Madera Tribune, 1926 “Romola”

Madera Tribune, Volume XXXVII, Number 100, 4 March 1926

Lillian Gish in “Romola” tonight

So many motion pictures are made each year that in the grist of a year’s film entertainment a production has to be superlatively good for it to stand out in bold relief. Such a production is “Romola,” Lillian Gish’s latest picture, which opens at the National theatre tonight for a run of two days. “Romola,” a film version of George Eliot’s immortal novel, is in fact a mile-stone of film progress. It surpasses anything heretofore seen in point of beauty. Never before have we seen such gorgeous settings, such use of shadows, such completeness of feeling for old world grandeur, such detail in the working out of art objects.

Lillian Gish - Romola

The inspiration, of course, was present in that the story was laid in the Florence of the Renaissance, but nevertheless the director, Henry King, and his corps of technical experts are deserving of all the praise one can bestow. Just beauty, however, is only one feature of “Romola” it has also great drama and great players to interpret it. What a cast! Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Ronald Colman. William H. Powell, Chas Lane, Herbert Grimwood and a host of others not entirely distinguishable because they are Italian actors with the usual difficult nomenclature. The Gish sisters are together in this picture for the first time since ‘‘Orphans of the Storm,” and again they show that team-work is a fine art in itself.

Lillian Gish Profile Romola

Lillian, of course, is Romola, and Dorothy appears as Tessa, the little peasant girl who lives so happily until she falls in love with the wicked Tito, and then is swept into tragedy. Both of the girls look more radiantly beautiful than ever before, and it is a delight to see them together again. Ronald Colman, who was the hero in Miss Gish’s “The White Sister,” again demonstrates that he is an actor of fine bearing with a nice repression that is most pleasing, and rather flattering, to the audience.

William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola
William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola

William H. Powell does the villain role with real suavity, and you rather like him after all; a fascinating performance. The story of Romola is especially adaptable for screen use, and while it might be called a costume picture, the characters are such that you have no trouble keeping their identity in mind, the chief fault with films that are laid in the period of silks and plumes. “Romola” takes place in 1492 and they didn’t wear plumes then to speak of.

4 March 1926

Lillian Gish and director Henry King - Romola candid on set

Madera Tribune 4 March 1926 (Romola)
Madera Tribune 4 March 1926 (Romola)
Lillian Gish admiring Romola portrait by Nicolai Fechin 1930 - French Press
Lillian Gish admiring Romola portrait by Nicolai Fechin cca 1925 (Oil on canvas painting) – French Press HiRes
Poster_-_Romola
Poster_-_Romola

 

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The Clansman is coming to Local Theater – 1916

Morning Union, 8 January 1916

The Clansman is coming to Local Theater shortly

*** The Clansman also known as “The Birth of a Nation”

The Auditorium management this morning make the important announcement that three complete performances of “The Clansman” will be given in this city Sunday and Monday, January 23rd and 24th, opening with a matinee Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The second show will be given Sunday night and the third Monday night. The prices will be 25 cents for children, 50 cents for adults and 75 cents for reserved seats. Special music and singing is a part of the attraction.

The Birth of a Nation 1915 3

This production of twelve reels was directed by D. W. Griffith, the world’s foremost motion picture producer. It is an adaptation from Thomas Dixon, Jr’s popular novel of the same name, and is the costliest motion picture ever produced. “The Clansman” deals with the Civil War period. It shows the causes that led up to this conflict land carries Die spectator through the war. In “The Clansman’’ are shown the most marvelous battle scenes that have ever been staged. The siege before Petersburg with thousands of soldiers in action, is realistically shown in Die picture. The battle fields were laid out and trenches dug under the direct supervision of seven G. A. R. army veterans who took part in the original conflict.

The Birth of a Nation - Massive troop movements wide shot D. W. Griffith, American film master
The Birth of a Nation – Massive troop movements wide shot

These veterans, two of whom were commissioned officers, remained with Mr. Griffith during the entire period that the Scenes were being – staged. Artillery duels, in which explosive shells are hurled by both the Northern and Southern troops, from huge mortars, are shown in motion pictures for Die first time in “The Clansman.’’ The artillery used is Die same that was used during the Civil War and borrowed from the U. S. government tor the occasion. The explosive blank shells used in the mortars were constructed especially for these big guns by an expert fire-works manufacturer. More than 500 of these shells are used in the battle scenes. They cost thousands of dollars. In directing the battle scenes, Mr. Griffith used field telephones, flag signals, field couriers and even a captive balloon.

original-souvenir-birth-of-a-nation-1915

These methods were not used as part of the army equipment, but were merely used by Mr. Griffith in staging the production. He used the modern war methods to better execute the methods of 1861 -65. The artillery duels present one of Die most striking features of the picture: “The Clansman” describes the organization and motives of the famous Ku Klux Klan, and shows more than 2000 of these white-hooded riders in their raids on the negroes. Gen. Sherman’s historical march to the sea, together with the burning of the entire city of Atlanta, is shown in the picture. The burning of Atlanta is shown at night. The entire city with its countless number of buildings and dwellings is shown in the destruction.

lillian gish - nacimiento-de-una-nación - the birth of a nation

A terrific battle between Ku Klux riders and negro troops, provides another thrilling feature. The assassination of President Lincoln by Wilkes Booth, is shown for the first time in the history of motion pictures. The final scenes of “The clansman” provide the most powerful sermons that could possibly be preached against the horrors of war. “The Clansman” is presented by an all-star cast including Henry Walthall, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Josephine Crowell, Spottiswoode Ailken, Balph Lewis, Lillian Gish, Elmer Clifton, Robert Harron, George Seigmann, Walter Long. Mary Alden, Joseph Hennebery, Sam de Grasse, Howard Gave, Donald Crisp, Win. De Vaull, and Jennie Lee.

