Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies (Chicago Tribune – March 01, 1993)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, March 01, 1993 – Page 55

Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies

From Chicago Tribune wires

NEW YORK – Lillian Gish, the last of the great silent film stars who went on to perform for more than 85 years in movies, theater and television, has died at age 99. Her personal manager, James E. Frasher, said she died in her sleep Saturday evening of heart failure.

“She was the same age as film,” Frasher said. “They both cam into the world in 1893.”

Miss Gish still was performing as recently as the late 1980s. In 1986, she appeared as Alan Alda’s hilariously addled mother in “Sweet Liberty” and in 1987 she was praised for her sensitive portrayal of an indomitable old woman in “The Whales of August,” which co-starred another movie legend, Bette Davis.

Mike Kaplan and Lillian Gish during filming for ‘The Whales of August’

“To become an actress, one cannot begin too soon,” said Miss Gish, who made her acting debut at age 5. Under the guidance of director D.W. Griffith, Miss Gish was to become the pre-eminent actress in such classics as “The Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and “Way Down East.”

Lillian Gish as Anna Moore – wearing her Wedding Dress – Way Down East

After performing in dozens of one and two-reel silent movies – with running times of 10 or 20 minutes – and then in the longer Griffith epics, Miss Gish made a successful transition into the “talkies” and later into television.

Between film and television roles, she also worked on the stage. In 1930, she starred as Helena in Jed Harris’ Broadway production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and in 1973 she appeared as the nurse in Mike Nichols’ revival of the play. She made her last Broadway appearance in 1975, in “A Musical Jubilee.”

Lillian Gish and Mike NicholsUncle Vanya – 1973

Especially in her youth, Miss Gish evoked an aura of fragility, and hers was a vulnerable, waiflike beauty. The renowned theatrical impresario David Belasco pronounced her “the most beautiful blonde I have ever seen.”

Miss Gish, though not always in excellent health, was accustomed to hard work and took a no-nonsense view of her physical attributes.

“I didn’t care about being a beauty,” she said in an interview in 1975. “I wanted to be an actress. When I was in the movies, I didn’t care what I looked like, except for that image up there on the screen. I wanted to create beauty when it was necessary; that’s an inner thing. But if all you have is a façade, it isn’t interesting.”

Throughout her life, Miss Gish remained singularly devoted to her mother and her sister, Dorothy, who was younger, but became an actress about the same time Lillian did. Mrs. Gish died in 1948, after years as an invalid, and Dorothy Gish died in 1968.

Miss Gish never married and leaves no survivors. “I loved a lot of dear men, but luckily I never ruined their lives by marrying them,” she said. “What kind of a marriage would it have been to a wife who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week?”

FILE – This 1915 file photo shows actress Lillian Gish as she appeared in D.W. Griffith’s movie, “Birth of a Nation.” The film’s cast also included some of the greatest directors of the talking era, among them Raoul Walsh (who played John Wilkes Booth) and John Ford (who played a Klansman). (AP Photo)

The artistic collaboration between Miss Gish and Griffith lasted more than a decade. During that time, she appeared in dozens of Griffith’s short films and starred in most of his critically and economically successful longer ones.

Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard) “Orphans of the Storm”

In some films, she played bit parts; in others, she played several roles; in some, she was the star. All of Griffith’s actors did the same, and it was not until after the success of “The Birth of a Nation” that any received on-screen credit.

Hendrick Sartow, a still photographer who eventually became a cinematographer for Griffith, invented for Miss Gish the “Lillian Gish lens,” *** now called a soft-focus lens, which gives its photographed subject a warmly blurred appearance.

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 she allegedly owed him.

Lillian Gish and The Carrot syndrome 1925

During the trial, Miss Gish munched carrots, and newspaper photographs of her stirred a carrot-chomping fad across the country. Americans had become enchanted with the new artistic aristocracy – the movie stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Miss Gish.

Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

Earlier, after Miss Gish pushed up the sides of her mouth with her fingers to demonstrate feigned happiness in a movie, the gesture became a much-copied fad.

One Romantic Night – The Swan

Miss Gish made the transition from silents to talkies in 1930 in “One Romantic Night,” with Rod LaRocque and Conrad Nagel. By that time, she had signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “My contract called for six pictures in two years, for which I was paid, I believe, a million dollars,” she wrote.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

Miss Gish made a triumphant return to the stage in 1930 in “Uncle Vanya” on Broadway. In 1936, she played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet and Judith Anderson’s Queen Gertrude, and, in 1941, she began a record-breaking 66-week run in “Life With Father” in Chicago. In 1960, she starred in “All the Way Home” on Broadway.

