“The White Sister”—Inspiration – Pros and Cons

“The White Sister”—Inspiration

Lillian Gish, away from the guiding hand of Griffith, proves to be as moving as ever. In an emotional race with Vesuvius in eruption she captures all the honors. In her support she has a tragic but uplifting story, real Italian scenery, and a charming new leading man named Ronald Colman.

Excerpts from – The White Sister – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Signed Promotional Photo - Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman - The White Sister
Signed Promotional Photo – Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman – The White Sister

Some Souvenir Postal Cards.

Agnes Smith (Known MGM – professional hired – hater)

Lillian Gish went to Italy to make “The White Sister,” and the result is some beautiful scenes showing native life and some shots of that great dramatic star, Mount Vesuvius. Miss Gish’s error was, not in going to Italy, but in taking a scenario of F. Marion Crawford’s novel with her. Of all the aggravating and annoying plots in the world, “The White Sister” is the worst, except maybe a few by Hall Caine. Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies and by making a lot of fuss about the difference between worldly and spiritual love. And then he turned on the soft music of Italian scenery to ease the story over on the public.

Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out. Unless you handle it with care, the Catholics are apt to be offended while, on the other hand, a great many non-Catholics can get none too excited over the girl who takes the veil. I am not trying to imply that “The White Sister” will stir up feeling, I am only saying that there are certain rational aspects of the public mind that demand consideration from producers. Most fans are apt to look at “The White Sister” merely as florid and romantic melodrama. The postal card views of Italy have a certain charm and the unreal story works itself up into a good thrill climax. Dear old Vesuvius jumps into action and obligingly kills off some of the characters. However, the hero, in the midst of the eruption, for some strange reason goes and gets drowned. A dambursts and floods the city. It seemed an unnecessary trick to bring in the flood and a nasty crack at the destructive talents of Vesuvius besides. The incident was as foolish as though I should get mixed up in an earthquake and die of hay fever.

Miss Gish gives Vesuvius and the flood a winning race for the honors. The girl has a habit of breaking my heart. Once she gets that heart-broken, woebegone look on her face, I am simply overcome by emotion. Miss Gish has a perfect technique, combined with the face of an angel. She deserves more reliable material than “The White Sister.” Her new leading man, Ronald Colman, breaks all records by playing an Italian role without imitating Valentino. He gives a splendid, sincere and truly convincing performance, even though he is called upon to do all sorts of ridiculous things. A recruit from the stage, he is an addition to the screen. And he has such a way with him in love scenes that I suppose he’ll have to engage a secretary to answer his fan mail.

The White Sister - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923)
The White Sister – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923)

THE production of “The White Sister” on which Lillian Gish worked for seven months in and near Rome, will not be released until fall. So, for consolation, Picture-Play offers in the meantime, this exquisite photograph of her in the role.

The White Sister 2 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 2 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

This glimpse of one of the early scenes in “The White Sister,” Lillian Gish’s first picture for the Inspiration company, holds rare promise of beauty, for it seems to haye caught in its very backgrounds her ephemeral charm.

The White Sister 3 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 3 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Only in Italy could be found such exquisite and time-worn walls as those which provide settings for some of the scenes in ”The White Sister.” Of all her portraits, the one above is Lillian Gish’s favorite. In this famous old Italian garden which has been visited hy scores of Americans traveling abroad, “The White Sister” meditates upon the spiritual life and seeks to crowd out of her consciousness the tragedy that sent her to seek the solace of the convent.

The White Sister 4 - Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)
The White Sister 4 – Picture-Play Magazine (Sep 1923-Feb 1924)

Ever since the first announcement almost a year ago that Lillian Gish was going to play this widely known heroine of F. Marion Crawford’s there has been keen interest in this production. For such quiet power and spiritual beauty as hers suits the character of the little romantic girl who enters a convent when her sweetheart disappears. In ‘ the scene shown above, the three nuns are played by three old and famous character actresses of the Italian stage.

The White Sister
The White Sister

Concerning “The White Sister.”

The most interesting feature of your magazine to me is the review department by Agnes Smith. I always read the reviews first and usually find that I not only agree with Miss Smith, but wish that I might have thought of expressing my judgment in her delightful way. Naturally, I was eager to see her review of “The White Sister,” for Lillian Gish, it seems to me, is by far the most important person on the screen. Miss Smith’s flippant and disparaging remarks were a distinct shock. I cannot understand her point of view when she says “Most fans are apt to look on ‘The White Sister’ merely as florid and romantic melodrama.”

