On February 27, 1993, Lillian, like all good art, became eternal.
“Any artist has just so much to give.
The important thing is to give it all.
Sometimes it’s more than you think.”
Lillian was just making another disappearance.
A Century of Dreams
On February 27, 1993, Lillian, like all good art, became eternal.
“Any artist has just so much to give.
The important thing is to give it all.
Sometimes it’s more than you think.”
Lillian was just making another disappearance.
CUPID has had a busy spring season in Hollywood. Being composed of so many beautiful women and handsome members of the sterner sex, it is but natural that many marriages and engagements would be announced among the movie colony. And being modern in every way, some of their matrimonial ships were bound to run aground. THE rumored engagement of Lillian Gish to George Jean Nathan, critic, writer and magazine editor, is of particular interest, coming, as it does, just after Lillian’s spectacular court victory over C. H. Duell, who said he was at one time “unofficially engaged” to Miss Gish. Mr. Nathan has been, to judge from his writings, one of the American woman’s severest critics. With such a lovely example as Miss Gish so close to his heart, it is quite possible that Mr. Nathan will now look at the American girl in a more appreciative and less critical light.
For the first ten years of her career, Lillian Gish had been nearly impermeable to the most common sort of movie-star publicity—speculation about her love affairs. Only the rare mention of a possible relationship between D. W. Griffith and his leading lady challenged the notion that the object of Lillian’s affection, after her mother and sister, was the movies. The entanglement with Charles Duell had, of course, altered that perception.
And, at the same time, she was linked with another man, a writer and intellectual, the most influential drama critic of the period. There is no doubt that George Jean Nathan, champion of modernist, “serious” theatre, who flaunted a snobbish disdain for the movies and all other manifestations of popular culture, fell in love with Lillian Gish. Nor is there any question that for ten years, George was the most important man in Lillian’s life, perhaps the great love of her life. He also exerted a formative influence on her taste and her professional activities. Struck by her beauty and style, Joseph Hergesheimer and James Branch Cabell had included versions of Lillian Gish in their novels. But it was as George Jean Nathan’s female companion that Lillian secured her place among the elite of America’s arts and letters during the 1920s and 1930s.
They were from adjoining states, Ohio and Indiana, born eleven years apart, Nathan on February 14, 1882. In terms of affluence, religion, and schooling, their backgrounds and upbringings were dissimilar. George’s father, Charles Naret-Nathan, a Jew from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, was well educated, wealthy, and cosmopolitan. His mother, Ella Nordlinger, was a native of Fort Wayne, George’s birthplace. Part Jewish, she attended a convent school and converted to Catholicism. As we know, Lillian attended school sporadically. While little Lillian was touring in melodramas, George was studying in Italy, France, and Germany, before his graduation from Cornell in 1904. Through the good offices of his uncle Charles Nordlinger, drama critic for the New York Herald, George found a job on the paper and was soon writing theatre reviews for Harper’s Weekly. Nathan’s name would often be associated with that of the Baltimore journalist and essayist H. L. Mencken. Six years after Nathan met Mencken in 1908 in the office of The Smart Set, the two men became this magazine’s coeditors and turned its pages into a forum for the cause of modern literature.
Nathan stewarded the first American publications of James Joyce, two stories from Dubliners; the young Eugene O’Neill and F. Scott Fitzgerald were given boosts by inclusion in The Smart Set where works by Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, and Theodore Dreiser appeared as well. The Mencken-Nathan circle included Joseph Hergesheimer, James Branch Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Van Vechten, Sherwood Anderson, and Willa Cather, all of whom contributed to The Smart Set. In partnership with publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Nathan and Mencken founded a more prestigious journal in 1924, The American Mercury. Its stated goal was “to offer a comprehensive picture, critically presented, of the entire American scene,” including the arts, politics, industrial and social relations, and science, all from the perspective of “the civilized minority.”
Nathan’s concerns were not so catholic, however. “What interests me in life is the surface of life: life’s music and color, its charm and ease, its humor and its loveliness. The great problems of the world—social, political, economic, and theological do not concern me in the slightest. I care not who writes the laws of the country so long as I may listen to its songs. I can live every bit as happily under a king, or even a Kaiser, as under a president.” With political views “slightly to the right of Marie Antoinette’s,” Nathan was a dandy who suffered from an excess of “noblesse oblige.” He was also a condescending racist who, without a trace of irony, urged his readers to save their tears for the African-American. According to this opinion-maker, the black man should be “happier by far than he ever was, which is more than his average white brother-democrat can say for himself.” After all, in recent years, Nathan proudly asserted, more whites had been lynched than blacks. And black men could even marry white women! Although Mencken was situated on the same side of the political spectrum as Nathan, the two men clashed over the focus of The American Mercury. Nathan almost immediately resigned his coeditorship but continued to contribute pieces on theatre for five more years.
