeled the conduct of his own celebrity. His most enduring, endearing films are about life’s more quotidian dramas, and his pronouncements were rather like his taste for spectacle — forced, false, ultimately self-destructive.
When you strip the big talk and the big scenes away, you come to a core obsession that was much less attractive — and completely unaddressed by Gish. It involved placing the virtue of young, blond, virginal women in peril at the hands of brutal, often rapacious, men. That was notoriously the case in ”The Birth of a Nation” (1915), in which Mae Marsh commits suicide rather than succumb to a stalking black man and Gish herself narrowly avoids rape at the hands of a mulatto. It is these scenes, even more than Griffith’s portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes, that render the movie permanently offensive. And not just racially. Griffith tamped down (in public) his irredeemable racism, but he could never avoid his ruling sexual kink. Gish’s honor, life or both was under threat in ”Hearts of the World” (1918), ”Broken Blossoms” (1919), ”Way Down East” (1920) and ”Orphans of the Storm” (1921). Even in comedies like ”A Romance of Happy Valley” (1919) and ”True Heart Susie” (1919), Gish’s fate was patiently to await the attentions of men preoccupied by matters more pressing than her affections.
Eventually, that became her life strategy. Dropped by Griffith for the unattractive Carol Dempster, she remained his friend and defender, insisting that a crass industry was bent on destroying him (when, in fact, his heedless economic ways made him the auteur of his own misery). Meantime, their careers declined, his more disastrously than hers, but for related reasons. Griffith kept trapping his tremulous child-women in tight spaces with lumbering bruisers. Gish was never able to revise the image of imperiled innocence she and Griffith created. Until later in life, when she played spunky spinsters and widows, she essentially remained a sexual victim, appealingly brave in adversity — effectively so in ”The Scarlet Letter” (1926), less so in ”The Wind” (1928), the hysteria of which verges on the ludicrous.
Genteel litterateurs like Joseph Hergesheimer and James Branch Cabell gushed over her; many variations on Griffith’s description of her ”exquisitely fragile, ethereal beauty” were offered. But the good-natured likes of Mabel Normand and Marion Davies began satirizing her, and MGM, which had expensive hopes for Gish, dropped her when it discovered Greta Garbo, whose movies depicted her as always paying the price for her adulteries but at least appearing to have a good, hotly romantic time before getting her comeuppance.
Gish, alas, remained hopelessly old-fashioned, wedded to a Victorian vision of anxiously fluttering femininity. She was good at it, but by the late 1920’s she had more than Garbo’s stylish sinning to contend with; there were also the careless flappers of Clara Bow and Joan Crawford. Gish’s screen character became what it remains, a faintly risible antique. Another way of saying that is that she failed the most basic obligation of stardom, which is to be sexy. By the early 30’s, she was essentially a character actress, appearing in a few distinguished plays and few, if any, distinguished movies.
Her situation was akin to Griffith’s. Compared to the great directors of the silent era — Eisenstein, Murnau, Lang, von Stroheim, Vidor — his work was as stylistically dated as his sexual imaginings. This period, abruptly and cruelly halted by the arrival of sound, may have been the most innovative in cinema history, but Griffith was not part of it. His younger competitors are among the great modernists; he remained a 19th-century melodramatist.
They were all, of course, thrown off course by the talkies, visually poky at first and placing a premium on urban realism as opposed to the more poetic and expressionistic silents. In this new era Griffith wandered impotently, often alcoholically, on the margins of the business. Gish’s situation was less dire. She took up with George Jean Nathan, the drama critic, kept working and, above all, tended to her mythmaking. There were biographies and autobiographies and an unending stream of interviews. Late in her life she toured in a one-woman show, playing film clips and reminiscing romantically about the silent era.
You could argue that she did no great harm with her fantasies. But Affron thinks otherwise. Bad history is, very simply, useless history. Gish’s pose as the vestal virgin, guarding cinema’s temple, was absurdly at odds with the raffish and often hugely entertaining improvisations by which early movie history was actually made. Worse, her insistence on Griffith’s (plaster) saintliness distorted both his achievements and his failures, rendering both uninstructive to posterity. Finally, her vaporings had the effect of dehumanizing herself and Griffith, and of distancing us from a movie era that is difficult enough to recapture, given the differences between its conventions and those of later times.