I do not know on what Miss Smith bases her opinion on what the fans are going to think. I only know that both times I saw the picture the strangers all about me were sincerely and deeply moved. Two women, sitting near me, who looked as though they could ill afford the price of the tickets, murmured several times during the course of the picture that they had never seen anything so exquisitely beautiful.’ The people were so real that they forgot it was a plot and not life that they were watching. Now, if you will permit me the space, I would like to comment on a few points that Miss Smith raised. She says, “Mr. Crawford lived in an age when it was popular to pump up artificial sentiment by playing strongly on religious young ladies.”

Mr. Crawford may have shown poor taste and been artificial sometimes in his writings, but I am not so sure that the sentiment he aroused was artificial. I think that it was sincere just as the sentiment aroused by George Cohan’s flag-waving and other bits of hokum is sincere. “The difference between worldly and spiritual love” will, I believe, continue to be one of the most engrossing themes in all literature in spite of Miss Smith’s disapproval.’

“Why any one in this period of the world’s history wants to film a religious story is more than I can figure out,” she continues. When the world ceases to be interested in faith, it has ceased to be interested in the most vital and important factor in human life. The faith of “The White Sister” may not be mifaith ; in fact, I was enraged by her insistence that her vows to her church were more binding than her promise to the man she loved. But, any sincere and convincing presentation of another person’s beliefs commands my respect, at least. It was reassuring to find that even though she was thoroughly out of sympathy with the story, Miss Smith was deeply moved by the work of the star and Ronald Colman, the gifted and magnetic young leading man. I do wish, though, that her review, which is sure to influence many people, had not shown such a strong personal bias. – Joice Marie Sidman – Ansonia Hotel, New York City.

The White Sister
The White Sister


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Exit Venus—Enter Lillian Gish (Picture Play Magazine – October 1921)

Lillian Gish as Anna Moore - wearing her Wedding Dress 3 - Way Down East
Lillian Gish as Anna Moore – wearing her Wedding Dress – Way Down East

Picture Play Magazine – October 1921 Vol. XV No.2

Here Is Beauty!

“There is no rank in beauty” Picture-Play proclaimed a short time ago when it dared to print a choice of eight reigning beauties of the screen., “There is rank in beauty—and one unquestionably leads them all” chorused our readers in reply. And that one—but read and learn what the members of the audiences from Hoboken to Hong-Kong think of beauty as mirrored on the screen.

Lillian Gish starring in "The Enemy" Promotional
Lillian Gish starring in “The Enemy” Promotional

Exit Venus—Enter Lillian Gish.

It will be a severe blow to many who think that they have unusual penetration to learn that Lillian is also the admired of the many as well as of the few. Some there are who thought that they alone could appreciate her. “Of course she is not a popular type,” was often remarked, “but to me she is the loveliest of all.”

Lillian Gish Hoover Art Frame 1

That illusion may now be cast away, for if the hundreds of letters which we received from the fans mean anything she has proved to be the popular favorite among the screen beauties. The Venus type has departed, not to give place to the luscious beauty of a bathing nymph, but to yield to the more potent charm of ethereal loveliness such as Lillian’s. John Barrymore has paid high tribute to her “Enchaining loveliness.” Paul Helleu has found her most bewitching of subjects for his dry-point etchings, but no greater tribute can come to her than that of little Grace Ogden of Fredericksburg, Texas, who says: “To me Lillian Gish is the most beautiful, not only of screen actresses, but of all women I have ever seen. She reminds me of all the hauntingly lovely things I have ever known, of violin music and flowers, and many faceted jewels. I have not seen many of her pictures, but any one of them would have been sufficient to convince me that she is the screen’s greatest beauty. “I don’t know what the standards are that one is supposed to judge beauty by, but I should think that the most beautiful person would be the one who inspired the most beautiful thoughts in people, and if that is so, Lillian Gish stands supreme.” And Ethel Rodriguez, of Plainfield, New Jersey, extols her “not so much for the symmetry of her features, but for the beautiful expression of her eyes and lips of supreme faith and trustfulness, and her deliciously quaint, birdlike daintiness. Ethereal, perhaps, but embodying the only sort of beauty worth while—the outer characterization of inner loveliness that gives her subtle appeal.”

