The Real Story of “Intolerance” – By Henry Stephen Gordon (Photoplay Nov. 1916 Vol. X)

Photoplay Magazine – November 1916 Vol. X No. 6

The Real Story of “Intolerance”





By Henry Stephen Gordon

Photographs by Raymond Stagg, and scenes from the play


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the spectacular, factful conclusion of Mr. Gordon’s story on the career and achievements of David Wark Griffith. “Intolerance” has already been produced in the metropolis, and the cool New York critics have spun far more ardent typewriter rhapsodies about it than Mr. Gordon has here woven. Photoplay feels tint even as “Intolerance” itself is the most sensational artistic achievement of the year, so this story —an authoritative, unduplicated narrative by the man who knows Griffith better than anyone else—is the greatest magazine story of the month, anywhere. Do not mistake this for Photoplay’s critical review of the work. Next month Julian Johnson will give it an elaborate analysis and description as a feature of “The Shadow Stage.”

Intolerance - Huge set comparing to a man

OFTEN in my atrabiliar moods when I read of pompous ceremonials.” writes Herr Diogenes Teufelsdrockh, . . . “and how the ushers, macers, and pursuivants are all in waiting; how Duke this is presented by Arch Duke that, and Colonel A by General B, and innumerable Bishops, Admirals, and miscellaneous Functionaries are advancing gallantly to the Anointed Presence : and I strive in my remote privacy to form a clear picture of that solemnity,—on a sudden as by some enchanter’s wand the,—shall I speak it? the Clothes fly off the whole dramatic corps; and Dukes, Grandees, Bishops, Generals, Anointed Presence itself, every mother’s son of them, stand straddling there, not a shirt on them : and I know not whether to weep or laugh.”

That quality of seeing mankind stripped of its concealments which Herr Teufelsdrockh had in company with Rabelais, is the fearless theme of D. W. Griffith’s latest, and he says his last, photodrama,—'”Intolerance.”

“The Birth of a Nation” made him a rich man; money, gold, at once began to flow toward him, over his shoulders,—would it submerge him?

Would it drown the poetry which he had coined into tremendous dividends?

Could he write a second camera epic?

He has.

There is no provision that can determine the event of an effort which depends on the mood and perception of the vast many; “Intolerance” when this is printed will have made itself, or will have unmade Griffith, judged by the peerless jury of dollars in the box-office. Judged by the tables of Verity and of Art, it stands as a terrific arraignment of fustian humanity, under the indictment brought by implacable Fact.

Those seventy-five millions of people out of the hundred millions of our population who are writing at scenarios, will be interested in knowing where and how this theme was written.

It never was written.

It was created by suffering.

I have told you of Griffith’s combat with hypocrisy and imperious traditional Boetianism from the day he stepped forth from that impoverished manse of the Kentucky plantation, to and through his struggle for the survival of “The Birth of a Nation” ; of how in one community the creations of the negro vote, and in others where the negro was not maintained in his odor of martyrdom, the decayed prejudices of the Civil War were venomously injected into the controversy for artistic survival.


“The Truth? What is Truth?” asked Pontius Pilate.

And all through the centuries since, you and I and the other fellow have been shouting.

“Truth is what I believe.”

After he had won the scrap and “The Birth of a Nation” pictured the registering of gold, Griffith determined to do one more photodrama.—and he said then, and says now. only one more.—and in that he would give some manner of response to Mr. Pilate.

He did not look over the card indices of scenarios which Frank Woods had listed, though he did think of the Bible and of the temperamental incident that happened between Cain and Abel because of jealousy and thereby hatred.

But a report of a Federal Industrial Commission fell into his hands and therein he found a large part of his never written scenario. In that report was a mention of a certain combination of chemical factories,—a business combination under the control a man who was fervid in charity, acrobatically zealous in ecclesiastical activity.

He did not wear a halo in public, but he was invested with one by all the financial secretaries of Societies for the Propagation of Piety Among the Humble Poor, or for the gratuitous distribution of Tracts to the Hungry.

This official report went on in the coldly mechanical style of an adding machine to tell the profits of this Chemical Trust ; the public had previously had described to it how generously the head of the concern used his share for promulgation of Beneficence accompanied by brass tablets bearing the name of the Founder of the particular Beneficence.


With no particular emphasis the report said among other minutia that the laborers in the plants of the company were paid $ 1.60 a day; that living conditions had altered may or may not have been indicated, but the workmen wickedly refused to be comforted because their overlord gave hundreds of thousands of the dollars they had aided in the making, to an Evangelical Society for Enlightening Natives of Boroboolaa Gha with Warming Pans. Those workmen had no objections to the Overlord spending his pocket money for Tracts or Warming Pans or Brass Tablets, but they wanted $2.00 for slowly stifling their souls in the vats of his works.

The Overlord said them nay, and they struck, and the Overlord employed Goths and ostrogoths in the guise of deputy sheriffs and constables as is the custom of Overlords since the trade in Hessians and Swiss mercenaries has gone into desuetude; and the wage scale of $1.60 a day was maintained, and the men all came back to work in submission,—all except nineteen.

These nineteen could not testify to their humble change of view because the Overlord’s little army of private grenadiers had exercised the military basic principle of Frightfulness ; the missing nineteen had had their heads shot off and had thus escaped the righteous punishment of being sent to jail for ingratitude.

Billy Bitzer filming Intolerance with his Pathe camera

George W. “Billy” Bitzer, and the remarkable camera which ground in the gigantic scenes of “Intolerance,” “Static” is the peculiar electric manifestation which causes flashing white spots in the film; it is a bane of the business. Static is caused by cold, and the gentle heat from the attached bicycle lamp has obviated it in this great picture. Under Mr. Bitzer’s left hand is his original “diaphragm fade-out” appliance, directly attached to the lens. Everyone who knows anything about camera operation is of course well aware that Mr. Bitzer is the Griffith of camera men, even as Mr. Griffith is the Bitzer of directors!

In the court of Prince Belshazzar

On that feeble incident of ignorance of man’s kinship, of hatred of gentleness and right, Griffith built the theme of “Intolerance;” he cast back five thousand years into the supreme civilization of Babylon and there planted one of his incidents ; he walked down the aisles of Time to that St. Bartholomew’s Day when hatred and fear cut the throat of the best thought and patriotism of France, and there he planted another romantic incident ; with the living Christ in Nazareth he finds a living theme; and then to yesterday, or today or tomorrow as you like, he came and rooted there another, making the quadripartete of romance, of truth, and ingenuous fearlessness of the evil that is in all hearts ; the substance of his unanswerable charge is that all the evil, cruelty and wrong of the world comes from man’s implacable belief that what each man believes to be true, is true, and all else is false, wicked, and should be destroyed.

In making his first big picture Griffith while using no scenario, did have the memory of reading the Thomas Dixon novel to guide his progress, though, as you will remember, the picture is far from following the details of the story. In this “Intolerance” he had little more than his own idea of the incident in the Industrial Commission’s report on the Christian charity of its Overlord, and the intolerable audacity of those nineteen laborers, who were blinded by their intolerance of believing they were entitled to more of Life than $1.60 a day would buy.

At the first “runoff” of this picture in the little projecting room of his studio, Griffith had as audience one of the foremost war correspondents of this era.—a man with not a shred of emotion left to him ; a night editor of thirty years dealing with the dramatic of life, and to whom the dramatic had become a puerile everyday incident ; a city editor who was on intimate terms with all the grinning skeletons of a big city, and a writer of a long life spent in chronicling most of the tragedies and comedies of a huge country, with the machinery of the stage direction of them at his fingers tips.

Intolerance - Griffith and Bitzer filming Belshazzar orgy

Filming the most stupendous festival ever recorded. Beside Griffith, with the megaphone, stands George Bitzer and his vision-embalming camera. The subject is that Feast of Belshazzar described in Scriptures and history – it was the premier orgy of the ancients.


When the last foot of film had passed these sat silent, the fibre of their natures torn and ravelled ; they could say nothing : one rose and without phrase grasped Griffith’s hand.

Those four world-worn men had been shown not only the futile hypocrisy of the rest of the world, but their own as well.

And then from the darkness of the little room came the sound of the voice of Griffith; possibly he felt from the silence of his audience that the picture had failed to impress ; possibly he was moved himself : he is as facile in betraying his emotions as the Sphynx.

He told of his last visit to his Kentucky homestead : of an admirable, gentle-hearted, Christian-spirited, high-bred woman of near relationship, of deep orthodox belief ; of how this woman whenever she saw a well-known Christian Scientist of the place approaching, would cross the street ; of how a Catholic priest had installed a chapel of his faith there and of how all of all the other creeds combatted his work.

It was an epitome of the story of Babylon we had just seen; the glorious city of a glorious civilization where one of the first and one of the best Bibles had originated,—and all of it made the victim of hate and jealousy and greed.

Remembering that this later picture attacks with the precision of mathematics all intolerance, the result of its effect in the “tryouts” in neighboring places to where it was produced might give the Devil a richer idea than ever of the comedy of human seriousness.

So far none of the creeds, theories, or sociological ideas which the picture eviscerates has had its followers respond with a single protest ; each sees the picture and goes away thoroughly satisfied that it is not his pet belief which is assailed, but that of the fellow who believes differently ; in the secret now, of the photoplay’s success or failure.

