A Lady With Class – By Liz Smith (Chicago Tribune – 1969)

Chicago Tribune – May 18 1969

A Lady With Class

By Liz Smith

Lillian Gish: The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me. By Lillian Gish with Ann Pinchot. Illustrated. Prentice-Hall. 388pp.

The Movies Mr.Griffith and Me
The Movies Mr.Griffith and Me

A lady With Class - Chicago Tribune 1

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

A lady With Class - Chicago Tribune 2

The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me – Photo Gallery

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Love, Lava and Lillian (The White Sister) by Josie P. Lederer – Picturegoer June 1924

Pictures and Picturegoer June 1924

Love, Lava and Lillian

By Josie P. Lederer

You’ll find all three in “The White Sister.”

Lillian Gish changed her director and her company and went away from America to make The White Sister, but her screen sufferings remain unabated still. Her trials and tribulations as the heroine of this movie are absolutely heartrending.

The White Sister
The White Sister

After a brief half-reel of happiness, as the petted daughter of an Italian aristocrat, her father is killed whilst hunting and the poor little soul’s sorrows begin. And they have no ending, though she finds something like peace for a while in a beautiful white hospital in a little town hard by Vesuvius.

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

Quite early in the film ” Angela ” is defrauded of her name and position by her malevolent half-sister, and of her soldier lover by a none too well-staged African expedition. In despair, she becomes a nun, a ” White Sister,” incidentally providing some thoroughly interesting views of the ceremonies attending the taking of her final vows.

The White Sister
The White Sister

After which the hero, who was not dead, but imprisoned in the desert, escapes, and returns home just too late. There is real drama in the unexpected meeting of the unhappy lovers in the hospital to which he has come seeking news of his brother. The message is brought to him by ” Angela ” herself, ignorant, of course of his identity. Then the poor heroine suffers further anguish when she refuses to ask for a Papal dispensation so that she can go to her lover.

The White Sister
The White Sister

At this point the spectator’s feelings are harrowed unto breaking point. and even the lava in Vesuvius rises to protest. Contrary to expectations it does not engulf everybody in its relentless flow, though it and a burst reservoir realistically destroy the village. The soldier hero dies bravely, after helping others to escape; the sinful sister also dies (but confesses first) and the film ends with an impressive open-air mass and a final glimpse of the heroine’s tear-filled eyes contemplating her lover’s bier.

The White Sister
The White Sister

It is an interesting movie, though a bit ” slow ” at times, for it was made entirely in Italy and boasts of some fine photography and scenery. There are views of Naples, and some shots of an Italian garden that is poem, with its terrace and tall cypresses; an imposing chateau, many picturesque streets, and actual pictures in colour of Vesuvius in action.

Love Lava and Lillian - Pictures and the Picturegoer (June 1924)
Love Lava and Lillian – Pictures and the Picturegoer (June 1924)

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In the Cyclone Belt – By Norbert Lusk (Picture Play 1929)

Picture Play February 1929 Volume XXIX Number 6

The Screen in Review

By Norbert Lusk

Lillian Gish, and the troubles of the Metro-Goldwyn sales force in disposing of her last picture. They tried to sell it by leaving out all mention of her name and boosting it as a rip-roaring Western.


In the Cyclone Belt.

Gloomy and even morbid, “The Wind,” Lillian Gish’s final picture for Metro-Goldwyn, is nevertheless a fine and dignified achievement. Its lack of lightness will stand in the way of its success with the many, but the enjoyment of the – few — presuming that serious moviegoers are in the minority — is assured.


It is a study of the dramatic effect of climate on character, better portrayed than in “Sadie Thompson,” as a matter of fact ; but there the comparison ends. Miss Gish’s heroine is no flamboyant creature, but a timid girl from Virginia, who comes to live on her cousin’s ranch in Texas, which she fondly believes to be another Garden of Eden. Instead Letty finds herself in a barren, sand-swept country, where human existence is forever at the mercy of the devouring elements. When life is not imperiled by the violence of the wind, morale is undermined and sanity threatened by the monotony of it. This is portrayed as only the screen can portray an atmospheric condition.

Lillian Gish in The Wind

Letty incurs the jealousy of her cousin’s wife through the fondness of the children for her, and is driven from the ranch. In desperation she accepts marriage with Lige a well-meaning boor, in preference to death in the storm. She cannot disguise the repulsion she feels for the fellow, but he proves his decency by leaving her to earn enough money to send her back to Virginia. In Lige’s absence the villainous intrusion of Roddy causes her to shoot him and hurl the body into the rapidfy shifting sand, where it is quickly buried.

Letty Mason burying Wirt Roddy (Lillian Gish - The Wind)
Letty Mason burying Wirt Roddy (Lillian Gish – The Wind)

With such a tragic beginning, it really doesn’t matter whether the ending is happy or not. so I shall leave you to find out. But whether Letty and Lige are reunited is, after all unimportant in estimating the skill of the director, Victor Seastrom —also responsible for “The Scarlet Letter,” you remember—or the sensitive dynamics of Miss Gish’s acting.