Lillian Gish 1925 - Bettmann
Lillian Gish 1925 – Bettmann

The Eight Chosen Beauties.

The eight most beautiful women on the screen—as chosen by our readers—are:

Lillian Gish, Norma Talmadge, Mary Miles Minter, Claire Windsor, Mildred Harris, Anna O. Nilsson, Justine Johnstone, and Rubye de Remer.

Could there have been one more choice it would have been closely contested between Agnes Ayres, Elsie Ferguson, Sylvia Breamer, Marjorie Daw, and Colleen Moore. Pauline Frederick and May MacAvoy had many enthusiastic supporters, and to only a slightly less degree were May Allison and Pearl White extolled. Hardly a prominent player but had her enthusiastic cohorts of admirers who sang her praises in the most glowing terms. While most of them extolled the ethereal loveliness of Lillian Gish and others, one alone paid tribute to a star because, as he put it, “she is so gloriously physical.” The writer, Harold Dyson, of Toronto, Canada, was referring to Priscilla Dean.

Lillian Gisg close-up cca 1916 X
Lillian Gish

Transcendent Lillian Gish.

Here is a poignant beauty, all voters agree. Her wistfulness and fragility play no small part in enthralling her audiences, but many—like Rudolph Carr, of Grandport, Louisiana—think that in her happy moods her beauty reaches the most sublime heights. And Edith Markell, of Bayside, Long Island, voices the sentiment of many when she says, “Her beauty makes you not only admire her from afar, but want to draw near to her and protect her.” Her Anna Moore in “Way Down East,” her Child in “Broken Blossoms,” her roles in “Hearts of the World.” “True Heart Susie,” and “The Birth of a Nation”—none of the roles designated merely as a frame for beauty—have toppled over the old standards of beauty and established the standard of inner radiance. “Prettiness is on the outside,” as many of our readers pointed out, “but beauty shines from within.” And many of them added, “And Lillian Gish has both.”

Lillian Gish page - Picture-Play Magazine (Oct 1921)
Lillian Gish page – Picture-Play Magazine (Oct 1921)

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Friends Tried and True (Lillian, Dorothy, Mary and Mildred) By M. Lewis Russel

Picture Play Magazine – January 1920 Vol. XI No.5

Friends Tried and True

By M. Lewis Russel

THEY’VE been pals “forever and ever,” according to Dorothy Gish—she and Lillian and Mary Pickford and Mildred Harris Chaplin. And the day before Lillian left Los Angeles for the East there was a tea party on the Gish lawn, a sort of love feast.

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

Years ago, when they were all just little girls, Lillian Gish had to give up a part with a road company because her mother could not go along. That part fell to Mary Pickford, whose mother could go. And before the company started off, Lillian and Dorothy and Mary had become friends. They kept in close touch with each other from that time on.

After awhile Mary Pickford joined the Griffith forces in pictures at the old Biograph Studio in New York. One day Lillian and Dorothy returned from a trip. “Oh, girls !” said Mary, “I am working in pictures. You have never seen moving pictures made, so come on over to the studio with me, and watch them work.” Off they went!

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

“Hello, Mary,” said D. W. G. “Who’s this with you?”

“Oh, they’re just Lillian and Dorothy—they never saw pictures made, so I brought them along !”

“Well—do they want to work in pictures ?”

“Sure they do !”

“All right—tell them to begin next week !”

And they started in at the fabulous sum of ten dollars a week!

“Do you remember, Lillian,” said Mary over the teacups, “those little twins next door, who used to slip up and poke you with their fingers, to see if you were alive? They always thought you were a doll!”

Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish

“Yes—and do you remember when Mildred first came to the studio here how little she seemed, and how we used to take care of her, Dorothy?”

“Oh, yes, Lillian”—it was Mildred Harris talking—”you know I always did just worship you! I used totag around after you and watch every thing you did!”

“Well, we had great times saving our pennies for birthday gifts !” Dorothy exclaimed. “Do you remember when we were little things, Mary—once your mother said Lillian was just too lovely to live ! She said she was afraid an angel would come and take her up to Heaven ”

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford

“Oh, my!” laughed Mary Pickford, “and then they noticed that whenever Lillian and I were left alone I always got away from her as fast as I could ! I was afraid the angel would come for her when I was there, and take me, too!”

“Mildred has an anniversary next week! Why, what a shame I’ll be gone,” sighed Lillian. “But I’ll be thinking about you, anyway. Aren’t we the lucky girls, all of us—all four of us. It seems most too good to be true—after all the years and years we worked together !”