  • Grass Valley Department – 1916
  • Morning Union, 8 January 1916
Morning Union, 8 January 1916 Birth of a Nation
Morning Union, 8 January 1916 Birth of a Nation

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d.w. griffith and robert harron taking a lunch break during the filming of the birth of a nation

 

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Weeps at Own Play – 1919 (Los Angeles Herald)

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLIV, Number 290, 6 October 1919

WEEPS AT OWN PLAY

(Broken Blossoms)

Lillian Gish has been the heroine in many Griffith pictures, but no other film in which she has appeared hits made so deep an impression upon her as “Broken Blossoms,” which is now being presented at Clune’s auditorium. She saw the photoplay on the opening night in New York, she saw it in San Francisco and in other cities, and now that it is being presented in Los Angeles she is seeing it at every opportunity.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

And, it is said, she weeps softly every time she sees it. Critics throughout the country have declared that the work Miss Gish does in this picture has placed her in the forefront of modern tragediennes, and one enthusiastic reviewer coupled her name with that of Bernhardt. But it is not to see Lillian Gish, the actress, that Miss Gish so often visits Clune’s  Auditorium to sit alone and watch the tragic tale as it is unfolded on the screen. It is the story that Griffith has moulded that enthralls her.

Lillian Gish - Lucy, the girl (Broken Blossoms)
Lillian Gish – Lucy, the girl (Broken Blossoms)

It is so natural, so artistic, that it has almost become part of her life. “’Broken Blossoms’ is by far the most wonderful thing we have done,” said Miss Gish. ‘‘lt is my pet picture. Some people say it is 100 true to life. Only a few nights ago as I sat in the theater, a woman said to the man seated beside her, ‘I won’t look at it, I can’t. I want to go home.’ But he was apparently wrapped up in the play and kept saying to her ‘Shut your eyes, then, if you don’t want to see it. I won’t go home. It is wonderful’.“ I like stories that reflect life. That is why I love ‘Broken Blossoms.’ Because it is real, ‘Broken Blossoms’ should be seen at least twice by every one.

Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms

I think pictures, books and people should be met twice. We never discover all of any person at one meeting; why should we only read a book through once or see a picture once. “People are not usually honest at the first meeting. They are likely to be excited or not at ease, and we don’t get truthful impressions. The same is true about especially such a picture as ‘Broken Blossoms.’ ” (Miss Lillian Gish)

Above: The Closet Scene – “Broken Blossoms”

Lucy's smile ... (Broken Blossoms)
Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

Los Angeles Herald, 6 October 1919

Los Angeles Herald 6 October 1919
Los Angeles Herald 6 October 1919

 

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A Life on Stage and Screen – by STUART ODERMAN

Lillian Gish

A Life on Stage and Screen

By STUART ODERMAN

Lillian Gish - Life With Father (Stuart Oderman - book cover)
Lillian Gish – Life With Father (Stuart Oderman – book cover)

PREFACE

New York City: March 12, 1993. There were 700 mourners in attendance at St. Bartholomew’s. The pews were already filled before the start of the eleven o’clock memorial service.1 Even before it was announced in the newspapers and on radio and television, many knew that Lillian Gish had passed away in her sleep at her East 57th Street apartment, where she had lived alone for many years.
“It was what she had wanted,” James Frasher, her longtime personal manager, told the press.2 “She died at 7:03 p.m. on February 27 in her own bed. She was film. Film started in 1893, and so did she.” Film, in the days of its infancy, meant a quickly cranked black-and-white onereeler exhibited in nickelodeons for an audience of poor people, immigrants eager to plunk down their nickels for a new minutes of escapism from the factories, tenements, and drudgeries of the day. In her silent film years, Lillian had risen from a $5-a-day player hired off the street for the Biograph Company in 1912 by D.W. Griffith to co-star with her sister Dorothy in a one-reel melodrama, An Unseen Enemy, to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer leading lady who, in 1927, could command a salary of $400,000, along with her choice of director, script and cast approval, and the added luxury of extra rehearsal time. She had lived long enough to see the “flickers” become “talkies,” which became multi-million dollar color extravaganzas that commanded high ticket prices, sometimes required reserved seats, and caused traffic jams.

 

Father, Dear Father

The Springfield, Ohio, where Lillian Diana Gish was born to James Leigh and Mary (McConnell) Robinson Gish on October 14, 1893, wasn’t very far removed from the wilderness of an earlier time.

Springfield, Ohio, Limestone Street
Springfield, Ohio, Limestone Street

If one wanted to learn of the latest births or deaths or new arrivals settling down, or attempt an honorable courtship, the church was of central importance as a proper meeting place. In Springfield and the surrounding areas, there were small churches of different denominations. To attract and maintain new and established congregants, “dinner on the ground” (a link to a time when churches were hard to find – and preachers harder) became very popular.  It was a common sight to see pioneer wives with food baskets coming to worship in the morning and then staying for the afternoon service.

