Lillian Gish – A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine – By Pat Colander (Chicago Tribune 1973)

Chicago Tribune November 24 1973 Saturday Page 162

Lillian Gish

A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine

By Pat Colander

Can you do anything with this poor, tired face? inquired Lillian Gish from behind an impish grin. Of course the question is ridiculous. After 73 years of practicing her delightful brand of charm, she knows that anyone she meets is more than happy to do her bidding, even before she asks.

Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 - New York
Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 – New York

From the top of her faded blonde head to the tips of her tiny feet, Lillian Gish is a cornball prototype of the real-life, genuine heroine. Her beaming countenance recalls all the good things named traditional, just in case anybody she meets has forgotten how good it is to be free and own a television set.

“I always think of movies as the big screen and television as the little screen,” she chirped. “Of course, both are forms of the greatest power that the world has ever seen.” Miss Gish equates the film industry with Shakespeare and the Bible.

BUT EVEN this movie proponent will admit that something’s rotten in Hollywood. “I wish we could bring back good taste and beauty,” she moaned. “I think we’ve lost it.” Lillian Gish shakes her head, there have been roles that she’s had to turn down. “I wouldn’t be a part of what the movie had to say. I believe in the influence of a film,” she added “and I don’t like the wicked man winning out over the good man.”

Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes
Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes

The recent Supreme Court ruling on pornography isn’t the answer however. “Censorship isn’t the American way,” Miss Gish said. We ought to be able to control ourselves by not going to those movies that are bad. Don’t you agree?”

She dismisses modern political scandals with theatrical boredom. Her ideology has become hardened in the face of many social upheavals she’s watched pass by. “Those things have been going on all my life,” she smiled some more, “only we called it Democrat and Republican. Certainly our country’s never been better. More people have more things and are more prosperous.”

THE THING she does feel that she knows about is the college crowd, after lecturing on the nostalgia circuit during the last few years. She defends the Pepsi generation with the characteristic line, “We just don’t hear about affirmation and the really good people on the campuses.”

opening of uncle vanya june 4 1973 h hayes l gish
Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish at the opening of Uncle Vanya, 1973 edition. Thus a full cycle is complete, the first play Lillian Gish starred in was Uncle Vanya (1930) an her last, Mike Nichols’s production.

Personally, Lillian Gish had little use for higher or lower education. Her star-crossed career began at 4 when Lillian and her little sister Dorothy hit the Broadway footlights. “We always felt lucky that we didn’t have to stay in one town and go to school,” she chuckled. “We were educated as we went thru the country.”

“I used to have an inferiority complex,” she moaned, but justified her lack of formal schooling with the deeper curiosity that developed as a result. “The future of education lies in television. Some man or woman will come along and harness it.”

Lillian Gish isn’t happy with the current form of educational broadcasting. “You know, in England they don’t approve of Sesame Street.”

CHICAGO IS an indelibly etched chapter in Lillian Gish’s new memory book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish” [Charles Scribner’s Sons, $19.95], a picture album sketching her lenghty career. “Chicago has more civic pride than any other city,” she said. “They pushed the city back and built it around a lake.”

uncle vanya - 1973 mike nichols
Lillian Gish and Mike Nichols – Uncle Vanya – 1973

The Windy City topic opened a pandora’s box of anecdotes. “I had a favorite taxi driver here when playing the Blackstone Theater,” she remembered. “When there was someplace that I couldn’t take my little dog Malcolm, Mr. Marcus would take care of him. Actually, I think he liked Malcolm and put up with me.”

Altho this little bundle of ancient energy has just closed in Mike Nichol’s New York production of “Uncle Vanya,” and by mid-afternoon has been doing interviews since 6 a.m., she thinks it would be thrilling to go dancing in the evening. After all, the this-is-the-first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life philosophy by now comes out sounding like a Lillian Gish original.

Lillian Gish – Big on the big screen

1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times
1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times

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Memories of Lillian Gish – Motion Picture Classic (1922)

Memories of Lillian Gish – As told to Myrtle Gebhart

Motion Picture Classic (Brewster Publications – 1922)

Mary Pickford reminisces about the early days when she first knew the screen’s greatest actress.

“Lillian’s main qualities are her sincerity and loyalty.”

Mary Pickford, sitting there in the golden afternoon beside placid Lake Chatsworth, was opening the book of the past, that I might read the pages of one of most beautiful friendships on record. Years ago Mary and Lillian Gish met, when Mary was six and Lillian a year or two younger, children who labored before their time, knowing poverty, knowing failure. Today they stand, both successful, both women who have won the love and respect of the world. And they are still friends. They have never had a quarrel.