When it is plain as a pike staff that intolerance of prohibition is a feature of the drama, what are we to think of prohibition leaders in prohibition Riverside praising the picture?

When it is equally an assault on money bending thought and creed to its devices, what deduction follows when a millionaire who has endowed colleges of sectarian type found the picture when shown at Pomona altogether admirable?

When in one appalling scene Protestants are shown savagely slaying Catholics and in another the murders of St. Bartholomew’s Day are depicted in ghastly reality and Protestants and Catholics both have found the picture to their taste, what can you think?

Nothing can be thought save that the great drama shown has undisturbed our universal capacity of seeing only that side of the shield which reflects ourselves.

Griffith - On Set (Intolerance)

“Is this truly to be your last picture:” Griffith was asked.

“It is,” he replied; “intolerance that I have met with and fought with in my other picture makes it impossible to ask investment of the tremendous sums of money required for a real feature film with the result dependent on the whim or the lack of brains of a captain of police.”

At that “runoff” showing, after the four spectators of fishy capacity for emotion had found their feet again firmly fastened in the clay of the commonplace, one said, “You’ve made a wonderful picture but you did have to pull the ‘old stuff’ to send ’em away with a good taste in their mouth.

“You’re plucky but you didn’t dare finish the picture true to life, and have The Boy executed, as he would have been in real life ; Carlyle might well have written your scenario up that finale ; but there you allowed the Despot of the stage to rule and you saved The Boy simply to satisfy the lust for comfort which audiences demand.”

“You’re one of the fellows who would have stood up and answered Pilate’s question, ‘What is Truth?'” said Griffith.

“That finale is Truth, and because it is a comfortable truth you thought it false.

“If you had read the newspapers as much as you’ve written for them, you would know about the Stielow case in New York; Stielow was convicted of a murder and sentenced to die; four times he was prepared for the chair, four times he and his family suffered every agony save the final swish of the current.

“What saved him was exactly what saved ‘The Boy’ in my picture ; the murderer confessed,

the final reprieve arrived just as the man was ready to be placed in the chair, his trousers’ leg already slit for the electrode.”

And picking up the copy of the New York paper containing the account, Griffith read former president Taft’s sentence of the criminal law, “The administration of criminal law in this country is a disgrace to civilization.”

The man who objected to the conventionally happy finale did it because he fancied himself just a bit more cultured than most, and believed that Art was only true in being disagreeable.

There are no great actors in “Intolerance,” none whom you will recognize ; though Sir Herbert Tree, I am told, in one scene played an extra man’s part, just to be in the picture.

De Wolf Hopper for the same purpose in another scene was one of the hundreds in a mob.

Tully Marshall donned the robes of a priest for one brief scene.

But of the players in general, few names will be recognized.

One of them is the woman who rock the cradle in that mournfully magnificent recurring interlude.

That is Miss Lillian Gish.


Nabonidus the King was done by an extra man.

Out of the sixty-odd thousand people who appear these are probably the ones who will be more or less known to the public.

Intolerance - Rawhide towers of Cyrus

Here, just as Herodotus and other historians describe them, are the rawhide towers of the attacking Persians, just before the assault upon Babylon. In the foreground, a net for falling wall-scalers; though it worked continuously and well, sixty men went to the hospital as a result of this encounter. Note the intrepid Ford, right at home in the domain so soon to be won by Kaiser Cyrus.

In the modern story:

  • Mae Marsh as The Girl.
  • Robert Harron as The Boy.
  • Fred Turner as The Father.
  • Sam de Grasse as Jenkins, the mill owner.
  • Vera Lewis, Jenkins’ sister, who creates the “Foundation.”
  • Walter Long, the Musketeer of the slums.
  • Miriam Cooper. The Friendless Woman.
  • Tom Wilson, The Kindly Heart.
  • Ralph Lewis, The Governor.
  • Lloyd Ingram, The Judge.


The French period:

  • Frank Bennett, as Charles IX.
  • Mrs. Crowell as Catherine de Medici
  • Joseph Henaberry as Admiral Coligny.
  • Margery Wilson as Brown Eyes.
  • Spottiswoode Aitken as Her Father.
  • A. D. Sears as The Mercenary.
  • Eugene Pallette as La Tour.
  • W. E. Lawrence as Henry of Navarre.


Babylonic period :

  • Alfred Paget as Belshazsar.
  • Seena Owen as Princess Atteraia.
  • George Seigmann (Griffith’s chief director) as Cyrus.
  • Constance Talmadge as The Mountain Girl.
  • Elmer Clifton as The Rhapsode.
  • E Lincoln as The Faithful Guard


Jewish Period:

  • Howard Gaye as Christ
  • Olga Gray as Mary Magdalene.
  • Lillian Langdon as Mary.
  • Bessie Love as The Bride.
  • George Walsh as The Bridegroom
  • William Brown as the Bride’s Father



If you have seen the picture when this appears, or when you do see it, those are about all the characters you will recognise as played by known people, if you are the most erudite “fan.” And you will see thousands on thousands of others, all apparently expert artists, all trained to the thousandth fraction of right “registering.” Griffith does not believe that an actor can make a producer a success, but he has proved that a producer can make an extra-man an actor.

Those fighting scenes of the picture were made by men trained to the same degree of ferocity that has made the killers in the Somme region turn the fields of France into human abattoirs. During the progress of the making of the picture they became known as “Griffith’s Man-Killers.”

The story is told that later Cecil de Mille of Lasky’s wanted some foot soldiers in a fight scene he had to make, and requisitioned the Man-Killers. They were to be entrenched, and a column of cavalry was to sweep down and annihilate them. They were carefully rehearsed and all went well until the camera was placed and the action began. Then the cavalry caracoled out and spurred their horses at them. Some fellow in the trench yelled “Here they come, fellers, now show the dash-blanks what Griffith’s Killers can do!”

They did ; all the rehearsal directions vanished, they couched their lances and unhorsed every trooper, and then ran them off the field,—and spoiled the scene.

I can well believe the story, for I was a witness of one of the assaults by Cyrus on the walls of Babylon. The barbarians swept over our spear-proof safety coign, and we had to dodge arrows and javelins while scudding for the clear.

George Seigmann, a man as big as two Huns, strove to subdue their onslaught as they were driving the Babylonians too swiftly for the camera, and meanwhile the Babylonians took advantage of the relief expedition by Seigmann and retreated within the city,

Did those barbarians care ?

Only so much as to fall on each others neck and crop until there was a riot of directors.

There were only sixty calls for the ambulance that day, but the injuries when examined at the studio hospital did not exceed those pleasing black eves, bent noses and gallant contusions, which are the croix de guerre of any well-designed scrap.

There was no fatality at all in the taking of the picture, though many times several thousands of warriors had to contend with life-like verity of death.

One man was killed when it was all over.

This by a sardonic freak of late was a steeplejack employed because of his surety of foot on heights. When a small set was being dismantled after the taking of the picture this juggler with altitude was employed as one of the wrecking crew of carpenters. He was at work on a scaffold eighteen feet from the ground when he made a misstep, fell, and never knew what had happened. For weeks before he had been stationed on the perilous points hundreds of feet high and had gayly coquetted with death from a station which would make a blue-water sailor dizzy.

I believe that of all the impressiveness of this picture the recurrent scene of Rocking The Cradle will be found most enduring in its elusive poetry of symbolism.


How this came to be created illustrates a Griffith trait.

Years ago when he was in a road company with Wilfred Lucas the two were walking one day when Lucas saw a woman rocking a cradle. He called the scene to Griffith’s attention and quoted the Walt Whitman lines:

” …. endlessly rocks the cradle,

“Uniter of Here and Hereafter.”

Who wrote that?” asked Griffith.

“That’s from Walt Whitman,” said Lucas, “you’ll find it somewhere in his ‘Leaves of Grass.'”

Griffith said nothing but darted away and found a book store, bought a copy of Whitman, and it happened as he opened the book the leaves parted at that very passage.

That was twelve or fifteen years ago.

But when the idea of “Intolerance” came to his mind (Griffith recalled those lines, imagined the picture of the eternal cradle, and there you have Walt Whitman’s thought photographed. This chronicler is far from being a hero worshiper ;  I have been on much too intimate terms with far too many heroes to fondle any illusions about them ; they often wear patent Leather shoes with spats, and sometimes they bandoline their hair, and often they are careless about marriage vows and going to church, and paying debts, and occasionally I’ve met the best of them who can adroitly eat peas with his knife, and a lot of them wear wrist watches, and some use perfumery, but when a man can make a camera fasten to a negative film Walt Whitman’s intellect he is none of these types but a man hero, and I kow-tow to him as being no less a poet than Whitman himself.

Beyond argument the measure of achievement today is that of money.

How much did it cost? will be the prime question about this work of beauty.

I know exactly and I will tell you exactly.

This picture of ‘Intolerance” cost five times as much as “The Birth of a Nation.”

Intolerance - Modern Story Set
Intolerance – Modern Story Set

But what the latter cost no one but those who paid the cost know. The press agents concerned, claimed all manner of figures from $250,000 up to half a million. An estimate from a number of those expert in judging, places the expenditure for “The Birth of a Nation” close to $100,000, some going as high as $200,000, none going much below the first figure. This last picture has been two years in the actual making, and work on the preparatory stages was begun over three years ago ; considerably more than sixty thousand people were engaged at one time and another in the acting, and more in the various forms of effort outside of the acting.

