Romola – Wid’s Weekly 1924

Wid’s Weekly – The Film Authority – Published in Hollywood

Thursday, December 25, 1924

This is Beautiful But Blaa as Drama. Watch Your Step


Inspiration—Metro-Goldwyn Length 14 Reels

Lillian Gish and William Powell – Romola (Wedding Scene) detail
  • DIRECTOR.Henry King
  • AUTHOR.George Eliot’s story, adapted by Will Ritchey.
  • CAMERAMEN.Roy Overbaugh, William Schurr and Ferdinand Risi.
  • GET ’EM IN.I can’t see this for big box office values, except where you make rash promises, which I would advise you not to do.
  • PLEASE ’EM.The atmospheric background is beautiful, but this misses entirely as entertainment. There are a few good moments, but on the whole it doesn’t stir you.
  • WHOOZINIT.Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, William Powell, Ronald Colman, and a lot of Italian players.
  • STORY VALUES…. There were good situations here, but they tried to tell too much story, and as told, none of it carried a wallop.
  • TREATMENT.I believe the evident struggle of photographing abroad, under baffling conditions, hampered the director and players in getting across what they were striving to register.
  • CHARACTERIZATIONS.William Powell dominated. Lillian Gish, as the sweet, sad-faced child, and Dorothy Gish, as the slapstick roughneck, did their well-known stuff, but instead of impressing as characterisations, it was rather an effect of the Gish girls running around in a lot of foreign atmosphere.
  • ARTISTIC VALUES.Certainly this is impressive as an artistic achievement, figured from the composition and photographic viewpoint.

When they have to tell you how to pronounce a title, I believe that the title is a flop. Before I saw this film I was ready to say that it was going to be a tough job to get the customers past the box office, because of the exploitation angles available. I knew that if the picture was big enough it could pull, in spite of these handicaps. Unfortunately, the picture is not big enough.

Henry King is a darn good director, but Henry here was undoubtedly licked before he started by conditions necessary to be faced in eleven months of knocking around Italy, grinding atmosphere.

Lillian Gish and director Henry King – Romola candid on set

I never read this book. I am willing to display my ignorance. I am willing to go on record with the statement that about 90 per cent of the prospective ticket purchasers will not only never have read this book, but will not be impressed with the fact that it was written by George Eliot. At least I knew about George, and when I discovered that it was her book, then I was interested.

There were some excellent situations in this yarn. Unfortunately, as visualized, these situations do not register. I attribute that principally to conditions under which the film was shot, and afterwards, conditions under which it was edited, since friction existed, during that period, between the director and the company for whom it was made. I still feel that possibly some of the failure to make this story register was due to the fact that they did not build a continuity which would high spot certain big moments and bridge over the routine mechanics.

Romola – Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish

This thing, as it is, just drifts and drifts and drifts. It runs too much in the same tempo. Too much attention is paid to the doings of people who really mean nothing to the audience. Savonarola and his career might be of interest if this had been figured as a study of Italian history, but where we were supposed to be following the adventures of a quartette of young people, the priest’s trials and tribulations failed to get a rise, although they took up an awful lot of footage.

There was a great situation where the young willun’s foster-father loomed up at-the banquet, but they let it flop. As Frank Tinney always said, they put it over but it laid there.

William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola

I have liked the work of Lillian Gish, and I have liked the work of Dorothy Gish in many things. I couldn’t become the least enthused about either of them in this. A lotta Dorothy’s stuff was too broad, and too evidently a request for a laugh, to fit in smoothly. Lillian seemed to be taking herself too seriously. Throughout the picture I got the reaction that you were expected to consider that Lillian was giving a great characterization, just because she was Lillian Gish. Each of the girls pulled, upon occasion, their whirl gig run and dash stuff, which has caused some people to dub them the “Windmill Sisters.”

Lillian Gish – Romola

They opened this up with a sequence showing a pirate attack upon a merchant vessel. Once more we had the galley slave action on the screen. This sequence was rather well done photographically, but really did not give you a thrill. There were a good many mob sequences in the picture, but none of them meant much. It was an odd thing as a reaction, but on the first night’s showing in the Egyptian Theatre here the only spontaneous applause, excepting the introduction of the players at the first, came when on the screen appeared the leaning tower of Pisa, looming up at the back. To be sure that no one missed this tower, they put in a terribly crude title explaining its presence. Many other titles were decidedly crude, although at the end they didn’t even attempt to explain how hero Colman, in a rather mysterious manner, managed to get out of jail, where he had been languishing through considerable footage.

Egyptian Theater -1922

On the whole, I got rather the impression from ‘this of watching a lotta college students seriously doing Shakespeare before the marvelous buildings of their university. Everyone seemed so thoroughly to feel the weight of the undertaking.

My hunch about this would be that if you think it wise to occasionally hand your gang something about which in your exploitation you can high-hat them a little bit, then this will serve your purpose. You will have to do some plugging to get them in, but that may be accomplished. I have a feeling that while they will not particularly like it, they will be afraid to attempt to argue about it or pan it.