Mary Pickford is always tranquil now - she has schooled herself to absolute control
Mary Pickford is always tranquil now – she has schooled herself to absolute control

“Yes, I know Lillian is very fond of me, and I treasure her affection.”

“When we were small, Dorothy Lottie and I used to play together with Lillian acting as a sort of Little Lady Mother to us scatter-brained youngsters. She was always correct, always just so. We used to stand and watch her, fearful any moment that she would fly to heaven – for her mother had said she was too angelic to live!”

Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish

“Dorothy and I were pals then, but now Lillian and I have more in common. Though, to be sure, Dorothy is much more serious and has a keener brain than she is given credit for – this frivolity of hers I think is a surface coating that hides the real Dorothy.”

Mary Pickford - Cca 1905
Mary Pickford – Cca 1905

“Our first meeting was a casual one, in Detroit, when I was playing ‘The Little Red Schoolhouse,’ a play written by Hal Reid, Wallace Reid’s father. Mother had insisted that I couldn’t go with the show alone, so they had given parts to her and to Lottie. Jack, of course, was a baby. Later, at Toronto, Lillian took my place, playing the role I had created. But it was when we were all in New York that we really became friends. I had been called there to replace Lillian in ‘The Child Wife,’ as she had been offered a better part in another play.

Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish
Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish

My mother had received a lucrative offer to go on the road, one that she couldn’t afford to refuse, so Mrs. Gish offered to take care of us children. Imagine having the three of us to look after, in addition to her own two! She was very patient and lovely to us, making our clothes and washing our ears! One of my happiest memories is of those months at Mrs. Gish’s house in New York. It was my first experience in the big city, and I envied Lillian her aplomb – with Mrs. Gish at one end and Lillian at the other, we would cross the crowded streets: all six of us holding hands for fear one of us would get lost!”

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford

“Yes, Lillian is very remote. Even I who have known her since childhood I admit I am baffled at times. She is very elusive. Often I have an intangible feeling that I haven’t quite grasped her. She is remarkably subtle and fine in sensitiveness of thought.”

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford

“She is so frail to have endured those years of hardships,” I suggested, alternating with Mary in petting Zorro her time-clock dog who howls regularly at quitting time, twelve-thirty and four-thirty every day. “So ethereal. That is the impression she gives every one.”

Way Down East Icefloe X Mamaroneck Arch

“And it isn’t so!” Mary exclaimed, a gleam in her hazel eyes. “Lillian is very slim but has an amazing endurance. Mr. Griffith works his people very hard, exacts every particle of self that they have to give to their work. Had Lillian been as frail as she seems, she could never have lived through these nine years of constant, nerve-racking work. In making the ice scenes for ‘Way Down East,’ she had to remain on that cake of ice near the rapids until actually numb.”

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - The famous ice floe scene from The Way Down East — with Lillian Gish.

For a moment Mary was silent except for the tremulous quivering of her chin-a little way she has when excited. Always tranquil, having schooled herself through the years to absolute control, you can always gauge Mary’s emotions now by that little, almost invisible, quiver of her chin.

Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish

“Do you call this hot?” indicating that the sun melting in long, gleaming slants into the blue lake shimmering under its golden haze, the glare washing back from the sides of the high hills in the lap of which the lake is splashed, the perspiring actors resting under the trees. “I remember, in the old days, down in Arizona. We were making a picture for Mr. Griffith. They had to follow us about with umbrellas. It was 110 in the shade and no shade around. We could have fried eggs on the rocks. There were times when I thought I couldn’t endure another moment – until I looked at Lillian, so white and composed and tranquil. And I grew ashamed. She has a way of encouraging people, forcing them to greater effort.”

Lillian Gish in evening gown - Nell Dorr 1930
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Lillian Gish seated on arm of chair]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3531
“Frail looking, yes. Her skin is milk-white, almost translucent, that finely veined kind, delicate as a petal.”

Motion Picture Classic (Brewster Publications, 1922) Memories of Lillian Gish

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Malcolm & Friends

A reservation for two was made in Lillian’s name. Seats were reserved for Lillian Gish and Malcolm. Two seats. No further explanation. On the day of the departure, in walks Lillian Gish carrying Malcolm. Someone behind the counter looked quite surprised! But Lillian acted as if everything were within reason. “Here we are”, she announced, “Lillian Gish and Malcolm.” And before there was any kind of response, “The seats were confirmed for the two of us”. “Lillian Gish: A Life on Stage and Screen” By Stuart Oderman

Malcolm, a West Highland terrier, presented as a gift by Sir Ian Malcolm in 1937 when Miss Lillian Gish visited Scotland.

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