Miss Lillian Gish - still frame (The Wind)
Miss Lillian Gish – still frame (The Wind)

Or, for that matter, the superb performance of Lige by Lars Hanson, who regretably has shaken the dust of Hollywood from his feet and returned to Sweden.

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

Unrelieved by the ghost of a smile, the picture is a somber cross-section of a life that is little known to those who prefer to see conventional heroines in the routine of familiar romances.

But its relentlessness is gripping. Sound effects are justified here, for they are concerned with the wind, which dominates the picture and every character in it. Montagu Love, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cumming, and William Orlamond are fully equal to the distinguished occasion. (Norbert Lusk)


*** The seriousness with which Lillian Gish took her work was undermined at MGM in 1927 when it was suggested that a scandal might improve her performance at the box office. “You are way up there on a pedestal and nobody cares.” said the producers. “If you were knocked off the pedestal, everyone would care.” Lillian Gish realized she would be expected to give a performance off screen as well as on. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just don’t have that much vitality.” Shortly afterward, she returned to her first love, the theater, and the cinema lost her for the better part of a decade. Nothing new under the sun … History (always written by the victors) repeats itself. After Lillian Gish filmed “His Double Life” (1933), she didn’t make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Top Man (1943). The Cobweb (1955) marks the return of Lillian Gish to MGM after a 22-year absence.

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Old Wounds … New Scars – By Alma Talley, 1928

Picture Play – November 1927 – Volume XXVII, Number 3

Picture Play – January 1928 – Volume XXVII, Number 5

Manhattan Medley

Uncensored and informal impressions of the stars

By Alma Talley

Lillian Gish has tried hard to hide in New York and would have succeeded but for her love of the theater and her frequent attendance, with George Jean Nathan, at the openings of the new plays. Lillian being a most mysterious person, no one knows whether her rumored engagement to the critic is true or not; it may be surmised, however, that her devotion to her invalid mother prevents any thought of marriage in the near future.


The theater is almost her only recreation, as nearly all her time is passed at her mother’s bedside. Her New York apartment, with a trained nurse in constant attendance on Mrs. Gish, has been rather like a hospital, and of course Lillian receives no one there.

As for that report that she is to join United Artists, “Really?” asked Lillian. “Tell me all about it.” She declared that she had been working hard—exhaustingly hard — for several years, and now all she wanted was a good rest ; she was making no plans at all for the future. Miss Gish made a rather interesting criticism of current film productions. They are becoming “arty,” she declared, and directors are obsessed with the subject of camera angles. Having found something new to play with, American producers are almost forgetting, in their enthusiasm for striking photographic effects, that they have a story to tell in a photoplay. The result is a picture that is consciously artistic. The eventual result will, of course, be a higher quality of films than we used to have, with artistic effects woven more closely into the story, but without being so obstrusive. Critics, always somewhat “snooty” about the talents of a film star, are only too eager to pounce upon the efforts of a little movie actress trying to make good on the stage.

Dorothy is also attending a stage training school this winter—and you’d never guess why. It’s to satisfy a yearning that she has kept buried for years—to be able to do a clog dance.

Dorothy Gish in Tiptoes 1927 - A Paramount Release 5
Dorothy Gish in Tiptoes 1927 – A Paramount Release

Revives Old Legal War.

Lillian Gish has been sued recently for the insignificant sum of five million dollars, which is the amount asked in the way of damages by the former producer of her pictures, Charles H. Duell. This case has been up before, and at that time Duell lost out in his contention. The matter is terribly complicated, so we won’t attempt to tell about it here, except to mention that Mr. Duell asserted that Miss Gish and he were at one time engaged. About the time the news of this suit came out, Lillian was kept quite busy denying her engagement to George Jean Nathan, the knight-errant among the critics.

** You wish to read more about Duell – Saga? Kindly access the link below.

LILLIAN GISH SUED by Charles H. Duell

Lillian Gish, is as sweet as they come. She spends all her leisure time at the bedside of her invalid mother. Lillian is thirty-one, weighs one hundred and twelve pounds, and is five feet four inches. Her new picture is “The Wind.”

Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian - backstage The Wind
Director Victor Sjostrom, cameraman and Lillian – backstage The Wind

A Film that Will Be Talked About.

We saw the Lillian Gish film, “The Wind,” not long ago, and consider it one of the best of recent productions. It isn’t the popular sort of picture, perhaps, but it has unusual merit. It is the story of a girl’s bitter experiences in a storm-swept Texas prairie amid primitive conditions to which she is totally unaccustomed. The way in which Victor Seastrom, the director, has conveyed the effect of tempests beating upon the young girl’s mind may perhaps be just a trifle theatrical, but it is amazingly effective just the same. We expect that this production will be much talked about.

