CUPID has had a busy spring season in Hollywood. Being composed of so many beautiful women and handsome members of the sterner sex, it is but natural that many marriages and engagements would be announced among the movie colony. And being modern in every way, some of their matrimonial ships were bound to run aground
THE rumored engagement of Lillian Gish to George Jean Nathan, critic, writer and magazine editor, is of particular interest, coming, as it does, just after Lillian’s spectacular court victory over C. H. Duell, who said he was at one time “unofficially engaged” to Miss Gish. Mr. Nathan has been, to judge from his writings, one of the American woman’s severest critics. With such a lovely example as Miss Gish so close to his heart, it is quite possible that Mr. Nathan will now look at the American girl in a more appreciative and less critical light.
Photoplay Magazine Volume XXVI, Number Two – July 1924
“Birth of a Nation” Breaks All Records
Seven years before the producer of “The Birth of a Nation,” then just Larry Griffith, an actor out of a job, found a chance to play a role in a little one-reel Edison drama for five dollars a day. Seven years since he sold his first script to Biograph for fifteen dollars.
“The Birth of a Nation” broke all manner of theater records in various world capitals and became, as it remains today, the world’s: greatest motion picture, if greatness is to be measured by fame. It has ever since continued to be an important box office success. Early in 1924 “The Birth of a Nation” played in the great Auditorium Theater in Chicago, surpassing any previous picture audience record for that house.
No other dramatic screen product has lived so long, with the single and interesting exception of the little one-reel Sennett Keystone comedies featuring Charles Chaplin.
Lillian Gish – Birth of a Nation
Henry B. Walthall in “The Birth of a Nation”
Here, perhaps, is a test of screen art. “The Birth of a Nation” was Griffith vindication for his flourishing departure from Biograph. Because of the halo that “The Birth of a Nation” has conferred upon them, some of the now famous names from the cast must be recalled: Henry Walthall, Mae Marsh, Elmer Clifton, Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, Joseph Henabery, Sam de Grasse, Donald Crisp and Jennie Lee.
Lillian Gish Promotional Hartsook – The Clansman (The Birth of a Nation)
The Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp., 1915). Herald2
Lillian Gish Salem Daily Capital Journal article (Of The Birth of A Nation) – NOT Lillian Gish in the photograph
Griffith’s attainment in “The Birth of a Nation” must be credited with a large influence in extending an acceptance and appreciation of the screen art into new, higher levels. Here was a picture that could not be ignored by any class. It also exerted a large, even if indirect, influence on the course of motion picture finance. Hundreds of thousands and million were now to become easy figures in the manipulation of the thought of the industry. “The Birth of a Nation” is said to have cost over a quarter of a million. It would have been cheap at a million. The public has paid 815,000,000, according to the estimate of J. P. McCarthy, who has put the picture on the screens of the world.
In this single picture, Griffith, above all others, forced an indifferent world to learn that the motion picture was great. In the next chapter we shall tell some untold tales of screen destiny, rich with personal drama and adventure, stories of Charles Chaplin, Pancho Villa. Jack Johnson and Jess Willard. a curious bypath story of the world war and Broadway, and the amazing truth of how one idea and one little girl, Mary Pickford, rocked the whole vast institution of the screen and set all of its invested millions a-tremble.
NEW YORK — Lillian Gish has just made her 105th motion picture and she is looking forward to her 106th.
‘I’ve been working for 84 years. I don’t intend to stop now,’ says Gish, ethereal and almost prim in a pearl-buttoned rose Ultrasuede dress as she serves tea in the Manhattan apartment where she has lived alone for decades. She admits to 90 years, although two early theater reference books give her birthdate as 1893.
She is the only living actress whose career in film and television has almost spanned the history of both 20th century mediums.
‘I created heroines that were the essence of virginity, purity and goodness, with nobility of mind, heart, soul and body,’ says Gish, capturing her career in a single sentence.
She still exudes a sweet femininity. She wears Mary Jane strapped shoes. Her hair, ash blond turned mostly white, is pulled into a loose crown, a style seen in photographs of her in the ’20s.
‘I never go to the beauty shop or the hairdresser,’ she says proudly, touching her hand to a face that displays a fine white complexion. ‘And I never use much makeup when I’m not acting.’
She has sidestepped the horror-movie trap of the ’60s and ’70s that exploited other aging film heroines, including current co-star Bette Davis.
Gish’s new picture, due for release late next year, is a wry comedy with the working title ‘The Whales of August.’ It was filmed this fall on a small island in Casco Bay, Maine. Gish and Davis co-star as widowed sisters who have lived together for 30 years and are facing an emotional crisis.
‘We had only met briefly in the past and we had never worked together,’ said Gish. ‘In spite of this, I think we got along very nicely.’ Gish, of course, is very much Davis’s senior in the film world and can afford to be generous. —
Gish got her start on stage, in a 1902 road melodrama in the Midwest, but it was in 1912 that she made her first short film for David Wark (D.W.) Griffith, to whom she was introduced by girlhood friend Gladys Smith, soon to become Mary Pickford.