Springfield Ohio - Downtown
Springfield Ohio – Downtown

Always an active theatre state, Ohio was home to touring companies featuring the likes of Jane Cowl, Maude Adams, and playwright Eugene O’Neill’s father, James, who left the security of a tailor’s job in Cincinnati to join a touring company.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and her mother — with Mary Robinson McConnell and Lillian Gish early 1896

To this nomadic life, with its frustration and heartbreak, Mary Robinson Gish would have to surrender herself and her daughters if they wished to survive. The origins of James Leigh Gish were not known or easily traceable. Everyone knew that Lillian’s mother, once known as “pretty May McConnell,” could trace her solid American ancestry back to President Zachary Taylor, a poetess named Emily Ward, and an Ohio state Senator, who was their Grandfather McConnell. Even in an era when townspeople discussed their kith and kin with unabashed alacrity, nobody could speak a complete paragraph about Mary Gish’s husband. James often described himself as a travelling salesman, a “drummer.” Although the most skilled drummers (which James wasn’t) could charm their way through town after town, changing their stories and lines of patter as the occasion required, the only James Gish story about which there was complete agreement was his courtship of young, pretty May McConnell. They had met in May’s hometown, Urbana,  and were married very quickly. Thanks to Mary McConnell’s father, James was able to get a job in a grocery store with the hope that one day he and his wife would have saved enough money to open a confectionery business of their own.

Mary Robinson McConnell
Mary Robinson McConnell

Mary never criticized her husband or his ideas in front of Lillian or her younger sister, Dorothy. Lillian’s retelling of what had been said to her was greeted with a stony silence. It was bad enough to subject other townspeople to drunken reveries in the subdued light of a local tavern, but to put these wandering notions into the mind of an innocent little girl? Where did he get his upbringing? When would he assume the responsibilities of a Christian, God fearing father and stop playing the role of a feckless ne’er-do-well?

Without James’ knowledge, she and her daughter joined the Episcopal church and were regular worshipers, maintaining the tradition that had begun in Springfield. Perhaps if Mary’s thoughts were spoken in proper prayer and constant Sunday devotion, there might be salvation for James. Indeed, for everyone. We must bear and forbear. Amen.

James-Leigh-Gish.jpg
James Leigh Gish

Before the summer ended, James left his family in search of business opportunities in other cities, tightening the bond between Mary and her daughters. Lillian, somehow becoming aware of James’ erratic behavior patterns, knew not to upset her mother with painful questions. Everything Lillian wanted she had found on her Aunt Emily’s farm: chickens, a cat who was always asleep, and a friendly dog. There was no need to think about an absentee alcoholic father who made her mother cry and wasted money on drink.

James Leigh Gish
James Leigh Gish

 

The Road to Biograph and Mr. Griffith

At the end of the engagement, Mrs. Gish took her daughters to East St. Louis, where she managed an ice cream parlor, assisting the wife of her recently deceased brother. The workday was long, sometimes twelve to fourteen hours. It left her little time to spend with Dorothy or Lillian. Lillian, never an outgoing person, especially needed to be helped. She had been maturing into a young lady and hadn’t received the benefits of an education or childhood experiences. When not acting on stage, she preferred to be alone, spending those quiet hours looking out of the window or curled in a chair, reading books. Sometimes she helped her mother.

streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s
streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s

To provide a place for Lillian to play and receive a much wanted education, the Ursuline Academy would supply properly cooked meals, a room, and schooling for twenty dollars a month. It would be a financial burden, but Mary Gish acquiesced to Lillian’s please. With an education, she could play “serious, grown-up parts,” and perhaps read better for a director. Without the right education, she would always sound like a little girl. After the initial weeks of adjustment to convent life, Lillian welcomed the opportunity to be removed from the pressures of touring, the lack of constancy, and the nomadic existence of a stage player. The Ursuline Academy provided her with the first stability she had ever received.

St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)
St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)

Something called “flickers” was beginning to affect the attendance at theatres. While some stage veterans might have viewed these primitive entertainments as the latest novelty for the lower classes and recent non-English speaking immigrants, it did not take producers long to realize that the nickel price for a program of short films and  newsreels, accompanied by a pianist whose melodies could soften the noise of the hand-cranked projector and underscore the action on the screen, was less than the dime needed for a seat in the upper gallery. Suddenly, “live” players didn’t mean that much. “Flickers” could be shown over and over, from the early morning until the very late evening. There would always be a steady stream of customers.

Cinema old

In 1903, a twelve minute one-reeler in fourteen scenes called The Great Train Robbery, filmed by the Thomas Edison Studios in West Orange, New Jersey, was causing a sensation -whether exhibited in formerly empty storerooms with hastily assembled screen and chairs or in specially built nickelodeon parlors. By 1908, the year of the release of D. W. Griffith’s first film, The Adventures of Dollie, 8 there were more than 10,000 nickelodeons across the United States.

griffith david wark_737

D. W. Griffith’s American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was a typical New York brownstone of the 1850s: four stories with a commercial basement that opened onto the street. Originally, the brownstone had been a private home prior to being tenanted by the Steck Piano Company. When Steck vacated the premises, the basement stores were rented, and the building was leased to Biograph for five thousand dollars. Because some stage actors had scruples about being recognized entering a place that manufactured such low entertainment, they reported to work through a basement store that served as a rented tailor’s shop. Their fear was not of being seen by the public, but by fellow stage professionals who might spread the scandalous news that they knew someone who had to resort to the “flickers” to pay their room rent or feed their (obviously destitute)  families.

the Biograph Bronx Studio
the Biograph Bronx Studio

From his first film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908 ), Griffith proved he was the master showman. The Adventures of Dollie contained all of the elements of melodrama that would appeal to an audience: a child is kidnapped by villains, imprisoned in a barrel, and sent down the river, over the waterfalls, and rescued in the final minutes by a group of boys fishing in a stream.