I do happen to know authoritatively that much over 300.000 feet of film was used in the making and that this was cut in the “assembling” to the present limit of the picture of between 12.000 and 13,000 feet.

As for carefulness, it is a fact that the captions have been set and changed close to two thousand times.

Photoplay (Jul - Dec 1916)

As for Griffith himself, he has put his heart’s substance into the labor. I saw him the day before he left for New York ; he was brave, even gay mentally, jesting and debonair : but he was gaunt and excited though in thorough self command.

I asked him. “Now that your work is over what is your idea of your future? What is your next ambition?”

He looked frankly at me and said un-smilingly, ”My idea of life now is a tremendously large bed, in some place where no telephone, no messenger boy, no newspaper, no telegram, no voice, can reach me, and to sleep for a solid week, only waking very occasionally long enough to eat a good dinner, and then roll over and again sleep.”

“What will you do if ‘Intolerance’ fails?” I asked.

Blandly smiling, he said. “I’ll seek the Jersey coast and try to find one of those man-eating sharks.”

“And what if it wins?”

“I have told you before that this will be my last picture.

“That is as true as anything can be which the future holds.”

“The speaking stage, producing drama?”

“I have told you before that such was my desire ; if the picture succeeds it will not. It cannot, make the money that in fabulous fashion pictures are credited with making ; theatres cannot hold as much money as some newspapers say some pictures make.

“The matter of the money to be made is very like the fellow blowing the bassoon in the orchestra who was told to blow louder ; ‘That’s all very well.’ he replied, ‘but where is the wind to come from?’ ”

He says he intends to take up the stage next as a means of finding expression unhampered, but when asked what he would do, and how, he side-stepped.

“There will never be any combination of the speaking and the photo drama,” he added with a tang at satire, “not if audiences can help it.

“The stage is perfect now, to my mind, because it enables us to make moving pictures so much easier than it might.

Intolerance - set
Intolerance – set

“I’m sorry that Mansfield, that Daly, that Irving, are dead, but as a moving picture man I am glad, for the movies’ sake, that they are gone. If those men were now alive, we of the movies would have to work harder than we do, and I don’t know how that could be done, for I figure that now we work fourteen and fifteen hours a day, but if the stage were different we would have to work thirty-six hours in the twenty four ; so we are glad that competition with the stage is not fiercer than it is.”

“Don’t you regard the modern part of your picture as an attack on the courts, on judges?”

“I certainly do not, because it is not.

“That Stielow case in New York is exactly like the murder case in the story ; only reality goes the picture three better in the way of reprieves. Stielow and his family faced death-suffering four times, and three times the reprieve came at the very last minute.

“If I had shown scenes like that on the screen it would have made the public laugh as impossible, but the people should not laugh at the courts ; judges do not make the laws, you, I, everyone, are responsible for the laws.

“I have met several judges and have always found them very nice and often very wonderful men. Real gentlemen, in fact.

What has seemed peculiar to me about the law is that after so prolonged an experiment with the principles oi Christianity we still find as was found through all the ages that justice demands if a man kills another he in turn should be murdered.

“No, I am far from attacking the courts or judges, tor the only thing that has stood between the pictures and the censors and thereby prevented the pictures from utter extinction, has been the courts.”

Here are his reasons as dictated by himself, for making no more feature pictures:

“It appears that henceforth there will be no middle ground in the pictures ; there will be the ten, twenty and thirty cent pictures, and the big two dollar ones.

“The first classification does not attract me, and the second offers too many stupid, cruel, costly and apparently ineradicable offensives.

“Of necessity the stage must tell the truth more freely than any other method of expression. It is the only means existing today of even attempting to portray the truth.

“I do not mean the drama as it is known to Broadway, but the drama as it is known to dramatists.

“I have tried to tell the truth in my new picture.

“But I find that what we call the Movies are less free now than ever, and are more and more dependent on the censor, and on that account I feel inclined to stop.

Intolerance - shooting A Ride To The Rescue (Modern Story) D. W. Griffith, American film master
Intolerance – shooting A Ride To The Rescue (Modern Story)

“There are but a few means of conveying what we believe to be truth; the college is seriously handicapped, as too many of the universities are endowed by a few rich men whose brain power has been used only to acquire wealth ; these have little or no knowledge beyond their immediate needs ; they have never taken the time to gain knowledge of human nature in the little nor in the mass ; they have their own ideas of life and deride everything foreign to their own little circles ; they know little of the present and less of the past.

“There is very little doubt that most college professors’ opinions on morals, politics, and even of history, are very different in their private and their public capacities.

“Who can believe that a man dependent on a university will have an opinion for the public which is not more or less sicklied with the pale cast of thought about the men who put up the money for the institution?

“The world can hope for no boldness of verity from the colleges.

“The preacher of today is as always, swayed to some extent by the majority of the sect to which he belongs ; he can seldom speak as an individual, and of necessity he cannot launch what may seem a new truth that infringes on what was an old truth, and remain in his denomination.

“I wondered recently at the daring of a certain professor of Assyriology who said in a little-read magazine that the average normal being of today would find himself with more decent associates and in happier surroundings in Babylon, or ancient Egypt, than in any intervening period of the world’s history, up to the Eighteenth Century.

“The newspaper and magazine appeal to a certain clientele which they must please, and are forced to listen as a rule to the hydra-headed monster called Public Clamor, more than to her gentler sister, Public Opinion.

“But the producer of a feature picture depends on a much larger audience than any of these means ; he does not have to defer to what Mrs. Smith thinks, or what Mr. Jones believes, for he has a million Mrs. Smiths and a million of Mr. Jones, and he is far more certain to get a fair hearing, or he would be if it were not for the censor.

“Isn’t the folly of it all palpable? Because a new idea is expressed people are not forced to accept it. But certainly in this country there should be no objection to the discussion of all subjects.

“What kind of people, what sort of race, can continue to exist that is afraid of discussion?

“The politics of the world is founded on so much hypocrisy that everything is done, not for what is right, nor even against what is wrong, but for the effect on a majority of the people.

“That is why all Europe is slaughtering.

“That is why ‘Christian’ nations will murder Turks and crucify pagans and slay with zest ‘foreigners.’

“A ‘foreigner’ is always a man with a head so dense that he will not think as we think.

“The story for Truth as we see it has become barred from the pictures, so that anyone who has a real idea to express should not look to the moving picture as a means, but if he has enough money, to the stage.

“We of the moving picture craft admit our defeat ; it is impossible for us to take any big subject of interest without the fear of the autocrats above us taking away our property.

“I now contemplate turning to the stage in making an attempt to find freedom of expression.”

This ends what I have to tell about David W. Griffith.

Photoplay (Jul - Dec 1916)

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Back to Lillian Gish Home page


INTOLERANCE By Hector Ames (Motion Picture Classic Vol. 3, 1916)

Motion Picture Classic Vol. 3 1916

Intolerance Original Program 2



Up and down thru the centuries, thru a muck of blood and self-righteous guilt, stalks that murderous specter of envy and self-love-Intolerance. Apparently inspired by hatreds—religious, political or social underneath all its sickening pretense and sham lies the desire for advancement of self and lust of power.

Intolerance Original Program 1

Age after age has written, with a finger dipped in blood: “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we do.” And advancing time but furnishes us a repetition of history, for always there be with us “certain hypocrites among the Pharisees” who thank their God that they be not as other men. Emerson has described the scourge in his immortal words:

Lillian Gish in Intolerance (1916) - The Cradle Endlessly Rocking
Lillian Gish in Intolerance (1916) – The Cradle Endlessly Rocking

“If we would not be marplots with our miserable interferences, the work, the society, letters, arts, science, religion of men would go on far better than now, and the heaven predicted from the beginning of the world, and still predicted from the bottom of the heart, would organize itself, as do now the rose and the air and sun.” Yet, thru all the ages. Time, endlessly rocking its cradle, brings forth the same passions, the same hates and sorrows. Such is the power of the demon-Intolerance.


Nearly two thousand years ago there lived in Babylon a certain high priest of Bel, the god of the Assyrians. And of all the citizens of the world’s most powerful state, he was second in influence only to Belshazzar himself. How it happened that certain of the citizens set up altars to other gods within the city, and the fires of Bel burned without sacrifice, and the high priest was dismayed and feared his crown of power was slipping from his grasp. The people of Babylon worshiped most at the shrines of the goddess Ishtar, and the devotion was sanctioned by Belshazzar.


Thus, day by day, the high priest grew more jealous for Bel, but most of all for himself. Then suddenly – came Cyrus the Persian, storming at the gates of the city, for with her fall the world lay at his feet. For weeks the siege went on : the people sacrificed and prayed to Ishtar, while Belshazzar and his armies hurled down their enemies from the walls. At last the wearied Persian horde withdrew, and the city was delivered. Whereat there was great rejoyicing in Babylon, and the praise of Ishtar rose higher then before, and the altars of Bel were neglected.


Then the wily Cyrus secretly sent word to the high priest that should the city be given over to him, to Bel should be the honor, and worship of no other god tolerated. So the high priest opened the gates to the Persian hosts, while Belshazzar and his nobles sat feasting. And a great cry went thruout the world: “Babylon is fallen-is fallen !” Thus a great civilization fell, and a great people were treacherously sold into slavery by the grasping intolerance of a narrow mind.