One suspects that Affron began his book thinking his story was of idealism vulgarly betrayed, but found his research leading him in quite a different direction, toward analysis of a fiction in which the teller victimizes herself, her work, her beloved master in a simpering attempt to rewrite history as — come to think of it — something like a lesser Griffith work. Affron’s chronology is occasionally confusing, but he politely, consistently refutes Gish’s line, remaining unfailingly generous to his subject’s art and indomitability, all the while fastidiously and expertly devastating the fairy tale in which she wrapped herself. If we are ever to rescue silent film from its status as a dwindling cult’s enthusiasm and restore it as a vital part of our cultural heritage, we need more work of this balanced and balancing kind.
WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) — Lillian Gish, whose film career spans almost the entire history of movies, urged Congress today to preserve the historic newsreels now deteriorating in vaults.
“It’s powerful history, and we should preserve the living record of it,” Miss Gish told a House Government Operations subcommittee.
The threat to old newsreel footage was demonstrated last Dec. 7 when a fire at a National Archives storage facility in Suitland, Md., destroyed 12.6 million of the 28 million feet of newsreel’ film that had been donated by Universal Studios. A 1977 fire destroyed a smaller amount of film.
George Stevens, retiring director of the American Film Institute, estimated it would cost between $15 million and $30 million to recopy surviving newsreel footage on modern film that will not deteriorate.
Miss Gish, who made her stage debut in 1902 at the age of 4, has appeared in motion pictures since 1913. In recent years, she has been active as a lecturer on film preservation.
Much of the footage in Government vaults, dating from 1930 to 1951, was on nitrate film, which becomes highly flammable as it deteriorates.
An Index to the Creative Work of David Wark Griffith
By Seymour Stern – September 1946
Produced at the Fine Arts Studios, Hollywood, by the Wark Producing Corporation (D. W. Griffith). Directed by D. W. Griffith. Original idea and scenario : Griffith. Scenario of the ” Modern Story (The Mother and the Law) : adapted by Griffith, in part, from the Report of a Federal Industrial Commission ; and in part, from the records of the Stielow murder case. Under the personal supervision of D. W. Griffith, each of the following items : settings ; costume designs ; photographic style and technique ; research ; architectural conceptions of the City of Babylon (with motifs suggested by the sun-buildings and causeway of the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco, 191 5). Research on the Judean story : Rabbi L. Myers.* Construction supervisor and chief engineer on the Babylonian sets : Frank Wortman. Photography G. W. Bitzer and Karl Brown. Assistant directors : George Siegmann, W. S. Van Dyke, Joseph Henaberry, Erich von Stroheim, Edward Dillon, Tod Browning. Chief second assistant directors : Ted Duncan, Mike Siebert.
Editing : Griffith. Cutters : James and Rose Smith. Music : original score by Joseph Carl Breil and Griffith. Total production-time : 22 months, 12 days, divided as follows : shooting-time—20 months, 12 days ; editing—2 months. Release length : app. 13,700 feet (13! reels) or in old-time, silent film running-time, 3 hours.f World premiere and release under auspices of Wark Distributing Corporation (D. W. Griffith): Tuesday, September 5, 1916, Liberty Theatre, New York City.
THEME AND CONTENT
The Historical-Philosophy of Intolerance
Briefly stated, the theme of Intolerance is the emotional basis of history—or, more specifically, intolerance is the cause of wars and is a prime mover of the world in all ages. Intolerance is explicitly defined in sub-titles as the hatred and rejection of others, who fail to “think as we do” (sub-title from the Medieval Story). It is depicted as the emotion, the policy, and also the weapon, of fanatical rulers, dictators, individuals and masses; of power-loving priesthoods and ruling classes; of revolutionary, counter-revolutionary and other insurgent groups, in all ages, and everywhere. It is further depicted as being opposed to democracy, freedom of thought and to liberalism—above all, to democracy.Thus the motivation of human affairs, of world history, is, according to Griffith, basically emotional; and the motivating emotion is intolerance. To intolerance must be attributed, therefore, certain major actions of mankind —for example, massacre and persecution and torture and war. Other causes, political or economic, or both, as the case may be, being equal, intolerance still is the deciding factor in its primeval power over the behaviour of men and the course of events.
