Lillian Gish Television drama series 1947-1959 by Larry James Gianakos (1980)

  • A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1947-1959
  • by Larry James Gianakos
  • The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J., & London 1980

1948-49 season

THE PHILCO TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE (subsequently displaced by The Goodyear Theatre and The Alcoa Hour)

“The Late Christopher Bean” [adapted from the Sidney Howard play] (2-6-49) Bert Lytell, Lillian Gish (her video debut)

“The Birth of the Movies” (4-22-51) John Newland, Jean Pearson; narrated by Lillian Gish

The Philco Television Playhouse: “The Trip to Bountiful” [by Horton Foote; the basis for his 1953 Broadway play] (3-1-53) Lillian Gish, John Beal

The Alcoa Hour: “Morning’s at Seven” [adapted by Robert Wallstens from the Paul Osborn play] (11-4-56) Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Evelyn Varden, David Wayne, June Lockhart, Dorothy Stickney

THE FORD THEATRE HOUR Sponsored by The Ford Motor Company.

“Outward Bound” [adapted from the Sutton Vane play] (3-13-49) Lillian Gish, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Boland, Richard Hart

“I, Mrs. Bibb” [by Paul Crabtree] (10-19-55) Lillian Gish, Richard Ney

“Ladies in Retirement” [adapted from the Edward Percy and Reginald Denham story] (5-7-51) Lillian Gish, Una O’Connor, Betty Sinclair, Michael McAloney

1949 – 50 season

“The Quality of Mercy” (3-15-54) Lillian Gish

“The Joyous Season”‘ [adapted from the Philip Barry play] (12-26-51) Lillian Gish, Wesley Addy

1951 – 52 season


Segments were syndicated under a variety of titles HERALD PLAYHOUSE and THE PLAYHOUSE among them.

“The Autobiography of Grandma Moses” (3-28-52) Lillian Gish, Jonathan Marlowe

1952 – 53 season


“The Corner Druggist” (5-28-54) Richard Kiley, Lillian Gish

1955 – 56 season


“The Day Lincoln Was Shot” [adapted by R. Denis Sanders and Terry Sanders from the Jim Bishop book] (2-1-56 Saturday 9:30-11:00 CBS) Jack Lemmon, Raymond Massey, Lillian Gish; Charles Laughton narrated.

A blaze of glory for the medium, what with Playwrights ’56 a superb addition to the dramatic anthology. Playwrights ’56: “The Sound and the Fury” [adapted by William F. Durkee from the “Dilsey” section of the William Faulkner novel; directed by Vincent J. Donahue and produced by Fred Coe] (12-6-55) Franchot Tone, Lillian Gish, Ethel Waters, Janice Rule, Valerie Bettis, Steven Hill



“The Grass Harp” [adapted from the 1952 play by Truman Capote and Virgil Thomson; produced for television by Jack Kuney and directed by Word Baker, with an intermission feature by The Saturday Review drama critic Henry Hewes] (3-28-60) Lillian Gish, Carmen Mathews, Nick Hyams, Russell Collins

Photo gallery – chronological order

Note: Illustrations from photo gallery are not part of Mr. Gianakos’ book.

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The Great American Playwrights on The Screen – Jerry Roberts (2003)

The Great American Playwrights on The Screen

A Critical Guide to Film, Video and DVD

Jerry Roberts 2003

Some of the greatest plays in the history of the American theatre have also made some of the most provocative and rewarding movies and television shows of all time, from A Streetcar Named Desire to The Front Page to The Miracle Worker; Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Death of a Salesman, Picnic, The Iceman Cometh, The Little Foxes, A Raisin in the Sun… These productions on film and tape represent a treasure trove of great drama, much of it available to the public for home viewing, some of it languishing in vaults. Some titles also represent Oscar and Emmy award-winning history. Some are great teaching tools for theatre and film and television production courses. Some are pinnacles of success for the greatest star actors of their generations—Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Kevin Spacey. This book is the collation of these time-honored works by playwrights—from Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, to Beth Henley and David Rabe, to Wendy Wasserstein and A.R. Gurney—with historical perspective and contemporary and retrospective criticism. Playwrights reach their widest audiences whenever their plays are filmed or made for television, sometimes as letter-faithful productions literally filmed on the stage, oftentimes as severely altered visions earning the ire of the authors. The book solely concerns plays written by American playwrights, produced on film or tape in the English language. It covers only productions that were adapted from plays that were seen first on the stage. TV dramas that began their performance life as TV shows, and are invariably called “plays” by their authors and others, are not included here. For instances, two of Horton Foote’s dramas, The Trip to Bountiful, an original, and Tomorrow, based on a William Faulkner story, began their performance lives as TV presentations, the former with Lillian Gish in 1953 on Philco Television Playhouse, the latter with Richard Boone on Playhouse 90 in 1960. Both then became plays, then movies. The movies are detailed with break-out studies here, but the TV shows are not. Had the works begun as plays, then became movies and TV presentations, any and all movies or TV productions would be considered with individual studies.

Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith – The Star-Wagon

Maxwell Anderson

The Star Wagon, about a poor and eccentric inventor who escapes his wife’s crankiness via his titular time machine, first played on Broadway in 1937 with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish. The inventor escapes to his youth, at a time when he feels he should have married a pretty rich girl rather than his wife. The evergreen theme is that if you could live your life over again, would you have made a better choice?

The Joyous Season

Philip Barry

The Joyous Season aired in 1951 on ABC’s Celanese Theatre with Alex Segal directing Lillian Gish and Wesley Addy. The 1934 play, starring Gish and featuring Jane Wyatt and Alan Campbell, concerns a Catholic nun who is asked to consult on her recently deceased father’s will after the family leaves the farm for Boston’s fashionable Beacon Street.

Sidney Howard

The Late Christopher Bean (1949, NBC, 60m/bw) Philco Television Playhouse ☆☆☆1/2 D/P: Fred Coe. Cast: Lillian Gish, Bert Lytell, Helen Carew, Clarence Derwent, Philip Coolidge, Louis Sorin, Ellen Cobb Hill, Perry Wilson. “A gifted young man, Fred Coe…sent me a script…” Gish wrote in her autobiography. “I have always been eager to try some¬ thing new so I agreed to meet him, and soon I was playing in a vital new medium very much like the early movies. The main difference was that the performance was ‘live’; you had only one chance and no one could prompt or help you.”

• “Lillian Gish made her television debut Sunday night with an excellent portrayal of the harassed housemaid, Abby…an entertaining hour.. .Sidney Howard’s amicable little play engendered the same charm the original Broadway production had.. .Miss Gish was extremely appealing…” (Variety)

Tad Mosel

All the Way Home was based by Mosel on James Agee’s 1958 posthumously Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, which explored early century coming’o Tage and family crisis issues in Knoxville, Tennessee. Producer Fred Coe planned to have it adapted for airing on CBS’s Playhouse 90, then approached Mosel, who couldn’t imagine Agee’s poetic prose being broken up by commercials. They then decided to adapt it into a play instead. It had an out-of-town run in New Haven and Boston, then opened on Broadway in 1960 at the Belasco Theatre to great reviews and no business. Coe was going to close the play after a few nights when Ed Sullivan raved about the play in his New York Daily News column, then brought the cast onto an installment of TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show. The move captured the public’s attention in a huge way; the play ran for 334 performances and the story won its second Pulitzer Prize, this time for Drama. Arthur Penn directed the stage version starring Arthur Hill, Colleen Dewhurst, and Lillian Gish.

“Inevitably, some of the poetry and unduplicatable intimacy of Mr. Agee’s particular expression was lost in this radical switch [to the stage]…in moving the play of Mr. Mosel into the medium of the screen. And this [refraction] is the one that}s all but done for the quality of Mr. Agee’s book and twisted it into a moist-eyed ogle that has a standard cinematic character…. in completing the transfer of some very special sentiments to the screen, Philip Reisman Jr., the film’s playwright, and Alex Segal, the director, have drained them completely of specialness. Their film.. .has no sharp cinematic characteristic, no inside-looking-out point of view (which is one of the most important and distinctive things the Agee novel has).” (Bosley Crowther, The New York Times)

Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful 1953

Horton Foote

Another four-part cycle of Foote’s Southern family mood plays became jewels of the live-TV era, even though their connections weren’t apparent to viewers: The Trip to Bountiful with Lillian Gish and The Midnight Caller with Catherine Doucet, both in 1953 on Kraft Television Playhouse, and two with Kim Stanley, Tears of My Sister in 1953 on First Person Playhouse and Flight three years later on Playwrights ‘56.