Some half-century later there was a marriage in Cana of Judea, and a certain poor guest, a Nazarene, made a miracle, turning jugs of water into wine. Then some among the Pharisees, who were hypocrites, began to fear Him. They said that they held Him in contempt because He consorted with publicans and sinners, and yet they feared Him, and therefore persecuted Him. He went His way, preaching a doctrine of love and peace; so they said to one another : “Behold ! this man is threatening our power; his words shame us before the multitudes, for we cannot answer them. Let us set him from our path.” So they circulated lying tales of Him, and angered the people against Him so that later they took Him to a certain hill, and there He was crucified, for His thoughts were not their thoughts. Did it matter that. angry lightnings played about the cross? Did it matter that Calvary was shaken by an ominous thunder, or that future generations should rain condemnations on their act? The cry of the centuries rose from the throats of the groaning multitude : “Sorrow and death to those who think not as we!”

Intolerance - Medici

Yet again, in a later age, when that church which He died to hand down to posterity was divided within itself-when France, under Charles IX, was a hotbed of internal intrigue-that serpent of Florence, Catherine de Medici, used that same religion, founded on tenets of love and peace, as a cloak for the vilest, bloodiest wholesale murder that the world has ever known. The Huguenots were becoming too powerful as a political factor. Catherine and her aids hectored the half-crazed king until he signed an order for their massacre. On St. Bartholomew’s Eve the great bell of St. Germain tolled out the death-knell of the thousands of innocent Huguenots in Paris. Men, women and children were butchered in their beds.

Intolerance Massacre Medici

Those who fled to the streets fell only on the pikes and swords of their ruthless assailants. The gutters ran with blood, and high above the screams and clamor came the solemn tolling of the great bell. The Due de Guise rode to the house of Coligny, and, standing up in his stirrups, cried: “Fling down the carrion ! I would see whether he be truly dead !” And all that was left of the great leader fell upon the upturned weapons of the mercenaries. He had wished to live in peace with his fellow men, but-he thought not as they.

And now we see this same spirit in our own age–the age of the intolerance of wealth for poverty. Here we have a certain group of women who seek, under the pretense of social uplift and moral reform, prominence for themselves at the expense of the happiness of others. Organizing a powerful charitable foundation, they proceed to clean up a modern city, entering environments and dealing with conditions, altho they possess neither the mentality nor the experience to cope with them, and forcibly inflicting their opinions on a class which adjusts itself to its problems far better without their aid. Still, they get personal advertisement and prominence, which is really the desired result. Envious, self-seeking, narrow-minded, and only too eager to see evil in others, in spite of his disguise of civilization we see in them the latest phase of the blighting specter – Intolerance.


Motion Picture Classic Vol. 3 1916.pdf

Motion Picture Classic Vol. 3 1916.pdf

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The White Sister (Motion Picture Classic – 1923) – Laurence Reid Review

The Celluloid Critic

Laurence Reid Reviews the Latest Picture Plays

Motion Picture Classic – 1923

The parade of big pictures across New York screen goes on apace. It begins to look like a celluloid landslide and the season has hardly begun. Marion Davies and George Arliss have had their innings with “Little Old New York” and “The Green Goddess,” respectively, and now comes Mary Pickford in “Rosita,” Lillian Gish in “The White Sister” and Lon Chaney in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Silver Nitrate White Sister Lobby Card Negative
White Sister Lobby Card (Inspiration Pictures)

The White Sister

There is a lyric quality to Lillian Gish’s acting in “The White Sister” (Inspiration) which has never been recognized before. In that respect Henry King who directed this tragic story of broken romance has brought forward a talent which Griffith neglected in order to create an emotional outburst, of pent-up floods of passions and fear. As the frail, tender misguided child of fate, Miss Gish makes poignant appeal. It is heart-rending to see this tormented soul taking her separation from her lover with such courage and when learning of his death, turning her back on the world and finding peace and sanctuary in the Church.

The White Sister
The White Sister

There is a splendid clash of emotions when the girl takes the veil – an unforgettable scene – and daring in its execution. Then when the lover returns to find his sweetheart a nun the story releases a deeper poignant note. Here is Lillian Gish of wistful charm and poise, suffering the anguish which comes from conflict in her heart.

The White Sister
The White Sister

There are some irrelevant touches and the climax is too orthodox to ring genuine. We have the play of elements from all sides – nature releasing its unbounded fury, and the human puppets are swept aside like so many toy figures. The finish is regulation movie stuff. But the picture earns respect because of its spiritual quality – its poignant touches – its sweep of passion.

The White Sister
The White Sister

It strikes deep with its conflict of distressed souls and one emerges from the theater with a feeling of exhaustion – the tensity of scene when the girl takes the veil and when her soldier-lover returns to claim her, holding one in a tight embrace.

The White Sister
The White Sister

A newcomer is Ronald Colman who plays the broken-hearted lover and he gives a performance of quiet force and dignity. He never seems to be acting, which makes his expression all the more natural and genuine.

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Motion Picture Classic (1923-1926)
Motion Picture Classic (1923) The Celluloid Critic – White Sister

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Lost Hollywood – By David Wallace – 2001

Lost Hollywood

Lost Hollywood

By David Wallace – 2001

The generic “thing” we think of as Hollywood likes to destroy and bury its past. Most traces of the original la-la-land are dead, buried, and gone. But now the maestro of entertainment history, David Wallace, has unearthed real treasures. Archaeology is a passion of mine. And so are the movies: the history of the movies, the making of movies, and the stars we have all known, loved, or hated. This book combines both of my passions, examining the priceless and fascinating past of Hollywoodland.

Hollywoodland was the original lettering of the famous sign that hovers, iconlike above the Hollywood Hills. Today it exists simply as “Hollywood,” but what a tale Wallace has to tell of how this great symbol fell into disrepair and was almost obliterated altogether.


Here we get the foibles, follies, houses, yachts, cars, studios, and restaurants of the glorious and glamorous yesterdays when stars really caught the public s imagination. This was America s beginning love affair with the cult of celebrity. These were the early silent years when flicks were the opium of the masses and audiences believed every word written in Photoplay and Modern Screen. There was the invention of sound and every other technical achievement one could dream of. But chiefly there were stars and star makers. Can you think of anyone famous today who would lure ten thousand people to a funeral? Princess Diana comes to mind, but in the early screen days William Desmond Taylor lured them because he had been murdered. The silent-screen beauty Mary Miles Minter was implicated in this still unsolved death, and she fainted at his funeral. Lost Hollywood is crammed with such stories.

Cinema old

Ghosts exist.

In film, images (ghosts) of people we love or hate do the things we fantasize about or recoil from in stories and settings equally phantasmal.

The ghosts of Hollywood embody and animate our collective and individual consciences, our ethics, our relationships, our dreams, and our darkest sides. The stories that flicker on the silver screen, and the people who bring them to life—the actors, producers, directors, crews, and publicists—have shaped the way we live. It has been said that the real challenge for a storyteller in relating a pre-Christian tale is to remove Christian values from the characters’ motivations and actions. I believe that for a storyteller a few centuries down the way, it will be even harder to remove values of the movie era from today’s civilization. Film, in its century, has changed civilization as profoundly as Christianity shaped Western culture in the previous nineteen centuries.


Art, architecture, fashion, design, literature, music, dance, social behaviors—even religion itself—have all been consumed by him and changed. Gods and goddesses far more dynamic and powerful than any in ancient mythology have been raised up and cast down.

It was all an accident; Hollywood, that is. The town that would become so proficient at creating fake accidents to amuse, fascinate, or terrify a future audience numbering in the billions was itself a serendipitous product of the right timing and the right location. It was neither a transportation nexus like the river town of Pittsburgh nor a harbor city like San Francisco (or Hollywood’s neighbor, the Los Angeles harbor city of San Pedro) nor a railroad town like Omaha or even nearby San Bernardino. In the beginning, it was nothing.

Nothing, that is, except a place of gentle hills rolling southward below a number of canyons that carried winter runoff from the slopes of the yet-to-be named Santa Monica Mountains near a wide pass that led to the also unnamed San Fernando Valley.

Death Takes DW Griffith
Death Takes DW Griffith

Griffith died on July 24, 1948, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in that lonely room where, to keep them cool, he often stored apples and sodas on the sill of the window from which he could see his past. (Not far from Griffith’s room Elvis Presley later lived and was inspired to write “Heartbreak Hotel.”)

American Academy of Dramatic Arts Honor New-York USA Cecil B Demille - 16 dec 1958
American Academy of Dramatic Arts Honor New-York USA Cecil B Demille – 16 dec 1958

The only celebrity who visited the funeral home was a director whose fame also stemmed from creating popular epics: Cecil B. DeMille. A few more of Hollywood’s famous, some of whom, like Lionel Barrymore and Mack Sennett, owed their film-career starts to him, showed up for the funeral in the half-filled Masonic Temple. Some, like Mary Pickford, whose career was launched by Griffith when she was sixteen, didn’t show up at all. Many of the funeral guests shunned honorary pallbearers like Louis B. Mayer (who, after his career change from junk dealer to film exhibitor, made a fortune from The Birth of a Nation) and Samuel Goldwyn, both of whom could have given Griffith work in his later years but didn’t.

Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith's Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950

When he was laid to rest in a tiny, rural graveyard in his native Kentucky, next to his father who first entranced him with the tales of Confederate derring-do that would inspire much of The Birth of a Nation, only one star of the many who owed their careers to him was there: Lillian Gish.

It was a four-hanky story Griffith would have loved filming.

D.W. Griffith was born on January 22, 1875, in La Grange, Kentucky. His father, Jacob, died when David was ten, after a life spent as a sometime politician, full-time farmer, and passionate Confederate loyalist. Davids mother, Mary, was the quiet, affectionate anchor of the family.

Lawrence Griffith, third from left at back, with the MeffertStock Company, Louisville, Kentucky 2897-98
Lawrence Griffith, third from left at back, with the MeffertStock Company, Louisville, Kentucky 2897-98

Griffith wanted to be an actor from an early age, and for a number of years trod the boards in Louisville and on the road. In 1905, he first visited Los Angeles, cast as an Indian in a stage adaptation of Helen Hunt Jacksons then-popular novel Ramona (Griffith would later use it for a him). The following year he married a fellow actor, Linda Arvidson, and moved to New York City where he tried his hand unsuccessfully as a playwright and looked for acting work. At the suggestion of a friend he ran into in the old Forty-second Street Automat, Griffith decided to look into films—not as an actor but as a scenario writer—to tide himself and Linda over the winter. (Before scripts, demanded by sound, writers wrote scenarios.) It was as an actor that he was hired, first by Edwin Porter (who four years earlier had made The Great Train Robbery) to play the lead in a forgettable him, and then, at age thirty-three, by the Biograph Company as both scenarist and actor. The job changed his life.

American Biograph Company 11 East 14th Street NY
American Biograph Company 11 East 14th Street NY

Biograph was by 1907 already the best of the early film makers, but like most, it was a small, informal community of largely anonymous talent grinding out two one-reelers a week from its studio in an East Fourteenth Street brownstone. Among those talents was cameraman Billy Bitzer, who, when Griffith’s stage-trained acting proved too overdone for the intimacy of him, suggested that Griffith step in for a sick director. It was also Bitzer who explained to the rookie director how to make his first film, laying out the scenario on a piece of laundry shirt-cardboard. Never, even in the glory days to come when Bitzer and Griffith would essentially write filmmaking’s first grammar, would Griffith work from a written scenario.

Lillian Gish Richard Barthelmess Dorothy Gish and Donald Crisp - Biograph team
Lillian Gish Richard Barthelmess Dorothy Gish and Donald Crisp – Biograph team

And what days they were as commercial success made taking chances possible. Most of Griffith’s hundreds of films for Biograph (141 in 1909 alone!) made a lot of money, largely because he somehow knew what the relatively unsophisticated audience of the time wanted and how to deliver it.

One thing Griffith believed was that audiences wanted longer films, films that told a more complete story. So in 1913, spurred by the example of the large-scale films being turned out in Italy, and permanently settled into making movies in the Southern California sun, he made Judith of Bethulia near the present Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. It was a four-reel biblical epic and one of the first to star the talent who would become Griffith’s most famous discovery; Lillian Gish. It also went overbudget by 100 percent, causing such a row between Griffith and the Biograph management that he formed his own company—and took many of Biograph’s leading talents along with him. Announcing his new company in a now famous advertisement, he took credit for introducing the fade-out (apparently true, although some him historians differ), the close-up, the long shot, crosscutting, and something called “restraint in expression,” certainly related to his earlier troubles toning down his stage gestures for him.

An amazing series of pictures followed that would make D. W. Griffith the most famous director in the world: The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Hearts of the World, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, and Orphans of the Storm. The most famous, because it was the most infamous as well, was The Birth of a Nation.

Lillian Gish - Birth of a Nation
Lillian Gish – Birth of a Nation

Based on a racist jeremiad of a book and play by Thomas Dixon called The Clansman, the saga of a Southern family torn by the Civil War, appealed to Griffith as a chance to write history from the loser’s point of view. It was unquestionably also an emotional response based on memories of the heroic reminiscences of his father, a twice-wounded Confederate colonel. The movie was made in locations in and around Los Angeles, including Griffith Park, the pine forest near Big Bear Lake, and the countryside near Whittier where the movie’s climactic ride of the Klansmen was filmed. One of the extras in that scene was John Ford, whose future career as a director nearly ended that day when, blinded by his Klan bedsheet, he was knocked from his horse by an overhanging branch; Griffith himself revived him with a shot of brandy.


The Clansman, as it was called in its early release, cost a then-astronomical one hundred thousand dollars to make and promote. Driven by notoriety (including a failed effort by the NAACP to suppress the film entirely), it would make a fortune. How much? No one will ever know exactly because of the standard financial shenanigans employed by exhibitors of the era. The best estimates are somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty million dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that would be around nine hundred million of today’s dollars, making The Birth ofa Nation one of the all-time most successful movies ever made.

Griffith s next film was in many ways both his greatest and his clumsiest. Before the premiere of The Birth of a Nation, Griffith had made a small movie based on a Dickension story of a young couple whose lives are destroyed by a strike. Called The Mother and the Law, it was never released, and the name was assigned to two new stories of injustice Griffith planned to film. Coincidently, he saw Cabiria, one of the hugely successful historical epics then being made in Italy. He was impressed by the ambitious scope of the film, which combined the intimacy of close-up shots with the panoramic grandeur of the burning of the Roman fleet and Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with seemingly thousands of extras and live elephants. Somehow the idea occurred to Griffith of filming a sort of cinematic sermon condemning intolerance by intercutting four stories: the heroic resistance of the Babylonians to the Persian invaders, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the French Huguenots, the original story of the young couple torn asunder by social violence, and three tableaux from the life of Christ. Working as always without a script, Griffith quite literally had no idea when to stop or start on this gargantuan project. He just kept filming, shooting more than a hundred miles of film, which eventually was edited down to three hours and fifteen minutes. Then and for years afterward, Intolerance was the longest film ever made.


Griffith’s colleagues couldn’t figure it out, and neither could audiences, after the effect of the stupendous visuals wore off. But, the film will live as a benchmark in film history, not for the stories it tried to tell, but for the way Griffith told them. Audiences were especially stunned by the sets for the fall of Babylon, with its thirty-foot-high elephants (a direct steal from Cabiria) and its images based on familiar biblical paintings. Few who ever saw Intolerance can forget the scene where the crowded steps of Babylon are first glimpsed from a great distance, then come closer and closer as the camera descends in a gigantically long tracking shot, down and down and down, ending atop Belshazzar’s bacchanal. That sort of shot is done all the time these days with a camera crane, but when Griffith did it in 1914, they didn’t exist. How did he do it?

Griffith and Bitzer on set filming a scene 1919
Griffith and Bitzer on set in action

Griffith and cameraman Bitzer first tried a balloon for the camera and cameraman, but it proved too unstable. Then engineer Allen Dwan, later a director himself, suggested mounting the camera on an open elevator that was itself mounted on a narrow-gauge flatcar on tracks leading to the three-hundred-foot-deep set. So as the elevator was slowly lowered, workmen pushed the flatcar forward. It was the movies’ first crane shot and even today one of the most memorable.

By now World War I was on in all its fury, and because Griffith was easily the most famous film director alive, the British invited him to visit and film footage for use in propaganda pictures. He was the only American filmmaker to visit the front. For Griffith, however, story telling on celluloid was by then becoming more real than the real thing; he would subsequently film frontline action on the Salisbury Plain in England and back home in Hollywood.

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

Some of that war footage found its way into his next feature, Hearts of the World, a melodramatic look at four war-torn years in a French family’s life. The story, a pastiche of lost and found love, is mostly memorable for Lillian Gish’s wonderful mad scene as she wanders through a battlefield searching for her lover, and the terrific patriotic ending as rank after rank of American soldiers march across the screen. (One side note: In Hearts of the World, Gish’s child was played by Ben Alexander, who would become familiar to a later generation as Sgt. Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet.)

Griffith’s next film, Broken Blosssoms, was something altogether different; for all intents and purposes it was the first film noir. The intimacy of its story about an abused girl (Lillian Gish) and the Chinaman who tries to rescue her with tragic consequences (Richard Barthelmess) was thrown into high relief by the epic splendor of the films that came before and after.

In early 1919, Griffith joined Mary Pickford, her fiance Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin in forming United Artists to control the distribution of their films. For Fairbanks, Pickford, and Chaplin it was a great success, not for Griffith, who had nothing to distribute that wasn’t previously contracted. He also decided to open the only studio he ever owned—a mistake in hindsight—in New York’s Westchester County, far away from Hollywood, which since the war had left Europe’s industries in ruins was now the world’s cinema capital.

