Dorothy Gish, Actress, Is Dead – The New York Times – June 6, 1968

Dorothy Gish, Actress, Is Dead

In Theater and Films 50 Years

Starred With Sister, Lillian, in Griffith Silent Classics — Many Broadway Roles

The New York Times – June 6, 1968

RAPALLO. Italy, June 5 (AP)

-Dorothy Gish, one of the two sisters. who entertained motion picture audiences and theatergoers for more than a half-century, died here last night. She was 70 years old. Her sister, Lillian, who has been making a movie in Rome, was at her bedside. Dorothy had been in a clinic here for nearly two years. She died of bronchial pneumonia. The United States consulate in Genoa said that Miss Gish’s body would be cremated and that the ashes would be returned to the United States.

Extra in Films in 1912

Although Dorothy and Lillian often worked together and had careers that were in many ways parallel, they were not a team. In the highly competitive world of acting, they remained a harmonious pair of sisters who admired each other.

The Gish sisters reached the peak of popularity during the silent screen days, but Dorothy was only 4 and Lillian 6 when they went on stage professionally.

They started in movies in 1912 under the wing of D.W. Griffith, the grandmaster of silent-screen films. They got their job through Mary Pickford, a friend whom they only knew by her real name, Gladys Smith, when they sought her out at Griffith’s Biograph Company at 11 East 14th Street in New York. They had seen Gladys in a movie and thought they would like to try the new medium.

Griffith started them as extras. In order to ten them apart at first, he had Lillian wear a blue ribbon and Dorothy, then 14, a red one. He was so impressed with their talents that he took them to California, for his customary West Coast fall season at $50 a week, a sound wage for those silent days.

‘Familiar With Tempo’

“Mr. Griffith spent months in rehearsing his players and plots before a camera turned,” Dorothy recalled years later.

“By the time a photoplay went into actual production, an actor was thoroughly familiar with his own part as well as the tempo, approach and reactions of other members of the cast.

“Most of Mr. Griffith’s films were shot without scripts and were improvised in the manner of the commedia dell’arte,” she continued. “Individual scenes were staged and re-staged until a maximum effect was realized and footage was closely checked with a stop watch. This saved large sums in raw film and time and kept production cost from soaring.”

During her years in films, Miss Gish appeared in “An Unseen Enemy,” “Hearts of the World,” “ The Orphans of the Storm,” “Tip-Toes,” ”London,” “Nell Gwynn,” “Romola,” and “Madame Pompadour.” Of all her screen roles, Miss Gish preferred playing the Little Disturber in “Hearts of the World,” which Griffith made in England and France during World War I.

In 1918, she worked for a while in New York with Paramount Pictures, making “Battling Jane,” “I’ll Get Him Yet” and “Remodeling Her Husband.” The last had Richard Barthelmess (***Not James Rennie?) as her leading man and her sister as director.

After 1928 and the advent of talkies, she made only three films, “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” (1944) “Centennial Summer” (1946) and “The Whistle at Eaton Falls” (1951).

As much as she was gratified by her film career, Miss Gish’s first love, as with many performers was the stage. Her string of credits through 1956, was long and respectable.

They included Fay Hilary in “Young Love,” (1928); Maria in “The Inspector General” (1930), Emily Dickinson in “Brittle Heaven” (1934), Fanny in “Autumn Crocus” (1932), Fanny Dixwell Holmes in “The Magnificent Yankee” (1946), and Mrs. Gillis in “The Man” (1950), her last Broadway role.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 69

She succeeded Dorothy Stickney for almost a year in the starring role of Vinnie, the patient mother, in the Broadway hit “Life With Father.” In 1956,she starred in “The Chalk Garden,” at The Spa in Saratoga N.Y.

Dorothy Gish was born March 11, 1898. She once told how she came to her stage career:

“Mother came up from Massillon, Ohio, where we were born, partly to look for our father, who had left us, and partly to try to earn a living for all three of us. We were practically destitute. She rented one of the old-fashioned railroad apartments, and advertised for ‘genteel lady roomers.’