Intolerance is named and picturized as the fundamental force, the emotional evil, which hardens men’s hearts and paralyzes their minds; it plays its chief role in the zero-hours of history, the hours of decision, when it casts the die, other things being equal, for or against the wars, which determine the fate of empires, nations, peoples, individuals, societies, of whole civilizations. This force, timeless and universal, is a thing of basic evil and basic power, or, as a sub-title in the Medieval Story puts it, it is “Intolerance, burning and slaying”. And in the Babylonian story, Cyrus repeats the “world-old prayer (of intolerance) … to kill, kill, kill …”
The role of intolerance in shaping human destiny through the ages, amid all peoples, is inescapable.- Its recognition as a prime mover of the world-process is essential, therefore, to a correct understanding of the meaning and method of history. Hence, the tragedy of history is the conquest by intolerance of the one and only significant counter-force opposed to it—love, in its broader meaning. The epic of intolerance, therefore, is also the drama, to cite a thematic sub-title, of “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages”.
The above summarizes the theme of Griffith’s film, as expressed in its content, both the images and the subtitles. Or, as Huntly Carter wrote, “In Intolerance, we have Griffith’s favourite theme of intolerance of human beings to human beings.”
The Four Stories
To illustrate the philosophy of history as thus outlined, Griffith chose four stories, separate in time and space, but interrelated by the common theme, and projected through cross-cutting in parallel sequence. The four stories of Intolerance are as follows:
(1) The Judean story, or the life of Jesus of Nazareth; originally entitled, The Nazarene (27 A.D.);
(2) the Medieval Story, or the war between the Catholics and the Huguenots, in sixteenth century France (1572 A.D.);
(3) the Fall of Babylon, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar—an epic of the Ancient World (539 B.C.);
(4) the Modern Story (The Mother and the Law), dramatizing the conflict between Capital and Labour in modern times (c. 1914);
(5) at the end of the four stories, a prophetic epilogue.
The recurrent transition between the separate stories, which rotate alternately one with the other in cross-cutting and parallel-action, is accomplished in the early reels of the film by the use of a symbolic image of the Woman Who Rocks the Cradle, which appears in connection with the lines of Walt Whitman: “Out of the cradle endlessly rocking” and “… endlessly rocks the cradle, Uniter of Here and Hereafter”. In the later sequences, the lighting in this symbolic refrainshot somewhat changes, and the figures of three old women—the Three Fates, seated at their cosmic spinning-wheel, appear sharply visible, as emergences out of Space, in the background.
The Woman continues in the foreground, rocking the Cradle of Humanity, unaware of the Fates behind her. However, toward the climax, as the tempo rises and the inter-scene changes become more abrupt, this shot ceases to appear: the transition from each one of the four parallel stories to the other becomes direct, quick and violent: it is freed of all and any connective or intermediary shots. It is accomplished then without recourse to fades, lap-dissolves, “mix” photography, wipe-offs or any other conscious transitional device—simply by direct cutting from one story to the other, all four stories being now markedly parallel in action and essential content. The Judean story depicts the conflict of Jesus with the Pharisees, the Jewish rabbinate and with Rome. The organized opposition of the rabbinate against the “Man of Men” (subtitle) with his revolutionary “New Law”, is cited as an example of ecclesiastical intolerance, affecting the lives of future millions of people. The Medieval story dramatizes the strife in the sixteenth century between the Catholic hierarchy of France and the rising Protestant movement; it culminates in a bloody climax—the massacre of the Huguenots, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572 A.D. Religious intolerance. Babylon falls in Griffith’s history as the result of an act of treason by the established theological hierarchy under the dictatorship of the High Priest of Bel. The High Priest fears and fights the introduction into Babylon of new religions from without and of new, liberalizing political or social ideas from within. Accordingly, when the State-religion of Babylon is threatened with rivalry; when it no longer can dictate, unchallenged, the pattern of the national culture, then the High Priest and his cohorts among the hierarchy betray Belshazzar’s empire-city to Cyrus, emperor and war-lord of the Persians, world-conqueror. Imperialistic-political, religious, and racial (Cyrus, the Persian vs. Babylon) intolerance.