Lillian Gish, Sid Grauman and Dorothy Gish at The Egyptian

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“The Greatest Thing In Life” – Wid’s Daily (1919)

  • Wid’s Daily – Thursday, January 2, 1919
  • The Recognized Authority

Griffith Puts Over Winner in His Latest Film. It’s Human

D. W. Griffith Presents

“The Greatest Thing In Life.” – Artcraft

Producer/Director D.W. Griffith, AUTHOR Captain Victor Marrier, CAMERAMAN G W Bitzer, SCENARIO BY Captain Victor Marrier

  • AS A WHOLE.. . . ..Splendid production with strong human interest element; war scenes presented in masterly fashion.
  • STORY Has a real theme apart from war, developed with keen comprehension of feminine nature in search of “the greatest thing in life.”
  • DIRECTION Reveals the flawless technique expected of Griffith: always avoids the superfluous and makes much of seeming trifles that spell reality.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Always superior
  • LIGHTINGS Excellent in getting beautiful modulations of light and shadow; never permit monotony.
  • CAMERA WORK Notable for the introduction of a new and artistic close-up suggestive of an impressionistic photograph. Effects gained by what may be termed “a soft focus”
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish vivacious and charming ; Bobby Harron registers fine characterization; David Butler and others add to story.
  • EXTERIORS Delightful to look at; largely because of excellent photography.
  • INTERIORS Richly furnished when situations demand it; always look like real thing.
  • DETAIL Includes significant incidents; subtitles give natural expression to the mood of the
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Shows Germans as “the enemy”, but doesn’t harp on atrocities.
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION About 6,500 ft.

Griffith remains pre-eminent on account of what he doesn’t do as well as what he does. When a scene has reached the “punch” point he uses the scissors, and the audience isn’t bothered by the loose ends of dramatic action. He doesn’t work with stereotyped characters because they are convenient; he doesn’t show a German officer assaulting a woman because it has become the custom to present brutality in war films; he doesn’t use a sledge hammer to pound home his meaning and he doesn’t hesitate to tackle a delicate situation because there is danger of its not getting over.

Get “The Greatest Thing in Life” and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see the difference between the output of a creative artist and the work of a conscientious craftsman who learns to do well something which others have done before him. There’s a big difference and it is the difference that makes this a distinctly superior production.

Griffith took a story of character good enough to have been developed irrespective of the war angle, yet so devised that it appears to have its natural outcome in the world conflict. Lillian Gish is a French girl, vivacious to the point of seeming triviality. Living with her father, who runs a shop in New York, she seeks, under a cloak of laughter, the perfect man, the ideal love, the “greatest thing in life.”

The Greatest Thing in Life (Lillian Gish and David Butler)

Bobby Harron is the incarnation of snobbery. He detests commonness in all forms, but incongruous as he feels it is, he is fascinated by the merry Lillian, who might love him if only he were more human. David Butler, a great stupid French boy, is all human, he is everything that Bobby is not, but he has no poetry in his soul. Lillian tests him with merry talk about Rostand’s “Chantecler” and the Golden Bird. But to the French youth, a chicken is only a chicken and can never be anything else.

France calls them all—father, daughter and the dissimilar suitors—the France of shell-torn villages. Characters are tested in the crucible. The French materialist dies a valiant soldier, still declaring that a chicken is only a chicken; the snob, reborn a human being in the trenches, heads the American soldiers into the French village, occupied by the Germans to save the girl and her wounded parent. This sketchy outline of the plot may suggest nothing new. It is the wealth of incident and characterization that make it throb with feeling. At first there is contagious animation in following the flirtatious Lillian through her days at the little shop. The performance of Miss Gish is a delight, while Harron supplies a striking portrayal of the snob.

There is humor here, and humor mingled with pathos when the scene moves to France. The war phases of the production, having suspense and thrills galore, are finely harmonized with the personal elements of the story. Be it noted to Griffith’s credit that he defies precedent by not showing any assaults on defenseless women.

A high spot in the picture, one that gets over superbly despite its dangerous character, brings out the transformation of the snob, when, lying in a dugout with a dying negro soldier, he listens to the pathetic appeal of the hysterical man for one kiss from his mammy. Bobby brings happiness to the negro in his last moments by impersonating the mammy and kissing him.

Lillian Gish – The Greatest Thing in Life

Be Sure to Let Folks Know What You Have. They’ll Come to See it

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor.

Some pictures are just artistic, some just business-getting, some are both, and I should say most decidedly that this is one of them. I don’t care what kind of a house you are running; this Griffith offering is bound to please your patrons. Don’t worry about whether or not folks are getting their fill of war films. “The Greatest Thing In Life” isn’t really a war picture; it’s a picture with a mighty interesting group of human beings who happen to get mixed up in the war. There’s a distinction here, and it’s the kind of distinction that’s going to make some productions live while others die. The name of Griffith is enough in itself to assure interest, and in addition to that you have the two Griffith celebrities, Lillian Gish and Bobby Harron, to attract the crowd that remembers “The Birth of a Nation” and “Hearts of the World,” not to mention numerous other pictures.

All that you need to do is to advertise in a big way and figure to hold the film long enough to profit by the word-of-mouth boosting which it is sure to receive. If you spend a little money with your newspapers, it ought not to be difficult to get picture layouts along with more than the usual amount of reading notices dealing with the career of Griffith and the stars he has developed. No doubt you will be supplied with plenty of effective lobby material of an artistic nature suitable to the character of the production. By all means get this if you can and don’t worry about the return on your investment.