Griffith, head of Biograph Films, paid her $50 a week and became the lodestar of her actress life.
There is a lingering legend that the relationship with Griffith, who died in obscurity in 1948, was far more than that of master filmmaker to star. Gish steadfastly maintains it did not go beyond close friend and mentor, and she has spent the decades since his death in a successful effort to restore his reputation as ‘Father of Film.’
She even titled her 1969 autobiography ‘The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me.’
From a book-laden coffee table, she produces a copy of the autobiography translated into Burmese, one of the dozen languages in which it was published. There is also a watercolor sketch sent by a fan that incorporates the U.S. postage stamp portraying Griffith. The stamp represents five years of campaigning by Gish.
‘Griffith was a man of warmth and good spirits,’ she said. ‘But there was an air about him that forebade intimacy. In all the years I worked with him, I never called him anything but Mr. Griffith, and he called me Miss Lillian or Miss Gish, until about 1939 when we went on a first-name basis.’
Miss Lillian’s eyes are still large in a small, plump, pensive face that could express supplication in a way that became a trademark. Griffith recorded his impression of Gish on their first meeting as that of ‘exquisite, ethereal beauty.’
Work in silent and later talking pictures consumed Gish’s energies for nearly 20 years of her early career, and when she returned to film in 1943 from a long stage interlude, she never again abandoned the screen.
Her 104th film was ‘Sweet Liberty,’ an Alan Alda comedy about the making of a movie that takes liberties with the American Revolution. It was less than a box-office smash.
Gish played Alda’s cantankerous but lovably dotty old mother.
‘I thought they had mistaken me for my sister, Dorothy, who could be a very funny, whereas they always said I was about as funny as a baby’s open grave,’ she says, pouring tea into pink-and-white English china.
‘So I said ‘no’ four or five times, and then they sent Alan Alda to see me. Well, that did it.’ she says, lifting both hands in enthusiasm. The legendary, sweet Gish smile lights a face that is still girlish and without wrinkles.
She is delighted to have added Alda to her list of leading men — a list that started with Walter Huston, father of John and grandfather of Anjelica.
Gish made her acting debut, as Baby Lillian, with Huston in ‘The Convict’s Stripes’ in a barn-turned-theater in Rising Sun, Ohio. She was 5 at the time and the daughter of a struggling actress.
Then came Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, Ronald Colman, John Gilbert, Conrad Nagel, Roland Young, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotton, Charles Boyer, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Fred MacMurray, Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness, Robert Preston and George C. Scott.
Proximity to such male glamor was not lost on her.
She says brightly, ‘Did you know that it was because of me that they changed the laws of New York so that a woman cannot be sued for breach of promise?’
Charges were brought against her by onetime manager and financial adviser Charles Duell, who wanted to marry her when she left Griffith in 1923 to star in ‘The White Sister’ for Inspiration-Metro Pictures.
Griffith could no longer afford the $1,000 a week that Gish could command, and Inspiration could. It was the first time she had ever earned a lot of money making films.
‘When Duell found out how much money I could make, he decided to marry me,’ she said, her voice echoing old indignation. ‘He wanted my share of the profits from ‘The White Sister.’ I had to get legal help, and he tried to ruin me in the press.
‘I was smuggled on board a train going to California to avoid papers he tried to serve on me. It was terrible, out of an old melodrama.’
She still likes to recall that she received a ‘most discreet proposal of marriage’ from John Gilbert, Hollywood’s ‘Great Lover,’ when he played Roldolphe to her Mimi in the silent version of ‘La Boheme.’
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert – Mimi and Rodolphe (La Boheme)
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in “La Boheme”
LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926 s
John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (Rodolphe and Mimi) The last scene of La Boheme
LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert – La Boheme
‘I fell in love for the first time at 9,’ she says ‘I was always in and out of love. More men wanted to marry me. But marriage is a 24 hour-a-day job and I have always been much too busy to be a good wife. My films are my children.’
She was also reluctant to part with her sister Dorothy and their mother. Theater critic George Jean Nathan, a longtime escort, proposed to her numerous times in the 1920s before marrying another actress, Julie Haydon. Gish still believes Nathan resented her family closeness.
‘I never met anyone I liked better than mother or sister,’ she said. ‘I was really never happy away from them. I certainly wasn’t going to marry anyone who would take me away from my mother if I could help it.’ —
Mother, born Mary Robinson McConnell, was estranged from Gish’s father, James Leigh Gish, when Lillian and Dorothy were small. He was an Ohio confectioner, ever on the move to find ‘fresher horizons,’ as Gish puts it. Finally, Mary Gish moved herself and her children to New York where she found work as an ingenue in Proctor’s Stock Company for $15 a week.
‘I grew up with love, not money,’ said Gish. ‘Mother gave us security. Father insecurity. As I grew older, I wondered which was more valuable to my growth. Insecurity was a great gift. I think it taught me to work as if everything depended on me and to pray as if everything depended on God.