Life With Father – Lillian Gish and Percy Waram

When not before the cameras or an audience, Miss Gish toured the world, lecturing and showing Griffith’s classics.

Lillian Gish holding her Honorary Oscar at the 43rd Academy Awards, April 15th 1971. (Photo by Pictorial Parade Archive Photos)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized her work in 1970, *** presenting her an honorary Oscar, and the American Film Institute presented her its lifetime achievement award for 1984. In 1982, she received the Kennedy Center Honor.

1982 DC Ronald Reagan – Lillian Gish (Kennedy Center)

She said current movie-making methods had ruined the quality of acting.

“No one rehearses anymore, so how do you know what to do? They just do takes 100 times over. Now, distributors make more money on popcorn than on the film, and deservedly so.”

Admin note:

*** Billy Bitzer invented the “Lillian Gish” lens not Sartov

*** The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Lillian Gish’s work in 1971, not 1970.

Chicago Tribune – Monday, March 01, 1993 – Page 55 Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies From Chicago Tribune wires

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Famous Friends (1977)

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing 1977

Famous Friends (1977)

1977 New York:

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing. Asked about their long careers, they agreed that one should always have curiosity and vitality to carry it out. The two have appeared together only once – in a 1956 CBS-TV special, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Miss Gish is godmother to Miss Hayes’ son, actor James MacArthur, and to her grandson, Charles Macarthur. (August 19, 1977 UPI)

Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes in Central Park NY 1977 – cab horse

Still Just Horsing Around

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes team up to share a horse laugh with another veteran entertainer – one of the few remaining cab horses in New York. The women, friends for 56 years, still continue acting.

Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes — and one of the few remaining cab horses in New York 1977
Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes with one of the few remaining cab horses in New York 1977
UPI – Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing 1977

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Body in The Barn (1964) Alfred Hitchcock

Body in The Barn (1964) Alfred Hitchcock

The great Lillian Gish, one of the legends of the silent screen, was a superlative actress throughout her life. This fantastic episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR from 1963 showcases Miss Lillian as good as anything she ever did in the sound film era. Miss Gish stars as a cranky, nosy old gal in ill health who has long feuded with her neighbor and blames her for the death of an elderly man who plummeted off a cliff thanks to a fence the neighbor put up. This fantastic mystery/suspense has echoes of REAR WINDOW – and HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, although the latter film hadn’t even been made yet – and Miss Gish is simply superb in this film, cast against type as a not always very likable woman. The whole cast is good but this is Lillian’s show. “Body in the Barn” is one of THE ALFRED HITCHOCK HOUR’s finest hours.

Director:

Joseph M. Newman

Writers:

Harold Swanton, Margaret Manners

Stars:

Alfred Hitchcock, Lillian Gish, Maggie McNamara
Body in The Barn (1964) Alfred Hitchcock

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My Life in Three Acts – Helen Hayes (1991)

  • My Life in Three Acts
  • Helen Hayes
  • WITH KATHERINE HATCH
  • A TOUCHSTONE BOOK
  • Published by Simon & Schuster
  • First Touchstone Edition 1991

When Lillian Gish is visiting, she always comes to breakfast in a peignoir. She makes a very pretty picture with her hair flowing down her back. But deshabille doesn’t suit me; I can’t function that way. I have to be fully clothed, because once the day begins, it gets beyond me, out of control.

Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish attend at preview in New York Thursday of an exhibit entitled Anita Loos and Friends

Not long ago, my friend Lillian Gish and I discussed this problem. At the time we were both watching a TV miniseries about Peter the Great. We were excited, at first, because so many actors we knew and admired were in the cast. After the third installment I asked Lillian what she thought. “I’ve stopped watching,” she replied. “It was just a lot of actors dressed up for a costume party.” Exactly what I thought. Here were actors who had made Shakespeare’s words ring like golden bells mumbling their way through what was essentially no more than a series of tableaux vivants. It is hard to know where to place the blame: on actors who don’t consider their dialogue worth delivering well, or on writers who don’t bother writing literate dialogue when so few actors make an effort to speak well.

Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman – Anastasia

I had turned down the role of the Russian dowager empress in the film version of Anastasia. I didn’t think the part of a domineering Romanov suited me. But, then, I can’t remember ever playing a role that didn’t seem, at first, more suited to someone else. Even in the case of Victoria, despite my enthusiasm I thought an English actress would have been more appropriate. On stage the dowager empress had been played magnificently by Eugenie Leontovich and by my close friend Cathleen Nesbitt, and I didn’t think I’d be nearly as good as either of them. But friends kept urging me to get back to work. They all believed the wounded soldier had to return to action, never mind the bandages or the morphine. And the attitude in the theatre world has always been: “The show must go on,” whatever the personal cost to the actors. Josh Logan implored me to take the Anastasia role, saying it was my duty to use the talent God had given me. Anita Loos and Lillian Gish also encouraged me, Anita going so far as to say she would accompany me to London, where the film was to be shot. Eventually I gave in.

Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes – Anastasia

Lillian Gish is another old friend who has spent several Christmases with me in Cuernavaca. We first met in New York back in the early 1930s, after Lillian left Hollywood because she didn’t like the changes sound brought to moviemaking. She felt that the crude vocal reproduction of the early talkies distorted her voice, so she decided to give up filmmaking and return to the theatre, where she had worked before becoming D. W. Griffith’s leading lady in silent films. Around the time that Lillian came back to New York, Jed Harris was preparing a Broadway production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and he chose Lillian for one of the two female leads. Jed was romantically involved with Ruth Gordon at the time, and Ruth met Lillian through him. I got to know Lillian through Ruth. This was somewhat ironic, as Ruth and Jed and I later became estranged, but Lillian and I are still close friends after fifty years.

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

We had only one bad patch. It happened a few years ago, when we were rehearsing for a TV production o{ Arsenic and Old Lace. We broke for lunch one afternoon well after 2 p.m., and Lillian and I headed for Longchamps, one of a chain of restaurants that offered good food and soft, flattering lighting. The latter, needless to say, was very popular with ladies of a certain vintage. As we waited for lunch, Lillian started talking about her latest obsession: rejuvenating treatments offered by a Rumanian doctor she knew. His elixir of youth was administered in injections of certain animal substances—lamb embryos, or something like that. This Dr. Feelyoung’s cure-all had been rejected by the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration on the grounds that it was pure quackery. Ignoring that verdict, Lillian had gone to Rumania every year for the doctor’s injections. Like too many stage and film people, she had fallen into a desperate struggle to retain her youth, and she believed the treatments worked. Why was the American medical establishment against the good doctor? It was just jealousy, she thought.

Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes

I listened quietly for a while, but finally I got fed up. There was a lot wrong with our system of medicine, I said as calmly as possible, and I was well aware of its shortcomings. But at least we were way ahead of other countries in protecting the naïve against the flummery of mountebanks. So far our voices had been modulated to match the soft lighting around us. But now Lillian became shrill. “Let me tell you what I think of American medicine,” she burst out. “My banker, who is in charge of all my affairs, has a letter stating that if I get too sick to make my wishes known, I am to be taken to Europe immediately.”

“To what country?” I asked. “It doesn’t matter,” said Lillian. “Anywhere except America!”

That really irritated me. “Lillian,” I exclaimed, “you’re a bubblehead!” Suddenly we were shouting, two gray-haired ladies yelling at each other while a group of waiters stood around nervously, probably fearful that we would soon start slinging china. What a tidbit that would make for the gossip columnists—Longchamps Brawl: Hayes vs. Gish.

But it wasn’t only Lillian’s strange fixation and the harm it might do her that bothered me. Her attitude toward American medicine offended me for a personal reason: I was deeply involved in working on behalf of a Nyack hospital that had been named for me. This may sound self-serving, but the truth is that I was gratified that the use of my name could help win support for a hospital that provided good care and sponsored important research. I suppose Lillian’s condemnation of all U.S. medicine struck me as an affront to my hospital and its dedicated staff, though of course she hadn’t meant it that way. We soon came to our senses. That was the only argument Lillian and I have ever had, and since then we have tacitly understood that medicine is a subject we have to avoid.

lillian-gish-james-macarthur-new-york-usa-19 jun 1960 detail

Lillian is full of surprises. Once, when she was visiting in Nyack, we took a long walk along an Indian trail on the cliffs above the Hudson. My three dogs were scampering beside us. We came to a point where the trail unexpectedly narrowed, and the dogs suddenly cowered at my feet. There was a washout a few steps ahead. I stood there frightened, the dogs practically clinging to me, as Lillian grabbed a tree limb and swung across the washout to safe ground on the other side.