Nathan and Mencken belonged to the same ” civilized minority” that treated the movies and their stars with unmasked contempt. The coterie made an exception of Lillian Gish. In fact, the fourth issue of The American Mercury featured an article by Joseph Hergesheimer entitled ” Lillian Gish.” Full of the usual condescension to the movie business, it recounted Hergesheimer’s meetings with Lillian to discuss his portrait of her in Cytherea and movie projects he wished her to consider. First, at her refusal of a drink and a cigarette, Hergesheimer was seduced by her public image and delighted in her prudishness: “It made flawless her quaint rigidity of bearing, her withdrawn grace.” From the little she said, he was struck by the passionate way she referred to her work: “It was her religion, since it had accomplished for her the offices of a religion—it had raised her from the earth to the sky.” Then came Hergesheimer’s attacks against petit bourgeois attachments to mother, patriotism, and home, along with his hope that Lillian’s mind might be “liberated from the tyranny of mob sentimentality.” Poor Lillian, of course, “was wholly superior,” but she “hadn’t associated with the people and ideas that would have given a clear and aesthetic form to her thoughts. She hadn’t the relative calm, the superiority, of an intelligent background.” Hergesheimer’s critique of the bourgeoisie was the party line of The Smart Set and The American Mercury. For his part, Nathan clearly took pleasure in heaping scorn upon the cinema, an enterprise emblematic of all that was wrong with the tasteless, materialistic society that produced and worshiped it. “Controlled in the overwhelming main by the most ignorant social outcasts … by hereditary toothpick suckers, soup coloraturos and six-day sockwearers, controlled in the mass by men of a complete anaesthesia to everything fine and everything earnest and everything dollarless, the moving pictures—the physic of the proletariat—have revealed themselves the most effective carriers of idiocy that the civilized world has known.” There is some irony in that the policy makers of these magazines, Mencken and Nathan, were particularly close to Lillian Gish, an actress who, in her Griffith films, incarnated some of the very notions that the intellectuals deplored. We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the middle-class homilies Lillian enunciated in her letters to Nell through the early 1920s, but her long sojourns in Italy and her troubled relationship to Charles Duell had certainly changed her. At this point, Lillian seemed ready to continue the worldly education that would liberate her from the confines of home and hearth, and perhaps even from Griffith’s essentially prewar worldview. Although they denigrated the movies and, to some degree, patronized the poorly educated actress, Lillian Gish became the muse of some of the smartest men in America, attracting them with her charm, beauty, intelligence, and most flattering of all, her receptivity to their genius. Of all the Griffith actresses, Lillian had been the director’s most diligent student. She now turned her concentration to a richer curriculum. The genius central to Lillian’s life was George Jean Nathan. Although there is some dispute over when their initial encounter took place, it was probably with Mencken, in 1924, soon after her return from Italy following the completion of Romola and hard upon the end of her “unofficial” engagement to Duell. “The first time I met him was at lunch. I sat between them [Nathan and Mencken] after thanking them for printing Joseph Hergesheimer’s piece on me in their April issue of their new magazine, The American Mercury. They both started to talk at once, the subject poetry. Neither listened to the other, just a rapid fire of talk and jokes as was their custom.” Lillian, who knew Nathan by reputation, had expected an older man, “sixty, at least, white-haired, and probably paunchy,” but found him to be “dark and vigorous,” with a particularly attractive speaking voice. (Director Harold Clurman described him as “Latin-looking, very handsome.”)
Nathan and his friends represented a new world, a new way of thinking for Lillian. “I sat in the group of gay, facile conversationalists and found myself unversed but appreciative. With no hope of being one of them, I searched for anecdotes that might possibly be dropped in quietly and entertain them for a time. And George, all subtle attention, leaning toward me with ‘and what happened next?’ in his eyes. Things of that kind. If you looked for one special quality in George, you’d find that swift, definite courtesy. A good basis for friendship. He was the first man to show me that a smart hat was more becoming to me than a halo of blonde hair in soft-focus camera effect.” The opposition of the smart hat to the halo of blond hair must have been George’s way of extracting Lillian from her pervasive mind-set of moviemaking. He helped her see herself as part of a larger, more varied world than she had ever known.
Lillian’s predecessor in Nathan’s life was Fred Astaire’s sister and showbusiness partner, Adele. Nathan had dedicated The House ofSatan to Adele, who hoped to marry him. After offering various excuses for broken appointments, “he told her that the French ambassador, Paul Claudel, a famous poetdramatist, was in town and that he must confer with him. He found out that the French ambassador was Lillian Gish.’ ” Nathan was smitten with Lillian, and, it appears, she with him. Just two days prior to the New York premiere of Romola, Nathan sent a telegram to Lillian that testifies to their mutual affection:
“a today without you is to me always a yesterday that INCLUDED YOU I MEANT EVERY WORD I SAID LAST NIGHT AND HOPE YOU ONLY MEANT EVERY OTHER WILL TELEPHONE AT NOON SUNDAY LOVE GEORGE.”