Gish became an actress when a friend of her mother’s got a job in a touring company that needed a little girl. Her salary was $10 a week. Not long after, Dorothy, two years younger, was taken on the road by another friend to play Little Willie in ‘East Lynne.’
‘Life on the road was incredibly hard for a child,’ Gish recalls. ‘There were oatmeal meals, hard benches and floors to sleep on, uncomfortable trains, and being stranded far from New York and friends. It was difficult to maintain friends. I never learned how to play with other children.
‘I never had an acting lesson. I was simply told, ‘Go out there and speak loud and clear or we’ll get another little girl.’ It was also drilled into us that when an audience pays to see a performance, it is entitled to the best performance you can give. Nothing in your personal life must interfere, neither fatigue, illness, nor anxiety.
‘There were no labor laws then to protect children in the theater from long hours and bad conditions and lack of schooling, and we were always on the run from the Gerry Society that did seek to protect children. I once outwitted a judge at 10 years old by wearing high heels, a long dress and hair done in a knot so I would appear the legal age of 16.’ —
It is the films made with Griffith that gave Gish lasting fame, recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a Special Oscar Award in 1971, and by the American Film Institute with a Life Achievement Award in 1984.
Griffith had made 400 short films before Gish and Dorothy went to work for him, but it was his first full-length film, ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ that won him and Lillian Gish national attention. In his greatest achievement, ‘Intolerance,’ she played a mother rocking a cradle that linked the four disparate sections of the film into historical perspective.
She is best remembered in such unblushing Griffith melodramas as ‘Broken Blossoms,’ ‘Way Down East,’ and ‘Orphans of the Storm,’ all achieved, she claims, ‘without ever seeing a script because Griffith only had an outline and it was up to you to find the character in repeated rehearsals.’
‘Look at my right hand,’ she said, raising it to show several misshapen fingers. ‘Those fingers are crooked because I froze my hand while being photographed on an ice floe on a river in Vermont about 20 times a day for three weeks in ‘Way Down East.’ We lost several members of our crew from pneumonia as a result of exposure.’
Later, she said, Hollywood gave up rehearsing scenes and expected actors who may not have met until that morning to be playing together with passion in the afternoon.
‘It’s a wonder films are as good as they are today using that technique. I always tried to find what the character is like and be that character, so rehearsals helped. When you get into a character, you do things you’d never do on your own.’
Gish may be best known to the present generation for TV appearances that began in 1949, in the Philco Playhouse production of ‘The Late Christopher Bean,’ and continued through ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ a PBS miniseries aired in February and March of this year in which she played Mrs. Loftus.
Her most famous TV role was that of Carrie Watts in Horton Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful,’ an original television drama produced by the Philco Playhouse in 1953. This is the same role that won Geraldine Page a Best Actress Oscar for the film version in March. Gish also played the role on Broadway when ‘Bountiful’ was transformed into a stage play.
‘It was the first television drama the Museum of Modern Art requested for its archives,’ she said. ‘Of course, Horton Foote deserves a lot of credit, and Geraldine gave it to him, but I want to put a word in for Fred Coe, the Philco Playhouse producer, who was really ‘The Father of Television,’ just as Griffith was ‘The Father of Film.”
Gish says she almost never goes to see films today, but does watch some television, especially the news.
‘Movies hurt my pride,’ she says. ‘They used to have love, sentiment, and tenderness, but in today’s lovemaking, they just swallow each other’s tonsils. Television had good drama in the early days. But now everything is too busy, too nervous, too unsure of itself.’
Gish prefers reading, especially history, literature, drama, art and religion (she is a devout Episcopalian).
‘Lillian would be equally at home with the Beatles and with the Archbishop of Canterbury,’ commented Peter Glenville, who directed her in ‘The Comedians,’ a 1967 film about the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. ‘And they would equally appreciate her.’
Because she was on the road for most of her childhood, she did not attend regular schools, except for a term spent at an Ursuline academy in Missouri while her actress mother made a brief try at running a candy store in East St. Louis.
‘I used to feel inferior around my cousins, most of whom had gone to college, and I thought they knew a great deal more than I did,’ she says. ‘Now I realize that although I never went to school or received a diploma, I have kept right on learning. I never wanted to own anything but books and I have always been curious and had the energy to pursue my interests.’
She never really had a home either, spending most of her adult life in hotels until she and her mother took apartments in 1929 just off Sutton Place on New York’s smart East Side, a neighborhood in which she still lives.
Sitting on a graceful French canape couch and pointing to the feminine Louis XV-style chairs and tables and the Venetian mirrors in her green-and-gold drawing room, she said, ‘These are all mother’s things. You see, I never really wanted a home.’ —
Gish stands 5-feet-6, erect, and is so healthy she has never had a regular doctor and hasn’t had a headache in 50 years. In fact, she is wary of doctors, observing that ‘My mother’s operation was a great success and she was dead two weeks later. I think if I ever had to go to the hospital, I’d die in the ambulance.’