One of the genteel ladies who rented a room was an actress, and after she had been with us a few weeks, she had an offer for a part in a road company production of ‘East Lynne,’ provided she could find a small child … to play the part of Little Willie.”

Mrs. Gish found someone – Dorothy. Four years later, in 1906, she made her debut at the Lincoln Square Theater with Fiske O’Hara in “Dion O’ Dare.”

She played juvenile parts until 1912 when she and Lillian went into the movies.

Miss Gish was once described, much later in life, by a writer who called her ”a deep-voiced woman … with an unabated zest for life, a faintly ribald sense of humor and an uncompromising faculty for self-appraisal.”

In 1951, when she was making “The Whistle at Eaton Falls,” she said that she particularly enjoyed making the film because it “reminded me so much of the way we made pictures in the old days of Mr. Griffith.” She explained further: “To me, there’s too much spit’n’ polish about today’s film technique. When Lillian and I were in silent films, we did every thing for ourselves – mother made our costumes, we did our own hair, put on our own make-up.

“Nowadays, you have a couple of people getting you into costume, another couple fussing around on your hair, others with your face. You feel, somehow, like Marie Antoinette-even with the best will in the world, rather aloof and removed.”

Miss Gish loved to travel and she stipulated that her career should not interfere with her wanderings. She lived for months in England, Italy, Yugoslavia and Africa. She also had a home at Wilson Point, near Newport, Conn.

In 1920, she and James Rennie, a New York actor, eloped to Greenwich, Conn. The marriage ended in divorce 15 years later.

*** Admin. Note: Dorothy Gish had James Rennie as her leading man in “Remodeling Her Husband,” not Richard Barthelmess.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 2
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Dorothy Gish in costume]; ca. 1920s; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Texas; Bequest of Nell Dorr; P1990.45.464

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Dorothy Gish is dead - The New York Times June 6 1968
Dorothy Gish is dead – The New York Times June 6 1968

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Writers for ‘Anya’ Accepted Lillian Gish’s Voice – By Louis Calta (The New York Times Nov. 9, 1965)


Writers for ‘Anya’ Accepted Her Voice, Says Star

By Louis Calta

The New York Times Nov. 9, 1965

“You better wait until you hear me before you use the word ‘sing,'”, Lillian Gish said yesterday. She confirmed a report that she will be heard in song on Broadway for the first time in her career. As the dowager empress of Russia in „Anya,” the musical version of the play “Anastasia,” opening here Nov. 29, Miss Gish will sing a  special number, „Little Hands.”

1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish - Little Hands
1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish – Little Hands

”George Abbott, the director, asked me.” she said. “I might be frightened in less professional hands than Mr. Abbott’s, but I’m excited instead.”

Miss Gish said she had not taken any voice lessons. “The time is too short and it might confuse me,” she explained. “I met Robert Wright and George Forrest, the show’s song writers. They heard me and·they said that it would be all right for me to do the song.

Miss Gish made her stage debut in Ohio when she was 5 years old, in a melodrama with Walter Huston as the young leading man.

She had always wanted to be in a musical, she said, and even went so far as to take voice lessons from Victor Maurell, a teacher of half a century ago, and from Margaret Carrington.

Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya
Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya

I was only 19 then, and I’m afraid I did not fully appreciate the opportunity,” Miss Gish said wistfully. „But I’m sure I got some good from it.”

Although biographical data usually list in Miss Gish’s birth date as 1896, the energetic star says that she is actually only 65 years old.

„When we were little,” she! said – referring to herself and her sister Dorothy -„we would say that we were older because of the laws prohibiting youngsters from appearing on the stage.”

„Anya,”which deals with the purported survival of a Russian princess of the Bolshevik massacre in 1917, teams Miss Gish with Constance Towers, Michael Kermoyan and lrra Petina.

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Lillian Gish Makes Her Bow in Version of a Molnar Play – Marion Davies’s Comedy – By Mordaunt Hall, 1930

Lillian Gish Makes Her Bow in Version of a Molnar Play – Marion Davies’s Comedy

The New York Times, June 8, 1930

By Mordaunt Hall

LILLIAN GISH’S acting in her first talking film, “One Romantic Night,” a version of Molnar’s play, “The Swan,” is all the more impressive for her being heard. As in the case of other screen players with pleasing voices, audibility is a boon to Miss Gish, for it assists materially in the quality of the acting. There is more life to her work and it helps her to avoid those mannerisms that were particularly in evidence in her later silent films.