In his adulatory article on her acting in the November 1924 issue of Vanity Fair, George all but declared his love for Lillian. Betraying his Germanophilia, George entitled the piece “Die Kino-Konigin: a Critical Appreciation of the First Lady of the Cinema.” Leave it to George to write a panegyric to the Queen of Cinema while decrying the movies as unworthy of her talents. But since he allows that “some of the most beautiful performances of Duse and Bernhardt were wrought out of dramatic rubbish, the beautiful performances of Lillian Gish have been wrought from rubbish, no less.” Along with the lyric flights of his pen, he offers some insight into the quality of her art. “Her technique consists in thinking out a characterization directly and concretely and then executing it in terms of semi-vague suggestion, . . . behind a veil of silver chiffon.” Nathan is particularly struck by the sense that she combines directness and simplicity with elusiveness. “She is always present, she always dominates the scene, yet one feels somehow that she is ever just out of sight around the corner.” His deep feelings for her emerge in comparisons no less sincere for their lack of originality. “The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness trembling on a bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl . . . are the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his waltzes.”
Just a few months following the appearance of this article, and directly after Lillian’s exoneration in the Duell trial, word spread of her engagement and impending marriage to Nathan. “America’s most celebrated womanhater and a devastating critic of movies” was a dandy who, at first nights, reserved the adjoining seat “for his hat, stick and opera coat.” Lillian Gish was the new occupant of the seat. “It is reported that he will now write scenarios for his fiancee.” Speculation about engagement and marriage would continue for years, always to be denied by the couple. But a couple they were, and very much in the news. Long the chaste goddess with an edifying book in her hand, Lillian now attracted the measure of racy publicity that befit a star of the first magnitude.
Even before Lillian was freed from Duell’s injunction, other companies began to bid for her. Harry Carr telegraphed from London: “joe schenck [United Artists] WISHES TO know if you will do nothing definite with any other organisation until he returns to new york.” Mary Pickford, one of the partners in United Artists, urged her old friend to sign with the company. “I am sure Mr. Schenck could arrange for the financing of your pictures and releasing through our company, that is if you cared to be with our United Artists. I shall be very happy to suggest this to him when the time comes.” Once the trial reached its successful outcome for Lillian, Mary could afford to be insistent: “there is no question that this is where you should be.” Pickford lauded Joe Schenck, “the most progressive and capable manager in the business,” for his integrity. (Schenck must have been remarkably fair-minded, secure in his marriage, and thoroughly convinced of Lillian’s box-office appeal. His wife, the extremely popular, talented, and highly paid Norma Talmadge, had moved her production unit to United Artists. Talmadge and Gish, likely to be considered for the same kinds of roles, were the current front-runners in the ” great dramatic actress” sweepstakes.) According to Mary, United Artists would protect Lillian by not demanding “more pictures than are artistically possible to produce.” However, it was not Joe Schenck, chairman of the board at United Artists, who succeeded in putting Lillian under contract, but his brother, Nicholas, vice president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Schenck brothers already had an indirect connection to the Gish sisters and their mother. Before entering the movie business, they had owned amusement parks, among them Fort George in Upper Manhattan, where Mary Gish had run a candy stand and her little girls had learned to ride horses.
When Lillian Gish joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the major forces in the movie industry were Paramount Pictures, in business since 1914, and First National, founded in 1917. Warner Bros., Fox, and Universal were other strong studios. United Artists, established in 1919, merged the huge boxoffice appeal of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W Griffith, and produced excellent movies, though not very many of them. At the time of its formation in 1924, M-G-M was obviously the newest studio on the block, but it was far from the weakest. Loew’s, Inc., Metro Pictures Incorporated, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (without its founder, Samuel Goldwyn), and Louis B. Mayer pooled their energies and resources to create a studio that immediately joined the first rank. In its initial year of business, M-G-M realized a profit of more than $4.7 million, trailing Paramount alone in this regard. The former Goldwyn lot in Culver City was equipped to produce a steady stream of movies designed to satisfy the extensive Loew’s theatre chain. Among the studio’s proven stars were Lon Chaney, Alice Terry, Buster Keaton, Mae Murray, Blanche Sweet, John Gilbert, and Marion Davies. Its roster of directors included Fred Niblo, Rex Ingram, King Vidor, and Erich von Stroheim. The dynamic chief, Louis B. Mayer, and his head of production, the young and creative Irving Thalberg, supervised the vast operation that was M-G-M, a studio destined to become, under their leadership, the most potent and prosperous in the history of the movies. Mayer undoubtedly believed that the Gish name would sell movie tickets. But he also had a fond memory of how much The Birth ofa Nation had meant to his initial success in the movie business. He had made a fortune on his down payment of $20,000 for the New England rights to exhibit Griffith’s landmark film. Mayer, Thalberg, and Nicholas Schenck were so eager to bring Lillian to M-G-M that she was able negotiate an enviable contract, signed on May 12, 1925. Although lacking her much-desired provision for a percentage of the profits, in every other way it showed how highly the studio valued Lillian’s services, which became theirs exclusively for two years. Her salary of $800,000 was posited on making six pictures, with the possibility of a seventh. Several clauses in the contract indicate the degree of respect Lillian commanded. She was not required to make personal appearances or do any promotional work. (This clause came in handy when she was able to refuse the studio’s request to put her name on candy boxes.) Even more surprising, she was guaranteed consultation on the selection of her stories, directors, and cast. Although the studio reserved for itself the final decision, this degree of star power and input was unusual. And despite Lillian’s recent notoriety, there was no morals clause in the contract.