Finally, the Modern Story (The Mother and the Law), the opening sequences of which are the first to appear in Intolerance, dramatizes the struggle between Capital and Labour (class hatred), in the early years of the twentieth century, in the United States. Economic and social intolerance. Throughout these panels run four separate personal stories. The Babylonian, Medieval and Judean stories, all end tragically: in the first, the Mountain Girl and her lover, the Poet-Rhapsode, agent of the High Priest of Bel, die in the fighting, when Babylon falls at last to the advancing Persian hordes; in the latter, the lovely Huguenot girl, Brown Eyes, is raped and killed by a mercenary, during St. Bartholomew’s massacre. Prosper, with her body in his arms, is shot; he dies by her side. Simultaneously, Christ is crucified on the cross, in the Judean story.
Of the four stories, only the Modern Story, laid in America, has a happy ending: the Boy, falsely convicted of a murder which he did not commit, is saved at the last minute from the hangman’s noose. He is reunited with his wife, the Dear One, amid scenes suggesting, that in the world oftwentieth-century America, there may be at least a possibility or chance that freedom and justice may prevail.
“And so the four stories alternate with one another”, until, at the end, “they seem to flow together in one common flood of humanity”, which rises to a common, vast quadruple climax: the Boy is led to the hangman’s cell; Jesus is crucified; the Huguenots are massacred; Belshazzar is betrayed—Babylon falls; the peoples of the earth throughout the ages are stricken; the world is overrun with catastrophe and doom … In a word, Intolerance triumphs. “… the Inquisition is dead, but its soul goes marching on”. Upon the conclusion of the four stories, there follows an epilogue, in which Griffith prophesies in spectacular imagery a future Armaggedon or war for the world; the bombing of New York City in an unnamed conflict of the future; weird modern instruments of war; the ultimate downfall of all worldly tyrannies; the elimination of prisons and other places of incarceration; the ultimate liberation of all men and all nations from every form of bondage; the advent of universal peace through universal love: and, at the climax of climaxes, an apocalyptic vision. This final imagery follows the subtitle: “And perfect love shall bring peace forevermore”.
An Independent Film
Intolerance, like The Birth of a Nation, was produced and exhibited in entire independence of the Hollywood film industry. Although made in Hollywood, it was not of Hollywood. It bore no relation to the character, level, quality or purpose of the typical output of the American film industry of the period—or, for that matter, of any period. On the contrary; beyond the fact of geographic location, Hollywood had nothing whatever to do with its being made not its being shown. financing came from private sources, all of them unrelated to the American film industry, which had by this time fallen into the hands of commercially minded men of the lowest type. Griffith later poured his own huge profits from The Birth of a Nation into the filming of Babylon. Here again, as with the Civil War-Reconstruction film, so with Intolerance, Griffith formed an independent producing-company—the Wark Producing Corporation; later, he formed the Wark Distributing Corporation to release the film. H.E. Aitken at first was president of both corporations, but when Griffith later bought out his backers and became the sole owner of Intolerance, Aitken resigned. Griffith then became not merely the president of each company, but the company itself. The negative and prints of Intolerance have ever since belonged personally to Griffith.
The production of Intolerance really began in 1914, after The Birth of a Nation was made but before it was released, with the filming of The Mother and the Law. The Mother and the Law was originally made as a separate feature film to be released by Mutual (see Griffith Index: Part I), but for reasons which will be cited elsewhere in the Index, it was temporarily shelved. It was not until after the New York premiere of The Birth of a Nation was held, in March, 1915, that production was resumed on Intolerance. Then it was launched on a tremendous scale.
Freed from every possible control or restraining influence by the Hollywood overlords—cultural, economic, political, psychological or social, Griffith, in June, 191 5, two months after his triumphant return from the New York opening launched production simultaneously on each of the three historic stories — Babylon, Jerusalem and Paris.