“That’s all right, don’t forget that you worked and you didn’t get more than you deserved—you and Mary, anyway,” Dorothy laughed, and caught Mildred gaily by the hand. “Come on, let’s see if there isn’t some chocolate ice cream !”

Friends Tried and True - Picture-Play Magazine (Jan 1920)
Friends Tried and True – Picture-Play Magazine (January 1920)


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Lillian Gish in a Hurricane (Pictorial) 1927 (Picture-Play August 1927)

Picture-Play August 1927 Volume XXVI No.6

Hollywood High Lights

The latest news of what the film folk are doing out there in the movie town.

By Edwin and Elza Schallert

Lillian Gish in a Hurricane.

“The Wind,” Lillian Gish’s next picture, promises to be unusually interesting. The story deals with the terrible Texas gales, such as have recently wrought such disaster. Miss Gish has never made a film of quite the same character. Many of the scenes have been filmed on location in the Mohave Desert, and she underwent the hardship of acting in driving sandstorms induced by huge wind machines that succeeded in stirring up the sand in a most amazingly realistic way. The technical crew on the production could wear goggles while working, but Miss Gish, of course, had to go through her part, without glasses, in the very midst of the artificial hurricane. There are several big roles in the film. Lars Hanson has the male lead, and Montagu Love is the heavy.


The Wind – Photo Gallery

The Wind - Poster
The Wind – Poster
The Wind - Poster
The Wind – Poster
The Wind - Poster Lillian and Lars
The Wind – Poster – Lillian and Lars Hanson


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An Illustrious Sister Act – The art of Lillian Gish -By Malcolm H. Oettinger (Picture Play Magazine 1925)

Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotiona 2l
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola – Promotional

Picture Play Magazine Volume XXII July, 1925 No. 5

An Illustrious Sister Act

An appraisal of the art of Lillian Gish, who is about to begin a new phase of her long career, with a few words about her sister Dorothy.

By Malcolm H. Oettinger

IF you or some other curious person were to stop me some summer morning and ask point blank: “Who is the best actress unrolling her talents on celluloid?” I- should, -without quibbling, cast my two or three votes—for such is the system in Pennsylvania — in favor of Lillian Gish. When serious thinkers and cynical souls of all sexes begin to crown the baby art with wild raspberries it is always possible to exact a temporary reprieve for the films by mentioning Lillian Gish. Such reluctant optimists as George Jean Nathan and Joseph Hergesheimer have dedicated psalms to Lillian; aloof fellows, they have abandoned their usual frapped poise to compose veritable paeans of praise in her honor. No one can doubt the sincerity of these testimonials; no one can question the worthiness of the recipient.

Lillian Gish dragged back home (Broken Blossoms)
Lillian Gish dragged back home (Broken Blossoms)

Her work in “Broken Blossoms” alone is sufficient evidence. Those who refuse to consider one count as final are referred to “The White Sister,” in which the Gish sincerity made one forget the glucose sentimentality: “Way Down East,” in which her poignant characterization gleamed like a diamond in a popcorn ball; “The Birth of a Nation,” in which Griffith blended her gifts with a moving symphony of tremendous power.

Lillian Gish 1925 - Bettmann
Lillian Gish 1925 – Bettmann

Lillian Gish could wring my heart even if she played Little Eva or Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model; she has the steadily glowing spark of genius. Her great performances are not occasional, they are consistent. Nor is hers an art that must, like virtue, be, to some extent, its own reward. Unfortunate contractual agreements have handicapped her, but that her box-office value has remained intact was shown by the line-up of producers who, glowering at each other, stormed the lobby of her hotel upon the recent announcement that a Federal judge had declared her free from all claims of her late impresario, and open to new offers. As you probably know, she decided, after weighing all offers, to sign with Metro-Goldwyn.

Detail CR Gish, Lillian (Way Down East)_022
Detail Anna Moore – Lillian Gish (Way Down East)

Ordinarily it is simple to write of the ladies of the screen. They are bound to be beautiful, in varying degree ; they are likely to be engaging, if only as a concession to their great public ; occasionally they turn out to be clever. Writing of Lillian Gish is more difficult. Standing head and shoulders above her sister players, she is to be pointed out as the one artiste of the silver so-called sheet. Nazimova was mentioned in the same breath until she began to look upon picture making as a Ford owner looks upon a one-man top. Now it is Lillian Gish alone. (The Negri of “Passion” flashed across the horizon and disappeared, never, apparently, to return.