Lillian was apprehensive about the burden the contract placed on her. With the memory of Romola’s excessive production cost fresh in her mind, she feared that her high salary would inflate the budgets of her M-G-M movies, thereby inhibiting their profitability. And despite the claims of star status Lillian’s attorney made in the Duell trial, this practical, clear-eyed woman must have known that she was far less popular than Norma Talmadge and Mary Pickford. Others certainly knew it: “Miss Gish holds a peculiar position. She has never been a great box office star but she has gained tremendously in the last two years. Her claim for popularity rests entirely upon her ability as an actress. The public is slow to appreciate great art. She must have been heartened when the writer went on to predict “a longer screen life for Lillian Gish than for any other actress of today.” Neither he nor Lillian could have dreamed how prescient he in fact was.
Excerpt from “Lillian Gish – Her Legend, Her Life” by Charles Affron
Shortly after “Topspeed” opened in New York, Richard Maney resigned from the Warner Brothers publicity staff and returned to Jed Harris’ office where he had formerly been associated. I left when he did. Later I went out in advance of Jed Harris’ production of “Uncle Vanya,” in which Lillian Gish played the leading role.
The company was rehearsing at the theatre when Maney took me there to meet her. Unlike most first impressions which shift and rebuild themselves, exhibiting irritating angles under the changing focus of close acquaintance, my first mental picture of Lillian has remained unchanged.
She instantly reminded me of a particular rose in my mother’s California garden called “cloth of gold,” with dull yellow outer petals of the same pale shade as her long hair. She was reminiscent of the rose, too, in her grace and slenderness. So fragant was her personality that talking to her was very much like standing against a sunny wall and sniffing the sweetness of that especial yellow flower. I had expected her to be more guarded, less cordial. And it was remarkable to find that the impact of her cinema fame, the push and strain of the hundreds of letters which she still received from picture fans, had not injured her charm nor imposed that expression of suspicion common to many of the widely publicized people of the screen.
Yet in the same capacity of press agent, when I noted wariness in Katharine Hepburn’s eyes and distrust in her face, I had wondered what she was afraid of. A friend of Hepburn’s had explained it in the Broadway idiom: “Aw, she thinks ya wanta put the bee on her.”
Apparently Lillian Gish had abundant resources to meet any such impertinences and did not have to erect ugly screens of misgiving. To be sure, certain protections from the public were necessary and one of the things she asked me in that early conversation was that I make her reservations in Boston and other cities under a different name than that of Lillian Gish.
I eyed her inquisitively that day, searching for the blonde tattoos of superheat but could discover none of them. She seemed to be functioning on a mental rather than an emotional plane. We talked about Chekov and “Uncle Vanya,” of how the atmospheric accompaniment of his plays exceeded the plot action in importance, and of how this mood had been created by the rubbing of one character against another. Lillian was thoughtful in her analysis. It was clear she had studied the Russian dramatist and had read a great deal more than I had on the subject. I had not seen her performance then, although I had read a sheaf of enthusiastic New York reviews of it.
Jed Harris was in New Haven when I left New York for Boston for the try-out performance of Liam O’Flaherty’s “Mr. Gilhooley,” in which Helen Hayes and Arthur Sinclair were playing the leading roles. I stopped off there for a couple of hours to see him.
Several years previous to this, when I had lived in Greenwich Village, I had known Jed Harris. He was a theatrical press agent in those days himself, at least whenever he could get an advance agent’s job. Occasionally he came to my apartment and talked of the plays he planned some day to produce. We called him “the infant Belasco” and Jed accepted the title seriously, although he sometimes protested the limitation of a mere Belasco contribution to the theatre.
“I will be the most cultured producer in America,” he declared earnestly. “Belasco,” he shrugged, “is out of date. I will be better than he is, better than the Theatre Guild.”
I laughed at this heresy and at his egotism.
That day in New Haven I found Jed at the Shubert Theatre watching the “Mr. Gilhooley” rehearsal. It was at this theatre that he had first ushered as a boy. His father had emigrated from Russia and, after a struggle, had established a tailor shop in the Connecticut town. During his early years Jed had known what it was to be penniless and to go hungry. The protective layers of self-esteem he had built up against the hurt and misery of those early days had left him arrogant, cocksure, utterly and entirely ruthless. In appearance he was tall, bony, the black-faced Semitic type. Even when he was freshly shaven the blue-black line of stubble showed through on the skin of his cheeks. He had bold, black, penetrating eyes, a long, prominent nose, and a shrewd mouth.