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Salaam (The Scarlet Letter) – By Norbert Lusk (Picture Play Magazine – Nov. 1926)

Picture Play Magazine – November 1926 Vol. XXV No. 3

The Screen in Review

By Norbert Lusk

The Scarlet Letter Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson
The Scarlet Letter – Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson

Salaam (The Scarlet Letter)

Lillian Gish’s performance in “The Scarlet Letter” recaptures all the praise ever bestowed on her, and by the same token should erase all memory of the shortcomings charged against her. For her Hester Prynne is shimmering perfection, and is completely her own. The scenario of “The Scarlet Letter” is not wholly, however, the story of Hawthorne’s novel, though the liberties taken with it could scarcely offend the most captious. As you see this beautiful picture on the screen it occurs to you that there was no need to have followed the letter of the book at all. What has come from it is fine and true.

The spirit of Puritan days has been preserved with reverence and, at times, humor, while Frances Marion’s story is a model of screen technique and skillful compromise with the censors. Behind the story of the ill-starred lovers is a sharply etched study of the habits, customs, and psychology of our forefathers, yet it is never merely a presentation of detail but takes its proper place in unfolding the story of the seamstress who loved the Reverend Dimmesdale and who sacrificed herself that the towns people might never lose their ideal of his goodness. Lars Hanson, the Swedish actor who makes his first American appearance as Dimmesdale, might easily have stolen the picture from an actress of lesser gifts. His is a magnificent performance—poise, repression, and spirituality being blended into a character as dominating as it is appealing. The slow, gathering intentness of Hanson’s gaze is one of his most potent means of expressing thought and emotion. It is amazing on the screen.

But for that matter the entire cast with a single exception is of the highest order. Henry B. Walthall as Roger Prynne, Hester’s sinister husband, plays with repressed power, and Karl Dane and William H. Tooker offer lifelike characterizations.

Henry B Walthall - The Scarlet Letter
Henry B Walthall – The Scarlet Letter

The one exception to me was Joyce Coad as Pearl, Hester’s daughter. Here was a hearty, black-eyed child with a length of limb that nearly brought her up to Miss Gish’s shoulder, wholly unlike the frail flower my imagination created as the offspring of Hester and Dimmesdale. When Miss Gish carried her, the full force of a sacrifice to art came to me, and I hoped she wouldn’t break under the muscular strain.

The Scarlet Letter Lillian Gish
Lillian’s Protegee The story of “The Scarlet Letter” gave Lillian Gish, as Hester Prynne, many scenes with little Joyce Coad, who plays Pearl. And Miss Gish believes that Joyce, who is the winner of a California baby contest, will win an esteemed place for herself on the screen. Photo Motion Picture Magazine (Aug 1926-Jan 1927)

Victor Seastrom’s direction is that of a master, and the Scandinavian’s sympathy with the traditions of our rock-bound New England is strongly manifested in every scene.

Scarlet Letter Ad - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1926-Feb 1927)
Scarlet Letter Ad – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1926-Feb 1927)

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“Do They Criticize Me?’ – By Madeline Glass (Picture Play Magazine – November 1926)

Picture Play Magazine – November 1926 Vol. XXV No.3

“Do They Criticize Me?’

So questions Lillian Gish, gently, when given an opportunity to explain her interpretation of Mimi in La Boheme

By Madeline Glass

IS Lillian Gish a great actress or merely a mechanical technician ? Is she unable to act for any one except D. W. Griffith ? Is she a genius too subtle for general appreciation? ***

These questions have for several years been hotly debated by fans and critics wherever motion pictures flourish. No actress on the screen provokes such widely differing opinions as Lillian Gish. Men like George Jean Nathan, Joseph Hergesheimer and John Barrymore have extolled her histrionic qualities, yet others whose names are less imposing but whose judgment is, perhaps, more reliable, scoff at her alleged genius and her tacit acceptance of the name bestowed upon her by her admirers—”the Bernhardt of the screen.”

Lillian Gish 1926
Lillian Gish 1926

A few years ago, Lillian was generally regarded as the finest actress in motion pictures. Her work in “Broken Blossoms” established her as a great tragedienne. Later she appeared to excellent advantage in “Way Down East.” Her characterization in that picture was superb, containing as it did exquisite interludes of pathos and several instances of towering emotionalism. At that time D. W. Griffith’s morbid predilection for depicting frail virtue at the mercy of brutal man kept Lillian continually playing persecuted heroines. After leaving Griffith’s guiding hand she made “The White Sister,” which was well received by the public, but which won only lukewarm praise from the press. Then came “Romola,” an expensive and highly pretentious picture, but a dismal failure financially and artistically. Such histrionic honors as it contained were captured by Lillian’s sister, Dorothy. And after the release of “La Boheme,” Miss Gish’s standing as an artist seemed to suffer a great deal. Critics dealt with her so harshly that I determined to seek her out and, if nothing else, offer condolence. I had read somewhere an article which quoted her as saying that she never allowed anything but finest silk to touch her skin. Which is all well and good. But, somehow, I vaguely resented it. It suggested ostentation. Then I remembered having seen her wear silk stockings while playing poor orphans and peasant girls. Could that delicate, angelic face possibly conceal a naughty nature ? Writers never tire of comparing Lillian’s beauty with virginal lilies and the Madonna, the assumption being that her character matches her face. Still, even a superficial analysis proves the fallacy of judging persons solely by the perfection of their features. We all meet at times fine, benevolent individuals who, if judged by their appearance, would be hanged without a trial. But, at any rate, Lillian has long been my favorite actress and when the studio clerk announced that she was ready to receive me I put all critical thoughts from my mind, and went forward eagerly. A few minutes’ walk through a labyrinth of hallways and miniature streets brought me to her dressing rooms. Before the maid could offer me a chair the silk curtains across the room opened and Lillian began to enter. I say began to enter advisedly. First came the lowered head bearing a graceful burden of bright, high-piled hair and a tall coronet of stiff gold lace. Then the pale face, with its large gray eyes and delicate chin, appeared. Next came the snugly dressed upper torso and arms, and last the enormous brocaded skirt which, once through the narrow door, spread about in gorgeous profusion, seeming to half fill the tiny room. Quickly the lovely figure stood erect and advanced, extending a white, blue-veined hand.