Mornings at 7 – Lillian and Dorothy Gish

Paul Osborn

Morning’s at Seven was a popular and much revived comedy of Midwestern family manners and mores originally staged on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre in 1939 by Joshua Logan, starring Jean Adair, Dorothy Gish, and Thomas Chalmers. It was produced on TV on Celanese Theatre in 1952 with Aline MacMahon and Patricia Collinge; on The Alcoa Hour in 1956 with Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Evelyn Varden, David Wayne, June Lockhart, and Dorothy Stickney; and was restaged—using the same Alcoa teleplay by Robert Wallsten—in 1960 on public television’s The Play of the Week with a cast featuring Beulah Bondi, Chester Morris, Dorothy Gish, and Eileen Heckhart.

Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish – Promo for Arsenic and Old Lace

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace (1969, ABC Special, 120m/c) ☆☆☆ Tp: Luther Davis. D: Robert Scheerer. P: Hubbell Robinson. Cast: Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Fred Gwynn, David Wayne, Bob Crane, Jack Gilford, Sue Lyon, Billy De Wolfe, Frank Campanella, Bob Dishy, Victor Killian, Bernard West. The play was filmed before a live audience, which is seen at the outset and at the curtain call. Theatrical connoisseurs relished the chance to see Gish and Hayes together.

• “…still almost as good for laughs as it was 28 years ago when Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse brought it to the Fulton Theatre back in 1941. Changes in the original script were limited to the necessary updating of a few topical gags to jive with the times plus turning the lead (Bob Crane) into a television critic and his fiancée into a TV actress. Acting was good and professional.” (Variety)

Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern – The Whales of August, 1987

David Berry

The Whales of August (1987, Circle, 90m/c, VHS) ☆☆☆1/2 Sc: David Berry. D: Lindsay Anderson. P: Carolyn Pfeiffer, Mike Kaplan. Cam: Mike Fash. Cast: Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Ann Sothern, Vincent Price, Harry Carey, Jr., Mary Steenburgen, Tisha Sterling, Margaret Ladd, Frank Grimes, Frank Pitkin, Mike Bush. Elderly widowed sisters Libby and Sarah reconvene for the summer at a seaside Maine cottage, the same one they have been coming to for generations.

• “With its two beautiful, very different, very characteristic performances by Miss Gish and Miss Davis, who, together, exemplify American films from 1914 to the present, Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August is a cinema event.. .It’s as moving for all of the history it recalls as for anything that happens on the screen.. .In its way, The Whales of August is tough, but it has a major flaw that David Berry’s adaptation of his stage play isn’t strong enough for the treatment it receives from the director and his extraordinary actors…Mr. Berry is no American Chekhov. Though minutely observed, the lives of Libby and Sarah evoke no landscape larger than this tiny Maine island to which they’ve been returning every summer.. .There are references to lost childhoods, dead husbands, wars survived and estranged children, but the references are more obligatory than enriching. There’s nothing really at stake in the course of the day.” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times)

The Great American playwrights on the screen – cover

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Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln – By Larry Wolters (Chicago Tribune 1956)

Chicago Tribune – Monday February 13, 1956 – Page 70

Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln

By Larry Wolters

Lincoln: Every year television devotes more programs to Lincoln around February 12, and every year the equality of the Lincoln tribute seems to improve. Outstanding this season were two productions: “Good Friday, 1865,” written by John Lewellen of Glen Ellyn for the Robert Montgomery theater of last Monday, and “The Day Lincoln Was Shot,” based on Jim Bishop’s best selling book and presented Saturday night on Ford’s Star Theater [quite different from Ford’s theater in Washington where Lincoln was shot]. Both plays were telecast in color as well as black and white.

“Good Friday,” as previously reviewed was a notable production. “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” was even more satisfactory. Produced with the lavish hand of Hollywood, the cast ran to 103 persons, with more than 50 reading lines. It was headed by such actors as Raymond Massey, who has come to be an almost legendary Lincoln; Jack Lemmon as Booth, Lillian Gish as Mrs. Lincoln, and Charles Laughton as narrator.

This combination, under expert direction by Delbert Mann, created a mounting sense of the oncoming tragedy, tracing hour by hour the various plot threads that were climaxed at 10:15 p.m. As the play proceeded, you felt an almost unbearable suspense. Lemmon, who usually plays comedy roles, proved a great Booth, handsome and sinister, a young firebird obsessed with carrying out a conspiracy which, except for the greatest of luck, could never have been executed.