Conrad Nagel, Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Direktor Paul L. Stein ermahnt, The Swan
Conrad Nagel, Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Direktor Paul L. Stein ermahnt, The Swan

Speech in screen offerings often makes for less sameness in the work of the players and so results in a wider difference in characterization than was usually possible on the silent screen. Miss Gish, for instance, was really always Miss Gish under another name in most of her mute films. In this her first venture before the microphone, however, there is infinitely more charm and variety to her acting than in her best work in mere pantomimic roles. Words may not always make the player seem very different from what he or she was in another part, but they undoubtedly help, particularly when the comparison is not with another talking film, but with a silent specimen.

One Romantic Night - The Swan
One Romantic Night – The Swan

This “One Romantic Night” is a diverting affair, but what can be said in praise for Miss Gish’s acting cannot be said for that of Conrad Nagel or Rod La Rocque, partly because one is apt to bear in mind the sterling work on the stage of Basil Rathbone and Philip Merrivale in the same roles. The portrayals of both Mr. Nagel and Mr. La Rocque are hard, lacking spark or spontaneity, but possibly quite acceptable if one had not seen the play. Perhaps these two screen players might have succeeded much better had they the advantages of their stage colleagues, for there is no doubt that the acting of many players in talking films is hindered by the lack of continuity in the scenes, and also because often they do not have enough time for Iearning or rehearsing their parts. A stage player may improve in his role as time goes on, but the screen actor is called upon to give but one real performance. Then, too, some of the character players are extremely busy, and they go with little opportunity for real preparation from one film to another and sometimes are engaged in two productions simultaneously.

One Romantic Night - The Swan
One Romantic Night – The Swan

Marie Dressler, who elicited no end of laughter as the reprehensible Marty in the audible version of “Anna Christie,” creates plenty of fun as the old Princess Beatrice, the match-aking mother of Princess Alexandra (Miss Gish). It is the Princess Beatrice who, on perceiving that Prince Albert is not attentive to her daughter, encourages the young woman to flirt with Dr. Haller, as the tutor is known in this film. The incidents that follow give Miss Dressler a great opportunity, and while her acting is only relatively restrained, it is far more subdued than it has been in any of her other film roles.

It is interesting and unusual to note that while Miss Gish’s shadow is performing in this transcription of Molnar’s romantic comedy, she is to he seen in person at the Cort in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” It is rare indeed that a screen player is to be seen on the stage and the screen simultaneously.

Father Benedict, who in the original play was known as Father Hyacinth, is capably portrayed by O.P.Heggie but the character would have been more sympathetic had Mr. Heggie’s voice been a little softer.

At an early showing of this picture, which is still holding forth at the Rivoli, the sound reproduction was unnecessarily loud, which is another handicap to the final result of an audible screen player’s work.

One Romantic Night promotional Lillian Gish last scene

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Lillian Gish Gives a Notable Performance in Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ – By BROOKS ATKINSON (New York Times, 1953)

New York Times, November 4, 1953


Lillian Gish Gives a Notable Performance in Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful’


Everything ·being possible, Lillian Gish may some day give a finer performance than her Mrs. Carrie Watts in “The Trip to Bountiful.” which opened at Henry Miller’s last evening. But no one has a right ever to expect anything finer. For this is Miss Gish’s masterpiece. As a weary old woman, homesick for her youth in the country she gives an inspired performance that is alive in every detail and conveys an unconquerable spirit.

The play by Horton Foote is a narrative that supplies Miss Gish with honest material but does not take much of the burden off her shoulders. All it has to say is that Mrs. Watts is a lonely woman who has to live with a daughter-in-law who hates her and a son who does not dare take her side. Life being intolerable for every member of the family in their small Houston apartment, Mrs. Watts dreams of escaping back to Bountiful where she was born and once lived a fruitful and peaceful life. She does run away. She catches a bus for the next town to Bountiful. She finds friendly people on the bus and along the way. And she does have a few blissful moments in the weed-grown dooryard of her old home before her son and daughter-in-law come to fetch her back to Houston.