Annie Laurie crop1b

One’s first impression of Lillian Gish is her very definite air of gentle, nineteenth-century decorum. There is ladylike grace and precision in all her movements. When the usual greetings were over I remarked about the striking medieval costume. “This dress weighs fifteen pounds.” said she, in her nice, deliberate voice. “It is a seventeenth-century model. When I was in London recently I visited museums and studied dresses of that period. The material in them is much heavier than in this—they really stand alone.” “No wonder the houses in those days were built as large as the Mammoth Cave,” I observed. “The women must have required a lot of -room.” “Yes,” said Lillian. “It wasn’t necessary for them to take up outdoor sports. They got enough exercise carrying their clothes about.”

Lillian Gish - still frame2 - Annie Laurie
Lillian Gish – still frame – Annie Laurie

She spoke with delicate enthusiasm about her new picture, which is based on the famous song, “Annie Laurie.” Before our conversation had progressed very far she was wanted on the set, so the maid and I helped her gather up her trailing garments to depart. At the corner of one of the buildings Lillian and I halted while the maid went in search of a car. Presently Mae Murray came along and stopped to exclaim over Lillian’s costume. Mae, you know, is a recent bride and while she and Miss Gish engaged in brief discussion of real estate, Robert Leonard, Mae’s ex-husband, also recently remarried, walked by smiling pleasantly, and bowed to the three of us. In a few minutes Mae left us and a limousine rolled up for Lillian’s use. With the aid of every one present she got in, and made room for me. Dressed as she was, the heat must have been most unpleasant, yet she voiced no complaint. Every one on the set seemed cheerful. Courtesy and affability were constantly in evidence. Occasionally an actor or actress from one of the other stages dropped in for a brief call. Finally Ramon Novarro appeared, wearing an ill-fitting suit and a pleased expression. (He has discarded his mustache — thank Heaven !) After two hours I was beginning to grow uneasy. Lillian had been too busy to talk except for momentary intervals, and although I was enjoying myself immensely I did not forget the object of my visit. Lillian had been gone from the set for some time, but presently returned garbed in a less extreme dress and wearing a fetching blue cap which, with the golden curls, made her look very lovely. She led me away from the disturbing set to a property room near by. There were no chairs, but Lillian approached an iron bedstead and sitting down upon the springs spread her abundant skirts as a sort of makeshift cushion for me. After some preliminary small talk I mentioned, as tactfully as I knew how, the subject of criticism, both professional and “fanesque.” To my surprise, she did not seem particularly interested. So I tried again by bravely suggesting that her Mimi in “La Boheme” had not received as much praise as some of her other characterizations. She answered then—and I nearly fell off the bed.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

“Has some one been criticizing me?” she inquired. Under the circumstances her question was as astonishing as if she had looked at the Pacific Ocean and asked, “Is it wet?” Growing suddenly uncomfortable I wondered what explanation I could make. Perhaps I should not have mentioned the subject. When ignorance is bliss.

“What have they been saying about me ?” she insisted.

Hard pressed for an answer, I finally mentioned certain reputable critics who had found fault with her interpretation of Merger’s heroine.

“Yes, I remember reading those reviews,” said she. “A criticism,” she continued, “is merely one person’s opinion. For years I had wanted to play Mimi—not as Murger described her but as she is in Puccini’s opera. Our picture is based on the opera, not the story, and I feel that I portrayed Mimi very faithfully. Music lovers have praised the characterization highly. The heroine of Murger’s story was a promiscuous woman and I do not think a woman of that character could have inspired Rodolphe to write a great play. For that reason the Puccini version is the more logical of the two. We tried to depict an ideal romance, a great, spiritual love, and I think we succeeded. If I had wanted to play a naughty lady I would have chosen Camille” Her manifest lack of resentment toward ‘her critics confounded me. I wondered then I and I have wondered ever since whether her attitude is due to superb mental and emotional control or to polite disdain of the opinions of others. She sat quietly toying with the folds of her dress, betraying no sign of annoyance or concern. There was one other subject I felt I had to broach. For several years Miss Gish has been called by her admirers “the Bernhardt of the screen.” This lavish compliment has at last produced a discordant reaction. Even her fans are beginning to question the fitness of the sobriquet. Although Lillian has never publicly commented on the subject I felt that she might welcome an opportunity to clear up the delicate misunderstanding by denying any claim to Bernhardt’s mantle of glory. “Do you not think, Miss Gish,” I asked, “that your admirers have done you an unintentional injury by repeatedly calling you ‘the Bernhardt of the screen ?'” A profound silence ensued. Lillian merely regarded me with her lovely, questioning eyes as if she did not quite understand.