That day he had not shaved, an omission which became an affectation of his once he achieved the success category on Broadway. His shoulders stooped characteristically, as he paced around the theatre during the rehearsal waits.
He saw me and sat down to talk for a few minutes. Then the rehearsal started again and he changed his seat. Every three to five minutes after that he continued to change his seat, getting up frequently to walk back and ask me what I thought of the play before I had seen enough of the rehearsal to form any sort of judgment.
It was apparent that he was crazy with nervousness as well as distrustful of the play but could not put his finger on the sour spots. At that time his success with “The Front Page,” “Broadway,” “The Royal Family,” and “Coquette” was more like a fairy tale than any reality in the theatre. Crowning these big money-makers, his artistic triumph with “Uncle Vanya” indicated that, after all, the early prediction he had made for himself was no heresy. After “Uncle Vanya,” however, Broadway waited anxiously for the next astonishing chapter in the Jed Harris legend, while wiseacres in show business began to declare that this Arabian Nights episode was finished. His production “Our Town” nevertheless has indicated that another spectacular eruption of the Harris genius is not at all unlikely.
To reach Boston that evening I had to leave directly after the first act. I had an uneasy feeling, even with the little I had seen of the play, that “Mr. Gilhooley” was not in the lucky “hit” class. As it turned out later, the play was a failure.
, Lillian wrote and wired me friendly messages. Her letters were delightful, written in a fragile backhand that seemed exactly to typify her. And always she I thanked me for any routine service included in the course of my duties, as if I were doing her the greatest of favors. Later, at holiday time, her Christmas card written in her own delicate script said simply: “I think of you at Christmas time.”
In Chicago, Lillian rented an apartment at the Lake Shore Drive Hotel. I visited her there several times. One morning I arrived before she was dressed and found her in negligee, combing her long, pale hair. It was so long it put me in mind of the princess in the fairy story who let her golden tresses down over the castle wall for her knight to use as a ladder. Falling far below her waist, it was like a heavy shawl in its weight and thickness. In color, it was a natural rose-petal ash blonde. Was she the smouldering type?
But Lillian, at heart, nursed no white-hot fires. Or so I wrote the young director, thinking to put his ‘‘hot- mama’’ theories entirely to rout. In reply he called me “insensitive, unobservant, myopic. . . She’s in love with George Jean Nathan and madly jealous of him—as only a true blonde can be.”
With zipped-up interest I returned to my researches in blonde emotions. The George Jean Nathan rumor had been current for several years. Lillian had even admitted that a ring she wore had Nathan’s picture in it. “Friendship,” she had explained. Was it possible a volcano was erupting under my nose and that I was not even aware of it?
While I surreptitiously watched for symptoms the publicity wheels must keep moving. At the Chicago Art Institute I knew there was a portrait of Lillian Gish in the permanent collection, representing her in her motion picture role of Romola and painted by Nicholai Fechin. Purchased for the Institute by the Friends of Modern Art, it has been hung appropriately by the door of the studio theatre. Although it is not an unusual thing for an actress to have her portrait painted, no other portraits of stage people are in the Institute; Lillian Gish is the only living actress whose portrait has such unique distinction.
Passing through Chicago on former trips, Lillian had attempted to see her picture after it had been hung there. But she had not been able to find it on any of these trips and was far too shy to ask for it. I suggested that she make a pilgrimage there and allow newspaper photographers to take her picture viewing this painting of herself. She agreed, with the reservation that in case the photographs were poor they would not be used.
On the day of this scheduled picture she wore a smart black frock with a crisp white collar, white piping at her wrists, and a small black hat contrasting effectively with her blonde hair. The camera men had assembled when she arrived; then, immediately, the students ; poured out of the studio theatre to watch her. To hold back these nosey youngsters it was necessary to call for help from their instructors.
Lillian stood on a high bench to reach the portrait of herself and the camera men made their pictures of her standing there, in profile, viewing it. That night, in | her dressing room, I showed her the results and she was pleased. The next day they were used in Chicago papers and later in syndicates around the country.
Still there came the old chestnut of a question: “Is she engaged or really married to George Jean Nathan?”
When a newspaper woman columnist insisted they were married, I said there was no evidence except the “friendship” ring. Lillian, I explained, had worn the ring for a long time. The newspaper woman immediately played up the ring as a brand new bit of news and a few days later the old stories that “she was secretly | wed to the hard-boiled critic” were dusted off and printed in all the papers.
I was once more ahead of the play, in another city, I when the story broke and so positive was the assertion of marriage that I did not realize the columnist alone was responsible but thought that Lillian herself had made a public statement. I wired back and asked her. She wrote in reply: “You may be sure I shall tell you if that ring should ever have a greater significance than it has at present. You may be sure if it ever does, it will be a long, long time.”