Although all Hollywood was astonished, and indeed the film colony for months remained agog with excitement and speculation over the unprecedented sets which began to tower in its midst, nevertheless, the nature of the film that Griffith was making, from the first day of “shooting” to the day the picture was first shown, was successfully kept a secret. As Terry Ramsaye later described it, “About it all was a hush of mystery. No one knew what Griffith was doing, but everyone learned that he was doing a lot of it”. The secret of the success of this secrecy consisted in the fact that there was never a written scenario or shooting script for Intolerance-, there was no “screen treatment”, no paperwork, no writing of any kind, such as might have furnished a clue to the contents or the continuity. When he had first conceived of the idea, Griffith made many notes, but as the time for actual production drew near, he had already mentally changed so much of the contents and treatment, that he began to find the volume of notes confusing, so much so that he destroyed all of them. As a result, Intolerance, the most massive and complex film ever made, was shot from beginning to end without recourse to one single written note. Needless to say, it was Griffith’s method of directing which made possible the perfection of such secrecy : the policy of no-script or of ” shooting off the cuff,” as popular studio vernacular has it, was extended to include the players, too. For although all the scenes were rehearsed, the players knew nothing either of the particular story in which they appeared or of the content and nature of the film as a whole. However, since the majority of screen actors and actresses, then as now, had not the slightest understanding of the film medium, this method offered many advantages, both to Griffith and to the film, and secrecy was merely one, and a typically practical, benefit in kind.
The settings of Griffith’s Intolerance, especially the fabulous sets of the Babylonian story, are celebrated throughout film history. The sets for Babylon, ” Belshazzar’s empire-city,” were erected on a site of 254 acres, near the present junction of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, in Hollywood. The terrain consisted then of a combination of rolling fields and semi-desert or sand wash. Babylonia’s outlying walls were erected one mile distant, north of the main camera-station. The Babylonian sets of Intolerance are probably the greatest ever constructed for a motion picture—the highest, largest, most massive, the vastest in area. In 1916, the topmost towers at the corners of the ancient city formed the seventh tallest structure in the county of Los Angeles, and could be seen, with the great walls, for miles distant across town. Such, indeed, was the extent of Babylon, that Griffith, to film the Judean story, had the buildings, city-walls, and streets of ancient Jerusalem—themselves bigger than any previously known film-sets—built elsewhere, on a site three miles west of the Fine Arts Studios. The cobblestoned alleys and battle-turrets of Paris, 1572 a.d., being similarly crowded out by the Babylonic acreage, were built on the back lot at Inceville, some fifteen miles to the west. The set for Paris accommodated 2,000 “extras,” besides the assistants, camera crews, manual workers, etc. ; the set for Jerusalem accommodated 3,000. But the main Babylonian set—Belshazzar’s Feast—accommodated over 4,000 ” extras,” besides tie army of assistants and workers. ” The new Griffith picture beggars all description,” wrote Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in the London Times,* upon his return from America. Yet for all its titanic dimensions, the really significant feature of Griffith’s Babylon was the fact that it was unplanned : none of the final architecture or lay-out was foreseen. Bitzer is enlightening on this point: ” Imagine,” he writes, ” laying out what were to be the mammoth, stupendous sets for ‘ Intolerance,’ without sketches, plans or blueprints at the beginning … we (Mr. Griffith, ‘ Huck ‘ Wortmann and myself) would have a pow-wow as to how low the sun might be, its approximate arc-position months hence, etc.—and that was the beginning of a set for ‘ Intolerance,’ to which, as it progressed and became a fifty-foot high structure, a hundred or more feet long, Mr. Griffith kept continually adding.
So that eventually these walls and towers soared to a height of well over a hundred and fifty feet, although at the beginning their foundations were intended only for a fifty-foot height. Huck had to continually reinforce their bases for the ever-increasing height, which perturbed Huck a whole lot, and also shot my light-direction plans all to pieces.” Week after week, long after the initial ” shooting ” had begun, annexes and wings to the rambling structures of metropolitan Babylon were added, until finally, from the desert and fields that lay between Los Angeles proper and its then rural suburb, Hollywood, a veritable and splendid city arose. Barracks and tents housed armies of workmen : these numbered seven hundred-odd carpenters, electricians, linemen, sculptors and skilled workers of various categories. Beyond the workers’ quarters, an encampment of bungalows was later added to house several thousand of ” extras,” who lived ” out of town ” or too far across the city to commute ; the players’ camera-call each day was for 7 a.m. The Pacific Electric Railway System of Southern California laid tracks to the main entrance of Babylon (the ” Great Gate of Imgur-Bel “). The tracks served both the Pacific Electric Railway and the Southern Pacific Railroad (one of the great transcontinental railroads of the United States), both of which lines transported food, materials and such livestock as was featured in the film — elephants and horses.