“Possibly,” I suggested, encouragingly, “some people resent the—ah—compliment ”

“Perhaps they do,” said Lillian, gently, and there the matter ended. I had hoped she would disclaim the honor or treat the matter as a jest, but as she did neither I was left to conclude that she accepted the tribute as her just desert. A fault often found with Miss Gish is her inability to play a variety of roles. It occurred to me that if she could put aside her excessive refinement long enough to submerge herself, mind, body, and soul (without the adornment of silk stockings), in a vigorous, rough-and-ready character, her versatility would be proven and her critics silenced. So I ventured to inquire if she had ever considered playing Sadie Thompson in “Rain.”

“That is a marvelous character,” said she. “Dorothy would just love to play her. But I can’t imagine any one playing her better than Jeanne Eagles.” She had not really answered my question, so I abandoned that subject and made some reference to censorship.

“Segregation is the only method of regulating screen plays,” said she. “It is hopeless, ruinous, to attempt to make every picture suitable for children. Mothers should select their children’s motion pictures the same as they select their reading matter. No one can successfully relieve them of this responsibility. My own mother would have considered it the height of impudence for any one to tell her what her children could or could not see.

“I seldom go to picture shows,” she remarked. “I am too tired to sit through the endless prologues. I hope the time will soon come when we will have theaters that show pictures exclusively. Then people who go to enjoy the film will not have to endure a series of stage presentations.” To which I heartily agreed. It was time for Lillian to return to the set, so the interview had to end. At parting she held my hand for a moment, saying rather apologetically, “I’m afraid I didn’t give you a very good story.” I assured her that she had and thanked her for the interview. She is a lovable girl in spite of her enigmatical qualities.

Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

*** Admin Note: Miss Madeline Glass (author of above interview) most definitely knew about James R. Quirk’s article published in March 1926 in Photoplay. MGM’s “hangman” wrote again pouring poison from his plume “Lillian Gish – The Enigma of the Screen,” where second and third headline were “What does the future hold for Lillian Gish?” and “Is she a genius or a mechanic?”. Possibly Miss Gish was aware of Quirk’s attack, masking her discontent with icy cold indifference. Louise Brooks unveiled MGM’s blackmail policy in hers “Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars” (Sight and Sound London 1959). Brooks noticed as well James R. Quirk’s attacks targeting MGM Star “mutineers.”

Lillian Gish, The Enigma of the Screen – By James R. Quirk (Photoplay 1926)

Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars – By Louise Brooks (Sight and Sound – January, 1959 – London, England)


Do they criticize me - Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1926)
Do they criticize me – Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1926)


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The Paradoxical Ronald Colman – By Helen Klumph (Picture Play Magazine – 1926)

Ronald Colman - candid

Picture Play Magazine – Volume XXIII February 1926 No. 6

The Paradoxical Mr. Colman

It isn’t possible for an actor to succeed without the tricks or traits of a Barnum, wiseacres say, but Ronald Colman has done that very thing.

By Helen Klumph

ANY old stager can tell you what it is that sets a sensationally successful actor apart from his fellows—showmanship. “It’s like this,” the seasoned veteran told me who has seen them come and go. “You get a job by the grace of good luck, and the public finds out that you’re alive. From then on, you concentrate on never letting them forget it. The more different you can be from any one else in the game, the easier you’ll be to remember. You can raise trained seals in your opalescent swimming pool, cable to the royal tailor of Afghanistan for all your costumes, or always wear a good-luck charm presented to you by the dying Khedive of Egypt. You just can’t be normal. Write lurid love poems, wear the largest black pearl in the world, or always take vour pet horse everywhere with you, but don’t ever be inconspicuous. That’s death to an actor.” As his oratorical flight died down, I asked quietly, “But what about Ronald Colman ?”