In the event the ring had the significance the press stories attributed to it, this was a very neat answer. But it was scarcely the retort of a woman keyed to emotional heats. Such a blonde, according to the young director, would have colored her reply with some inescapable shade of possessiveness, had jealousy smouldered in her heart.
“Your blonde theory is the bunk,” I wrote the director, although I was still in the dark about Lillian’s love affairs. To all outward appearances her life was happily organized around her work. And yet there continued to lurk the reminder that still waters flow emotionally deep, and that perhaps, after all, her long training as an actress masked unplumbed intensities of feeling.
Not until “Uncle Vanya” reached the Harris Theatre in Chicago did I see the play itself. Besides Lillian’s Helena this production was the closest to perfection in its casting that I have ever seen approximated in the theatre. There were Walter Connolly, who had played in Margaret Anglin’s “Woman of Bronze”; Eugene Powers of the same cast; able Osgood Perkins and Kate Mayhew, the remarkable character woman; talented Zita Johann, and Eduardo Ciannelli, who distinguished himself in the screen version of “Winterset.” Such a combination was a tour de force that only the peculiar genius of Jed Harris could possibly assemble.
I felt then that the review of the New York World had not overstated the case when it said: “ ‘Uncle Vanya’ is the finest of Chekov’s plays. Chekov’s plays are the finest plays of the century. The Jed Harris production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ is the best Chekov that America has seen.”
I was enraptured with Lillian’s performance as she floated through the play, like a symbol of fugitive romance, escaping the clutching hands of idealizing men.
“If you know an art theatre when you see one, here it is,” wrote Charles Collins in the Chicago Tribune, proclaiming it better Chekov than what the Moscow Art Theatre had given us.
Seldom does an art theatre make an overwhelming demand at the box office, but considering the pall of the depression that was slowly squashing the theatre in its clammy hands, the receipts of that tour were remarkably good. Theatre managers and theatre public still optimistically believed that happy days were “just around the corner.” And not until three years later did they fully realize that the legitimate theatre’s road territory had been completely washed away and that a fourteen-thousand-dollar gross per week, such as “Uncle Vanya” had drawn at the Harris Theatre, was a figure gone with the chickens that in boom times filled every pot and with the two cars that basked in every garage.
DR. ANA ASLAN – A name, an original treatment with worldwide recognized results in the prophylaxis of aging processes.
General director of the National Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Bucharest, institute named after her, Prof. Dr. Ana Aslan was a top researcher in the field of cytology. She dedicated her whole life to studying and to investigating the causes of the cellular disintegration, resulting in the aging processes. After extended investigations,Prof. Dr. Ana Aslan, and the team of researchers she led, have obtained encouraging results in slowering this processes. An original therapy of regeneration and stimulation of the vital functions of the human organism was set up, worldwide well known under the name of Therapy Ana Aslan. Prof. Aslan’s idea about the ageless youth and beauty, as well as her results became very popular and appreciated all over the world.
A great number of people came to Bucharest, to Prof. Dr. Aslan for treatment, hoping to regain their vitality and good health. Among them were famous personalities such as: French President Charles De Gaulle, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong, Vietnamese Chairman Ho Chi Minh, actresses Marlene Dietrich, Lillian Gish, the Gabor sisters, Charlie Chaplin Kirk Douglas, artist Salvador Dalí ,Sophia Loren,Greta Garbo,Omar Sharif.
Almost all the prestigious universities in the word invited Prof. Dr. Ana Aslan, granting her scientific honorary titles and conferring her government medals. She was a member of The Science Academy of New York, of the World Union of Prophylactic and Hygiene Medicine, honorary member of European Center for Medical Research, president of International Association of Gerontology, president of Romanian Society of Gerontology, etc.
Ana Aslan was, until at an advances age, a very admired, attractive woman, with a fascinating brightness. She never accepted aging in a passive way, because she knew how important a healthy skin and young appearance for a good disposition is. She than dedicated all her creative energy to geriatrics and the ways to preserve physical condition through cosmetical and medical treatment.
Dr. Ana Aslan, a controversial gerontologist whose clinic in Romania attracted thousands of people from around the world in search of renewed youth, has died in Bucharest, according to reports from that city and Paris. She was in her early 90s.
Agence France-Presse reported that her death on May 20 went unnoticed in Romania for nearly a week until Thursday, when a Bucharest newspaper published a small item about her in the obituary column. She was buried last Sunday in a civil ceremony, although she had wanted a religious ceremony, the French press agency said.
Dr. Aslan developed a drug named Gerovital H3 that she and a loyal group of followers promoted as an elixir of youth. Detractors asserted that it was simply a solution of procaine, which under the brand name Novocain is widely used by dentists to block pain and is administered to older people as an antidepressant.