The rest of the ladies—Swanson, Pickford, Talmadge—hold no claim to greatness save as tremendously popular favorites.) There is no hocus pocus to encounter and overcome before gaining an audience with Lillian Gish. Granted a reasonably good phone connection, a taxi, and an elevator, and you stand at her door without further ado. And very likely she will open it.

She is delicately beautiful, with haunting eyes set far apart, dainty nose verging on the retrousse, and lips that a more pyrotechnical phrasemaker would term rosebud. They are small and curved and shy. But in describing her you are certain to come back to her eyes—soulful, wistful, fine eyes that seem to say, “I am a little disillusioned, a little weary, a trifle sad, but tomorrow may be brighter.” Her manner is reserved, almost timid. Her poise extends to the point of placidity. She is balanced and calm and thoughtful In her opinions. Her conversation further reveals her underlying tolerance regarding all things. When we discussed the theater—and she had seen everything from “The Miracle” to “Abie’s Irish Rose”—she was kindly in her judgments, speaking well of most plays and performers, maintaining a significant silence to indicate disapproval. “How fine it would be,” she remarked, “if the Theater Guild were to create a sister organization that would function through motion pictures ! The Guild has done so many splendid things. The screen could well afford such a group of artistic producers.” She spoke of the cruel necessity for condensing pictures to meet standard theater requirements. “After we’ve put months and months into the planning and making and careful cutting of a picture play,” she said, “it hurts terribly to see it slashed mercilessly until it is inside the two-hour limit. Jumps appear, continuity ceases … what have you? … I always feel a personal loss when a scene is hacked away, a scene that may have represented days of careful work. . . . Yet I realize the practical necessity for reducing a feature picture to regular running time.” She sighed, and a helpless little frown appeared. “That is. where we are so handicapped.

Silver Halide Photo Cca 1920 Lillian Gish - detail

We must always bow to practical demands. The sculptor does not. The author does not. No one dictates to the poet or the sincere playwright. Yet the artist working in the medium of films is permanently hobbled by certain restrictions and fetishes and unwritten laws.” When she talks it is quietly, briefly. The quotations you are reading did not flow forth. They are a series of observations gathered, assorted, and bound together. I had seen Lillian Gish at Mamaroneck in 1921 when she was engaged in making “Orphans of the Storm.” Seeing her again reminded me how little she had changed. To my notion, the remarkable thing is her utter lack of affectation, her absolute sincerity, her genuine simplicity and naturalness. After all, when you pause to consider that here is the great actress of the screen, worthy of being ranked among the great stage figures of her time, the absence of pomp and importance is a bit amazing. She has nothing of that charming artificiality or artificial charm, if you will, characteristic of so many actresses. She has charm alone. Midway during my visit Dorothy Gish joined us. Were one to search the seven seas one could find no contrast more complete than the sisters Gish. Together they form the last word in opposite temperaments. Dorothy Gish is the modernist, fresh from shopping on Fifth Avenue, luncheon at Pierre’s, and Dorothy Gish is the the latest in shingles ; Lillian – is the classic-modernist, impetuos, observant, thoughtful, reserved. Dorothy is impetuous, fleeting, impulsive, flip; Lillian pensive, deliberate, calculating”, practical.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

The little disturber is typical of the young American; Lillian, Old World, aristocratic. Dorothy spoke glowingly of the Duncan sisters, “The Firebrand,” Heifetz, Nurmi, Robert Edmond Jones, and the weather ; Lillian listened, smiling. (“I’ve seen ‘Rain’ nine times,” Dorothy exclaimed. “Whenever it comes near New York I see it over and over. Jeanne Eagles, grows better every time I see her. She’s marvelous, wonderful, superb!”) Dorothy is an opportunist, reckless perhaps, but gay, and ever on the go.

Lillian Gish - JOHN ENGSTEAD
Lillian Gish – JOHN ENGSTEAD

Lillian is the planner, cautious, even reluctant in taking decisive steps. Well she may be. From a purely commercial viewpoint hers has been a heart-breaking career. Time after time fortune has hovered above her head, only to fade into thin air before becoming a reality. Griffith never was able to pay huge salaries because of the reckless manner in which he mounts his pictures and the leisure with which he completes them. The Frohman Corporation signed her as a high-salaried star, then promptly dissolved. And latterly Inspiration Films had proven inspired only in so far as acting has been concerned. Both Dick Barthelmess and Henry King had legal difficulties over the trying matter of remuneration, and then Miss Gish was obliged to resort to courts for adjustment of her affairs with them. Her last picture with Inspiration was “Romola,” in which Dorothy shares honors.