But the ” massive grandeur ” of Griffith’s Babylon reached its apogee in the ” Hall of Belshazzar’s Feast.” This fantastically enormous set, a masterpiece of filmic architecture, truly ” imaged after the splendour of an olden day,” as a subtide expressed it, consisted of an immense outdoor court or square in the heart of Babylon, centred in terraced steps and lion-headed balustrades, and colonnaded on opposite sides with overtowering, over-life-size sculptured elephants, which were poised, forelegs aloft, on columnar bases fifty feet above the set-floor. The hall was designed to accommodate, without crowding, five thousand persons at a time. The surrounding city-walls were jammed with hundreds of ” extras “—” Babylonian spectators,” who appear in the film, gazing down at the festivities and orgy, which occur more than a hundred feet below.
This is the most celebrated set of film-history, and derives its name from the action which unfolds upon it when first shown on the screen—Belshazzar’s Feast. ” His sets, particularly those for the Babylonian scenes, are breath-taking,” wrote Frank Nugent in the New York Times,™ during the March, 1936, revival of Intolerance, and added : ” . . . completely out-De Milling De Mille even in his most lavish mood.”
The longevity of the Babylonian sets of Intolerance, like their magnitude, is unequalled in the cinema. The principal buildings and walls were constructed of wood, “staff,” and adobe. Solidity was essential, for the walls encircling the city were made ” broad enough for chariots to pass three abreast.” Furthermore, the topmost towers at the city-corners rose to a height of more than 200 feet above the set-floor ; they were erected, ” massive as the pillars of Karnak,” on bases of stone. In consequence of the exceptional durability and quality of these building materials, the Babylonian sets remained standing long after Intolerance was released. The sets of Jerusalem were demolished ; so, too, was the city of Paris, two years later, including the magnificent and richly detailed reproduction of the court of Catherine de Medici ; but most of Babylon—specifically, the great Hall of Belshazzar’s Feast, the encircling city walls and the gigantic statue of Ishtar, ” goddess of Love sacred of the Babylonians ” (subtitle)—was left standing. Years afterwards, the Pacific Electric Railway and the Los Angeles City bus lines scheduled the Babylonian sets as a sightseeing spot for tourists. Then, in 1920, certain parts of Babylon were at last removed. However, the greater part still was left standing, and in 1923 Paramount leased the south and east walls and their adjacent sections for reconversion into Egyptian backgrounds for use in Biblical films. ” Fan ” magazines and trade journals referred in later years to the reconversion of Griffith’s Babylon into Biblical or Egyptian sets for the Biblical prologue to Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, and again for Raoul Walsh’s The Wanderer, a Biblical film (Paramount : 1925), but these passing assertions of reference or reminiscence have never been verified.
Gigantic fragments of Griffith’s Babylon still were standing as late as 1930 or ’31. Today, although the last of the city-walls has been torn down to make way for apartment houses and a post-office, there may yet be found on the back lots of Monogram and the old Disney studios, which now occupy the site of Location No. 4—” Northeastern Babylon,” the surviving remnants of those elephantine and leonine backgrounds or ” props,” with which Griffith and his artisans of old re-created ” Babylon, that great and mighty city . . . (the) glittering jewel of antiquity”. (Subtitle).
Architecture is not the only feature in which Intolerance is rated as the screen’s supreme spectacle. In regard to mass-scenes, this film, except for newsreels, stands unequalled in the cinema. Its nearest rivals are The Birth of a Nation, Ten Days that Shook the World, Potemkin, The Thief of Bagdad and Monna Vanna, but none of these really touches it. As has already been mentioned, the main Babylonian set—Belshazzar’s Hall of Feasting—embraced and featured 4,000 players at a time in one single shot. However, this was by no means the total number of ” extras ” that appeared in the Babylonian story, least of all in the film as a whole.