Ronald Colman and Marie Prevost - Tarnish 1924
Ronald Colman and Marie Prevost – Tarnish 1924

For a moment he was baffled, but the old stager can explain anything. “Either that boy’s smart, or he’s a fool for luck,” he assured me. “He probably knows that the most surprising thing in the world is an actor who isn’t surprising. He’s got everybody interested by not doing any of the fool things other actors have done.” That’s his explanation, but I prefer my own. Ronald Colman has never indulged in any of the tricks of a Barnum to bring himself before the public because such a course would never occur to him. He happens to have been born a gentleman. That his appearances on the screen have developed a huge fan following, made up in part of highly sentimental women, is an accident that he himself does not seem to understand. Other actors have put up an argument when talking to me. They have told me that the whole machinery of public life was distasteful to them, but necessary. They must feel a little hagrined to see Ronald Colman rising to almost unparalleled success on the screen without ever having departed from his quiet mode of life. He isn’t a star athlete—he doesn’t implore the public to give him their sympathy and understanding on the plea that it is the very breath of life to him—he doesn’t even give out interviews telling about his ideal woman or the psychology of love.

Ronald Colman, May McAvoy, and Marie Prevost in Tarnish (1924)
Ronald Colman, May McAvoy, and Marie Prevost in Tarnish (1924)

“Haven’t you ever suffered for your art?” I asked him, knowing well that the question would make him squirm. I had finally cornered him f or an interview after some two years of trying.

“I’m suffering now,” he told me, with entire conviction. “You’re trying so hard to make this a businesslike interview when I had looked forward to a pleasant luncheon.” Don’t think that my two years of effort were wasted on broken appointments and futile seeking. I had met Mr. Colman many times, for he is courteous and punctilious about anything connected with his work—or with anything else I dare say. I just hadn’t been able to drive him into any admissions about himself. And so, I am going to foreet for the moment that Ronaid Colman is an actor who should have some burning message to give to the public. I want to tell you about the Ronald Colman I know—a charming, companionable young man who seems wholeheartedly interested in life and amused by it. The first time I met him was just after he had made “The White Sister” in Italy with Lillian Gish.

He confided to me then that if he had a lot of money he would get a little house in Italy and live there pleasantly and indolently. “Life is so beautiful and complete there,” he said, “that it never occurs to yon that you should be useful. Italy is perfect—you can’t add anything to it.” The next time was in Hollywood where he had acquired something of the insouciant, playtime air of the studio. When some fifty or more clubwomen visited the studio, eager for a glimpse of the romantic and intense young actor who had entranced not a few of them, he busied himself with the lights and was passed by as just one more electrician. Asked by one of them where she could find Mr. Colman, he looked bewildered and assured her he had never heard of him. Little things do not disturb his poise. When Florence Vidor and I developed a passion for riding on scenic railways, he went with us and endured our hilarious shrieks as we alternately soared and plunged. He even seemed to enjoy it. Later, in a nickel dance hall at an amusement park, we kidded him about his dignity until he vowed that he would make the bouncer throw him out. But the most obstreperous dance steps he could invent failed to attract that individual’s attention. Recognizing the screen star, he merely became a little more pompous, as though impressed with the swell trade his establishment had attracted. It was after he had made “Stella Dallas” and “Mrs. Windermere’s Fan”—just at the time when “The Dark Angel” was drawing enthusiastic crowds to a Broadway theater—that he came to New York for a brief holiday and I saw him again. He chatted pleasantly about Henrv King and George Fitzmaurice and Ernst Lubitsch, his most recent directors. He is an actor without a grievance. He likes the people he has worked for and always wants to go back to work for them again.

Ronald Colman promo portrait '20

“Mr. Goldwyn thinks I’m crazy,” he observed. “I went and asked him for the part of Perlmutter in the new ‘Potash and Perlmutter’ picture. He took me seriously. “When he put the clause in Lois Moran’s contract that she should remain ‘unmodernized and unsophisticated,’ I demanded that he put in mine that I could remain in his employ only so long as I remained modern and sophisticated.” But to my plea that he explain just what his sophistication consists of, he was deaf. So I decided on an old trick, one that rarely fails to make an actor talk about himself.

“Who is that woman over there? She has been staring at you ever since you came in,” I remarked.

“She thinks I’m Jack Gilbert,” he assured me guilelessly, switching the conversation a moment later to Shaw’s plays, his screen idol Felix the Cat, and the beautiful photography of “The Dark Angel.” Now that he is an idol, Ronald Colman finds that he likes being one—that is, he likes the generous salary and the comfort his position brings. But he did not become an actor or go into the movies by choice. He was literally shot in. Invalided home to England after the Battle of Ypres, he urged an uncle who was connected with the British Foreign Office to get him an appointment in the Orient. While waiting for this, he was offered an engagement in vaudeville in a sketch with Lena Ashwell. Before the war, he had had some success in amateur theatricals, so he took the engagement as a lark. Miss Ashwell was so delighted with his work that she introduced him to all the managers she knew and was influential in getting him some excellent stage offers. The diplomatic service moves slowly, so Colman was well established on the stage by the time his appointment to the Orient was secured. In London, he played the same role in “Damaged Goods” that Richard Bennett played in this country, and he was a great success. His interest in diplomacy faded. “The first success goes to your head terribly,” Ronald told me reminiscently. “That’s why the second goes only to your pocketbook. You realize how ephemeral and meaningless other success is.”