Lillian Gish - 1924 (Romola promotional)
Lillian Gish – 1924 (Romola promotional)

“We spent six months in Italy on ‘Romola,’ ” said Lillian. “We were completely absorbed in it. A beautiful story. I had always had my heart set upon doing it. “We worked night and day. While light permitted we would And locations and take exteriors. At night at the hotel we would rewrite the script, adjusting it in many instances to local conditions.” The fact that Lillian Gish has directed pictures and is fully conversant with the technical side of the studio increased her cares tenfold. There were huge dynamos to he imported from Rome, trucks to be located, currents to be converted, licenses to be obtained.

“There were a hundred and one difficulties to overcome.” Her slender white hands fluttered in a descriptive gesture. “The places for backgrounds that were in reach of lighting equipment. Extras. Dependable technical assistants. The authorities were most kind, but there were so many obstacles.


The Gish Sisters (Romola)
The Gish Sisters (Romola) Lillian and Dorothy

“I loved Florence, though,” said Dorothy. “So did Ronald Colman and Henry King.” “We saw them in Hollywood recently,” Lillian interposed. “We went out for the opening of ‘Romola.’ They said they wanted more Florence and less Hollywood. . . . How that little town has changed. I hadn’t seen it for years and years. . . . Since ‘Intolerance.’ It was a nice little country town then. Make-shift. Delightful. Now it’s … it’s so grown-up !” Dorothy was reminded of Michael Aden,, a favorite of the moment. Lillian expressed her admiration for the new Burke autobiography, “The Wind and the Rain.” Both of the blond sisters had enjoyed Milne’s inimitable “When We Were Very Young.” They were curious regarding the Sinclair Lewis novel, “Arrowsmith.”

Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotional
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotional

Although you would never learn such things from Lillian herself, it is true that she- has made tremendous sacrifices for her various successes. In “Way Down East” she played in a raging blizzard until she collapsed before the camera. Her hands were frozen. During the making of “Broken Blossoms” she lost thirteen pounds in ten days as a result of the high emotional tension under which she was laboring. For “The White Sister” she worked night and day all of the final week to complete it on time. Despite all this she looks youthful and fresh, twenty-five perhaps, pink and white, ethereal. There is nothing of the theater about her even though she has devoted something over fifteen years to stage and screen.

Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Promotional session Romola 4
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Promotional session Romola
Lillian Gish - Promo CCa 1923
Lillian Gish – Promo CCa 1923

“The trying part of picture making,!’ she confessed gently, “is the combining art and business. You are expected to create just as one creates a painting or a symphony, yet you must submit to efficiency men, time clocks, schedules, and manufacturers’ methods. It strikes me as incongruous. . . . Yet I can see perfectly why it is so. But until things undergo a distinct change it will remain an herculean task to lift pictures above the machine-like standards of “program features.'” By the time these lines appear, Lillian Gish should he in Los Angeles, at work on “The Outsider.” But wherever her present—and I trust, more gratifying—contract may take her, Lillian Gish still will remain the great actress of the screen.

Sister Act 1 - Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)
Sister Act 1 – Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)
Sister Act 2 - Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)
Sister Act 2 – Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)
Sister Act 3 - Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)
Sister Act 3 – Picture-Play Magazine (July 1925)


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Dorothy and Lillian Gish 1951 – Look Magazine (Pictorial)

Museum of The City Of New York – Collection

Dorothy and Lillian Gish in their apartment in New York, photographed in 1951

John Vachon – Look Magazine – New York


Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine1
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 6
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy Gish in Lillian's apartment NY 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine
Dorothy Gish in Lillian’s apartment NY 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 2
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 4
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine


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Broken Blossoms – By Peter Milne (Picture Play Magazine – 1919)

Picture Play Magazine – August 1919 Vol. X No. 6

The Screen in Review

Criticism and comment on recent releases, by one of New York’s leading authorities on matters pertaining to the screen.