Eight thousand other ” extras ” were employed to represent Cyrus’s armies, while in the famous mass-shot of the Persians’ final and successful advance on Babylon (end of the Babylonian story : reel 12)—the climatic shot of a vast, undifferentiated mass, a horde solid and unbroken as far as the eye can see—16,000 ” extras ” appear at one time on the screen. This is commonly conceded to be the largest mob-scene and the greatest single mass-shot ever staged for any film. Uncounted thousands of ” extras ” were employed for the night battlescenes. The moving siege-towers of the Persians each held from fifty to one hundred combat-troops and sling-throwers ; and the attacking troops hurled against the Great Gate of Imgur-Bel and the adjacent walls numbered 5,000. On the walls themselves, thousands of others are shown, as they meet the oncoming human and mechanical tide of Persia’s might, and throw it back. Besides these, 3,500 ” extras ” appear in the Judean story ; 2,500 in the Medieval Story, and 1,000 ” extras ” in the combined courtroom and strike scenes of the Modern Story (The Mother and the Law). The total number of ” extra ” players that appeared in Intolerance at varying times in its almost two years of production has been set both by Griffith and Bitzer as about 60,000. Ofthese, the largest number to appear at one time in a single image on the screen is the 16,000 ” Persians ” in the mass-shot above described.
The total cost of the production of Intolerance, including that of the earlier production of The Mother and the Law, was $1,750,000. An additional $250,000 was spent on exploitation and publicity, making the total cost of the film $2,000,000.
Intolerance was not merely the most expensive film made up to 1916, but it remained for thirteen years (until HelVs Angels) the high watermark in production outlay for a motion picture. Ramsaye relates that ” Griffith’s payrolls for actors and extras ‘ in Intolerance for long periods ran as high as $12,000 a day.” But Griffith himself recounts that, in the Babylonian mass-scenes, the daily payroll often exceeded $20,000.
” Extras ” were paid $2 a day for eight hours, plus a 6c-cent free lunch. This remuneration was higher than that obtaining in the Hollywood film industry—indeed, it forced the regular film producing companies to raise the daily wage-rate for ” extras,” and it was regarded by the ” extras ” themselves in that vanished era of low living costs and non-union labour as fair compensation.
Some $550,000 were spent on Belshazzar’s Feast and on related scenes of the Babylonian story. Of this sum, $250,000 went into the set alone. The Princess Beloved’s feast costume cost $8,oco. The elegant reproduction of the court of Charles IX cost $100,000, while the rest of the Medieval Story cost an additional $150,000. The Judean story cost upwards of $300,000.
The rest of the costs of Intolerance went into The Mother and the Law (cost unknown, but probably about $12,000 or about the same as that of Judith of Bethulia) ; and into the architecture and mass-scenes of Babylon—the reproduction of the city, the Persian camp, the Persian attacks, the pagan festivals in the Temple of Love, the orgiastic celebration of the resurrection of Tammuz, and other material separate and apart from the battle-scenes proper Belshazzar’s Feast. It is hardly to be wondered that for almost two years the production of Griffith’s vast, mysterious film was referred to in the local papers as ” one of Los Angeles’ leading industries “! Griffith relates that in 1936, twenty years after its original release, Intolerance was budgeted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in an effort to estimate its cost if made under current conditions. The estimate revealed that if the same film were made in that year by that studio, shot-by-shot as it had been made in 1915-1916, but with union labour, ” stars’ ” corresponding salaries, and with the sole addition of sound, the production cost would be either $10,000,000 or $12,000,000. On a relative scale, therefore, Intolerance remains the most expensive film produced in the history of the screen.
Lighting and Exteriors
One of the chief production features of Intolerance was the shooting of all exteriors out-of-doors by sunlight. There were no interior sets ” dressed-up ” as exteriors. The Babylonian exteriors, in particular, were taken without recourse to artificial lighting whatever ; and although there was little, if any, of the so-called ” Rembrandt fighting ” effect, certain scenes, especially those featuring vast crowds and mass-movement, were made without recourse even to sun reflectors. The sun itself was the principal lighting for Intolerance.