Gish maintains her girlhood weight of 112 pounds and gives credit for her trimness to her ‘upside down board,’ a contraption given to her by a older male admirer years ago.
‘Older men have always helped me,’ she said. ‘They have given me valuable advice on my health. I find the human race is so dear that when you give them pleasure they want to help you.’
Gish keeps her tilt board by the fireplace just under two Grandma Moses paintings, one given her by Grandma herself when Gish portrayed her on television and the other a gift of Helen Hayes, Gish’s best friend. Gish is godmother to Hayes’ actor son, James MacArthur.
‘I use the board for 30 minutes every morning,’ she said. ‘It puts your feet above your head. Very good for the whole system. Some years ago I took it down the street to Hammacher Schlemmer’s store, which carries all sorts of health machines and they copied it and still stock it.
‘The human body is a miracle. I wish we taught children growing up how to treat it as one. The body is the only house you get to live in and you have to take care of it. —
‘I have never had a special diet, having always eaten what I want to eat. Anyway, it would have made it difficult for other people if I had been on a diet. I love oysters and fish. I don’t eat beef anymore, however. It makes me think of how cows are slaughtered.’
Gish makes her own breakfast and skips lunch. Her friend-secretary-factotum of 18 years, Jim Frasher, a gifted cook, makes her dinner before he leaves for the day. Frasher, a former stage manager, helps her with correspondence, which averages 40 letters a day.
Her unoccupied maid’s room has been turned into a little gallery of mementoes, ranging from caricatures of Gish by theatrical cartoonist Al Hirschfeld to a Blackglama ad showing Gish, ‘a legend,’ swathed in mink.
Oil portraits, some quite large, are scattered throughout the apartment. There is one of Gish’s mother in the entrance hall and one of Zachary Taylor, 12th president of the United States and a cousin of her mother’s, in the dining room. A costume portrait of Dorothy, who died in 1968, dominates the living room.
In her book, Gish said Dorothy, whose nickname was ‘Baby,’ never really grew up, had difficulty making decisions, was untidy and disorganized. Gish, a neat, organized person, could not bear to share an apartment with her. Dorothy married James Rennie, one of her leading men in films. They were divorced and Dorothy never remarried.
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie – Remodeling Her Husband
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie (2) – Remodeling Her Husband
Dorothy Gish and James Rennie (3) – Remodeling Her Husband
The precocious moppets of melodrama had parallel careers, starting together with Griffith on location in the Delaware Water Gap, then moving to California in 1913 because he preferred its warm climate and the longer hours of sunlight for shooting.
By 1914 Lillian was pronounced ‘The Most Popular Actress Before the American Public,’ a pinnacle Dorothy would never achieve, although she was a big star in her own right and had a creditable stage career in the 1930s and 1940s. But as drama critic Brooks Atkinson was to point out, they were always ‘the Gish sisters’ in the public mind, ‘as much of American folklore as Jack Dempsey, Jimmy Durante or Harry S Truman.’
The Gishes made the transition from silent to talking pictures without difficulty, probably due to their stage experience when they were young. Lillian’s voice is still strong and vibrant.
‘It helped to have been in the theater, and I also had lessons with Victor Maurel, the great French opera singer who lived in Hollywood. He taught me to speak from the diaphram to the mouth without using the throat. Very useful if you have a cold!’
Lillian and Dorothy last appeared together in a summer theater tour of Enid Bagnold’s play, ‘The Chalk Garden,’ in 1956.
‘We were much closer than most sisters,’ said Gish. ‘We were always concerned with each other’s welfare. Even when our work separated us, there was a kind of extra-sensory perception that bound us together. I like to think of the first words Hal Holbrook uttered in ‘I Never Sang for My Father,’ the Broadway play I was in just before Dorothy died – ‘Death ends a life, but not a relationship.” —
Gish has never had time to be lonely.
She has been in demand as an actress and an adornment for grand occasions marking anniversaries in the film and theater and honoring other stars. One of the most thrilling was the Metropolitan Opera’s centennial gala in 1983 when she appeared as the dreaming girl in ‘The Specter of the Rose’ with Paris Opera Ballet star Patrick Dupond.
‘The following year, they did a ballet in Paris based on my career and Dorothy’s,’ Gish said. ‘Can you imagine?’
‘Right now I’m waiting for the ‘Lillian Gish’ rose to have its first flowering, so they can officially call it that,’ she said. ‘It’s a hybrid, developed in the Midwest, and I’m very excited about it.’
This year she was guest of honor at the opening of a Smithsonian Institution exhibit titled ‘Hollywood: Legend and Reality,’ in Washington, D.C.
Last summer, the Museum of the City of New York’s Theater Collection conferred its annual Star Award on Gish, and she went to Vancouver, Canada, for a screening at Expo ’86 of a documentary that French film star Jeanne Moreau made of her life. Moreau filmed Gish at home, on the streets of New York and at the upstate horse farm of restaurateur Jerry Brody, nuzzling the racehorse named for her.