Paramount and Artcraft Press Books (Dec 1918) Greatest Thing in Life advertising – posters

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“Broken Blossoms” – Wid’s Daily – 1919

Wid’s Daily – Sunday, May 18, 1919

“Broken Blossoms” is Poignant Tragedy Given a Masterly Production

D. W. Griffith Presents “Broken Blossoms”

Griffith Productions

  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Thomas Burke
  • SCENARIO BY D. W. Griffith
  • CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
  • AS A WHOLE Wonderfully poetic expression of heart-gripping tragedy; production has the tone quality of a beautiful painting and the emotional force of a dramatic masterpiece.
  • STORY The spiritual romance of an idealistic Chinaman and a brutally abused white girl, ending in death.
  • DIRECTION Superb
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Many glorious effects marking a distinct advance in the impressionistic method of motion picture photography.
  • LIGHTINGS Every scene is given a tone in keeping with the mood of the action.
  • CAMERA WORK The soft focus introduced in some of Griffith’s recent productions is frequently used here; many of the close-ups are works of art.
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish supplies a marvelously appealing portrayal of the pitiable little girl; Donald Crisp is tremendously forceful as the father and Richard Barthelmess gives a finely conceived impersonation of the Chinaman.
  • EXTERIORS Admirably devised to lend atmosphere to the story.
  • INTERIORS Appear correct even to the smallest item in the furnishings.
  • DETAIL The entire production is a composition of significant details perfectly blended; subtitles are beautifully worded in poetic passages; elaborately decorated borders and backgrounds are dispensed with and the dignity of the picture is increased as a result.
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Poetic tragedy
Broken Blossoms

“BROKEN BLOSSOMS” is a rare accomplishment even for D. W. Griffith. There has been nothing like it in all the annals of the screen—nothing, perhaps, that in the delicate shades of spiritual expression attains such subtle effects; nothing so tremendously, uncompromisingly tragic ; nothing so permeated with poetry and feeling; nothing so frightfully brutal and wonder by turns, as this story of a pure love that is pushed to death—the love of a Chinaman who lives a world of opium tinted dreams and a poor little white girl who never learned to smile.

Griffith has made bigger pictures, certainly he has made many more in accord with the popular taste; but ”Broken Blossoms” is as sadly beautiful as the suggestion of its title. And how much finer it is to give a picture a soul than to dress it up in costly settings.

Behind the story one detects a serious theme—a touch of satire that is well directed at the smug complacency of western civilization, steeped in materialism, yet officiously ready to convert unregenerate Orientals to the gentle practices of Christian nations. In its fundamentals the drama presents a conflict between spirit in its most refined form and matter in its dominant arrogance. The sweet natured, self-effacing Chinaman and the poor little shrinking flower of a girl represent spirit; the prize fighter typifies matter, physically virile, spiritually sterile.

Richard Barthelmess is met as a young Chinaman who is shocked by the combative spirit of American sailors on leave in a Chinese port. Fired with an ambition to spread the doctrine of kindness and charity among western peoples, he sets forth as a missionary of peace.

First time he sees her (Broken Blossoms)

Years later, in the slums of London, he is an ineffectual shopkeeper, dreaming his dreams in hopeless resignation. Like ships that meet in the dark of a spiritual night, Lillian Gish, half starved, and clothed in rags, passes before his window and the Chinaman sees beauty in her sad face and appealing eyes.

Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms 1919

Donald Crisp is Lillian’s father, a prize fighter who drinks, then vents his ugliness with unspeakable fury upon his wan little daughter. One night, after she has been beaten almost into insensibility, Lillian staggers out to the alleyway and finally falls exhausted in the Chinaman’s shop.

Lillian Gish fainted in Cheng Huan’s shop (Broken Blossoms)

He cares for her, he gives her gorgeous garments and a doll that she holds fondly to her breast. His dreary world is transformed into a dream paradise if only he may kneel beside his princess and hold her hand.

Donald Crisp and Lillian Gish – Broken Blossoms 1919

Donald wins the fight for which he has been training. Told of his daughter’s presence in the Chinaman’s home, he leaves the ringside to avenge his honor. For sheer tragic power and heart rending poignancy nothing could well exceed ensuing scenes that show the father dragging Lillian to their house and eventually killing her. The Chinaman follows, shoots the prize fighter and carries the body of the lifeless girl back to his rooms.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)

With infinite tenderness he places silk coverings over his princess and having performed the last rites for the dead, plunges a dagger into his heart.

Miss Gish has given many excellent portrayals, but it is doubtful if she has done anything so superlatively artistic as this interpretation of the abused child. Her expressions are irresistibly touching at all times and there are moments when she reaches emotional heights seldom attained by any actress. Also, it would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of Mr. Crisp and Mr. Barthelmess to the production.

Lillian Gish – Broken Blossoms

Offers a Chance to See If the Public Will Accept a Tragic Ending

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

In a brief curtain speech after the first public showing of “Broken Blossoms” at the Cohan Theater, Mr. Griffith spoke modestly of the picture and referred to vital necessity of a producer pleasing the public, His tone might be taken to indicate that he questions a wide appeal of an uncompromising tragedy, however it may be handled, a conclusion pretty much in acord with prevalent opinion. At all events, the producer had the courage of his convictions in carrying the story to its logical conclusion without resorting to the customary happy ending, the taste of the public will be put to the test, if is not accepted there is little chance for genuine tragedies, because “Broken Blossoms” is a masterpiece of its kind.

As shown under the director’s supervision, it opens with what is termed thematic overture, a sort of symbolical prologue set to music. This, of course, will be beyond the scope of smaller theaters, as will be a complete rendition of the elaborate music score; but even without such helpful auxiliaries there is no reason why the picture cannot be presented with appropriate dignity.

Passing by the more unusual and significant elements of the production and looking for something likely to appeal to a fan crowd that prefers physical to spiritual combats, you may count on the effectiveness of some cleverly handled prize fight scenes. Really, however, the picture should be accepted as a work of art without resorting to the conventional advertising appeals.

Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

“Broken Blossoms” – Wid’s Daily – 1919

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“True Heart Susie” – Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Story is Slight But Characterization Is True in Griffith Picture

  • D. W. Griffith Presents “True Heart Susie” – Artcraft
  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Marion Fremont
  • CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
  • AS A WHOLE Very slight plot forces the picture to depend almost entirely on characterization for interest and appeal.
  • STORY True in its treatment of the marriage theme; the climax bringing the death of the pleasure-loving wife seems forced.
  • DIRECTION Marked by the finely sympathetic touches to be expected in a Griffith production.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Excellent; some of the pastoral scenes are works of art.
  • LIGHTINGS Soft and natural
  • CAMERA WORK Up to Bitzer’s standard which is high, but once in a while there is a tendency to overdo the “soft focus” effect.
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish gives touchingly expressive portrayal of the simple hearted country girl; Robert Harron scores as the minister; others are of secondary importance.
  • EXTERIORS Country locations that could not well be excelled.
  • INTERIORS In keeping with the story
  • DETAIL Always accurate in the costuming of village characters and in giving the situations the appearance of lifelikeness.
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Heart interest drama dealing with rural types; occasional interludes of natural comedy.
True Heart Susie

FUNDAMENTALLY, Marion Fremont’s story of “True Heart Susie” is excellent, because it is true and sincere and pertinent to modern life and character. That a small Indiana town happens to have been chosen as the locale and that the people portrayed are products of their environment does not necessarily localize the theme. In the city or the country the same thing is constantly happening—a man marries the wrong girl, while the right girl waits patiently with tears in her eyes and a breaking heart. The trouble here is that there is not enough plot substance to balance properly a production of this length. At times the picture drags, not through any deficiencies on the part of the players, or any shortcomings in the direction, rather owing to a lack of variety in the action. The thinness of the plot makes necessary the too frequent repetition of scenes that in their meaning and expression of emotion are virtually the same. In more abbreviated form, “True Heart Susie” might easily have become a masterpiece of screen character action. At present it suggests an ideal short story expanded to novel length. it is doubtful if there has been any photoplay giving a deeper and kindlier insight into the heart of a simple country girl, and most assuredly Lillian Gish presents the character of Susie with great appeal. Her philosophy of life is so simple and beautiful. She loves, and to her love means sacrifice and an abiding faith in the ultimate goodness of things.

True Heart Susie

Any of you who have seen Miss Gish in a role of this sort know how perfectly she imparts life and feeling to a screen figure, and then there is Bobby Harron, who with manlike egotism and self centered obtuseness accepts the devotion of the little girl who loves him. Also, with manlike folly, he is fascinated by the first silk-stockinged flirt that rolls her eyes at him. He actually fancies that she will make a satisfactory wife.

Even in their schooldays, when Bobby and Lillian were sweethearts, the girl was ready to help. At the outset there is a delightfully acted scene when the girl passes her classmate in a spelling match and then tries to make amends because Bobby’s pride is hurt. And how happy she is when they carve their initials side by side in the bark of a tree.

True Heart Susie

The boy’s ambition is to go to college, but his father is unable to send him. Keeping the sacrifice a secret and making it appear that the money has come from another source, Lillian accumulates the tuition fee, even at the sacrifice of the family cow. Bobby returns with a cute little mustache and an education. He becomes pastor of the village church and Lillian writes in her diary about their approaching marriage.

Clarine Seymour is the flashily dressed, painted and powdered young milliner who spoils her dream, although Bobby has assured her that men marry the simple kind. As a wife, Clarine is “just a trifle unfaithful” and anything but domestic. After a period of unhappiness, the flighty little fun-loving creature dies from a cold caught on one of her surreptitious escapades and the way is cleared for the union of the childhood sweethearts.

True Heart Susie

The conclusion is permissible from an audience viewpoint, granting the desirability of a happy ending, but artistically it does not ring quite true. The cast includes Loyola O’Connor, Walter Higby, Kate Bruce and Raymond Cannon.

Name of Producer Is Enough to Assure Patronage

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

As already mentioned, “True Heart Susie” is prolonged beyond the needs of the story material and may be criticised on that score, but that does not mean that the picture is seriously jeopardized as a box office success. Its commendable features, in the human treatment of an interesting theme and in the really fine characterization, are compensation enough. Nobody is going to leave your theater without feeling that the time has been well spent. Effective exploitation in a case of this kind is comparatively simple. In many neighborhoods it is not necessary to do much more than announce a new production by D. W. Griffith to assure patronage. This never was truer than at the present time when the fame of the director’s recent masterpiece, “Broken Blossoms” is being heralded throughout the country. Use the name of Griffith in front of your theater and give it big type in all of your printed publicity. Then make as much as you can of the fact that both Lillian Gish and Robert Harron are in the cast. In this instance they are not billed as stars, but each has come to mean more to the public than many players who are boosted as a picture’s chief asset. If you played “A Romance of Happy Valley” you may judge pretty accurately the tone of this production and the style of characterization offered by the leading players.

Catchlines: “Does it pay for a girl to be simple and true? The little country maid in ‘True Heart Susie’ thought so—but—see D. W. Griffith’s appealing story of a plain girl.” Another one: “What wins a husband and what holds him? See how these questions are answered in D. W. Griffith’s ‘True Heart Susie’.”