Lillian Gish by Forbes - Advertising the new version of - The Trip To Bountiful - play - Stars in Goodyear TV Playhouse ...
Lillian Gish by Forbes, Advertising the new version of “The Trip To Bountiful” play – Stars in Goodyear Television Playhouse …

That does not make a very substantial play for a whole evening. Nor does Mr. Foote make things any better by underwriting. He is a scrupulous author who does not want easy victories, and that is to his credit morally. But he might also do a little more for the theatre by going to Bountiful himself as a writer, providing his play with I more substance and varying his literary style. He writes “The Trip to Bountiful” as though it were a point of honor with him never to let go. The story is thin, and the dialogue is all in one tone of deliberate flatness.

As a gallery of character portraits, however, his drama has distinction. And under Vincent J. Donehue’s directiont the performance is so pitilessly exact that you can hardly tell where the writing leaves off and the acting begins. Jo Van Fleet, who played Camille in “Camino Real” last season, gives another penetrating performance as the irritable daughter-in-law.

Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)
Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)

The part is well-written. By massing his details Mr. Foote discloses the selfishness, emptiness, laziness and cruelty of a shallow wife who dominates the family by evilness of her temper. And Miss Van Fleet acts the part from the inside out with remorseless candor.

Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish - The Trip To Bountiful 1953
Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful 1953

Gene Lyons ably expresses the patience and timidity of Mrs. Watts’ son, who has no strength left for making decisions. There is a sweet characterization of a soldier’s wife by Eva Marie Saint whose senses of pride and sympathy are nicely balanced; and Frank Overton gives a pleasant performance of a sheriff who treats Mrs. Watts with unprofessional forbearance.

Lillian Gish is Carrie Watts (The Trip To Bountiful)
Lillian Gish is Carrie Watts (The Trip To Bountiful)

But “The Trip to Bountiful” is Miss Gish’s play, and she finds all the heartbreak and gallantry that is in it. Looking frail, dressed untidily in a shapeless garment, her hair messy and her face drawn, she gives, nevertheless, an impression of indomitable strength. Her acting is keenly aware. For Mrs. Watts, lost in her private grief, never forgets the world that is streaming by her. She is always peering out of the windows. She is alive to other people. Although physically tired, she is an eager person.

EM SAint The trip to bountiful
Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint in “The Trip to Bountiful”

The theatre has a whole bagful of tricks for describing old ladies. But Miss Gish never uses any of them. Her portrait of Mrs. Watts is pure art. The character is freshly created. As a whole, “The Trip to Bountiful” is an ingrown play; and Otis Riggs’ scenery, which has been executed indifferently, gets pretty mediocre after the first act.

But Miss Gish is at the peak of her career in the leading part. It’s a triumph of skill and spirit.

Playbill - the trip to bountiful - Miss Lillian Gish
Playbill – the trip to bountiful – Miss Lillian Gish
NY Times Nov 4 1953 A Trip To Bountiful
NY Times Nov 4 1953 A Trip To Bountiful
Miss Lillian Gish (Mrs. Carrie Watts) - The Trip To Bountiful
Miss Lillian Gish (Mrs. Carrie Watts) – The Trip To Bountiful

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After ‘Life With Father’ Lillian Gish Owns the (Chicago) Town – By Lloyd Lewis (New York Times, 1941)

The New York Times June 1, 1941


After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town

By LLOYD LEWIS – Chicago

Lillian Gish, by virtue of sixty-six weeks in “Life With Father” at Chicago Blackstone Theatre, now takes her place beside the Lunts, Helen Hayes and Katharine Cornell as a truly national star.