An Unseen Enemy

  • continued the pattern set by The Adventures of Dollie. By constantly changing the point of view, the audience could not avoid being drawn into the plight of the Gish heroines. Like good storytelling worthy of his favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe, Griffith successfully utilized Poe’s short story techniques of presenting the main character and a particular problem, then adding further complications that leads to the climax and denouement. “Scare ’em,” and then “save ‘e m.”

Despite the successes of earlier Biograph arrivals Mary Pickford and Blanche Sweet, Lillian in her first film, An Unseen Enemy, would prove to be Griffith’s romantic notion of the perfect heroine. Through film after film, she would maintain, no matter how great the danger, a vision of spiritual purity worthy of the respect one would show to one’s mother or sister. It was an innocence that did not yield to desire. You wanted nothing to happen to her. You wanted to save her, to cherish her, to protect her from corruption and the evils of the world she might encounter if she left the house. She would rise above any negative environment like an angel heaven-bound. Beneath her outer fragility was the undying strength of iron. Off screen, Lillian had the same aura, recalled Hearst journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns, who began her long newspaper career in 1913, one year after the arrival of the Gish sisters. Lillian knew how to present herself. She always created her own atmosphere. She had none of the features you would associate with the “vamps” or the bad girls. She had blonde hair and big blue eyes, which we would  associate with the fairy tale princess illustrations or the little dolls girls would play with. Lillian was always radiant, like the children you see in holy pictures: not of this earth, and very ethereal. Because she moved with such elegance and grace, like a trained ballet dancer, I think she intimidated men. She would look them directly in the eye and then turn away very demurely. Men loved it. They respected her. Respect for any lady in Hollywood was very rare. Yet Lillian inspired respect. Even in her Griffith days, in an era before women had the right to vote, men would stand up when she approached their table.

Lillian Gish 1916
Lillian Gish 1916

 

The Last Reel

On her birthday in October 1990, the Gish Film Theater at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, was rededicated after extensive repairs that included the installation of a 35 millimeter projector with surround sound, replaced floor and wall coverings, more Gish memorabilia in the gallery, new lighting, and plush red seats. Each seat had a name plate on the back, acknowledging Lillian’s and Dorothy’s friends and admirers who helped the theatre Lillian called “a little jewel” glitter with even more warmth.

The Gish Film Theater

 

On February 27, 1993, Lillian, like all good art, became eternal.

 

Epilogue 

“Any artist has just so much to give.

The important thing is to give it all.

Sometimes it’s more than you think.”

Lillian was just making another disappearance.

 

Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater
Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater

 

  • Note: The original illustrations from Stuart Oderman’s book are placed in the photo gallery below:

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Lillian Gish and Stuart Oderman backstage I never sang for My Father
Lillian Gish and Stuart Oderman backstage I never sang for My Father

 

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Clansman’s Realism, Inspires Awe – Los Angeles Herald 1915

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 86, 9 February 1915

Clansman’s realism, inspires awe

By GUY PRICE

THE mastery of David Ward Griffith in the motion picture production field, it would seem, is now supreme. If this remarkable director never again touches his hand to pictography—and it would indeed be regrettable if he didn’t—his ’’Clansman” will stand as a monument of glorious achievement in the future annals of cameric art.

lillian gish - nacimiento-de-una-nación - the birth of a nation 6

The picture was presented here, for the first time in public, at Clune’s Auditorium last night, and the Jam of people that packed the mammoth theater “from cellar to garret” is only more convincing evidence of the growing interest in the newer branch of indoor amusement. There was not a vacant seat in the entire house – if there were, only the fellow with the magnifying or field glasses could discover them. Whether this exuberance of enthusiasm was prompted by curiosity or a wish to pay deserving tribute to the “wizard of the film” or just another example of the ever increasing tide of favor toward the “movies” we are not prepared to say offhand, but to the man up a tree it looks like the theatergoers had about come to a realization of the vastly important part the camera lens is now playing in this game of make believe and they deeply appreciate the work the Griffith brain and hand are doing in the way of advancing a worthy and educational science.

“The Clansman” has a score and more good features, and possibly only one or two to criticise and these latter come under the heading of “photographic inconsistencies.” While the immenseness of the picture (it is in twelve reels and each reel is crammed full of situations that only can be fully described by the adjective “gigantic”) strikes you as amazing, the artistic scale on which it is built astounds the more. It is hardly conceivable that a so tremendously big production could be made so realistic and yet retain its wondrous beauty.

 There is the great battle scene in which 25,000 soldiers participate (this is the press agent’s estimate, not ours; after witnessing the men in action on the screen we should say there were 250.000), the thrilling rides of the white-cloaked  members of the Kin Klux Clan, the assassination of Lincoln, the burning  of Atlanta, the capture and rout at the little old log cabin, the clash in the street between the whites and blacks—and oh, so many other moments of intense excitement that the mere repeating sends the chills on a marathon in our spinal region.