Paramount and Artcraft Press Books (May 1919) True Heart Susie 2

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“WAY DOWN EAST” – Wid’s Daily – 1920

Wid’s Daily – Wednesday, September 8, 1920

Astounding Climax Caps Griffith’s Latest Screen Sensation

D. W. Griffith’s “WAY DOWN EAST”

  • D. W. Griffith, Inc.
  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Lottie Blair Parker
  • ELABORATED BY Joseph R. Grismer
  • SCENARIO BY Anthony Paul Kelly
  • CAMERAMEN G. W. Bitzer and Hendrik Sartov
  • AS A WHOLE Splendidly treated melodrama rising to greatest climax ever screened.
  • STORY Rich in appeal and treatment accorded it by Griffith raises it far above old level.
  • DIRECTION Wonderful in the dramatic scenes—comedy relief attempted seems to strike false note
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Nothing like it has ever been seen before.
  • LIGHTINGS Superb CAMERA WORK Excellent
  • LEADING PLAYERS Lillian Gish gives greatest performance; Richard Barthelmess and Lowell Sherman splendid.
  • SUPPORT: Unusually good in the main
  • EXTERIORS Beautiful rural scenes; ice flow of climax one of biggest scenes ever filmed.
  • INTERIORS Excellent
  • DETAIL Splendid for the most part
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Tragedy of the double standard of morals.
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION About 12 reels

A climax in which the terrific force of the elements are masterly employed for a sustained effect caps D. W. Griffith’s “Way Down East,” a picture of many sides and of many extremes.

This climax is nothing if not tremendous. It surpasses in suspense and power the gathering of the clans in “The Birth of a Nation,” the triple parallel climax of “Intolerance” and the rescue of the imperiled heroine in “Hearts of the World.”

Lillian Gish on the ice floe – Way Down East

There, practically unconscious is Anna. And off on the river banks beating wildly in the terrific snow storm is David. As he finally approaches the ice-caked river, led there by pieces of Anna’s apparel, the ice starts to crack and to flow. Slowly the piece which holds the helpless form of Anna crumbles “away and starts plunging, hurtling down the river to the falls below. David, frantic with the realization of Anna’s peril, darts and leaps from one treacherous piece of ice to another, slips and is half-submerged, regains his footing and goes on, each frenzied bound bringing him nearer the girl dearer to him than life himself.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)

With this situation, the suspense of which Griffith has emphasized to its fullest extent by the use of quick flashes and taking full advantage of the terrific and relentless power of the ice flow, the spectator of “Way Down East” looks upon the thrill of a lifetime. The audience at the 44th Street Theater on the opening night was quick to catch the tremendous power of it. Hardly had the battle between David and the elements begun when a ripple of applause and hopeful cheers started. And when at last David snatched the girl from the ice just as it was about to carry her over the falls and into the jaws of death and then started his battle back against the current, the entire house was on its feet cheering madly.

Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish – ice floe scenes (Way Down East)

The scene is realism itself, and with its tremendous power it has the added merit of unusualness. Such a background has never before been provided for a thrill. And it is all so effectively staged that the fact that Anna will eventually be saved, a knowledge that is obvious, is completely lost sight of through Griffith’s skill. Here, indeed, is the last word in theatrical effect. In the production of the whole work Griffith has, with but few and generally minor exceptions, shown himself at his best.

“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and the eccentric aunt

The first part of the picture, its first five reels, concerns itself with the tragedy of Anna’s life, the which Griffith points out, is the supreme tragedy of womankind. But even in such scenes of ordinary clay as Anna’s marriage betrayal through the mock marriage, her utter despair when Sanderson reveals to her his baseness, and then the tragic episode in which she herself baptizes her dying child, Griffith has shown himself the master.

This first half of the production is a powerful tragedy, the outstanding points of which are the acting of Lillian Gish as Anna and the effects secured by Griffith and his photographers.

“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish – Bridal Suite

Anna is without doubt Miss Gish’s greatest character. She sounds a marvelously effective note of tragedy throughout her characterization and her scenes of sustained emotion show her and her teacher at their collective best. Then, too, Griffith has emphasized the absolutely hopeless plight of the girl to a degree that is truly penetrating. In- doing this both his knowledge of dramatic values and his acquaintance with the force of atmosphere come to his aid. The desolate appearance of the country hotel which conceals Anna’s tragedy is, for instance, outstanding.

“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish (Anna Moore seduced by Lennox Sanderson – Lowell Sherman)

There is some magnificent color work in the early scenes of the ball at which Anna meets Sanderson. They are few and, despite their excellence, seem out of place, serving rather to jar the spectator out of the illusion rather than to foster it, with their striking contrast with the scenes of plain tints and tones. And Griffith goes too far in his scene suggesting Anna writhing in the pains of child-birth. As far as carrying out his idea goes it serves its purpose with a vengeance, but realism must stop somewhere, and it might as well stop at the bedside.

Way Down East – “I baptize thee Trust Lennox …”

The latter half of the picture adheres closely to the original play. Here there is more variety, more straight melodrama, the effects always accentuated by Griffith’s careful handling except in the comedy relief scenes. These, while perhaps they were in spirit with the stage piece, are hardly fitting in a production of the generally artistic finish accorded the picture.

Shooting a scene from Way Down East

The antics of Hi Holler and Reuben Whipple are well enough, but it is the Martha Perkins, the Seth Holcomb and the Professor Sterling who stand out like sore spots. Griffith certainly should have toned their actions down and not attempted slapstick play with them. If it had taken effect it might have served its intended purpose of comedy relief, but even so the ethics would have been wrong. The real comedy relief of “Way Down East,” the picture, is in the good old barn dance scenes, the Virginia reel and the polka, and in the pretty little character of Kate Brewster so well interpreted by Mary Hay, with but some few errors on her part as regards clothes.

“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess

The romance between Anna and David, the squire’s son. Develops very prettily through this latter portion. Then in turn comes the discovery of Anna’s past and her denunciation of Sanderson. This scene is splendidly played by Miss Gish. She rises to it magnificently. And after this her flight in the storm and her glorious rescue by David.