Monolog: Booth was at his best in a monolog [or soliloquy] when, speaking of the future, he said: “You [Lincoln] know nothing of me but our names will be linked in all eternity. Lincoln and Booth, perhaps Booth and Lincoln.”

Photo: Gish, Lemmon and Massey in – “The Day Lincoln Was Shot”

Massey and Miss Gish were indeed Abe and Mary Lincoln except that the actor has put on a little too much weight and no longer looks too much like the Civil war President and Miss Gish has too small a face. Furthermore her blonde hair should have been converted to black to match Mary Todd Lincoln’s.

Photo: Lillian Gish in – The Day Lincoln Was Shot – promotional

Intrusion: The Ford theater reconstruction was especially effective in color. Viewers were able to understand the whole layout, with the Presidential box overhanging the stage. The scene or two from the play, “Our American Cousin,” provided a change of pace. This was comedy at its corniest, reminiscent of the Abbotts and Costellos of today. There was one break of pace we were not prepared for. As the tension mounted there came a sudden intrusion by Bing Crosby plugging Thunder-Birds an also a promise from the sponsor that Bing would be in great form for ”High Tor” four weeks hence.

Raymond Massey – Lincoln

Then the action shifted back to the assassination, Booth’s escape and the long confusing night in Peterson house, with Secy. Stanton playing the role of dictator for eight hours before he got to the fateful: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

This fantastic yet true story of a tragic day in American history gave television 91 years later just about its finest hour.

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Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” Revived (Chicago Tribune 1930)

Chicago Tribune – Sunday, April 27, 1930 – Page 105

Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” Revived

Jed Harris, the still youthful producer who grew disgusted with the theater that made him upwards of a million dollars with such productions as “Broadway,” “Coquette,” “The Front Page,” and “The Royal Family,” came back to Broadway last week to revive Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and later to inject himself into a fight against the managers who are seeking a solution of the ticket speculator business.

Theater producer Jed Harris

So far as the Chekov revival is concerned, it has two definite features of interest: First, it is one of the few professionally competent performances American actors have given of a Russian drama, and second, it brings the beautiful and wraith – like Lillian Gish back to the living theater after nearly twenty years absence in the movies.

The play is another of those placid, leisurely studies of character and life’s frustrations in which the older Russians specialized. Uncle Vanya of the title, is a gentle soul who has given up his life to the management of his family estate that Alexandria, a pompous mollusk who has married his sister and hypnotized the family by an assumption of learning and importance, may take his lazy ease.

Injury is added to imposition when, being set free by the death of his wife, Alexandria marries the woman Vanya loves. Goaded beyond his strength, Vanya finally turns on his windy tormentor and seeks to kill him. Even in this laudable endeavor he is thwarted, missing the target twice. Then, with the departure of the hated one and his young wife, life resumes its normal way on the estate and Vanya goes back to the unhappy grind.

Miss Lillian Gish as Helena in Jed Harris’ “Uncle Vanya”

Miss Gish is a rarely fascinating personality in the theater, moving consciously about; falling into unconsciously graceful poses; speaking in a gentle voice with modest expression; suggesting a little girl playing most intelligently at acting, but still a little girl.

As to the managers and speculators, Mr. Harris insists a little violently that the managers, who have organized a theater league to curb speculators, are all wrong, even a little imbecilic. They can never hope to control speculators, he says, even with former Gov. Al Smith as their Will Hays. He threatens to do something about it.

Uncle Vanya – Photo Gallery

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Lillian Gish as Vinnie in Life With Father -- 1940

W-G-N To Star Lillian Gish in Sunday Drama (Chicago Tribune 1940)

Chicago Tribune – February, Wednesday 21, 1940 – Page 16

W-G-N To Star Lillian Gish in Sunday Drama

Cast as Wife in Sheridan’s ‘School for Scandal’

By Larry Wolters

Lillian Gish, one of the brightest stars of the silent movie era and now a stage headliner, and Percy Waram, distinguished veteran of the theater, will be featured in a radio adaptation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic comedy, “The School for Scandal,” on the Fifth Row Center production over W-G-N and the Mutual network at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The show will be presented before a studio audience. The musical setting will be provided by Harold Stokes and the W-G-N Dance orchestra. Miss Gish and Mr. Waram are appearing in Clarence Day’s comedy “Life With Father,” in the Blackstone theater.