Startling all of them, even awe-inspiring, but never sensational. Quite the most spectacular section of the film is the battle of which we already have spoken, and Sherman’s triumphant march to the sea, which follows on its heels. These scenes are the very acme of realism, the strictest attention having been paid to the details as recorded by authentic histories.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh
The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh

In one scene Florence is shown going to the spring for water after having been warned by her brother not to expose herself. The Journey is a quick one, covering only a few feet of film. While still at the stream, the girl is surprised by Gus, a burley black, and she begins her fight for her honor. She breaks from the embrace of her assailant and runs, with the negro at her heels. The picture takes her over mountain, across prairie and desert and finally reveals her in a leap from a high cliff to her death. Another scene that is intensely dramatic is the one where a friend of the Ku Klux clan leader battles his way to victory against a horde of his enemies.

The story of the play is equally as absorbing as it is dramatic. It deals with the Civil War and the reconstruction period, showing with graphic intensity the causes that led up to the vital struggle and the anguish and suffering that were unavoidable after-effects. Racial prejudice figures to quite a surprising extent, but offense can scarcely be taken at this because without it a drama depicting the conflict between north and south would be inadequate and unreal. Director Griffith evidently knew beforehand the ability of his players else he would not have risked so important assignments in their hands. The leads are taken by Henry Walthall, May Marsh, Lillian Gish, Mary Aiden, Donald Crisp, Miriam Cooper, Spottiswoode Aitken, George Seigmann, Sam De Grasse. Robert Harron and Jennie Lee. The photo-drama that is superior to “The Clansman” has yet to be produced.

During the Intermission between Parts One and Two, Judge A P Tugwell of the moving picture censor board told why the board favored showing of the film.

Guy Price – 1915

Note: “Clansman” aka “The Birth of a Nation”

Los Angeles Herald 9 February 1915 (Clansman)
Los Angeles Herald 9 February 1915 (Clansman)
Clunes Auditorium L.A.
Clune’s Auditorium L.A.

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Griffith: The Minor Masterworks By Herb Sterne (Rob Wagner’s Script – 1946)

Rob Wagner’s Script

May 11, 1946

Screen

D.W.G.: The Minor Masterworks By Herb Sterne

David Wark Griffith
David Wark Griffith

DAVID WARK GRIFFITH’S cult is cleaved into two camps: one adheres to the opinion that the director-producer’s genius shines with greatest glory in the spectacle films of panoramic import and molten mob effects; the other group, as vigorously champions the idylls of the king of celluloid, those tender, delicate pastorals that are worked from a palette of pastels.

Now, due to the preferences and limitations of one Miss Iris Barry, a lady who patently rates glister above nuance, The Museum of Modern Art Film Library’s sketchy list of Mr. Griffith’s feature-length films heavily subscribes to the more expensive items he created during his illustrious career.

David Wark Griffith Isn't Life Wonderful 1924
David Wark Griffith Isn’t Life Wonderful 1924

With the exceptions of ”Broken Blossoms,, and ”Isn’t Life Wonderful?” today it is impossible for the public to view other post – Biograph Griffith vignettes, for Miss Barry, and ipso facto, the Museum, chooses to circulate only the more grandiose of his works such as ”The Birth of a Nation,” ”Intolerance” and ” ‘Way Down East!’

Broken Blossoms - Lillian Gish
Broken Blossoms – Lillian Gish

To obtain a comprehensive understanding of Griffith’s important and varied contribution to the cinema, it is necessary to be familiar with this artist’s creations in the realm of the intimate feature film. It is impossible for the public of these benighted times to be acquainted with such of his endeavours as ”The Love Flower,” ”The Idol Dancer, ”Dream Street,” ”The White Rose,” ”Sally of the Sawdust,” ”Scarlet Days” or the several most meritorious works which were  released through Paramount – Artcraft. Today, the titles, not to say the subjects themselves, are unknown to all but the more esoteric clique of cinema enthusiasts.

Because of the Museum’s lack of judgement, the Griffith collection it has chosen to circulate is woefully incomplete, thereby giving contemporary students of the motion picture a distorted and erroneous impression of the scope of the man’s achievements.

David-Wark-Griffith-and-Billy-Bitzer.jpg
David-Wark-Griffith-and-Billy-Bitzer.jpg

Recently, through the good offices of Mr. Griffith and Adolph Zukor, I was privileged to view three of the ignored films, and thus in part repair certain dire omissions in my personal pleasure and knowledge of the work of the foremost figure produced by the motion picture. It is certainly to be regretted that the prints are once more on their way to the Paramount vaults in Albany, New York, again to gather dust, and that the Museum is so insufficient interested in the photoplay as art as to ignore procuring this trio of minor masterpieces for general distribution.

D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front
D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front

During World War I, Griffith was prevailed upon to visit the battlefields of Europe to make a propaganda film for the Allied cause. The result was the saber-flashing ”Hearts of the World.,, In addition, while abroad, Griffith procured additional war footage, which he planned to utilize as background material for subsequent battle subjects upon his return to this country.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - The Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

”Hearts of the World” was pro-War. But what Griffith saw and experienced in the trenches appears to have made him anti-War, for when he once more went to work in the United States he turned his attention and talents to studies of plain people who wished to live their lives in peace. These films propound the  philosophy of simplicity and non-violence, and as lyric essays they remained unsurpassed.

But before beginning this cycle, Griffith completed the military films for which he had contractual obligations. One of these, ”The Greatest Thing in Life,” clearly foreshadowed the change in the director’s philosophy. Although it has a background of battle, the film itself focuses on the people of the villages of France, plain folk to whom war is not glory but tragedy. Curiously for its period, the photoplay is no hymn of hate, and it is only in the concluding, climactic footage that one encounters the customary caricature of ”the enemy.” For the rest, the film points the injustices in the American social code (witness the scene where a white man snubs a Negro; and, again, the sequence in the shell hole at the front where the snobish Edward Livingston tries to alleviate the last moments of a colored comrade-in-arms) and, courageously in a time of hate, declares hatred to be a two-edged blade. In many aspects, ”The Greatest Thing in Life” is superior to the far better publicised and generally remembered ”Hearts of the World.”