For their work at the camera G. W. Bitzer and Hendrik Sartov deserve superlative praise. There are splendid lightings, these often concentrated on Miss Gish. But it is in the filming of the rural landscapes that they have surpassed all others in the art of photography. These are beautiful, often as breath-taking as the melodrama.

“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish (rescued) and all cast except Lowell Sherman (Lennox Sanderson)

Richard Barthelmess is the David of the story and he gives a fine and skilled performance. Lowell Sherman is excellent as the villain, Sanderson. Burr Mcintosh has his original role of the squire, and Kate Bruce appears as his wife. They are both splendid. Creighton Hale might have done more had the character of Professor Sterling contained more scenes like the barn dance bit. Others are Mrs. Morgan Belmont, Mrs. David Landau, Josephine Bernard, Patricia Fruen, Florence Short, Vivia Ogden, Porter Strong. George Neville, Edgar Nelson and Emily Fitzroy.

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

The Biggest Box Office Attraction of the Times

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

Probably motion picture exhibitors won’t have a chance to book “Way Down East” for at least a year, as it will be played as a regular road show during that time. But remember this: when you finally have the opportunity to book it—that it is one of the biggest things ever seen on the screen. It looks as if it would run “The Birth of a Nation” a close race for box office honors and when, some many years hence, all is said and done and counted, it won’t be at all surprising if it surpasses it. The biggest thing about “Way Down East” is that it is lasting. This has been proven by the famous old play, and this play never reached the public finished off as artistically and as powerfully as Griffith’s picture. It’s an entertainment that people have gone to see again and again. And they will continue to do so. Even beneath the surface of the purely melodramatic play rested elements that brought the crowds back whenever it was presented.

And these elements Griffith has brought out more forcefully and with greater respect. These combined with that thrill of thrills with which he concludes his entertainment are what will make the picture live as long or even longer than its noted predecessor. In other words, it is the entertainment that is the predominant thing about “Way Down East.” And with all this it has its years of running on the stage behind it, the name of Griffith, the names of the principal players, the artistry with which it is generally presented. Certainly it is the biggest box office attraction of the times.

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

Near the 200th Mark – When D. W. Griffith’s “Way Down East” reaches its 200th performance at the 44th St. Theater this week the event will be celebrated by various members of the cast appearing in person at different performances.

This evening Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess will be the guests of honor. Mr. Griffith also will be present and will speak tonight. On Tuesday evening the guests will include Vivia Ogden (“Martha Perkins”),’ Kate Bruce (“Mrs. Bartlett”) and Burr Mcintosh (” ‘Squire Bartlett”). Mr. Mcintosh will speak to the audience.

All present contracts for the occupation of the 44th St. Theater have been cancelled in order to allow the Griffith picture to remain there indefinitely.

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The Cinematic Century – By Harry Haun (2000)

  • The Cinematic Century
  • By Harry Haun
  • Copyright ® 2000 Applause Books

An Intimate Diary of America’s Affair with the Movies

1920: Filmed amid much wintry hardship at White River Junction, VT, Way Down East premieres on this day at New York’s 44th Street Theater—and the dark clouds that plagued the production have not lifted: Bobby Harron, 26, the Biograph office-boy who became D.W. Griffith’s top juvenile actor but somehow got left out of this film (supplanted, pointedly, by Richard Barthelmess)—shot himself to death the night before the big launch. Then, there was the mysterious location death of Clarine Seymour, 21, who was playing Barthelmess’ intended and had to be replaced by Mary Hay. Death was, however, breathlessly averted once—and the cameras caught it, the genuine heroics of Barthelmess, snatching Lillian Gish to safety just as the ice floe they were riding on went over a waterfall. Gish did not escape entirely unharmed, though. The hand she dangled so long in the icy river suffered permanent damage.

Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur-1925 – chariot-race

1925: At MGM’s “Circus Maximus” in Culver City, 48 horses and a dozen chariots driven by Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman and 10 stuntmen begin the chariot race in Ben-Hur. Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Lillian Gish and the Barrymore brothers bopped by for the long-delayed event, lorded over by Fred Niblo and his 60 assistant directors. One toga-clad A.D. would command Ben-Hur’s next day at the races 33 years later: William Wyler. On his first day in the stadium built at Rome’s Cinecitta, Wyler addressed the 6,000 extras in the stands and, indicating the dozens of A.D.s on the track, “Which one of these guys is going to direct the next Ben-Hur?” Of course, the crowd roared.

1986: The Wails of August (as Vincent Price tagged it] starts subsiding on this day as The Whales of August finishes filming. Not a happy shoot, this—due to Bette Davis’ chronic crankiness over the TLC accorded co-star Lillian Gish. When director Lindsay Anderson complimented Gish on “a lovely closeup,” Davis was heard crabbing, “She ought to know about closeups. Jesus, she was around when they invented them!” Indeed, Gish was. For this swan song performance, The Guinness Book of Movie Facts & Feats calls Gish “the oldest actress to have played a major role in a movie.” The movie bowed in New York on Gish’s 93rd birthday, which could explain Davis’ absence. Davis skipped the L.A. launch because she learned the gala sponsors, Women in Film, were giving her its newly established Lillian Gish award.

Lillian Gish in “The Whales of August” (1987)

1993: Lillian Gish dies at 99—”the same age as film,” her manager, James E. Frasher, noted: “They both came into the world in 1893.” Gish began acting on stage, at 5, as “Baby Lillian” with her sister, Dorothy; they film-debuted together as extras in D.W. Griffith’s 1912 An Unseen Enemy and eventually became his Orphans of the Storm—but Lillian toiled too for modern directors like Robert Altman (1978’s A Wedding) and Lindsay Anderson (1987’s The Whales of August). When a reporter reminded her in her dotage that her 75-year career got her Guinness’ title as “most enduring actress of the large screen,” she paused a thoughtful beat, then said, “I made a movie with him once”—and the interview careened to West Africa, Sir Alec and The Comedians.