For a while it still appeared that Griffith could do no wrong, especially when the first film made in his new studio was released in 1920. It was far grander than Broken Blossoms and hugely profitable. Way Down East is a creaky story of a wronged woman (Lillian Gish again) who overcomes social prejudice and near death to find true love (Richard Barthelmess again). The films final sequence, a tremendously long chase through a blizzard and across an ice-jammed river as Barthelmess races to rescue Gish, unconscious on an ice floe, was challenging to make (Gish claimed she was on the ice twenty times a day for three weeks and that once her hair froze solid). It was, and still is, breathtaking to watch, and in the opinion of many him scholars it still stands as one of cinemas greatest climaxes.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)

For all the technical innovations, for all the spectacle and the exciting climaxes, probably the one thing that separated D. W. Griffith from everyone else—and still does—was his uncanny ability to create emotional intimacy, the genius to deliver stunning, flashing moments that bind each individual in an audience to the story on the screen. That happens in the last of his great films. It wasn’t the last him he made, for Griffith’s career was to continue for a number of years before finally petering out in the 1930s, but it was one of the best. Orphans of the Storm was less what it appeared to be (a convoluted history of the French Revolution) than a human drama, the story of a pair of sisters, one blind (Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, who played the blind sibling), separated by circumstances and the turmoil of the time.

Despite the formulistic drama (including a Griffith signature rescue chase, an improbably happy ending, and, of course, the restoration of Dorothy Gish’s sight), there is one scene when Griffith, the one-time stage actor—and, of course, Lillian Gish—incontestably proved to the world that great acting can happen in movies too. It happens when Gish’s character thinks she hears the voice of her long-lost sister begging in the street below her room. Griffith films it with one of his trademark backlit, intimate close-ups, the camera frozen as Gish first dismisses the idea and then, as her sister’s voice continues, realizes that a miracle has indeed happened. The intensity is so palpable one hardly breathes.

Griffith would make a few more films, most notably a biography of Abraham Lincoln. But Way Down East was his last box-office success. The times had moved past him. Sound, which he never really understood, arrived along with a new generation of filmmakers who took his many technical advances and streamlined them. But none were ever to improve on the many moments when his emotional lightning struck the hearts of filmgoers.

Lost Hollywood

DW Griffith in 1943
DW Griffith in 1943

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Lillian Gish in Philip Barry’s ‘The Joyous Season’ By Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times – 1934)

The New York Times – Tuesday, January 30, 1934

Lillian Gish in Philip Barry’s ‘The Joyous Season’ — Opening of ‘Hotel Alimony.’

By Brooks Atkinson.


THE „JOYOUS SEASON” a play in three acts. by Philip Barry. Settings by Robert Edmond Jones: staged and produced by Arthur Hopkins. At the Belasco Theatre.

  • Francis Battle ………………… Eric Dressler
  • Theresa Farley Battle ……….. Jane Wyatt
  • Martin Farley ……………… Jerome Lawler
  • Patrick ……………………… Barry Macollum
  • Hugh Farley ……………….. Alan Campbell
  • Ross Farley ……………………  John Eldredge
  • Monica Farley ……….. Florence Williams
  • John Farley ………………… Moffat Johnston
  • Edith Choate Farley ………Mary Kennedy
  • Christina Farley ……………….. Lillian Gish
  • Nora ………………………………. Kate Mayhew
  • Sister Aloysius …………………… Mary Hone

Since Mr. O’Neill has described „Days Without End” as a modern miracle play, Philip Barry is entitled to give “The Joyous Season” the same distinction. He does not. In the program at the Belasco, where it was acted !ast evening, he describes it simply as „a new play.” But it presents Lillian Gish in the part of a reverent sister of the Catholic faith. In three acts it shows how the radiance of the sister’s spirit redeems her family from worldly melancholy on Christmas Day. It is a play that lies close to the heart of things and speaks honestly about tremulous matters that are seldom mentioned in the theatre. Some of it is deeply moving; all of it discloses a decency and fineness of feeling. Mr. Barry is not the man to theatricalize a Iesson in faith. But still, in this reviewer’s opinion, a religious topic seems to place an impediment in the freedom of Mr. Barry’s imagination. Inasmuch as “The Joyous Season” is a testament to the joy of faith, why should it lack the tumultuous emotion of ”The Animal Kingdom”, or „Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? Mr. Barry has written with more exultation upon less earnest occasions.

The plot is simplet as becomes the theme. After having been apart from her family for many years in the service of the church Sister Christina is briefly united with them at the Christmas season. Her mother has left Christina in her will the choice of two properties.

Joyous Season 1950 close up

During her visit she has to decide which to accept. Put that is only the framework of the play. The real problem is the spiritual apathy of her brothers and sisters. Once they used to be a gay family of Irish parents in the neighborhood of Boston. But now that they have become a family of distinction there and are all living together on Beacon Street, Christina finds them gloomy, ingrown, moribund and pettish toward each other. Their apathy is almost maglignance. It is separating husbands and wives and poisoning the single idealist with despair. ”The Joyous Season” is the narrative of how Christina’s faith and spirit infiltrate their lives and bring most of them back to a state of awareness and fulfillment.

By setting his play in Boston Mr. Barry bas localized it a good deal. Perhaps it requires a Bostonian to savor completely the moribund family life of the Farley clan-their formal respectability and their interior distaste for each other. “Being a Bostonian is a full-time job at half pay,”says the banker of the family, who is really a custodian of vaults. There is a devious satire in Mr. Barry’s portrait of his family that Bostonians will relish most keenly.

But that is only a trifling matter. What limits the scope of “The Joyous Season” more rigidly is the unevenness of the characterization. Francis and Terry Battle he has described completely. Her stubbornness and callousness of mind, his reticent idealism, the jangled mixture of their lives reveal these young people; and we know enough about them to respond to their problems. Mr. Barry has also written the part of Christina in such generous terms that we can understand her too, and feel the glow of her being. But the others are either generalized types or phantoms in a play. By leaving them in that murky penumbra Mr. Barry has lost a good deal of the lustre of his theme.

Joyous Season 1950

The acting reflects some of the same confusion. As Christina, Miss Gish is superb. Apart from the aura of’ her presence, which illuminates the sort of part she is playing, she has created a character with the imagery of her gestures and the inflections of her passionless voice. Jane Wyatt gives a splendid performance as the turbulent Terry whose moods are blazing and various. Eric Dressler invigorates the part of Terry’s husband with a note of candor and sincerity.

As the eldest brother Moffat Johnston is concrete and discerning. John Eldredge bas a buoyancy of playing that clarifies a good deal the inconclusive part of the brother radical. Kate Mayhew brings a jaunty sentiment to the part of an old family retaineress.

In his design of a dull living-room, Robert Edmond Jones has captured one aspect of the play, but this is not one of his n1ost illuminating settings. It shares Mr. Barry’s hesitation. Much of “The Joyous Season” is stirring and exalting. But in this reviewer’s opinion. it is not the great religious play Mr. Barry can write. It is not flooded with fervent emotion.

The Joyous Season - By Brooks Atkinson

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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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The Scarlet Letter – By Nathaniel Hawthorne (Screenland – May 1926)

Screenland – May 1926

The Scarlet Letter

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

This masterpiece of literature contains a number of passages so great and complete that a thrilling short story in Hawthorne’s own words is made by their narration, A few connecting explanations are added.

The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of inhabitants of Boston; all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. . . .

Lillian Gish (Scarlet Letter, HiRes)_02
17th February 1926: Lillian Gish (1893 – 1993) is punished for bearing a child out of wedlock in the film ‘The Scarlet Letter’, a 17th century melodrama directed by Victor Sjostrom.

The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. . . . Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison. . .

Lillian Gish (Scarlet Letter, HiRes)_01

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days. . . . And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike. . . . than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. . . . Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modeled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer. . . . was the Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself. . . .

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 2

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff. “Make way, good people, make way, in the King’s name!” cried he. “Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her ‘ brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!”

So, in one of the most moving passages of all literature, Hawthorne introduces us to the young matron Hester Prynne who, having left her aged husband in England some two years before and come to the New World, stood now upon the scaffold of the marketplace, with her nameless baby girl in her arms and on her breast the significant scarlet “A” which proclaimed her shame to all beholders.

The curious throng of neighbors and former friends gathered around as Hester took her place there, with little Pearl in her arms, pressed closer as that eminent divine, the Rev. John Wilson, the oldest minister of Boston, exhorted her to reveal the name of the sharer of her guilt. But Hester was silent under Mr. Wilson s pleading; silent under the gentler exhortation of her own clergyman, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. She would not purchase permission to remove that letter from her breast by revealing the identity of him for whose sake she bore it; and at last, the duration of her punishment in the market-place being over, the young woman who was henceforth to walk as an outcast among her kind, was allowed to return to the prison; the crowd dispersed and life in that stern Puritan community resumed its accustomed course.

There were, however, two hearts — in addition to the sorely troubled heart that beat beneath the scarlet letter in which the events of the day had left a deep impression.

Henry B Walthall - The Scarlet Letter
Henry B Walthall – The Scarlet Letter

Hester’s husband, arriving in the colony in time to witness that scene in the marketplace, had not seen fit to claim his wife before the crowd, but followed her to the prison and gained admission to her as Roger Chillingworth, a physician, whose skill would be of assistance to her in her present state of nervous collapse and exhaustion. “Hester,” said he, “I ask not wherefore, or how, thou hast fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the pedestal of infamy, on which I found thee. The reason is not far to seek. It was my folly, and thy weakness. I — a man of thought — the book-worm of great libraries — a man already in decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge — what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine own! Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical deformity in a young girl’s fantasy! Men call me wise. If sages were ever wise in their own behoof, I might have forseen all this. I might have known that, as I came out of the vast and dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Christian men, the very first object to meet my eyes would be thyself, Hester Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before the people. Nay, from the moment when we came down the old church steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!”