She has achieved this position by merely spending well over a year at the crossroads of America, the railroad center, whereas the others have had to tour arduously from Tulsa to Des Moines to Seattle to Atlanta. An amazing number of transcontinental travelers stopped off in Chicago long enough to see this Chicago company of “Life With Father,” and the Pullman people say the show did a lot for midnight bookings.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

But it was by automobile that the great bulk of out-of-towners came to see Miss Gish and the comedy which on May 24 ended its run after setting a new longevity mark for dramas in Chicago. Sedans carrying four or five people arrived constantly from everywhere within a radius of 400 miles. Hitchhikers were found during the year to have come 200 miles just to see the play. One woman in Chicago went thirty-five times. Hundreds are known to have seen it four and five times. What was common was for men to attend during a trip to Chicago and then return some weeks later with their entire families, one of the standard sights in the audiences being that of a father sitting with his home folks and watching, from the corner of his eye, their faces as, on the stage, they saw him satirized, portrayed, “taken off.”

Miss Gish, to the people of the interior, was still a shimmering memory from the silent screen when she arrived in Chicago with the Crouse-Lindsay comedy in the Spring of 1940. She had made brief appearances in spoken dramas during the past decade, but the plays had never been smash hits nor tarried long in the few large cities which they had visited. Her Ophelia opposite John Gielgud had never come West. Most of her stage fame was purely Broadway.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

But in “Life With Father” she has made herself an entirely new fame in the midlands. The Lily Maid of Astolat is no longer a dream creature in an ivory belfry nor a flower-decked vision on a dark barge. She is now Mrs. Day, mother, wife and housekeeper. Lillian Gish has come from the unreal to the real. She has made people laugh, she has made people adore her for the simplicity and humor as well with the truly great charm with which she has worn the manners and costumes of the past century. She has identified herself with a character, a scene and a play wholly American, wholly practical and realistic so far as atmosphere is concerned.

Life with f lill 58

Midlanders talk about her now as though she had never been a fabulous, distant, legendary creature of D.W. Griffith’s filmdom at all. She is now somebody everybody knows-and loves, and if she chooses, she can tour the midlands for years in this comedy, building for herself a reputation approaching that of Joe Jefferson in “Rip Van Winkle.” It would take years, of course, and it is not likely she will undertake it, for on May 24 she had acted Vinnie Day for seventy-two consecutive weeks without missing a performance or a rehearsal. Some of those weeks were, indeed, rehearsals, but they meant daily work longer and harder than actual performances and must be added to the span of her toil.

“I don’t know,” says she, “if I should play ‘Life With Father’ any longer; Helen Hayes tells me seventy-two weeks straight is too long for an actress. Other theatrical people tell me that I have thus set a new American record for an actress playing a principal role. I don’t know about this. I do know that I grew weary toward the end and only the enthusiasm of those crowds kept me going. I felt, too, that is was good for the theatre, especially in the midlands, to have a play run in one house for more than a year. That could mean the education of new thousands to the value of the drama.”

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

After a Summer’s rest, Miss Gish will decide whether to appear in another play or to return to further tours in “Life With Father.” It was from a balcony seat at the Empire Theatre in New York soon after the original company was launched that she first saw the play. After the first two acts she went to the business office of the theatre downstairs and congratulated the management. One of owner Oscar Serlin’s lieutenants then and there asked her why she didn’t head a second company. Surprised, she retired to the balcony with the statement that if the third act held up she’d see. It did, she saw, and within a few weeks she was rehearsing with the second company.

During the historic Chicago run, which bettered by one week the record set by Frank Bacon in “Lightnin’” in 1921-22. Miss Gish has done herculean work for the play outside as well as in the theatre. She has become a very impressive speaker due to the endless Kiwanis and women’s club luncheons she has addressed. She has been photographed with Mayors, water lilies, new automobiles, 4-H club youngsters. She has posed buying tickets to charities.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

In her, Chicago has seen what D.W. Griffith saw when, at the height of her career as a fragile, ultra-feminine, wraith-like spirit in films, he said “she has the brain of a man.” For the Griffith films she worked daily, every day, across nine years. When she was not acting she was writing subtitles, picking locations, coining advertising catch lines. She learned all about billposting, and bargained for one-sheets, twenty-four sheets, snipes. She coined the title for “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and once in the early 1920’s she directed for Paramount a picture called “Remodeling Her Husband,” with her sister Dorothy as star and an unknown girl-friend named Dorothy Parker supplying the subtitles.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