Cast as Lady Teazle.

In “The School for Scandal” Miss Gish will portray the role of the mischievous Lady Teazle and Waram will play that of her blundering husband, Sir Peter Teazle.

When she steps before the W-G-N microphone Miss Gish will be following in the footsteps of her sister Dorothy. Dorothy came from New York three years ago to play the leading role in the serial “The Couple Next Door,” on W-G-N. Harold Vermilyea was co-featuring with her.

Lillian Gish established herself as a theatrical performer in those trail blazing movie epics “The Birth of a Nation,” “Orphans of the Storm,” and “Intolerance.”

Stage Work Follows Movies.

Since her retirement from pictures she has proved her versatility as an actress in “Hamlet” with John Gielgud, Chekhoff’s “Uncle Vanya,” and Maxwell Anderson’s “The Star Wagon” with Burgess Meredith, in which she last appeared in Chicago.

English born Percy Waram’s most recent notable role was that of the stern father in “Pride and Prejudice.” He has distinguished himself in numerous Theater Guild productions, including “R.U.R.,” “Elizabeth the Queen,”  and “Mary of Scotland.”

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Remarkable Lillian Gish to Do Broadway Musical (By Hedda Hopper) Chicago Tribune – 1965

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday August 10, 1965 – Page 34

Looking at Hollywood

Remarkable Lillian Gish to Do Broadway Musical

By Hedda Hopper

Lillian Gish and George Abbott – candid during “Anya” reahearsal

Hollywood, Aug. 9 – Lillian Gish can match careers with anybody and be way ahead. She began at age 5; did her first picture around 1910. In town doing her first picture for Walt Disney, “Follow Me Boys,” Lillian says she starts rehearsals for her first Broadway musical next month. It’s George Abbott’s musical version of “Anastasia” and she plays the empress, with George London, of the Metropolitan Opera and Connie Towers … “You’re going to match voices with London?” I asked … “It’s a comedy, dear,” she said … She gave her last performance as the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” at Stratford, Conn., on July 31, arrived here four days later. They played to 170,000 students during the months of March, April and May. They came by plane, bus, car from as west as Nebraska. The play opened to the public in June … Lillian Subscribes to Christopher Morley’s formula that a happy life is spent in learning, earning and yearning. She said: “I’m still going to school learning about acting and how to live properly. The world and the people in it are my school. As a child, I wanted to be in musical comedy and the circus. I haven’t made the big tent, but you see I am finally in a musical.”

Miss Lillian Gish as a nurse in Romeo and Juliet – Maria Tucci as Juliet

Many Actresses who devote themselves to a career end up lonely and bitter. Lillian is neither. She has no regrets about never marrying – and don’t think she didn’t have the chance. “I don’t believe in actresses trying to be wives,” she says. “You have to be one or the other – you can’t be both. I’d have been a bad wife.”

Lillian Gish in Disney’s “Follow Me Boys”

Lillian’s family admits being a fan of Beatles: “Their first picture was a new flavor in comedy. I found them charming and amusing. They are my only contact with rock and roll.” She avoids sick movies; is so busy working and rarely has time to see pictures. She caught “Mary Poppins” and “Sound of Music” and recommends both.

Lillian Gish and Percy Waram in “Life With Father”

You could say the same of Miss Gish, who was in “Birth of a Nation,” and at the age of 23 played a 12-year-old girl in “Broken Blossoms.” She did “Orphans of the Storm,” “The White Sister,” “La Boheme,” “Scarlet Letter.” After her first talkie, “One Romantic Night,” she returned to the stage for “Uncle Vanya” and “Camille”; played Ophelia opposite John Gielgud; broke Chicago theater records in “Life With Father” for 66 weeks.

Photo Gallery – Anya

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Playgoers Await ‘Star-Wagon’ and Musical Shows – By Charles Collins (Chicago Tribune – 1938)

Chicago Tribune – April, Sunday 3, 1938 – Page 93

Playgoers Await ‘Star-Wagon’ and Musical Shows

By Charles Collins

The Chicago stage settled down into Lenten poverty with last night’s departure of Orson Welles’ staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” as a parable of Fascism, and “Father Malachy’s Miracle.” “Room Service” keeps the spirit of merriment alive at the Selwyn theater, and Maurice Schwartz’s production of the Yiddish drama, “The Brothers Ashkenazi,” remains at the Studebaker for another week; but elsewhere there is vacancy, pending the renewal of activity, especially in musical shows, that the spring is expected to bring.