“Thou knowest,” said Hester — for, depressed as she was, she could not endure —this last quiet stab at the token of her shame “thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any.”

“True,” replied he. “It was my folly! I have said it. . . .”

“I have greatly wronged thee,” murmured Hester.

“We have wronged each other,” answered he. “Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not thought and philosophised in vain, I seek no vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me, the scale hangs fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?”

“Ask me not!” replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his face. “That thou shalt never know!”

“Never, sayest thou?” rejoined he with a smile of dark and self-relying intelligence. “Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are a few things — whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought — few things hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. … I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!” The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, that Hester Prynne clasped her hands over her heart, dreading lest he should read the secret there at once. “Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine,” resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at once with him. “He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost; but I shall read it on his heart. Yet fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven’s own method of retribution, or to my own loss, betray him to the gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive aught against his life: no, nor against his fame, if, as I judge, he be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let him hide himself in outward honor, if he may! Not the less he shall be mine!”

“Thy acts are like mercy,” said Hester, bewildered and appalled. “But thy words interpret thee as a terror!”

“One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee,” continued the scholar. “Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise, mine. There are none in this land that know me. Breathe not, to any human soul, that thou didst ever call me husband! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate; no matter whether of right or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is where thou art, and where he is. But betray me not!”

“Wherefore dost thou desire it?” inquired Hester, shrinking, she hardly knew why, from this secret bond. “Why not announce thyself openly, and cast me off at once?”

“It may be,” he replied, “because I will not encounter the dishonor that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It may be for other reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Let, therefore, thy husband be to the world as one already dead, and of whom no tidings shall ever come. Recognize me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this, beware! His fame, his position, his life, will be in my hands. Beware!”

“I will keep thy secret, as I have his,” said Hester.

“Swear it!” rejoined he. And she took the oath. Mercy or the most refined cruelty? No wonder Hester was perplexed at the old scholar’s attitude. But she had given her promise and would keep it. So, after her release from the jail, for seven years she went about the village with two secrets locked in her breast. Bitterness, at first, was hers, and suffering, as she watched her child grow, almost as the wild things of the forest, knowing no companionship other than her mother’s. Pearl became a pretty little girl, elfin and fairylike, but the great “A” which seemed to Hester to burn ever deeper into her very flesh, set Pearl apart from the normal life of the village as it set her mother apart from it. Yet, little by little, the attitude of those who had so bitterly condemned the mother changed. Accepting her ostracism as a means of atoning for her sin, Hester made no effort to regain her former social position. She went her way unobtrusively, gaining a livelihood for herself and child with her clever needlework, always ready to nurse the sick or prepare the dead for burial a self-appointed sister of mercy, winning, by her self-sacrificing devotion, the grudging admiration of the townspeople. But what of Roger Chillingworth — and that unknown other?

Chillingworth had attached himself to the young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale seemed, indeed, greatly in need of a physician’s services. He had grown ever thinner and paler since the day when he had reluctantly added his exhortations to those of the Rev. John Wilson on the market-place scaffold, and he had contracted a habit of placing his hand over his heart as if some secret sorrow rankled there — as if, as in the case of Hester Prynne, some brand, though unseen by the eyes of men, burned ever deeper into his flesh. Chillingworth’s herbs seemed to have no effect upon his health. Chillingworth’s pleased that he discuss whatever was troubling him with his physician were as unavailing.

Then one day (in a scene so beautiful that it must be given in the master’s own words), the minister whom all his little world regarded as a saint and the woman who was visibly branded as a sinner, chanced to meet in the forest. Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone by, before Hester Prynne could gather enough voice to attract his observation.

Lillian Gish - Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter
Lillian Gish – Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter

At length she succeeded. “Arthur Dimmesdale!”’ she said, faintly at first; then louder, but hoarseley. “Arthur Dimmesdale!” “Who speaks?” answered the minister. . . Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice, he distinctly beheld a form under the trees, clad in garments so somber, and so little relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that he knew not whether it was a woman or a shadow. It may be, that his pathway through life was haunted thus, by a specter that had stolen out from among his thoughts. He made a step nearer, and discovered the scarlet letter.

“Hester! Hester Prynne!” said he. “Is it thou? Art thou in life?”

“Even so!” she answered. “In such lire as has been mine these seven years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live?”

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another’s actual and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So strangely did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world beyond the grave, of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering, in mutual dread: as not yet familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings. . . .

The Scarlet Letter Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson
The Scarlet Letter – Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson

Without a word more spoken — neither he nor she assuming the guidance, but with an unexpected consent — they glided back into the shadow of the woods, whence Hester had emerged, and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting. When they found voice to speak, it was, at first, only to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might have made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and, next, the health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, into the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed something slight and casual to run before, and throw open the doors of intercourse, so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold. After a while, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne’s.

“Hester,” said he, “hast thou found peace?”

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.

“Hast thou?” she asked.

“None ! — nothing but despair!” he answered. “What else could I look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Were I an atheist — a man devoid of conscience — a wretch of coarse and brutal instincts — I might have found peace, long ere now. Nay, I never should have lost it. But, as matters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity there originally was in me, all of God*s gifts that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!” Hester reminded him of the reverence with which the community regarded him —but this only increased his despair.

“You wrong yourself in this,” said Hester gently. “You have deeply and sorely repented.

Your sin is left behind you, in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy, in very truth, than it seems in people’s eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? And wherefore shall it not bring you peace?”

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 3

The unhappy man responded that of penance, self-inflicted, he had had enough, but this seemed to him unavailing. If he might have one friend with whom he might share his secret —a friend or even an enemy who knew the sin that he hid from the knowledge of those who trusted and revered him, lest the scandal of it do unutterable harm to the community.

Hester Prynne looked into his face, hesitated to speak. Yet, uttering his long restrained emotions so vehemently as he did. his words here offered her the very point of circumstances in which to interpose whatever she came to say. She conquered her fears, and spoke.

“Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for,” said she, “with whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!”—Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with an effort—”Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him, under the same roof!” The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and clutching at his heart, as if he would have torn it out of his bosom. “Oh, Arthur,” cried she, “forgive me! In all things else I have striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity, save when thy good—thy life — thy fame—were put in question! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what I would say? That old man!—the physician!—he whom they call Roger Chillingworth!—he was my husband!”

The minister looked at her for an instant with all that violence of passion which intermixed, in more shapes than one, with his higher, purer, softer qualities—was, ir fact, the portion of him which the Devil claimed, and through which he sought to win the rest. Never was there a blacker and fiercer frown than Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it lasted it was a dark transfiguration. But his character had been so much enfeebled by suffering that even its lower energies were incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down on the ground, and buried his face in his hands.

“I might have known it.” murmured he. “I did know it! Was not the secret told me in the natural recoil of my heart at the first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why did I not understand? O Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame! — the indelicacy! —the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!”

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter

“Thou shalt forgive me!” cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him. “Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!” With sudden and desperate tenderness ;he threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom, little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her — for seven long years it had frowned upon this lonely woman—and still she bore it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and sorrowstricken man was what Hester could not bear and live!

“Wilt thou yet forgive me!” she repeated over and over again. “Wilt thou frown? Wilt thou not forgive?”

“I do forgive you, Hester,” replied the minister, at length, with a deep utterance, out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. “I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both! We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. . . . That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!”

“Never, never!” whispered she. “What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten it?”

“Hush, Hester!” said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising from the ground. “No; I have not forgotten!”

They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand, on the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought them a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so long been tending, and darkening ever as it stole along —and yet it inclosed a charm that made them linger upon it, and claim another and another, and, after all, another moment. The forest was obscure around them, and creaked with a blast that was passing through it. The boughs were tossing heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaned dolefully to another, as if telling the sad story of the pair that sat beneath, or constrained to forbode evil to come. And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest-tract that led backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must take up again the burden of ignominy, and the minister the hollow mockery of his good name! So they lingered an instant longer. No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest. Here, seen only by his eyes, the scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman! Here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might be for one moment true! He started at the thought that suddenly occurred to him.

“Hester,” cried he, “here is a new horror! Roger Chillingworth knows your purpose to reveal his true character. Will he continue, then, to keep our secret? What will now be the course of his revenge?”

“There is a strange secrecy in his nature,” replied Hester thoughtfully; “and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices of his revenge. I deem it not likely that he will betray the secret. He will doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark passion.”

“And I!—how am I to live longer, breathing the same air with this deadly enemy?” exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand nervously against his heart—a gesture that had grown involuntary with him. “Think for me, Hester! Thou art strong. Resolve for me!”

“Thou must dwell no longer with this man,” said Hester, slowly and firmly. “Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye.” “It were far worse than death!” replied the minister. “But how to avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall I lie down again on these withered leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst tell me what he was? Must I sink down there, and die at once.

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 5

“Is the world, then, so narrow?” exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing her deep eyes on the minister’s, and instinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could hardly hold itself erect. “Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes, but onward, too. Deeper it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step; until, some few miles hence, the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man’s tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched to one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?”

“Yes, Hester; but only under the fallen leaves!” replied the minister, with a sad smile.

“Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!” continued Hester. “It brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will bear thee back again. In our native land, whether in some remote rural village or in vast London— or surely in Germany, in France, or in pleasant Italy—thou wouldst be beyond his power and knowledge! And what hast thou to do with all these iron men and their opinions? They have kept thy better part in bondage too long already!”