Shortly after World War II, Dr. Aslan, who specialized in treating arthritis, began working with a noted Romanian hormone specialist, Constantin Parhon. In 1954, the government-sponsored Parhon Institute of Geriatrics was established in Bucharest, and Dr. Aslan soon became its dominant figure.
The institute developed into a magnet for wealthy and prominent people from Europe and other continents, all searching for a way to stave off the ravages of age. Dr. Aslan traveled abroad to lecture and to promote Gerovital and Aslavital, another youth treatment she developed.
Among the famous people who took her treatments-or were widely reported to have done so-were Charles de Gaulle, Nikita Khrushchev, Indira Gandhi, Marshal Tito and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany, as well as the actresses Lillian Gish and Marlene Dietrich.
Most scientists outside Romania dismissed Gerovital as another false fountain of youth. The medical establishment in Great Britain and the United States found it had no merit, and the Food and Drug Administration refused to sanction it. Nevertheless, a few scientists hailed Gerovital as a wonder drug. Dr. Aslan herself refused to claim credit for rejuvenating specific celebrities, but neither did she deny extravagant claims by her supporters. A woman who in her 60s and 70s appeared 30 years younger, Dr. Aslan was variously reported as having been born between 1896 and 1898.
After an eight year absence, Lillian Gish is back in Hollywood for a starring role in “Night of the Hunter.” Graciously she greeted me at the door of her apartment when I called.
Over coffee and cakes, we discussed the beauty routine of this charming veteran of many stage and screen roles. Noticing her slender figure, I asked first about her diet.
“You wouldn’t think I had one, looking at this,” she said laughingly as she indicated the plate of sweets before us. “I’ve never had to worry about being too fat. I can eat anything I please.
“But I do try to eat healthy foods. I often shop at the stores which carry organically grown products. I don’t believe in super-refined foods – never eat white bread. Feeling fit is the best way to look well, don’t you think?”
I asked Miss Gish if she’d ever been too thin.
“Yes, at a time when I had worked eight or nine years without a vacation,” she said. “I was thin, nervous, completely run down. To recuperate, I went to Munich and took the beer cure – my own invention. They have wonderful beer in Munich – 16 different kinds. It is very mild, and they serve it with huge white radishes and coarse salt.
“Since I’m not a drinker, just one glass of beer would make me relaxed and sleepy. I would have one for lunch, take a long nap, have another at dinner, and sleep like a baby all night. After three weeks if that, I had gained pounds and felt completely refreshed!”
Miss Gish’s ash blonde hair shone in the afternoon sun as she bent forward to sip her coffee. Simply pulled back in a bun, it looked long and luxuriant.
When I mentioned her hair, she said: “Yes, it comes to my waist. I never cut it, and I’ve never changed the color. I have it washed in a beauty salon which has branches all over the world. They believe in a healthy scalp. They wash the hair with a sponge and dry it by hand with towels. No dryers. No matter what color hair is, it’s pretty if it’s shining and healthy, don’t you think?
When I asked for her favorite beauty preparation, Miss Gish told me: “My mother used to make her own cold cream with almond oil and other ingredients. I don’t bother making cream, but I still use almond oil, mixed with baby oil, to remove my make-up when I’m working.” In private life, she uses only powder and lipstick.
Asked if she had any philosophy regarding beauty, Miss Gish replied: “I don’t think a woman can be more attractive outside than she is inside. After 30, her character is pretty well written in her face. For the rest, I think God designs His scenery very well. But a little embellishment is fun. Wouldn’t the world be dull without it!”
Chicago Tribune – October, Sunday 13, 1929 – Part 7, Page 58
By Rosalind Shaffer (Chicago Tribune Press Service)
Hollywood Cal. – [Special Correspondence] – Lillian Gish is about to begin rehearsals on her first talking picture “The Swan,” from the play by Ferenc Molnar. Looking extremely well after her prolonged vacation occasioned by the giving up plans to make “The Miracle Woman,” by Reinhardt, some months ago, Miss Gish is most interested with the idea of doing a talkie.
“I really have done about everything I could for silent pictures,” she said. “I have made all the faces I know; I even went to insane asylums to try to get a few new ones. It’s rather nice to be going to make a new sort of thing.”
A couple of years ago, Lillian Gish had been thinking of doing stage work and had had some excellent voice training under the tutelage of Victor Maurel, now dead, who lived in New York at the time Miss Gish knew him.
Maurel was an opera singer, so important in his day that the prologue for “Pagliacci,” by Leoncavallo, was written especially for him to sing to induce him to play the role in its original presentation. He had argued that the part was too light in tone and suggested the prologue to give it weight.
Maurel was a well known artist in his later years and it was as such that Miss Gish went to him to get lessons in his hobby. He only asked as pay that she pose for him. Then he became interested in her dramatic work and daily he took scenes from the then current “Way Down East” of Miss Gish and tried to gain the same emotional effect in an empty room with her voice that she had gotten on the screen with her acting.
Thus, while Miss Gish has never had a voice test, she feels not unprepared for her talking work in “The Swan.” The role is a radical departure from the fluttery parts that first brought her to popularity with D.W. Griffith as her director.