Ronald Colman Picturegoer 1930

At the height of his success, he came to the United States to try his fortune and had four failures, one right after another. The plays never even reached Broadway. So after a long period of waiting for another opportunity, he went on the road with Fay Bainter in an old Broadway success and played for nearly a year. When the troupe got to Hollywood, he tried to break into motion pictures. A test was made of him, but nothing ever came of it. That was in 1920, the year of the great slump in motion pictures, and no one was looking for new talent. They were too busy finding engagements for the actors already under contract. He was playing in “La Tendresse” with Henry Miller and Ruth Chatterton when the opportunity came to make “The White Sister” with Lillian Gish. Colman was not in the least interested. He thought the movies a crazy, unstable business, judging from what he had seen of the 1920 slump. But his manager persuaded him to make the one picture, and after that, Colman’s love for the stage dwindled. After his second picture, the astute Sam Goldwyn offered him a contract that guaranteed him the best stories and best directors that could be had. He recognized, just as the public did. that a new idol—a brand new type of idol—had come to the screen. Ronald Colman is too much interested in his work, however, to insist upon posing before the public only as a handsome hero. An instance of this was his acceptance of the part he played in “Stella Dallas.” For a voung man just become popular as a romantic lover, it was not a particularly pleasant part, this role of a matter-of-fact father who was beginning to gray at the temples. But Colman’s willingness to play it, or anything else that may offer, proves him to be a real actor, and one who will find .a much more permanent place in the movies than if he refused to take anything but the most attractive roles.

The White Sister
Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman – promo – The White Sister

“Just as long as they will have me. I shall go on making pictures,” he says. “And all I ask is that some day I’ll have another part as strong and sympathetic as the one in ‘The Dark Angel.” I even liked that duffer myself.” No need to tell you that he is handsome and magnetic and gracious—his every appearance on the screen shows that. But it is remarkable that, in spite of all that, men like him whole-heartedly. Those girls who live in Hackensack or Walla Walla can take what comfort they can from the fact that they know Ronald Colman almost as well as his fellow players do; he reveals himself much more completely and more intensely in pictures than he does in person. And the sentimental yearnings of those in the audience are shared by many a girl in Hollywood. Don’t I know! Just because I sat next to him at some dinner parties in Hollywood, several well-known screen ingenues have assured me of their undying enmity. There are actors who can make me forget momentarily that I am watching a performance in a theater; there are actors who can flatter me into thinking for the moment that my opinions are of importance to them; but there is onlv one actor who impresses me as always being entirely sincere and never acting when he is away from the camera. That is Ronald Colman. On or off the screen. I like him the best of any actor I know.

Ronalcd Colman - Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)
Ronalcd Colman – Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)

The Terribly Honest Mr. Colman.

By Dorothy Manners

Ronald Colman said he felt sorry for me. He said he felt sorry for any one who interviewed him, because he “never said anything.” “I’ll not be a bit of help to you,” he apologized. “Now, if I had met you at dinner, or tea, or a dance I could think of all sorts of things to say.” But unfortunately, the occasion was not a tea, a dinner, nor yet a dance. A press agent, Mr. Colman and I met in Henry King’s office of the Samuel Goldwyn production building. We had come to dedicate a portion of the morning to discussing the movies, and particularly Mr. Colman’s relation to them. I have a vague hunch Mr. Colman had requested the presence of the press agent in case he ran out of small talk. Maybe he hadn’t. But I think he had. He lived to regret it. Not that that particular p. a. isn’t one of the finest and so on, but—We will take that up in more detail in a few paragraphs.

He is of medium height and darkish, this Mr. Colman. Undeniably he has a way with the ladies. I like him immensely, and I don’t like all actors. They are always nice and, for the most part, complimentary to lady interviewers, but in nine cases out of ten, the compliments don’t ring true. Having been said too often, they are like a much-thumbed book—a little frayed at the edges. Mr. Colman didn’t once tell me that he thought it was perfectly splendid I was self-expressing myself. Yet without the aid of stilted phrases, he managed to convey deference, courtesy, and flattering attention. Oh, very undeniably, he has a way with the ladies. We dallied around with the weather without getting anywhere with it, when somehow or other Valentino came into the conversation. Mr. Colman said he was a splendid actor.

The White Sister
Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in “The White Sister”

I said he was in a precarious position. Then the p. a. said he attributed Valentino’s slip to the fact that men didn’t particularly care for him. “Now,” he went on, with a proud papa inclination of the head toward Mr. Colman, “Mr. Colman here has a very large following among men.” Mr. Colman squirmed uncomfortably in Henry King’s swivel chair. Right there is where I think he wished the p. a. had been called to the phone. “Yes,” went on the p. a., “he a lot of mail from men and boys. The swivel chair squeaked nervously. “Do you get more letters from men than women?” I asked. “No, I don’t,” said Mr. Colman, completely wrecking that man-from-the-open-spaces effect, for which I liked him all the better.