Not without pride Miss Gish recalls, today, that this film cost $28.000 and grossed $300.000. And she takes satisfaction in the success of “White Sister,” a film for which she raised the money, supervised the scenario, the direction, the acting, and made the releasing deals when major companies refused to handle the film because it was “non-commercial.” It was she who wrote into the script the scene that assured the picture’s success, the ceremonial at which the heroine became a nun; the scene had not been contained in either the novel or drama. Her discovery of Ronald Colman, an obscure stage actor, as a film possibility and her employment of him as the hero of “White Sister” was also a businesslike item in the story of that film. Costing $270.000 it was eventually took in $4.000.000.

So wholly did Hollywood come to agree with Griffith’s verdict that she owned the brain of a man that she had, several years ago, standing offers from companies to come back and direct whenever she wished. But stage acting has been more important to her, obviously giving her mind more nourishment than Hollywood could ever give.

Thinking back across her career, it was not the nine vacationless years with Griffith, nor the seventy-two consecutive weeks of “Life With Father” that have taxed her as much as in the long run as Ophelia in “Hamlet” with John Gielgud.

“And it wasn’t the work that did that,” she says, “it was the emotional strain of Gielgud’s Hamlet. Every night his performance was as emotionally exhausting to me as to the spectators. His was truly great acting.”

Hamlet 1936
Hamlet 1936

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After 'Life With Father' the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941
After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941

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Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941
Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941


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Lillian Gish Will Play Nurse in “Romeo” – By Sam Zolotow (The New York Times – 1965)


Will Play Nurse in ‘Romeo’ at Stratford, Conn.

By Sam Zolotow

The New York Times – Jan. 27, 1965

Lillian Gish will portray the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Conn. It will be the first bill of the student series on March 8 and will usher in the regular season on June 19. Allen Fletcher, the group’s artistic director, will stage the play.

Lillian Gish as The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet 1965
Lillian Gish as The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet 1965

Miss Gish, who says she weighs 115 pounds and is 5 feet 6 inches tall, acknowledged she would make a petite nurse.

“I’ll persuade them without using any padding” she said, “that I’m large and vigorous. Size and weight have nothing to do with a good interpretation.”

Juliet (Maria Tucci) and The Nurse (Lillian Gish) in Romeo and Juliet - 1965
Juliet (Maria Tucci) and The Nurse (Lillian Gish) in Romeo and Juliet – 1965

The nurse will be Miss Gish’s only role at the festival and the first time she has acted there. Her only other Shakespearean role was Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet on Broadway in 1936.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

Terence Seammell has been selected for the part of Romeo and Maria Tucci as Juliet. Mr. Seammell is a third-season member of the troupe.

Miss Tucci, who is 22 years old, will make her debut at the festival. She has acted on Broadway in “The Deputy” and “The Milk Train doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”.

Lillian Gish and Terence Seammell in Romeo and Juliet 1965
Lillian Gish and Terence Seammell in Romeo and Juliet 1965

“There were plans to do “Romeo and Juliet” with Dick Barthelmess in Italy using the original locations, but, following our announcement, letters from the exhibitors begged reconsideration saying Mr. Shakespeare emptied their theaters. By the time I finally succeeded in appearing in this play at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, I was playing the Nurse.” (Dorothy and Lillian Gish – By Lillian Gish)

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Maxwell Anderson’s ‘The Star Wagon’ – By Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times, Sep 30, 1937)

The New York Times, Sep 30, 1937

Maxwell Anderson’s ‘The Star Wagon’

By Brooks Atkinson

The Star Wagon, a play in three acts and eight scenes, by Maxwell Anderson. Settings by Jo Mielziner; staged and produced by Guthrie McClintic. At the Empire Theatre.