Vincent Price and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

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Ann Sothern, A Bio-Bibliography 1990 – Margie Schultz

Ann Sothern, A Bio-Bibliography 1990

Margie Schultz

Ann Sothern often was quoted as saying she had played every venue in show business except fairs. This book is proof that her statement was not far from wrong. For over 60 years, she has demonstrated her talent on the stage, in film, radio and television, and as a recording artist. She has managed to combine her successful acting career with other business ventures, which include cattle breeding, a sewing center, music publishing, and two production companies. She is a fine composer and artist. Additionally, she produced a beautiful and talented daughter, Tisha Sterling, who has followed her into the acting profession. Despite serious illness and a debilitating back accident, Miss Sothern has continued to act, receiving her first Academy Award nomination in 1988 for her seventieth film.

Director Lindsay Anderson saw Ann in the remake of A Letter to Three Wives in 1985 and thought of her for his theatrical film, The Whales of August. Producer Mike Kaplan was hesitant to offer her the part because of her immobility, but he said he and Anderson “devised various ways of shooting the sequences so that it would be of no great concern.” Kaplan recalled, “She said, ‘I can do anything except run’ – and she can!” Ann thought it was fate that she take the part since the character’s name was Tisha. Shot off the coast of Maine in 1986, The Whales of August brought together screen legends Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Vincent Price. Tisha Sterling played her mother’s character in a flashback sequence. Despite a clash of egos between Gish and Davis, Ann refused to get caught in the middle. Lindsay Anderson credited Ann with lessening the tension. He told People Weekly , “When Ann appeared on the set, the whole atmosphere lightened up. She brought her own poker chips and played cards with the crew”. Mike Kaplan recalled that Ann and Anderson, a film buff who had been charmed by Ann’s performances in Lady Be Good and Words and Music , would often sing together on the set.

Ann’s work in The Whales of August earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1988. Although she lost to Olympia Dukakis, Ann received some of the best reviews of her career. Even critics who did not like the film praised Ann’s characterization of the nosey neighbor. On March 4, 1988, Ann was honored at the Santa Barbara Film Festival with a retrospective of her career. The tribute included a showing of the original A Letter to Three Wives , as well as clips from her film and TV work. In attendance were Mike Kaplan, Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell, Leonard Maltin, and designer Jean-Louis, as well as Ann’s granddaughter, Heidi, and her sister, Marion. Despite the acclaim brought by The Whales of August and her Oscar nomination, Ann has been plagued by personal tragedy. She told People Weekly that 1987 was the worst year of her life. In May, Ann underwent abdominal surgery for a blocked intestine. On August 11, her granddaughter’s husband, Mark Bates, motorcycle accident. Heidi and Mark April, 1986. Ann gave the eulogy at the Hollywood Reporter . “You have to positive out of a terrible thing like this. At least through his death, three other lives will be saved. They were able to donate Mark’s kidneys and liver to the UCLA Medical Center to help someone else”. Heidi’s father, Lai Baum, died of cancer just 21 days before. Ann has lost many friends in recent years, including Ray Mil land and Richard Egan. According to Colin Briggs, the 1988 death of her sister, Marion, was a terrible shock. Since October, 1984, Ann has lived in Ketchum, Idaho. She first went to Sun Valley in 1948, and fell in love with the area and its people. Through the years, she spent her vacations in Idaho and her working months in a series of homes which included a 17-room Bel Air mansion, a suite at New York’s Hotel Plaza, and a Beverly Hills townhouse. Ann told the Idaho Mountain Express that she returned to Ketchum because the area had not changed in almost 40 years. Tisha also settled nearby. Ann quickly became a part of the community, paying for the decoration of a room at Moritz Hospital, and donating books and her script from The Whales of August to the Ketchum Community Library. She told the Idaho Statesman that she wanted to help create a theatre in Ketchum. She also planned to teach seminars on dramatics at a nearby college, as she had at Jacksonville University in 1974.

  • Boyar, Jay. “Turgid Whales Flounders in Sap.”
  • Orlando Sen tinel . March 23, 1988.

Review of The Whales of August . Boyar observed, “With legends as large as [Bette] Davis and [Lillian] Gish overshadowing everything else, it’s interesting that only Ann Sothern, in the supporting role of a busybody neighbor named Tisha Doughty, received an Oscar nomination for The Whales of August. Sothern, 79, plays the liveliest character in the movie with great humor and presence.”

  • “Gotham Gala Pays Gish Tribute, Raises Coin for March of Dimes.” Variety . October 21, 1987.

Discussion of black-tie benefit for the March of Dimes which honored Lillian Gish on October 14, 1987. The benefit included the New York premeiere of The Whales of August and a gala attended by Helen Hayes, Ann Sothern, Vincent Price, and other celebrities.

  • “Placating the Stars of Whale:
  • York Times . October 22, 1987.

New Chronicle of the filming of The Wha l es of Auqust on location in Maine in September, 1986. Problemsencountered by producer Mike Kaplan included finding three houses with bathrooms on the ground floor for Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Ann Sothern, and carrying the stars on a daily 40-minute ferryboat ride to the film location. Ann Sothern recalled Bette Davis telephoning her with compliments about Ann’s performance after viewing the daily rushes.

  • “Broadway Ballyhoo.” Hollywood Reporter . October 19, 1987.