”Lillian Gish’ has won two races at Aqueduct,’ Gish said proudly.
If Gish had her life to live over, she would like to have done more Shakespeare — certainly Juliet, which eluded her when she was young – because she has ‘always been a snob about my playwrights.
Lillian Gish and Sir John Gielgud in “Hamlet”
Photographer Vandamm – NYPL Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Guthrie McClintic’s Hamlet 1936
Photographer Vandamm – NYPL Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Guthrie McClintic’s Hamlet 1936 – detail
‘I played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet on Broadway in 1936, a most remarkable experience. He didn’t play Hamlet. He WAS Hamlet. It was the only play I was ever in when stage hands stood in the wings to watch.’
When she did appear in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a 1965 American Shakespeare Festival production in Stratford, Conn., she played Juliet’s elderly nurse.
‘Most people do not connect me with Tennessee Williams, but he actually wrote the prototype of the Blanche DuBois role for me in a one-acter called ‘Portrait of a Madonna,’ which evolved in 1947 into the full-length ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,” Gish said.
Another aspect of Gish’s career that is rarely remembered is the major role she took in various aspects of Griffith’s productions, including film editing.
‘He seemed to have faith in my judgment,’ she said. ‘I’d go to the darkroom to pick up the rushes, then I’d fight to have more of me cut out of the film. I always thought an audience should be left wanting more, rather than being surfeited with my image.
‘In those days we worked closely with one another. Now the men who work on developing film are far away from the studios. Everything is different. What was once warm and personal is now mechanical. Film acting became largely a matter of doing what you are told and collecting your salary.
‘When I worked for Griffith, we worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week because we liked it. There was no place as interesting as the studio.’
If Gish could wish for anything in the world and have it come true, what would it be?
Without hesitation she responds: ‘To follow spring around the world.’
In the mid-1920’s Miss Gish became embroiled in a long legal battle with Charles Duell, a socialite who had been her financial adviser (and, as she said in 1975, “sort of my Svengali”), over sums he claimed she owed him. Miss Gish munched carrots during the trial, and newspaper photographs of her stirred a carrot-chomping fad across the country. (New York Times)
New York Times – 1925 Headlines:
LILLIAN GISH SUED BY FILM PRODUCER; Charles H. Duell Seeks to Prevent Her From Acting Under Direction of Others. STAR CONDEMNS CONTRACT Her Attorneys Call It Tyrannical, and Say Story That She Is to Wed Duell Is Presumption.
Lillian Gish, star of the screen, was made defendant yesterday in a suit filed in Federal Court by Charles II. Duell, who seeks to prevent the star from making motion pictures except under the contract he has with her. (Jan 31, 1925)
“to answer to the charge of perjury.”
A brief lawsuit in which Lillian was involved at this time added greatly to her prestige. In October (1924), for what she felt to be just cause, she had broken off relations with her producers. Suit for breach of contract followed. At the trial, held in a small, crowded room of the Woolworth Building, the chief executive of the picture corporation testified to a number of remarkable things, among them that Miss Gish had engaged herself to marry him, all of which notably failed to convince Judge Julian W. Mack, who, on the second or third morning of the trial, rose and summarily dismissed the case against Lillian, and after a few well-chosen words to her accuser, held him “to bail in the sum of $10,000” (I quote the minutes) “to answer to the charge of perjury.”
He was indicted, but Lillian, with no wish, as she said, to send anyone to prison, declined to appear against him, and the case was dismissed.
Lillian’s following was now enormous … of the whole world, for in no obscure corner of it was her face unfamiliar, or unwelcomed. There was something almost magical about this universal homage. Men and women alike paid tribute. Reporters ransacked dictionaries for terms that would convey her elusive loveliness—likened it (one of them) to “the haunting sadness of an old Spanish song, heard as the light fades from the evening sky.” What heaps of letters! And if, as has been said, she was wanting in sex-appeal, why all the marriage proposals? Why so much poetry? Just one young man wrote eleven little volumes of poetry—pretty good poetry, if there is such a thing, even if not entirely sane (what poetry is?) —and it was printed by hand with the utmost care and beauty.
(Life and Lillian Gish – Albert Bigelow Paine – 1932)
Charles H. Duell’s name (Inspiration Pictures director) – was never mentioned in Paine’s book.
Duell asked me to assign my share of the profits from The White Sister to him. I realized that I was in trouble, but I did not know to whom I should turn. Not to D.W.Griffith; he was equally helpless when it came to legal matters. But the previous year in Rome I had met Senator Hiram Johnson, his wife and his son Jack. The Johnsons had treated me as an adopted daughter and had told me to call them if ever I needed help. I wrote to them of my troubles and they suggested a law firm to take care of my interests. Accordingly, I decided to go to Chadbourne, Stanchfield and Levy and to consult them about my predicament.
When I told Duell he said, “If you do that, I will ruin you.”
“How can you ruin me?”