  • Hanus Wicks ……………… Russell Collins
  • Martha Minch ………………… Lillian Gish
  • Stephen Minch ……. Burgess Meredith
  • Park ……………………….…. Whither Bissell
  • Ripple …………………………. Alan Anderson
  • Angela ………………………….… Muriel Starr
  • Apfel …………………..…. Howard Freeman
  • Duffy ………………………………… Kent Smith
  • First thug ……………………….. Barry Kelley
  • Second thug ………..… Charles Forrester
  • Misty ……………………………. John Philliber
  • Hallie Arlington ………… Jane Buchanan
  • Mr. Arlington …………….…. Arthur Young
  • Mrs. Rutledge ………… Mildred Natwick
  • Paul Rieger ……………… Edmond O’Brien
  • Cristabel ………………………. Evelyn Abbott
  • Delia …………………………………. Edith Smith
  • Oglethorpe ………………… William Garner
Lillian Gish by Eric Pape 1937 Charcoal on Paper (Starwagon)
Lillian Gish by Eric Pape 1937 Charcoal on Paper (Starwagon)

Maxwell Anderson and his crew of playmakers are back. They put on “The Star Wagon” at the Empire last evening and restored theatre – going to the status of a privileged profession. Although Mr. Anderson is not the most original playwright in the world, nor the most unctuous craftsman, he writes with considerable bone and muscle. To put it in its simplest terms, “The Star Wagon” is one of his most interesting plays. Taking the hackneyed theme of the time-machine and operating it clumsily at times, he manages to grind some characters out of it who are enormously absorbing people to be with in the theatre and who speculate on the cosmic subjects that arouse a man’s normal wonder. It is a vigorous and variegated play, written with the tang of good prose; and it is superbly acted by Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish in one of Mr. McClintic’s master performances. Of the new plays of the season this is the first to be worth a serious discussion.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) With Burgess Meredith in The Star Wagon — with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish.

In “High Tor” last year Mr. Anderson was advising his contemporaries not to try to hold time back. Although his style is less grandiloquent this season, his point of view is much the same. There is no such thing as good and bad fortune, he says; if we follow our natural instincts, we are doing as well by ourselves as we can. To prove this point, Mr. Anderson offers us an impractical laboratory inventor who constructs a machine that can carry him back and forth in time. He goes back specifically to the day in 1902 when he made his choice for a wife. Since she has been insisting that both of them married the wrong person, he tries the experiment of marrying the other girl and letting his present wife marry the other man she might have chosen. The results are ghastly; they all turn out to be jangled people. By operating the time machine again, he restores everything to its present condition and now everyone feels fine.

The Star Wagon 2

As a dramatic device, the time-machine is not the subtlest tool of imagination. Mr. Anderson departs from the magic-carpet tradition by permitting his chief characters to be aware of their privilege and by endowing them with the power to make different choices at the crucial moments in their past history. When they return to the present they also retain the memory of their excursions into what might have been, which gives them a perspective denied to the ordinary mortals of the world. The new play leaves the mind rather discontented.

The Star Wagon 3

But the dramatic device is not the interesting aspect of “The Star Wagon.” What absorbs an audience is the power Mr. Anderson has to create vital characters, write lively scenes and scribble robust conversation. He can manage a flight of fancy but preserving his common sense about people. And the people of “The Star Wagon” are some of the best he has gathered under his dramatic roof-plain people with queer twists of personality, comic people with a touch of the ludicrous in their habits, mean people and generous people, and at least one who is inspired. As for the scenes, they are penny plain and tuppence colored, some of them grubby, some of them overflowing with sentimental nostalgia and many of them democratically humorous. Mr. Anderson’s play is steeped in people and stuffed full of giddy scenes.

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His colleagues have been his most appreciative friends. Mr. McClintic and Mr. Mielziner have kept his fancy squarely set on the stage of a theatre. In the last two seasons Mr. Meredith has had a chance to show what he can do with bravura parts in an Anderson play. Now he skips through the whole gallery of man-the lack-lustre present, the dewy past, and back to now again; and all this he acts with infinite resource, personal magnetism and the gusto of a fully awakened actor. Although Miss Gish has given many fine performances, put this one down as in the top flight, a conscientious and shining characterization. In “Candida” Mr. McClintic gave Mildred Natwick a chance to radiate comedy without wearing grandma’s old costumes, and here she is again proving herself to be the perfect comedienne. Last year Russell Collins was distinguishing himself as the chief character in “Johnny Johnson.” As he who gets slapped in the current play he is in his best form, a likable and humorously straightforward actor.