Lillian Gish - The Greatest Thing in Life
Lillian Gish – The Greatest Thing in Life

In it Lillian Gish, as Jeannette Peret, proffers a performance unlike any other she has contributed to the screen. As a child, Jeannette is a hoydon, volatile in expression and motion. As she matures. she becomes a coquette of no small sexual allure, a girl sure of her beauty, one certain of her power to attract men. Jeannette is a vivid, dimensional heroine, a figure which is unique and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the other Gish portraits of the Griffith gallery.

Lillian Gish - The Greatest Thing in Life
The Greatest Thing in Life

David Butler’s Monsieur le Bebe is quite unforgettable. Amazing in its originality of conception and playing, the character possesses an unusual combination of direct humor and oblique pathos. Robert Harron, an actor I’m just beginning to properly appreciate, is  unfalteringly superb as the aristocrat who is changed by his contact with fellow beings. The sub-titles are easily the best to appear in a Griffith picture, and are notable for their nonchalant and satirical tone. Of technical interest is the appearance of the first ”beauty close-up” in this film, a diffused type of lensing originated by Griffith and cameraman Hendrik Sartov, which later came into universal favor and use.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - With Robert (Bobby) Harron in True Heart Susie 1919 — with Lillian Gish and Bobbie Harron.

”True Heart Susie,” a tale of a Hoosier small town, is one of Griffith’s finest achievements in the realm of the intimate film. It is a comedy drama of characterization and atmosphere, simple in its telling, overwhelming in its effect. Here the director gives full play to his feeling for  landscape, his expert sense of editing, the emotion to be evoked from such familiar objects as corn popping and apples roasting. Tinted stock is utilized for mood purposes and the land itself becomes an active protagonist of the story through an artful use of lighting, hues and shades. Costumes are utilized for comedy and dramatic points in Griffith’s inimitable way. And the searing sorrows and delights of adolescence, always so understandingly presented by Griffith, are here depicted in segments that are among the director’s very best.

Robert Harron Signed Promotional
Robert Harron Signed Promotional

The cast, headed by Lillian Gish and Harron, could not be improved upon for delicacy of delineation and sheer delightfullness. ”The Romance of Valley,” laid against the Kentucky country which Griffith knows and loves, is in much the same simple mood. Its treatment of small town religion, the comments on the human will to be ”good” and its tendency to ”backslide,” are genuine Americana, and, what is more, eternal and universal human nature.

A Romance of The Happy Valley - Lillian Gish
A Romance of The Happy Valley – Lillian Gish

Late in the story of a boy who rebels against his constricted surroundings and longs for the adventure he supposes he will find in a large city, the story bolts into melodrama. It is good melodrama, but it is an extraneous thread which has no actual part in the picture’s plot. Despite this structural fault, ”The Romance of Happy Valley” is one of Griffith’s most persuasive idylls, and contains still another pair of endearing performances by Miss Gish and young Harron.

It is a distinct loss that the minor masterworks of Griffith are so little known today. As experiments in mood and characterization in photoplay form they have no equals in American film history.

Paulette Goddard in Kitty (1945)
Paulette Goddard in Kitty (1945)

”KITTY” WOULD LIKE to appear a direct descendant of Amber St. Clare for purposes of box office pelf, but it is also to be judged that she has a blood relationship to Liza Doolittle. The writing, I hurry to relate, is closer to the Winsor hovel than it is to the Shaw castle. This pageant of 18th Century London is a handsome, slow and somewhat amusing movie of a wench no-better-than-she-should-be, who, praise be!, never receives her come-uppance,  unless one subscribes to the Bolshevik belief that marrying a title and a fortune constitutes catastrophe.

Paulette Goddard at no time has difficulty appearing beautiful, conniving, brittle and carnal, no more than which Kitty demands. Ray Milland has little to do beyond being arch, and trying not to look silly in hats that only the astounding style of Hedda Hopper could save from looking silly. Sara Allgood, all done up in a La Frochard makeup as a mistress of a Houndsditch stew, gives a wonderfully traditional performance, as does Constance Collier, portraying an aging damsel who spends most of her time on lost weekends.

The-Postman-Always-Rings-Twice-1946
The-Postman-Always-Rings-Twice-1946

”THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE” bears little of the true mark of Cain. The screen transcription of the novel is less mayhem than moral values, and as an osculatory opera its merits are strictly those of the kiss of death. John Garfield is excellent type casting, but he hasn’t much chance against a dull script and ditto direction.

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946

Lana Turner, it is my guess, drew the inspiration for her heroine from recent runnings of Norma Shearer’s single performance in ”Her Cardboard Lover,” ”We Were Dancing” and ”Romeo and Juliet.”