“I can say whatever I wish about you, and they will believe me. You are only a motion-picture actress, while I am in the Social Register.”
If I had not been so startled by this treat, I would have thought it was something out of an old melodrama. In a letter written some time later, he suggested that I shouldn’t worry even if the percentages on The White Sister stopped briefly, as I would soon be getting my full salary on our next picture. He warned me that it would be to my advantage to agree without further fuss; otherwise, the consequences would be disastrous. The result of any conflict, he implied, would be to hurt us both in the industry.
The New York Morning Telegraph – January 31, 1925
A serious breach in the business relations of Lillian Gish and Charles Duell, her lawyer, trustee, adviser and employer, was forecast yesterday when Charles H. Duell Incorporated, filed a summons and complaint asking an injunction to restrain the star from appearing with any other company and asking that she be made to fulfill her contract with the Duell organization….
When questioned about the injunction proceedings brought by Charles H. Duell, Jr.’s personal company against Miss Lillian Gish, the latter’s attorney, Messrs. Chadbourne, Stanchfield and Levy said, “This latest move is part of a design to force Miss Gish to support Mr. Duell. The experiences of Richard Barthelmess and Henry King are only repeated in Miss Gish’s experience with Mr. Duell. Each of these outstanding artists has found it impossible to live under his business arrangements. Miss Gish’s situation discloses, in our opinion, the worst condition of the three.”
The New York Herald Tribune – February 14, 1925
… Max D. Steuer characterized Duell as a “deep-eyed scoundrel” for whom the actress would never work again even if it meant giving up her screen career …
… Steuer declared that Miss Gish’s contract was “grossly one-sided.”
Miss Gish appeared in court with her mother and listened intently to her lawyer’s argument. Holland S. Duell, brother of the plaintiff, testified in support of the producer’s complaint, declaring Miss Gish had already been stated in two successful pictures under the terms of the agreement which she wished to cancel. Steuer asserted that by five modifications of the contract, Miss Gish was defrauded of $120,000 by Duell …
“It was at that time that I became known as a vegetarian. Because I was nervous during the hearings, I took carrots with me to nibble on. The carrot fad thus began in the United States, with resulting world-wide publicity. Some friends took me to the Grand Street Follies to see a young actress impersonating me on the stage and eating a carrot”.
Finally, on April 2, 1925, extras were on the streets at noon carrying this headline:
“Duell Held as Perjurer; Lillian Gish Wins Suit”
“Lillian Gish – The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me – 1969”
DUELL ASKS TRIAL ON PERJURY CHARGE; Indictment Growing Out of Suit Against Lillian Gish, Pending Nearly a Year.
Charles H. Duell, lawyer and motion-picture producer, appeared before Federal Judge Knox yesterday with his counsel, Isadore Shapiro, who asked that his client be tried at once on the indictment against him charging perjury. The charge grew out of a suit by Duell to compel Lillian Gish, the film star, to make pictures only for Inspiration Pictures, Inc., of which Duell was the President.
The Los Angeles trial began on April 18, 1928; two days later all of the defendants were dismissed except for Lillian. Finally, on April 24, learning that she was exonerated once again, Lillian “smiled in almost an embarrassed fashion. ‘Why, I actually haven’t faced a camera since last August, and that’s years for anybody in motion pictures – she said. ‘I don’t know whether I remember how to behave when anybody takes a picture of me.’ ” But Lillian’s coy smile was premature. Duell was indefatigable in his attempts to recover money from her and to destroy her reputation, ever threatening to publish the story of their presumed affair. Lillian’s lawyer recommended that “we be prepared not to suppress any testimony which Duell may give of a scandalous nature, but to broadcast our version of the same, and in local newspapers and through the Associated Press paint Duell as a persecutor and blackmailer of this girl.” Lillian had beaten a man, Charles Duell, not the system. Duell had gone too far and had, in fact, detached Lillian from the studio system when he personally assumed her contract. The star’s contractual relationship to the studio was not successfully challenged until the early 1940s when Olivia De Havilland won her suit against Warner Bros.
In this legal saga of Dickensian proportions, Duell was unsuccessful in further suits against Lillian brought in 1930 and 1932, before he desisted at last. He never published his “tell-all” memoir. For ten years he had pursued her, first as would-be husband, then as litigant. He married Edith Brisbane in 1933, supervised the manufacture of a dispensing container invented by his wife, eventually practiced patent law in Washington and New York, and died in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 20, 1954. His entry in the Encyclopedia of American Biography makes no mention of his first wife, Elsie, or of Lillian Gish. In 1925, after Judge Mack’s decision, Charles Holland Duell Jr. was disgraced, disbarred, and insolvent. Lillian Gish emerged victorious from the trial, wealthy, her honor intact, her image perhaps enhanced.