The first arrival of the spring theatrical season will be “The Star-Wagon,” a play by Maxwell Anderson with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish as the leaders of the cast. This work has been one of the favorite items on the Broadway playbills since last fall, and it will come to the Grand Opera house immediately after the closing of its New York run. The premiere is scheduled for the Tuesday before Easter Sunday, or April 12.

This work is a fantastic comedy, dealing with an old inventor and his colleague who are given a supernatural opportunity to live their lives over again and correct their errors of judgement which had deprived them of material success. The content and meaning of the play are serious and reveal certain aspects of Maxwell Anderson’s philosophy, but there is said to be much humor in the treatment of the incidents.

Lillian Gish, who appears as the heroine, has an international reputation because of her participation in some of the most popular productions of the silent films. It is said that no movie in which she figured over a period of fifteen years netted less than $1,000,000. They included “The Birth of a Nation,” “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East,” and “The White Sister.”

Two years ago Miss Gish and her sister, Dorothy, also famous as a film actress in the pre-talkie era, were travelling through the Balkan states. They stopped at a hut on the Albanian frontier, a mountainous region miles away from any motion picture theater. The woman of the house was an ignorant, barefooted peasant, but she recognized Lillian Gish instantly. Years before, the priest of the parish had arranged for an exhibition of the film, “The White Sister,” strongly religious of sentiment, in his church, and she had seen it.

Miss Gish withdrew from the film studios when the talkies arrived and returned to the dramatic stage in 1930 in a distinguished production of Chekhoff’s “Uncle Vanya,” which was seen in Chicago. Since then she has acted in a revival of “Camille” both at Central City, Colo., and in New York; in Sean O’Casey’s “Within the Gates,” in Philip Barry’s “The Joyous Season,” and in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” She was the Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Prince of Denmark in New York last year.

“The Star-Wagon” gives Miss Gish a “protean role.” She acts a poor old household drudge, a winsome girl of 20, and a wealthy but unhappy wife of 55. These, of course, are phases of the same character.

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Miss Gish Star of an Exciting Drama in N.Y. – By John Chapman (New York News Drama Critic) 1953

Chicago Daily Tribune – Thursday, November 5th, 1953 Part 4 – Page 12

Miss Gish Star of an Exciting Drama in N.Y.

By John Chapman (New York News Drama Critic)

New York, Nov. 4 – Because if its unexpectedness it is surprising, and because of its excellence it is exciting to see sweet little Lillian Gish giving a big performance. But a big performance it is at Henry Miller’s theater, where Lillian Gish and an astonishing actress named Jo Van Fleet opened last evening in Horton Foote’s playlet, “The Trip to Bountiful.”

This piece is a sentimental sketch about an old lady who escapes from her son and daughter-in-law and flees to her girlhood home in Bountiful. The place is in Texas, so you pronounce it Bayountiful – because it is in the sayowth and evvebody in the play is suthin.

Lillian Gish - The Trip To Bountiful (1953)
Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful (1953)

Author Foote is unabashed and unashamed as he pulls out the tremolo stops for his composition. Miss Gish is set upon and nagged beyond endurance. She has a couple of heart attacks and when she gets back home to Bountiful after 20 years she finds the old homestead a rotten ruin. But having had her little trip, she is happy once again and is willing to return peaceably to the insufferable nagging of her daughter-in-law, Miss Van Fleet.

As well as being unabashed and unashamed, Author Foote is admirably skillful as he sets forth his play. He has a fine sense of humor, a true eye for character, and a good ear for talk. In spite of its sentimentality and its tenuous story, “The Trip to Bountiful” is good theater.

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

The two main actresses make it good theater. Miss Gish, who flirted with playing an old lady a few seasons ago in “The Curious Savage,” goes at the job this time with all the will and skill of a really good player. In voice, in accent, and in make-up she is a pathetic little soul who lives under the domination of a hellion daughter-in-law and yearns for escape to the old homestead.

Miss Van Fleet, as the daughter-in-law, gives the saltiest, funniest, and most artful feminine characterization of the season. She is a shrill, nervous, cruel, and empty headed woman who has a mouse for a husband and another mouse for a mother-in-law, and she resents both. Last night’s first audience cheered both women before the play was over – something that doesn’t happen much any more.

trip to bountiful

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