Herb Sterne – 1946

D.W. Griffith on set
D.W. Griffith on set

Iris Barry - Griffith

DW Griffith-American-Film-Master-by-Iris-Barry-moma_catalogue_2993

 

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“Daphne and the Pirate” Santa Cruz Evening News – 1916

Santa Cruz Evening News, Volume 18, Number 34, 8 June 1916

News of Current Plays

“Daphne and the Pirate” at the Jewel Tonight and Tomorrow Night

LILLIAN GISH AND LUCILLE YOUNG IN “DAPHNE AND THE PIRATE A TRIANGLE FINE ARTS PLAY OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLD WHEN PIRATES INFESTED THE SEAS.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

There were pirates and bride ships, back in the days of which the picture tells. Historically correct is the story of “Daphne and the Pirate,” the newest Triangle-Fine Arts play which presents a favorite Griffith player, Lillian Gish, as its star. The happy ending of the picture occurs on the soil of Louisiana, back in the seventeenth century, when that territory was still a French colony, and wives for the pioneers were recruited by the government and shipped across the sea to be sold to the highest bidder. Daphne La Tour is one of these girls, an unwilling bride-to-be. She owes her predicament to her snubbing of Phillip, son of the Duc de Mornay.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate

Lillian Gish in “Daphne and the Pirate,” a romance of early Louisiana and a thrilling story of the days when Louisiana was a French colony and girls were sent across the sea to be sold to the colonists for wives, is told in “Daphne and the Pirate.” Lillian Gish is supported by Elliott Dexter, and other prominent players.

Daphne and the Pirate
Daphne and the Pirate
Santa Cruz Evening News 1916 (Daphne and the Pirate)
Santa Cruz Evening News 1916 (Daphne and the Pirate)
Santa Cruz Evening News 1916 (Daphne and the Pirate photo)
Santa Cruz Evening News 1916 (Daphne and the Pirate photo)

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Dorothy Gish, reveals how she happened – Los Angeles Herald 1919

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLV, Number 6, 8 November 1919

That tomboy of the films Dorothy Gish, reveals how she happened

Dorothy Gish Cca 1930 FSF

Toss of coin tells which sister to interview …

 But Dorothy Talks Much of Lillian and So Dear Reader You Have ‘Em Both

There never were two sisters in all the history of the world better known than the celebrated Gish girls. Featured by that master producer and director, David Wark Griffith, their fame has girdled the earth and extended from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Many believe that they are twins, but this is not true. Today we have from her own lips the story of how Dorothy, the younger of the sister stars, achieved to fame:

By RAY W. FROHMAN Copyright. 1919, by Evening Herald Publishing Company

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 4
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Portrait Dorothy Gish]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3480

WAIT A MINUTE—EVERYBODY!

In the name of Steve Rodie, give me a chance to explain how I ‘‘took a chance.” Which starry sister of the Gish constellation should we have in our series? That was the question. The vivacious Comedienne? Or the ethereal tragedienne—whom even her sister says is “so beautiful”? “BOTH!” say you? Ah yes. But— Separately, ‘twould make this somewhat of a family party, wouldn’t it?

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) - Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) – Hearts of The World

And together—”How happy would I be with either. Were t’other dear charmer away.” Torn between two such “winners” in the same story, who could do justice to either? SO— I borrowed a coin from the boss and Rambled with myself: “Tails”—Lillian. “Heads”—Dorothy.

Dorothy as "The Little Disturber"
Dorothy as “The Little Disturber”

AND DOROTHY WINS!

You, dear readers, who may not approve of my consulting the fickle goddess, had a “sure thing”! Both the Gishes are young. both are talented, and both are beautiful. YOU couldn’t lose! “Heads” won — and so you have today the story of DOROTHY Gish, that rollicking tomboy of the screen. Lillian, at least a thousand pardons! It’s tough on both of us to miss you, but Dorothy “slipped in” a lot about you—and It’s “all in the family” anyway. And now that everybody’s happy, let’s go.

SHE’S JUST HERSELF

 It may not be too much to say that Dorothy Gish is attaining the highest art, for she is acting HERSELF. As the Little Disturber in Griffith’s “Hearts of the World” some two years ago—that queer, saucy creature with the flexible hips and the mannish swagger, now making a moue, now kicking up a wicked heel—the maker of stars, the general public, first really “discovered” Dorothy Gish.

Ever since, much to her regret, she has been doomed to wear that heavy black wig, in hot weather, beneath powerful lights in interiors; and, much more to her regret, she has been the girl clown, as she was in “I’ll Get Him Yet,” “Nobody Home” and her other starring vehicles,

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 49

HOW SHE DOES IT

How does she do It? How Is It that this dainty cameo, this normal, slender, blue-eyed girl with the “humorous mouth,” can play the harlequin so well? Here’s the answer: She’s a mistress of screen “business,” True to the best clown traditions, Dorothy doesn’t hesitate to make herself homely to be funny. But a “close-up” of Dorothy In person, during and after rehearsal at the Griffith studio in Hollywood, and the yarn of how she got her start and how she “arrived,” as told by herself In delightfully natural fashion, reveals that not merely “getting the most out of” stage business but putting HER OWN SELF on the screen is what makes “Dot” Gish what she is today. For she is chic; she is piquant: she is “cute”; and she is not only as “cunning” as she can be, but as pretty as she can be —another living refutation of the popular  fallacy that it is the photographer’s art to which screen stars owe their loveliness.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 10
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Dorothy Gish]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3547

PRACTICAL JOKER

You’ll find this natural comedienne —the sort of practical joker which your family and every family has in it – rehearsing before ever it comes under the camera her own interpretation of the good old “simple country maid coming to the city to go on the stage” motif, under the wing of her director, Elmer Clifton, with good-looking young Ralph Graves, very-y villainous Charley Gerard and a vamp or two as fellow conspirators. She is wearing a simple, one-piece blue dress white shoes and stockings, and her own light brown hair in a pair of curls over each shoulder, with hair-ribbons that don’t match. Even her bangs are impromptu.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 67

Drag her out into the sunshine, perch her on a lucky soapbox, have anuzzer yourself, and she will tell you of her blighted life as follows:

“I was chased out of Dayton, Ohio, a few months after I was born. Mother inflicted me on New York. “A friend of hers said that she (the friend) could play the maid in ‘East Lynn” if she could get a child to carry on, and applied for me. Mother didn’t like it but we were rather hard up then and she let me go.