Two months were required to edit 300,000 feet of film, which then were finally composed into a finished film of thirteen and three-quarter reels. In old-time, silent film running-time, this ran to three and a half hours. It was possible for Griffith to perform this editorial feat in only two months, because the production method which he used consisted more or less in editing the picture as he went along while shooting. This method has been known ever since to the film industry as ” cutting in the camera.”
On Film Technique
Not all of the directorial or production methods used by Griffith in making Intolerance were new; some few already had been tried quite successfully in filming The Birth of a Nation. But some were new, and those which were not were used far more extensively and more maturely than they had been in the previous film. The outstanding methods and policies of production and direction were as follows:
No script.—As has already been mentioned, the policy of filming the entire picture from beginning to end without a scenario, shooting script or paperwork of any kind, was the key to Griffith’s working method—indeed, more than this, it was basic and essential to his whole approach to the motion picture as a directorial rather than a literary medium: an art of, by and for directors, over and above, and separate and apart from, writers or playwrights. Griffith is in this vital respect far more closely related to the documentary picture makers of the present than he ever has been to stock-in-trade craftsmen or “professionals” who make “moving-pictures” (sic) in the major commercial film studios. Griffith never used a script on any of his films, and in the light of the overwhelming complexity and the dimensions of Intolerance, both as regards scenario and physical magnitude, his no-script policy here attains the zenith of perfection and realization.
Rehearsals.—In accord with the no-script policy, the method of rehearsing players before each scene was taken was used throughout. Usually, the scene was rehearsed as a whole before it was shot; then, the individual and separate scene-shots—medium shots, two-shots, close ups, etc., came to the players as repetitions, thus ensuring perfection of acting-detail or so-called finesse.
Organization and direction of crowds.—All persons from the days of The Birth of a Nation on who have ever witnessed Griffith direct crowds, have noted that Griffith organized and directed his mob-scenes like a veritable field-marshal. Griffith organized the mobs into sections or squads, to each of which he assigned an assistant director. To the latter, in turn, he assigned a corps of sub-assistants. All the assistants were in costume; they participated in the action as players, and simultaneously directed the surrounding groups of “extras”, to whom they had been assigned. At the beginning of each new major scene or bloc of “takes” Griffith conferred with the first-assistants, explained his directions and then despatched them into the field to relay the orders to the corps of sub-assistants. This method was augmented in the larger scenes by the use of improvised loud speakers or megaphones, which operated as sort of a primitive radio field-telephone or broadcasting system. Griffith’s method of the organization and distribution of mobs, with its distribution of assistant directors, field-telephones, loud speakers and auxiliary aids to mass-organisation, is the most efficient and extensive system of its kind used in any film production of which we have record. It served as a model to other directors in filming mass-scenes of magnitude in later films.
Sun-shooting.—As has already been mentioned, one of the chief creative policies in filming Intolerance was to shoot all exteriors outdoors by sunlight. There were no studio “fakes” or interior sets “dressed-up” as exteriors. In particular, the Babylonian exteriors were virtually all taken without recourse to any artificial lighting whatever; and in certain scenes, especially those featuring vast crowds and mass-movement, even the use of sun-reflectors was limited and, in a few instances, dispensed with. The sun was the principal source of lighting throughout the picture. Even the beam falling on the cradle, in the metaphorical transition-image of the Cradle, was the sun!—from a hole in the roof of a darkened set (Bitzer) ! It was this omnipresent and unrestricted use of the sun as the principal source of lighting for Intolerance that inspired Griffith to give the film its thematic sub-title, “A Sun Play of the Ages”.
Balloons.—To film the Feast of Belshazzar in its entirety from a central point directly above, Griffith took his camera and crew up in an observation balloon, which sky-moored over the vast set. Photoplay, October, 1916, reproduces a production-still of Griffith in the basket of the balloon, bawling orders through a great megaphone to the mobs in the court below. Balloons had no doubt been used previously in filming news-reels, but this is the first time of which we have record that a balloon was used as a camera-station in fiJming a regular (feature) film, or special production.