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Expertly staged, beautifully acted, written with the tenacity of an independent – minded playwright, “The Star Wagon” is the first job of the season worth discussing. As a craftsman Mr. Anderson is no perfectionist, but when he sits down to his table he can write for the theatre.

Photo Lillian Gish Star-Wagon 9 x 13 B

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Lillian Gish in the Theatre Guild’s Production of ‘The Curious Savage’ – By Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times – Oct. 25, 1950)

The New York Times – Oct. 25, 1950


Lillian Gish in the Theatre Guild’s Production of ‘The Curious Savage’

By Brooks Atkinson

In the days before the great enlightenment, people used to go to Bedlam to enjoy the odd behavior of the lunatics. Last evening, the Theatre Guild invited the subscribers to the Martin Beck to see the antics of the characters in “The Curious Savage.”

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John Patrick, who wrote the Hasty Heart”, has written this excursion into a modern, Bedlam. Presumably, he has something ,more than sensation and curiosity in mind. For his chief character is an elderly lady whose gaiety and generous impulses look like lunacy to her stepchildren. Alarmed by the liberality with which she gives money away to people she likes, her stepchildren have her committed to an institution.

If you imagine that the patients in the mental institution are more amiable than the stepchildren, and that the elderly lady returns with genuine regrets and misgivings to the sane world outside, you are a very experienced theatergoer indeed, and need no further instruction. Mr. Patrick’s attitude is not exactly original.

Things in the theatre are criticized frequently as being in bad taste. Some people think that Olsen and Johnson are in bad taste, which seems plausible. But this column would like to suggest that “The Curious Savage” is also in bad taste, and that the delusions and crotchets of people who are mentally ill are not genuinely amusing.

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Mr. Patrick has filled his comedy with bright remarks, precocious sayings and the foibles of the mad. No doubt his intentions are honorable. We have “The Hasty Heart,, to show that he is a man of compassion. But the writing of “The Curious Savage” is not subtle, and the performance is a lark. To at least one theatregoer, this jovial portrait of psychopathic people is embarrassing.

Although Peter Glenville has directed the performance nimbly, he cannot exorcize the spirit of the comedy. And if you are not comfortable in the company of the deranged inmates of a mental institution, you are likely to regard Lillian Gish’s performance as a trifle kittenish in the part of the roguish lady who is legally sane.

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Robert Emhardt gives a first rate performance as the most cheerful of the imbeciles, finding just the right tone and emphasis to define a character. The cast also includes Isobel Elsom, Marta Linden, Flora Campbell, Gladys Henson, Lois Hall and Hugh Reilly, who give good performances in other parts. The single set of the living-room in a home-like institution has been pleasantly designed by George Jenkins.

On its own terms as polite entertainment with a faint edge of satire, “The Curious Savage” is a fairly mild play. But many theatergoers are likely to regard the whole project as distasteful. Bedlam is not so delightfully amusing as it was a hundred years ago.

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The Cast

THE CURIOUS SAVAGE, a comedy ln three acts, by John Patrick. Staged by Peter Glenville; production designed and lighted by George Jenkins; costumes by Anna Hill Johnstone; presented by the Theatre Guild, Russell Lewis and Howard Young. At the Martin Beck Theatre.

Florence …………………….. Isobel Elsom

Hannibal ……….….…. Robert Emhardt

Fairy May ………………….….…. Lois Hall

Jeffrey ………………..………. Hugh Reilly

Mrs. Paddy …………….. Gladys Henson

Titus …………………….. Brandon Peters

Samuel …….……..….. Howard Wendell

Lily Belle ………..……..… Marta Linden

Ethel …………………………… Lillian Gish

Miss Wilhelmina ……. Flora Campbell

Dr. Emmett ………….……. Sydney Smith

Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times, October 25, 1950)

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The Curious Savage - Brooks Atkinson - NY Times Oct 25 1950

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