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

Broken Blossoms

By Peter Milne

“Broken Blossoms” marks a real advancement in the motion-picture art. Mr. Griffith has instituted something new in it at every angle from which a production usually is viewed. He brings a new style of photography which creates a more artistic effect than plain flat black-and-white work. He brings a new sort of drama, a new sort of production. “Broken Blossoms” is the simple tale of the lives of three people in London’s Chinatown.

Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)
Lucy Burrows on the Wharf (Broken Blossoms)

The girl, daughter of a brutal prize fighter, who beats her mercilessly whenever he is drunk —which is often—is protected by a Chinaman who has long loved her from afar. After one particularly severe beating she receives from her father the Chinaman finds her and takes her to his room, where he bathes the poor bruised body and dresses her in the finest silks. It is the only happiness that has ever come into her life, but its coming is the heralding of her death, for her father suddenly discovers that he has “parental” rights, and, his rage unbounded, he seeks her out and spoils her little moment of satisfaction.

Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms

Tragic as the entire picture is, it appeals to all our finer emotions, and, with the perfectly splendid production that Griffith has given it, it deserves to rank with the finest achievements of the screen. The scenes of London’s Chinatown are marvelous in their realism. Lillian Gish fairly lives the part of the girl, and expresses the tragedy of the empty life with a wonderful characterization. Richard Barthelmess, as the Chinaman, invests the part with a touch of the mystic, of the romantic, that establishes him as a hero far better than wavy hair and good clothes ever did a matinee idol. Donald Crisp returns to the screen from directing to play the fighter, and brings out the coarse brutality of the father to a degree.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

Photo Gallery:

Broken Blossoms – The Movie


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Lillian Gish – on Sunday News cover, 1942 (Carbro Print Process overview)

The carbon process, initially a black-and-white process using lampblack (carbon black), was invented by Alphonse Poitevin in 1855. The process was later adapted to color, through the use of pigments, by Louis Ducos du Hauron in 1868. Carbon printing remained commercially popular through the first half of the 20th century. A Carbro print is an assembly of three bichromated gelatin tissues, each pigmented with one of the primary subtractive colors, cyan, magenta, or yellow. The image on each tissue is formed as a result of a chemical reaction that occurs when the bichromated gelatin tissue is placed in contact with a silver bromide print. The silver bromide prints, each made from a black-and-white separation negative cause the tissues’ gelatin to harden in proportion to the density of the print. The unhardened gelatin is then washed away. When these tissues are placed in exact register onto a paper support, they combine to produce a full-color (tricolor) photograph. The Carbro process, patented in 1905 as the Ozobrome, was adapted from carbon printing techniques developed in the 1850s. Though monochromatic Carbro prints were made, this process is best-known through its vivid three-color images. Carbro prints are also noted for their image permanence.

In the photograph below (Lillian Gish on Sunday News cover 1942), one can notice the natural and vivid colors preserved after so many years.

Carbro print - Sunday News 1942 cover
Carbro print – Sunday News 1942 cover

Steps (methods are slightly different according to technician-artist):