“It cannot be!” answered the minister, listening as if he were called upon to realise a dream. “I am powerless to go! Wretched and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag on my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me. Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I may for other human souls! I dare not quit my post, though an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death and dishonor, when his dreary watch shall come to an end!”

“Thou art crushed under this seven years’ weight of misery,” replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own- energy. “But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! . . . Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. . . ‘. The future is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or—as it is more thy nature—be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the most renowned of the cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do anything save to lie down and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear without fear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life!—that have made thee feeble to will and to do!—that will leave thee powerless even to repent! Up and away!”

“O Hester!” cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, “thou tellest of running a race to a man whose

knees are tottering beneath him! I must die here! There is not strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world alone!” It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach. He repeated the word. “Alone, Hester!”

“Thou shalt not go alone!” answered she in a deep whisper. Then all was spoken!

The Scarlet Letter Lillian Gish
Lillian’s Protegee The story of “The Scarlet Letter” gave Lillian Gish, as Hester Prynne, many scenes with little Joyce Coad, who plays Pearl. And Miss Gish believes that Joyce, who is the winner of a California baby contest, will win an esteemed place for herself on the screen. Photo Motion Picture Magazine (Aug 1926-Jan 1927)

One strange loyalty to duty— one pathetic link of pride — delayed the young minister’s flight with Hester and little Pearl on the ship that even now awaited them in the harbor. He was to deliver the Election Sermon — an event of the year— and that task he resolved to perform before he left his flock forever. Before a rapt audience that filled the church and extended into the square before it, he delivered it. Never had he spoken so brilliantly. Never had his eloquence been so moving. “Thus,” (again in the author’s own words) there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale— as to most men, in their various spheres, though seldom recognized until they see it far behind them—an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one, or than any which could thereafter be. He stood at this moment on the very proudest eminence of superiority to which the gifts of, intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergyman in New England’s earliest days, when the professional character was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the position which the minister occupied, as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the pulpit, at the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester Prynne was standing be,side the scaffold of the pillory, with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast! Now was heard again the clangor of the music, and the measured tramp of the military escort, issuing from the church door. The procession was to be marshaled thence to the town hall, where a solemn banquet would complete the ceremonies of the day.

Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 4

But in that moment of his triumph, Arthur Dimmesdale’s tortured spirit had found itself unable to endure its burden longer. Suddenly, as the procession moved forward, he forced his way through the crowd to the foot of the Pearl. He extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter. “Come, Hester, come. Support me up yonder scaffold!” The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignity, who stood more immediately around the clergyman, were so taken by surprise, and so perplexed as to the purport of what they saw—unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself, or to imagine any other—that they remained silent and inactive spectators of the judgment which Providence seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, leaning on Hester’s shoulder, and supported by her arm around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend its steps; while still the little hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors, and well entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing scene.

“Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,” said he, looking darkly at the clergy man, “there was no one place so secret — no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me—save on this very scaffold!”

“Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!” answered the minister.

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester with an expression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.

“Is not this better,” murmured he, “than what we dreamed of in the forest?”

“I know not! I know not!” she hurriedly replied. “Better? Yea; so we may both die, and little Pearl die with us!” “For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order,” said the minister; “and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which he hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!” Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of little Pearl’s, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life matter—which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise—was now to be laid open to them. . . .

Gish, Hanson and Joyce Coad as Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale and Pearl in the 1926 motion picture The Scarlet Letter. In this scene Dimmesdale reveals himself to be Prynne's partner in adultery
Gish, Hanson and Joyce Coad as Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale and Pearl in the 1926 motion picture The Scarlet Letter. In this scene Dimmesdale reveals himself to be Prynne’s partner in adultery in front of a crowd of vengeful puritans. (Photo by John Springer CollectionCORBIS)

“People of New England!” cried he, with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic—yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a. shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe—-“ye, that have loved, me!

—ye, that have deemed me holy!—behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last! —at last!—I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this- woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful moment, from groveling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been —wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose— it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!”

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness—and, still more, the faintness of heart — that was striving for the mastery with him. … “It was on him!” he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. “God’s eye beheld it!

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - The Scarlet Letter 1926 — with Lars Hanson and Lillian Gish5.

The angels were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mein of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world! —and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death hour, he stands up before you! He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet letter! He tells you that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God’s judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!” With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed. “Thou hast escaped me!” he repeated more than once. “Thou hast escaped me!” “May God forgive thee!” said the minister.

“Thou, too, hast depely sinned!” He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man and fixed them on the woman and the child.

“My little Pearl,” said he feebly — and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child—-“dear little Pearl; wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest! But now thou wilt?” Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies, and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Toward her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.

“Hester,” said the clergyman, “farewell!”

“Shall we not meet again?” whispered she, bending her face down close to his.

“Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe! Thou lookest far into eternity, with those bright, dying eyes! Then tell me what thou seest?”

“Hush, Hester, hush!” said he, with a tremulous solemnity. “The law we broke! —the sin here so awfully revealed!—let these alone be thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God—when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul—it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows; and he is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost forever!

Praised be His name! His will be done! Farewell!”

That final word came forth with the minister’s expiring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit. So passed Arthur Dimmesdale.

Roger Chillingworth, we are told, withered slowly to his death as if, with Hester’s secret known and the possibility of revenge taken out of his hands, he had no further interest in living. Hester lived on, respected but aloof, in the community that had witnessed her shame and her life-long atonement. Pearl, upon reaching young womanhood, married and went to live in a kindlier and more tolerant society. And out of the sin and the suffering of these characters—whether they actually lived or were only figments of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination — has been woven one of the greatest novels which the genius of America has ever produced.

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Hester Prynne - Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter 2

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What Love Means to Me – By Lillian Gish (Pictures and Picturegoer – October 1924)

Pictures and Picturegoer – October 1924

What Love Means to Me

By Lillian Gish

The White Sister
The White Sister

“What did you think of it?”

Lillian Gish asked me on the day following the world premiere of The White Sister. And so we drifted into a discussion of the concluding scenes of that photoplay, in which ” Sister Angela ” keeps her vows to the church, while her love for a man is annihilated.

It was late afternoon in the Vanderbilt Hotel, and the frail Lillian was lying on a couch, resting from the excitement and thrills of the night before, a night which concluded with a fifteen minute long distance telephone call to Mother Gish up in the mountains.

The White Sister
The White Sister

‘ It’s amusing,” Lillian remarked, “to read the remarks of one or two reviewers who believe that The White Sister has an unhappy ending. “For love means two things to a woman.

The White Sister
The White Sister

Above all it means happiness, and those of us who can find happiness in love for a man should cherish that love and hold it holy,” she told me. “To the other sort of woman, love means satisfaction. It means satisfaction of vanity for one thing. This sort of woman wants to possess a man, she wants to have the world know that she has the power of holding a man. And she wants the man for what he can give her in material goods, quite apart from happiness. There is a finer type woman, however, a rare type, who holds something beyond mere happiness and mere material satisfaction. Angela is of this type. Sensitive, with eyes uplifted from the earth, she first seeks happiness from a man. “Then this man is apparently wrested away from her by a fate stronger than any human power. Where can she renew her hope, her faith? To what can she turn?

The White Sister
The White Sister

” Because she is a Catholic she turns to the church. And when, later, her lover returns and she finds she has taken a step which turns her forever from him, she is met with a problem which is almost transcendental. She has the choice between love and honour. ” Love means nothing when you have no happiness, and what happiness could Angela have had if she had forsaken her vows? She would have been an outcast nun and her lover a broken officer of the army. She might have fled from Rome, she might have left Italy, and she might have begun life anew with him. But even if the world had forgotten that she had broken her vows, she herself could never have forgotten.

Lillian Gish in The White Sister (Angela Chiaromonte)
Lillian Gish in The White Sister (Angela Chiaromonte)

“So Angela, in the picture, takes the one and only path. The Japanese, you know, are reputed to be ready to commit harikari  – (*harakiri) – if they feel their honour has been besmirched. Angela feels the same. When her lover takes her in his arms and kisses her, the lips that would have passionately met his own, are cold and lifeless, and she tears herself away from him and drives evil thoughts from her mind by telling the beads of her rosary.

The White Sister
The White Sister

” This is what love means to a woman of Angela’s type. Love means something different to every woman. To one it means a home, children, the thought that a loving being is near at every moment. To another love means the meeting of minds on an equal plane, the smoothing of life’s rough edges by a loving hand.

Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in "The White Sister"
Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish in “The White Sister” (At a Portrait Exhibition)

To another love means the sharing of great things, a mutual accord and helpfulness, the lifting of one’s life from the plane of every day living to a level of almost sublime joy.”

When Lillian has told you this interpretation of the character she plays in The White Sister, you begin to understand why she was able to give so realistic and so finely restrained a portrait of the Italian heroine of the tale. She had taken that character to her own heart and before giving screen life to Angela had thoroughly understood her. So, when you see The White Sister, recall that behind the mask of Lillian’s face beats the heart of a girl who held honour higher than anything else in the world, higher even than love.

Paul Rochester

The White Sister
The White Sister

” Love means something different to every woman,” says Lillian Gish. ” Those of us who can find happiness in love for a man, should cherish that love and hold it holy.”