Just as in most of her movies, the victim had prevailed over life’s adversities. And Lillian had indeed been a victim of Duell’s financial machinations. But he, too, had suffered—from her prevarications over the engagement and her dissembling after it had been broken. Although the public considered her a paragon of probity, in her own defense she had resorted to dishonesty. Ironically, Lillian vanquished Duell with a name whose prestige he had helped increase. Already celebrated as a great actress, as a result of the trial publicity Lillian Gish now commanded even greater fame. A proven movie star who would have been a prize for any one of the big production companies, she was rewarded with a terrifically lucrative contract from the most promising studio in Hollywood.
(- Charles Affron -)
Gossip of All The Studios – By Cal York
LILLIAN GISH is back in New York after a long stay abroad, waiting to make “The Swan.” She’s living at a quiet little hotel on a side street—going to the theater now and again with George Jean Nathan, who seems as devoted as ever. Oddly enough, she came back on the same ship with her former boss, Charles H. Duell, who sues her for millions every now and then, and spent most of the trip avoiding him, to hear her tell it.
Her mother, Mrs. May Gish, is in London, carefully tended by Sister Dorothy. Mrs. Gish’s health is a little improved. She’s been an invalid now for some years, you remember.
I strongly oppose the effort to rename Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater honoring two talented native Ohioans, Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Recently a similar petition was taken to the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The Gish sisters made distinguished, unmatched contributions to the performing arts, including motion pictures, stage, radio, and television. The removal of the name of the Gish Film Theater would be a sad, ignorant, misinformed waste and an insult to these great women’s legacy. There are campus activists at BGSU who want the Gish Theater name removed because of Lillian Gish’s role in the controversial D.W.Griffith film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Miss Gish was not a producer, writer, or director and therefore had no role in its content. She was a twenty-one year old actress fulfilling her contractual obligations.
Regarded as THE PREMIER SILENT FILM ACTRESS, Lillian’s oeuvre encompasses roles that are anti-racist and pro-feminist including such classics as “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East,” while Dorothy, who was one of the silent screen’s most popular actresses and did not appear in The Birth of a Nation, had a significant part in the anti-Klan film, “The Cardinal.” To remove these sisters’ names from the theater would be a blow to artistic expression and would not further the cause of racial justice and women’s contributions in film.To blacklist a performing artist simply for appearing in one film or play, as in the disrespectful phrase, “Ditch the Gish,” is outrageous, narrow-minded and sexist. It is clearly an embarrassment to the establishment from which it came, and the decision-makers should be cognizant of that, as well as Lillian Gish’s great legacy and trail-blazer as a successful woman in film who transitioned beautifully from the ‘silents’ to the ‘talkies.’ She was, and always will be, a fine example and credit to the film industry.
Instead of renouncing the well-deserved honor bestowed on these two great actresses with the establishment of the Gish Film Theater in 1976 there should be a ‘re-awakening’ celebration of the Gish sisters’ achievements instead, which could be accompanied by lectures on these women by well-known film historians and the showing of such anti-racist and pro-feminist movie classics as “The Cardinal,””Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East.” This could have such a beneficial ripple affect on the entire campus, even beyond the Film, Drama, and Women Studies Departments, which it would directly benefit. Retaining the name of the Gish Theater would also increase Bowling Green University’s respect and admiration as an institution, world-wide.
I had the privilege of meeting Lillian Gish when I was a graduate student in painting at Bowling Green State University on October 14, 1979. It was her 80th birthday and she gave a warm, articulate lecture on “Way Down East” at the Gish Theater, a silent film in which she played the heroine. Afterwards I asked if I could take her picture for my sister, Jane Gaines, now a published film historian who teaches at Columbia University. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Let’s have a picture taken of the two of us for your sister. I had a sister once, and I miss her very much!”
These kind women’s legacy in film needs to be REMEMBERED and HONORED at Bowling Green State University and in their state of Ohio and the rest of the world, NOT ERASED!
SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.
After “The Birth of A Nation” was released and criticized as being racist, D.W. Griffith was very hurt. He decided to make Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) as a follow-up, to show how damaging and dangerous people’s intolerance can be.
Years later, this same Babylon set was replicated as the central courtyard design for the new Hollywood & Highland complex in Hollywood, which opened in 2001. Included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.
The release of “The Birth” inspired many African-Americans to start making their own films in an attempt to counter this film’s depiction of them and to offer positive alternative images and stories of the African-American people.
D.W. Griffith had previously produced and directed Biograph’s The Rose of Kentucky (1911), which showed the Ku Klux Klan as villainous – a sharp contrast to “The Birth of A Nation”, made four years later, in which the KKK was portrayed in a favorable light.
That fact proves that films were even then part of entertainment industry, nothing more than a business. Nothing like today, when the hate is to thick, one can almost feel it like a disturbing presence. Racist issues never ceased and with catalists like BSU, never will.
“They don’t care. Her other achievements mean nothing to them. They are so focused on one movie. It makes me so sad. I agree about the hashtag “ditch the gish”. It does diminish their credibility. I was at the open forum and we were greatly outnumbered. The majority of the students were polite. The notice on the theater itself all but accuses Dorothy and Lillian of being racists. That makes me angry too. (Barbara Carr – Oregon)“
The Birth is on sale again on all major online sites (Amazon, Ebay), that’s because , as it happens it was restored to full HD.