Later it came out that in his latest picture, “Stella Dallas,” he had played the father of a sixteen-year-old girl. Most actors tell me they live for characterizations. I asked him if that had been his favorite role. He said, “Not by a long way. I liked playing in ‘The Dark Angel’ and ‘The White Sister’ much better.” I could have cheered at this. Instead, I gave him another hurdle. I asked him if he didn’t get tired of the monotony of pictures—if he didn’t often long to be back on the stage. The terribly honest Mr. Colman smiled. “No, I don’t,” he answered; “not with everything’ so rosy in pictures.” Now there is no getting away from it : a press agent can’t do anything with a man like that, but I could have decorated him. May he cross my path often.

The Paradoxical Mr. Colman - Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)
The Paradoxical Mr. Colman – Picture-Play Magazine (Feb 1926)

Ronald Colman - Life Magazine Cover

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Lillian Gish Tribute at AFI Series – By Barbara Saltzman (L.A. Times – August 1979)

L.A. Times – Saturday August 11, 1979

Lillian Gish Tribute at AFI Series

By Barbara Saltzman

They came from throughout Southern California to pay tribute to actress Lillian Gish and the Wiltern Theater – Gish a living testament to the power and majesty of film from its earliest beginnings, the Wiltern a monument to the glory of yesterday’s movie palaces, just a breath away from demolition.

The Wiltern Theater in the thirties
The Wiltern Theater in the thirties

The occasion was the first in the American Film Institute’s “The Best Remaining Seats” series, which will criss-cross the Southland from Catalina Island to Santa Barbara through Oct. 18 to awaken interest in preserving some of the grandest remaining local movie houses with cinematic milestones that re-create their finest hours.

There was no question Thursday night that the hour belonged to Lillian Gish, who was born in 1896** and whose career has spanned the birth of film and the beginnings of communication by satellite.


“We really made our living in those days,” she told the capacity audience of 2.300 who had just seen her pulled from the ice floes in clips from D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East” (1920), rescued from the guillotine in Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm” (1922) and subjected to the relentless blowing sands of Victor Seastrom’s “The Wind” (1928), shown in ints entirety.

“We had no doubles,” the star said.

Lillian Gish filming - The Wind
The Wind – Lillian Gish

“That’s me all the time. Running … slipping on the ice … falling off a horse – I did them all.

“Dick (Barthelmess, her costar who picked her off the ice floe in “Way Down East”) said to me some years later, “You know we didn’t have any sense in those days.”

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

The turn-away audience fanning themselves in the close air of the slightly faded but still elegant Art Deco theater, which opened in 1931 as a showcase for Warner Brothers, applauded warmly.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith on set (Vermont)

“It took three weeks to get those scenes. We got so cold that we couldn’t go in for lunch. The agony of coming in and going out again was too much.”

Of the three silents shown – to the accompaniment of Gaylord Carter on the Wiltern’s theater organ – Gish said “The Wind” was the most difficult and uncomfortable,” shot in suffocating 120 – degree heat near Bakersfield. “Eight propellers from airplanes were on me, with smudge pots, blowing the wind to give the effect of the storm.”

Lillian Gish wearing pilot goggles and bandana to protect herself against the sand - The Wind
Lillian Gish wearing pilot goggles and bandana to protect herself against the sand – The Wind

Both on film and in person, Gish, the actress who sweltered in the sun and shivered on the ice, revealed the power of film artistry to span the generations.

The audience, which included director George Cukor (a longtime friend for whom Gish never worked), was made up in large part by many who were not even born when the Wiltern was built. But they booed and hissed, cheered and applauded in “all the right spots, just as they did then,” said one delighted fan in his 70s.

The Wiltern main hall
The Wiltern main hall

Several dressed in ‘30s fashion to reflect the spirit of the evening. They called themselves film fans and fans of the city’s historic architecture, milling through the lobbies and balcony, sipping champagne bought for $1, eating hot dogs and popcorn from the candy counter, looking intently at the mostly worn Martini Olive-patterned Mohawk carpet lit by the still-original Art Deco chandeliers.

Gish, moved by the ovation given her, paid tribute herself to the directors she has worked with, among them the legendary Griffith, about whom she has written at length.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith on set

“The main thing he taught us was that you must rehearse.” For “Way Down East,” the company rehearsed from early in the morning till late in the evening for eight weeks, she recalled. “It meant we didn’t have to leave things on the cutting room floor. We had no retakes. We knew what had to be done and we did it. Sometimes we would work for 25 hours straight.”

Gish said she has always had respect for the power of the camera. “We thought the camera was psychic then – and I still do.”

John Gilbert, Lillian Gish and director King Vidor on set for La Boheme
John Gilbert, Lillian Gish and director King Vidor on set for La Boheme

The series continues Thursday at the Orpheum Theater, 842 S. Broadway, with “The Big Parade,” to be presented by King Vidor, who sent a telegram to Gish, reminding the audience that the actress “stands as a burning light … not one has ever achieved the eminence which you alone occupy.”

ap wire press photo actress lillian gish, american film institute gala 1979

Lillian Gish Tribute to the AFI Series - LA Times August 1979
Lillian Gish Tribute to the AFI Series – LA Times August 1979

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