“What are you doing, Lillian?” I gasped. “You’ll kill yourself!”

“Nonsense!” she said airily. “In the old days we used to do things like this in the movies. There weren’t any stunt people then.” She swung back and forth like Tarzan.

In Way Down East, a D. W. Griffith masterpiece made in 1920, Lillian had had to float down a river on an ice floe. The scene was shot in Mamaroneck, New York, in the dead of winter, and Lillian spent so many hours filming the sequence—in which she is rescued by Richard Barthelmess, playing the hero—that she came down with a serious case of chilblains.

Way Down East was a great success, and Griffith wanted to give Lillian a special present out of gratitude for her unstinting loyalty and courage. Her birthstone is the opal, and in Australia Griffith found a gem known as “the Great Opal,” which he purchased and had mounted in a cross designed by Tiffany.

Maybe he would have scouted for another great opal if he could have seen her performing the same kind of feat more than fifty years later.

james macarthur, lillian gish, joyce bulifant, charlie macarthur, helen hayes

The heroines Lillian played for Griffith were invariably spiritual and slightly otherworldly, and there are times when Lillian herself seems a trifle vague, so closely in tune with her own drummer that she misses the beat of what is going on around her. This trait can be startling, as it was at one event we both attended a few years ago. I asked Lillian to join me at the cardinal’s annual Christmas party in New York, a tradition initiated by Terrence Cardinal Cook and carried on by John Cardinal O’Connor. I’d been invited for more than twenty years, and I’d taken Lillian along once before. This time I was asked to bring her again—Cardinal O’Connor was a great fan of hers.

Lillian arrived all dolled up. All her clothes date from forty years back, but the dresses are still elegant, and she’s proud that they still fit. The luncheon was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and she sat beside His Eminence, who looked magnificent in his scarlet cape, biretta, sash, and gold cross. He was very courtly as they chatted, obviously so pleased to be next to Lillian that you could almost hear him saying to himself, “Imagine, here I am sitting beside Lillian Gish!”

Lillian Gish Helen Hayes and Bob Crane (Arsenic)

If this were a scene in a movie, it would be called “The Cardinal and the Star.” As the cardinal made a fuss over her, the star, too, was very animated. Then all at once she stared straight ahead, apparently puzzled. “Helen,” she asked me in a loud stage whisper, “what church is he from?”

As I grow older, I get forgetful too, but I haven’t reached that point yet. And neither had Lillian when it came to work. She’s sharp as a tack then, as I discovered when we appeared on TV together in Arsenic and Old Lace. It was a challenging production, shot live on a multilevel set that would have tested Edmund Hillary’s climbing ability.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic was one of several television and movie projects I took on in the mid-1970s. My role as Mrs. Quonsett in Airport launched a second career for me that got under way with three films for the Disney studios.

My life in three acts – Helen Hayes 1991

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

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

1948-49 season

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

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

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

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

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

THE FORD THEATRE HOUR Sponsored by The Ford Motor Company.

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

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

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

1949 – 50 season

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

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

1951 – 52 season

THE SCHLITZ PLAYHOUSE OF THE STARS 1951 – 52

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

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

1952 – 53 season

THE CAMPBELL TELEVISION SOUNDSTAGE 1952 – 53 season

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

1955 – 56 season

THE FORD STAR JUBILEE

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

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

PREVIOUSLY NOT CHRONICLED 1959-1978

THE PLAY OF THE WEEK

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

Photo gallery – chronological order

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

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Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too – By Jon Anderson (TV writer) 1984

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday, April 17, 1984 – Page 37

Tempo

Salute to Lillian Gish rates salute, too

By Jon Anderson (TV writer)

Compared with the awkward, boring, tedious spectacle of the Academy Awards, last month’s American Film Institute salute to actress Lillian Gish was graceful, warm and human. In Hollywood, those qualities are so rare that John Houston, stunned, later rang up George Stevens Jr., producer of the show, and told him: “George, I’ve been around this town for 40 years and I saw something the other night I’ve never seen before in this community. Affection!”