  1. Measuring pigment, glycerin and gelatin in proportion and mix with cold water. I just use a kitchen blender to do the mix and works well.
  2. Put the container with mixed materials in the refrigerator and let it swell over night. Stainless steel bowls works great.
  3. Double boiler method to heat and dissolve gelatin at a temperature of 120 f with plastic wrap over the top to keep the heat in, and keep the bacteria and other matter out. Stir constantly to reduce the bubble and air.
  4. After the gelatin cools off, strain the gel with a very fine strainer
  5. Put double weight silver paper in fixer, wash and dry. Before coating, I will presoak this paper again in warm water of 110 f
  6. I use a twenty by thirty sheet of glass set on a frame that I can level the glass and keep the gelatin in place. I will heat the glass with hot water by just spraying it over the top of the glass. Take the presoaked receiver sheet (the fixed out and washed photo paper) from the warm water, lay it on the warm glass and get rid of all the excess water with a rubber squeeze. I use 450ml graduates to contain the warm gel and to pour the gel on the paper. Starting a stream close to the edge and spiraling toward the center, then I put the gel back in the warm water to stay warm and spread the gel with my fingers till it al comes together in a solid sheet. If you don’t lift your fingers when coating, you don’t get bubbles.
  7. Now let the gel cool, I use a fan in the darkroom or run cold water under the glass, when it’s solid, hang it up to dry and the next day you can start to work. It takes about 50 ml to coat an 11×14 sheet.
  8. The silver gelatin print needs to presoak for about fifteen minutes in cool water lay it on the glass sheet, removing all excess water, using the rubber squeeze and even a paper towel if necessary.
  9. Soak the gelatin coated sheet in the sensitizer for about three minutes at 68 degrees f or until it lie flat, a lot will depend on the humidity of the air where you are working.
  10. On a 100% leveled surface, lay the silver print at the bottom and face up. Remove the sensitized sheet from the chemical bath and drain well, face down. Put the two together and make sure they have a good contact. If they slip when bringing them into contact, you will get a blurred image. It’s a good idea to have registration pins place in the board or sheet you are working on and hole to match on both the tissue and the print you are using. I then place old newspapers over the sandwich and a sheet of glass on top of that for weight to be sure the contact is good. Let it set for 20 minutes.
  11. Removing the glass, newspaper register and finally the gel and print paper. Taking the gel and print paper apart, lay the gel paper face down on a fixed silver photo paper and registered for another 20 minutes. The image from the receiving paper will be transferred to the fixed double weight silver paper. The paper with silver, the gel hardens while the area without silver, gel washed away.
  12. Put them in a warm water of 110 f and let them separate. It will take 5 to 10 minutes to come apart.
  13. Discard the gel-receiving sheet, now you agate softly the fixed paper with transferred Carbro image in the warm water till the unhardened gel washed away.
  14. Hanging up and let it dry totally.
  15. Mix glycerin in cold water, and soak the Carbro imaged paper for a hour which will saturate the pigment and flatten the print.
  16. Dry the print again.


Example: In below illustration, one can notice the difference between frames (B/W scan) due to color separation on each layer. The “left” Lillian Gish looks almost like a different person. Published on few social media networks and blogs this photo (part of carbro process) was labeled as “Helen Hayes”.

Carbro print - Sunday News 1942 carbro process part
Carbro print – Sunday News 1942 carbro process part

It is very doubtful whether any process so completely like the requirements of the artistic photographer as does the carbon process. Its long scale, its deepest shadows combine to render it the most perfect of photographic printing methods. Carbon printing as we know it today is based on the fact that a mixture of gelatin with as chromic salt is gradually hardened and rendered insoluble on exposure to light or chemistry. If, therefore, paper is coated with such a mixture of sensitized gelatin, containing any permanent pigment – carbon was originally used – and if this paper is placed underneath a negative and exposed to actinic light, we shall have a positive image formed consisting of soluble and insoluble gelatin; insoluble in exact proportion as the light has reached the surface of the pigment compound. Development consists in washing away with hot water those portions of gelatin which the light has not affected sufficiently to render insoluble. I would urge every serious photographer to master this fascinating process, for till he has done so, he must be unaware of many of the possibilities of his art. Carbro printing is basically a transfer process. Since there is none transfer paper exists, you have to hand coat you own paper and mix your own chemistry. Besides you can print black and white pictures.

A carbon print is a photographic print with an image consisting of pigmented gelatin, rather than of silver or other metallic particles suspended in a uniform layer of gelatin, as in typical black-and-white prints, or of chromogenic dyes, as in typical photographic color prints. In the original version of the printing process, carbon tissue (a temporary support sheet coated with a layer of gelatin mixed with a pigment—originally carbon black, from which the name derives) is bathed in a potassium dichromate sensitizing solution, dried, then exposed to strong ultraviolet light through a photographic negative, hardening the gelatin in proportion to the amount of light reaching it. The tissue is then developed by treatment with warm water, which dissolves the unhardened gelatin. The resulting pigment image is physically transferred to a final support surface, either directly or indirectly. In an important early 20th century variation of the process, known as carbro (carbon-bromide) printing, contact with a conventional silver bromide paper print, rather than exposure to light, was used to selectively harden the gelatin. A wide variety of colored pigments can be used instead of carbon black. The process can produce images of very high quality which are exceptionally resistant to fading and other deterioration. It was developed in the mid-19th century in response to concerns about the fading of early types of silver-based black-and-white prints, which was already becoming apparent within a relatively few years of their introduction.

*** Rumors – “Carbro” was the idea that inspired the scientists who engineered the CCD system for modern digital filming cameras, the chemical compounds (cyan-magenta-yellow) being replaced by electronic sensors with the same task – to separate the colors in RGB base (red-green-blue).

Carbro print - Sunday News 1942 X-cover
Carbro print – Sunday News 1942 X-cover

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