While Miss Gish keeps her long hair, she has been as radical as Mary Pickford in changing her parts for films, for in “The Swan” she plays a modern lightly sophisticated role. In the cast will be Conrad Nagel, Rod LaRocque and Marie Dressler.
Chicago Tribune – Wednesday, October 1st, 1969 – Page 51
By Gene Siskel
AT THE Moscow Film festival this summer, one actress received an ovation larger than any other. Lillian Gish, whose credits are virtually endless and run the gamut from the largest grossing film [“Birth of a Nation”] to longest running Broadway play [“Life With Father”], was that actress.
She is in Chicago at the Goodman theater thru Saturday for five performances of “Lillian Gish and the Movies,” a narrated look at the birth and triumph of the only art form created in the twentieth century – the movie.
Miss Gish is elegant in a long, white gown, and ebullient as she greets the audience in what she calls “my city.” Her warmth – which she was able to project on the silent screen – is more than evident in her greeting. “I’m a lucky, lucky woman.”
With the screen at center stage and her chair off to one side, Miss Gish takes us on a tour of great films from 1900 to 1928. Incredibly modest, she has included films from her own career as well as those of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and many others.
Occasionally having trouble with her script, Miss Gish was the most captivating when she looked out at the audience and told the story of her harrowing performance on an ice floe in “Way Down East.” As we watched her leave her lover [Richard Barthelmess] and head for ice, she explained that stand-ins were never used. “And it was my foolish idea to hold my hand and my hair in the freezing water.”
Barthelmess chases his sweetheart, jumping from ice floe to ice floe, and suddenly we see a shot of Miss Gish approaching the falls. You have to shake yourself to realize that here was the era’s most popular screen star floating down a river about to be smashed to bits.
“I don’t know why we got so close to the edge. We couldn’t hear Mr. Griffith [the director] screaming at us.” In a dazzling scene that has the audience gasping and then cheering, the heroine is saved.
Much of the cinematic travelog is a paen to her close friend and pioneering director, David Wark Griffith. Miss Gish shows us portions of Griffith’s masterpiece, “Birth of a Nation,” and identifies the master’s contributions to the art.
In his preface to miss Gish’s autobiography, Brooks Atkinson wrote, “I know what makes her so magnificent. She has no vanity.” We got a sense of that last night, and only wish Miss Gish’s modesty wouldn’t keep her from talking more about her roles as they are shown on the screen. What information she did give was wonderful.
Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 2nd, 1963 – Page 39
By Hedda Hopper
Hollywood, Sept. 1 – When actors complain about their short span of earning years, I think of Lillian Gish who began her career at 4, never went to school, was a D.W. Griffith star in such famous silents as “Birth of a Nation,” and “Broken Blossoms.” In June she completed a Broadway run with an all-star company in G.B. Shaw’s “Too True to be Good.” I saw her recently when she came here to do a segment for a “Mr. Novak” TV at M-G-M. Thruout her entire life she’s worked continuously contributing unforgettable characterizations in all acting mediums … We shared a pint of ice cream at my desk in lieu of lunch while she told me how Bob Preston, Glynis Johns, David Wayne, Cyril Ritchard, Eileen Heckart, Ray Middleton, Cedric Hardwicke and herself all worked for cut salaries in the Shaw play because they wanted to do it.
“The theater is sick today, but actors like to act and this was the only way we could put it on with such a cast. We signed for a limited run, March to June, because we were in the big 54th Street theater which holds 1,500, a house for musicals and far too large for a little comedy with a cast of eight. They call it the ‘Penalty Theater’ because a nonmusical play like ours has to pay salaries to four musicians for sake of unions.”
“We talked about bringing in actors to replace those who had to leave and considered moving to a smaller theater,” she continued. “It was prohibitive, would have cost between $15,000 and $20,000 … After opening night we met the backers of our play at a party; I’ve never seen such young-looking angels. Most appeared to be barely out of their teens. Hardwicke, who was in and out of the hospital here last summer and had an operation for asthma, never missed a performance; neither Bob Preston. He fell on the ice at his country place breaking three ribs, and must have suffered great pain, because his part called for him to be thrown all over the stage. But these are true pros. Glynis Johns had a yelling part and almost lost her voice; we used to hold our breath on Saturday night before that first shout, we were so worried, wondering if she’d have voice enough left to make the whole show.
Lillian lived in Hollywood nine years when she was with D.W. Griffith’s company, and never had a contract. She finds movieland very changed. “As I came up here, I found some of the streets ugly, and I found myself resenting that it was no longer beautiful. You used to smell orange blossoms when you stepped off the train, and at night, if there was a fog, the flower fragrances were held down to earth.” She spoke of Griffith’s widow, Evelyn, whom she’d seen before leaving the east coast: “She’s remarried to a Swedish-German, and they went to Europe this summer, her first trip there.”