Also I wish to mention that on the other LILLIAN GISH group I have constantly requests for membership from Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, the REAL African citizens who are enjoying Lillian’s silent films because (She was right) those movies are interpreted in universal language of “dancing emotions”. But this fact is not in her favour either – I suppose. I have marked all Gish Theater articles as offensive, #spoiler and small group interest. All this chain of actions (part mentioned above) leads to one conclusion: Bottom line; all is part of a carefully elaborate plan that is deploying it’s final disgusting phases as I’m editing this text.
Lillian Gish and Melvyn Douglas at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards -1971
Lillian Gish and Melvyn Douglas at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards -1971
Lillian Gish, at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards, 1971 THA Herald-Examiner
SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.
If the present period is one of heightened concerns about race, it is also one with a reawakened feminism, a fresh emphasis on the need to recover and remember a long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema. In the age of the MeToo movement, one sure way to rebuild support for the Gish Film Theater is to remind people of the roles of Lillian and Dorothy as strong, emancipated women at a time when females were struggling to obtain the vote and define themselves as something other than the property of their husbands. The sexist overtones of the hashtag, “Ditch the Gish,” means that the Black Students Union have lost whatever moral high ground they thought they might have gained by harping on the Klan and the “Birth” controversy.
Please consider that all the material related with this above mentioned attack is marked on https://lilliangish1893.com/ as SPOILER. If interested only in the seventh art and theatre please do not read it.
Thank you kindly for visiting Miss Lillian Gish fan page.
Students attending to Black Issues Conference – Gish Theater
Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe in the Gish Film Theater at its original Hanna Hall location, BGSU in October 2016
An Evening with Eva Marie Saint, scheduled for Friday, March 29, has been cancelled.
Dean Raymond Craig of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a notice addressed to Friends of BGSU Arts that: “Ms. Saint regrets that she will not be traveling to Bowling Green State University this spring.”
The Academy Award winning actress and graduate of BGSU was schedule to perform with students during the evening event.
Dave Kielmeyer, spokesman for the university, said that the change of plans was not related to the controversy over the name of the Gish Film Theatre. Plans for the event just were not coming along as well as the university would want, he said. “It’s as much on us.”
Saint’s appearance was originally scheduled as part of the rededication of the Gish Film Theatre in its new space in the Bowen Thompson Student Union. However, that was cancelled when members of the Black Student Union questioned the venue being named in part for Lillian Gish, who starred in “The Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 D.W. Griffith silent movie epic has been tied to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist depictions of African-Americans.
“…But as that in effect amounts to an embarrassing situation it might be that the university administrators, as horrible as this is to say, will feel less embarrassed by simply pretending the Gishes never existed and eliminating any sign of them on the campus. If in a glaring anticlimax they do return the Gish Film Theater to its original location or some other less prominent place, then the grand reopening they had in January with Eva Marie Saint becomes in itself a source of discomfort.
I can only say that if there is enough pressure from those who care about Lillian and Dorothy Gish and their place in history, then it may become clear to the BGSU administration that they will face far greater embarrassment all over the world if they drop the name than if they retain it. For this reason, I feel an online petition is the best way to go to prevent this from happening.”
William M. Drew
“…As for your suggestion of a possible museum for the Gish sisters, the problem with that is there are very few such memorials dedicated to pioneer film artists. Off hand, I can think of only three in the Los Angeles region that house museum displays–the homes of Nell Shipman, William S. Hart, and Will Rogers who also has a major memorial in his hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma. Several of the old studios where structures and other sites survive have had museums dedicated to them, too. In my own Bay Area, there is the Essanay studio in Niles, California, Hollywood has the famous DeMille barn that marked the start of Paramount, while on the East Coast there are the American Museum of the Moving Image located in Paramount’s Astoria studio, the Fort Lee Film Commission with a museum dedicated to the East Coast Hollywood, the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum in Jacksonville commemorating the years the Florida city was a center of film production, and the Wharton Studio Museum in Ithaca, New York devoted to the many films produced there in the 1910s.
With the exception of Fort Lee, none of these sites have anything to do directly with Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The three studios where they worked with Griffith–the Biograph in Manhattan, the Fine Arts in Hollywood, and the Mamaroneck in New York–have all since vanished. In Hollywood, they lived mainly in rented bungalows and never established a big permanent residence like Pickfair. In New York City, they lived in an apartment for years, but that is not likely to become the site of a museum. So, for the foreseeable future, the Gish Film Theater and Gallery in Bowling Green is probably the closest thing to a museum display that commemorates them–that is, if it is allowed to continue there.”
William M. Drew
Gallery: Orienta Point, Mamaroneck (former Griffith Studios and sets from “Way Down East” and “Orphans of The Storm”)
Mamaroneck NY Griffith Studios – Orienta Point 1921
Griffith Studios, Orienta Point, Mamaroneck NY 1921