Report on the New York premiere of The Whales of August , a benefit for the March of Dimes. A birthday party for Lillian Gish was given at the Plaza Hotel following the premiere. Harris said Ann Sothern told her she appreciated the welcome from autograph fans, but was anxious to return to her home in Idaho after the celebration.

Ann Sothern : a bio-bibliography

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Alternate Oscars – By Danny Peary – 1993

Alternate Oscars – 1993

One Critic’s Defiant Choices for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress—From 1927 to the Present

  • A Delta Book Published by Dell Publishing a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was conceived in early 1927 by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, the most powerful figure in Hollywood. He intended it to be both an elitist, self-honoring club, with members chosen by Mayer himself, and a union-busting labor organization that would ostensibly unite actors, directors, and writers with producers before those three groups formed their own guilds. (This ploy worked only temporarily.) There were thirty-six founding members, including Mayer, his two lawyers, actor Conrad Nagel, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and director Frank Lloyd. The decision to hold an annual awards ceremony to honor films and individuals was not made until a banquet was held on May 11, 1927, during which more than three hundred of the Hollywood aristocrats paid a hundred dollars to become pioneer members of the Academy. It took another year before a voting system was in place. All members—actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers—would cast nominating votes in their particular branches. A five-person board of judges, representing each branch, yet controlled by Mayer, would tabulate the votes to determine the nominees and then choose the winners themselves.

The Wind – Poster Lillian and Lars

MGM’s The Wind – No hype received

Ironically, the best picture of the year, and a film whose greatness has not diminished, was also made at MGM. However, The Wind didn’t receive any of the hype given Broadway Melody, and America’s last silent masterpiece (Chaplin’s films had soundtracks) was completely ignored when pictures were nominated. Looking for a starring vehicle to fulfill her MGM contract, Lillian Gish wrote a four-page treatment of Dorothy Scarborough’s book The Wind, and got the go-ahead from (Irving) Thalberg to produce the film herself. She hired scriptwriter Frances Marion (who later admitted it was the last screenplay she put her heart into), Swedish director Victor Seastrom (Sjostrom in his native country), and Lars Hanson, Sweden’s most popular stage actor, to be her male lead. The four had just worked together on the impressive The Scarlet Letter.


The Wind, which was shot in 120-degree temperatures in California’s Mojave Desert, is the  story of an unmarried, gently bred young woman from Virginia who comes to live on a ranch with her male cousin and his family in the harsh, windswept Texas dustbowl. When her cousin’s jealous wife forces her out, and the “gentleman” (Montagu Love) who has courted her turns out to be married, the penniless woman agrees to marry – a kindly neighbor, Hanson. But she is unable to give him or the hostile land a chance. She feels completely isolated and the constant, howling winds drive her toward madness. While her husband is away rounding up wild horses, hoping to make enough money to send her back to Virginia, Love rapes her. She kills him and buries him in the sand. As originally filmed, the crazed woman then walks off into the wilderness to die. But when exhibitors refused for several months to show such a depressing picture, MGM had no choice but to reshoot the ending: This time Gish declares her love for Hanson, and tells him she will stay with him because she is no longer afraid of the winds.

Lillian Gish and Edward Earle

The Wind is an ahead-of-its-time feminist drama about a woman without money or opportunities who tries to survive in a man’s world. The only chance Gish has for an “easy life” is to become the mistress of Love, but she refuses to demean herself. Most interesting is how Marion deals with the relationships Gish has with the film’s other female, her cousin’s wife, and with Hanson. We dislike the cousin’s wife because of her cold treatment of Gish and for imagining her a rival for his affections. However, though she is a bitter woman she is no villain. She dearly loves her husband and without him, in this harsh world, she has no life, no options, so she holds on to him desperately. But as much as she wants Gish out of her life, she won’t abandon her to the lecher Love. Hanson is another interesting character. He falls in love with Gish but doesn’t want to dominate her (he won’t force himself on her). Instead, he wants equality, whereby he and Gish would work together and love each other. He realizes, and Gish comes to understand at the end, only together can they tame the winds.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) and Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower)

The Wind is beautifully acted by Gish and the talented, handsome Hanson. His most touching scene occurs when his new wife is disgusted by his attempt to embrace her and he assures her she need not fear his trying again. The picture is also exquisitely photographed (by John Arnold), with much emphasis on motion. Outside, the wind constantly blows (eight airplane propellers were used) as trains, wagons, and men on horseback force their way across the terrain. Seastrom creates a tremendous sense of claustrophobia with repeated shots of the sand swirling toward windows and penetrating everything within Hanson’s cabin, including Gish’s clothes and long hair. When the door opens, sand rushes inside, making it impossible for Gish to keep the cabin tidy (Hanson doesn’t expect her to), and making her feel further trapped. The increasing disorder in the house represents Gish’s deteriorating mind.

The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason)

The eerie scene in which her mind wanders with distorted, mad, hallucinatory images caused by the mobile camera that follows her through the dark, shadowy cabin, and a fantasized image of a white horse charging through the skies outside, reminds one of Seastrom’s Swedish horror classic, The Phantom Carriage. The reshot finale may seem a little hokey (she recovers awfully quickly from her mad spell once Hanson enters the cabin), but Seastrom’s last shot is a gem: The couple stands in the open doorway of their home, arms wrapped around each other, looking out into the wilderness without fear. Not only have the winds been conquered by love, but the wild (nature) and the domestic (the house), and this woman and this man, are as one.

Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, publicity photo for The Wind (Letty Mason and Lige Hightower)
Director Victor Sjostrom (left), cameraman John Arnold and Lillian – behind the scenes – “The Wind”
Alternate Oscars : one critic’s defiant choices for best picture – cover

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