STARTED AS A BOY

“So, at the age of 4, I got my start on the stage on the road as Little Willie in ‘East Lynn’ with Rebecca Warren. We opened somewhere in Pennsylvania

“I was in road shows till I was 10, playing child parts. (One season it was “Her First False Step” with  Lillian in it, too. Several years I was with Fiske O’Hara, the Irish tenor, and my last stage appearance was with him in “Deacon O’Dare.” Then the adorable Dorothy attended grammar school for three years at Massilon, Ohio, where she lived with her aunt, and one year at Allegheny Collegiate Institute, Alderson, W. Va., where the climate did such things to her that her mother and sister stopped and burst into tears at their next meeting. Reunited, the Gish trio went to Baltimore on a promised trip to New York for the girls, Lillian wanted to go on the stage again and Dorothy dittoing with all her might as she “had been on the stage so long.”

Fiske O'Hara, The Irish Tenor
Fiske O’Hara, The Irish Tenor

MEETS THE PICKFORDS

Whom should they discover on the screen in Baltimore, in a Biograph film “Lena and The Geese.” But Gladys Smith? The girlish Gishes had been in plays with the “three Picks” – Gladys, Lottie and Jack. Dorothy tells the rest of the story thusly:

“I called at the Biograph studio on Fourteenth street to see Gladys Smith. ‘I guess you must mean Mary Pickford,’ they said. Mr. Griffith said Gladys could bring her friends in – we were in the lobby, as you weren’t allowed to go in – and I was introduced to him.

“I thought he was Mr. Biograph, as he seemed to have the ‘say so,’ and I didn’t  catch the name. I thought there was a Mr. Vitagraph, too, as there was a Mr. Edison.

“Lillian and I were both engaged as extras.”

This was in 1912, when Dorothy was 14.

Mary Pickford - Cca 1905
Mary Pickford – Cca 1905

“Mary (Gladys) was leaving there for Mr. Belasco’s ‘A good Little Devil.’ Belasco’s manager, Mr. Dean had been the manager of Rebecca Warren’s ‘East Lynn’ company when I was in it, and introduced me to Mr. Belasco.

“Among us then, ‘Belasco’ was a name to tremble at, a god! I was so fluttered and fussed! He told me later it was the funnies thing he ever saw – Lillian and I kept trying to get back of each other.

“’You don’t want to go on the stage, do you?’ he said to me. ‘You want to go back to school.’ I wanted to choke him – I thought I was so old. Lillian became a fairy in that show on the road. He ‘didn’t have any part young enough for me.’”

COMES TO LOS ANGELES

When Lillian left this company to go to the Pacific Coast to go into pictures, Dorothy, paying her own way, and their mother had preceded her. Lillian received a regular salary playing parts with the Biograph stock company. Dorothy led a busy life as an extra: in the morning an Indian (a blue-eyed indian) squaw, in the afternoon an Indian man registering a puff of smoke from his trusty rifle, later in the day a white lady in a sunbonnet.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 12

Then , at 15, she went back to New York, succeeded in convincing Griffith that she was worth $40 a week and first began to play ingénues.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 11

“My age was always against me – it was the worst thing I had to put up with,” explained the veteran of 21 summers from her throne on the soap box. “They’d always say: ‘You’re too young – you can’t act till you’re 35.’

“I wanted to be a tragedienne. I only wanted sad parts. When mother read the press notices when I was on the road, saying I was a ‘comedienne,’ the tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought comedians had to have black on their faces, or red beards, and weren’t nice.”

Dorothy had followed the Griffith banner ever since her Biograph days – into the Reliance and Majestic company, then into Triangle plays, where Lillian and Dorothy – still wanting to be a tragedienne – were “starred” in ingenue parts – and then out when he left.

TAKEN TO EUROPE

Then Lillian, who had a contract with him, went to Europe with her mother. Later Dorothy was sent for. The result was “Hearts of the World.”

“I had starred before, and I’d had quite a few comic parts, but I wasn’t interested in them” said Dorothy – o’ – the – soapbox, discussing this turning point in her and her sister’s careers.

After this, including her present Paramount starring vehicles being supervised by Griffith, it was always comedienne and black wig for Dorothy – the latter, perhaps, to help differentiate her on the screen from Lillian.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

“I used to ‘kid’ around at home,” continued Dorothy, “and everybody would say: ‘Why don’t you play YOURSELF?’

“’If you’d be yourself, instead of putting on all that heavy acting – ‘ Mr. Griffith said to me.

“It’s hard to do! I don’t know myself. I’m so young and self-conscious-though I’ve got over most of that. In all these seven Paramount pictures I HAVE been freer. I’d like to make people who see me in comic pantomime on the screen feel the way Mark Twain makes the readers feel.

“BUT” – and at this point the Mark Twain “fan” who goes to the other extreme and likes Victor Hugo; too, swallowed a couple of dashes – “they make me play myself, and I wanted to be an ACTRESS!”

By RAY W. FROHMAN – 1919

William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola
William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola

 

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