In this tribute, to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CBS – Ch. 2, the stars [and there are lots of them] don’t seem stiff, stilted or ill-at-ease. When cameras catch their faces, they look like they’re having a good time. When they talk, they seem to mean what they say. There isn’t a wooden scripted, flat joke in the whole 90 minutes.

AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr – Photo – Globe

This didn’t just happen. “We really tried to make people comfortable and secure,” producer Stevens said in an interview. He barred Teleprompters, those cue-card projectors that make show-folk squint or, as in the case of Frank Sinatra at the Academy Awards, look over-served. Before the show, writers worked with the stars “to bring out their feelings,” go over what they wanted to say and suggest phrasings. Then stars did their bits the old-fashioned way; they memorized their speeches and, strange for TV, spoke them naturally.

The producers also sensibly avoided spinning graphics and other electronic nonsense. Instead, they hired a 37-piece orchestra, struck new prints of notable early Gish scenes and ran them at proper speeds, with musical accompaniment. [Silent cameras, cranked by hand, exposed anywhere from 16 to 22 frames a second compared with today’s standard of 24 frames a second. ***(1) That’s why silent movies, shown on modern equipment, speed up.]

Hambone and Hillie – Photo Gallery

Gish’s screen career began in 1913 ***(2) bloomed under director D.W. Griffith [“Birth of a Nation”], for whom she made 40 movies, and continues today. [She’ll star in the forthcoming film “Hambone and Hillie.”]

The clip that got the biggest hand [from “Way Down East”] showed her limp body on a slab of ice, headed towards the falls, with an anguished man in a fur coat leaping from berg to berg trying to rescue her. It was Gish’s idea to trail her hair and one hand in the icy waters, a stunt so chilling that, even today, Gish’s right hand aches when she is out in winter cold.

A fundraiser for the American Film Institute, best known for its work in preserving old movies, the gala black-tie dinner for 1,100 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in March was enlivened by speeches, waves and smiles from Sally Field, John Houseman, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Mary Steenburgen, Jennifer Jones, Mary Martin, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Eva Marie Saint, Richard Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Richard WIdmark and Chicago’s own tie to the glorious motion picture past, Colleen Moore Hargrave. She got a hug from the guest of honor.

Life Achievement Award, Lillian Gish. 1984

Also remarkable was that so many veterans of a perilous craft, that of being a movie star, still looked so sparkling.

“Lillian Gish was there at the birth of an art form,” said the evening’s host, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 75. “I am kind of an emissary, a link, if you like, from those pioneers who were with her at the beginning, my father, my stepmother, Mary Pickford; Charlie Chaplin; and all the others whom Lillian refers to as those charming ghosts.”

Through it all, Gish was very much the center of what seemed, at times, like a family get-together, her face radiating what critic Alexander Woolcott once called “a strange mystic light not made by any electrician.”

Some praised her acting. [John Houseman described her Ophelia as “convincingly lunatic.”] Some, her canniness. [As Mary Steenburgen put it: “I figure an actress who’s been a star for 72 years must have a pretty good head for business.”]

By general agreement, at 87, Lillian Gish is also still a going concern – with a strong sense of camera angles.

Last December, she appeared in the CBS made-for-TV movie “Hobson’s Choice,” one friend recalled, and chewed out a cameraman for placing the camera too low. “Young man,” she said snappishly, “If God had meant you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your belly button.”*** (3)

***(1) Mr. Jon Anderson is referring probably to an older filming system, [and 24 fps theatre film projectors] pre-NTSC (29.95 fps) known being the fact that PAL (Phase Alternate by Line) used in Europe has a 25 fps standard using fields to compensate the difference from 30 fps of US-NTSC. Indeed in the 70’s there were still in use film cameras, not digital or streaming over network via satellite like today. So, in order to have news broadcast, every decent TV station had a huge laboratory for processing the film, cutting it old school style and converting it for TV broadcast in a post process.

Starting before CBS color even got on the air, the U.S. television industry, represented by the National Television System Committee, worked in 1950–1953 to develop a color system that was compatible with existing black-and-white sets and would pass FCC quality standards, with RCA developing the hardware elements. The first publicly announced network demonstration of a program using the NTSC “compatible color” system was an episode of NBC’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie on August 30, 1953, although it was viewable in color only at the network’s headquarters. The first network broadcast to go out over the air in NTSC color was a performance of the opera Carmen on October 31, 1953.

***(2) Actually Lillian Gish’s career began in 1912 with “The Unseen Enemy”.

***(3) The famous “eyes in the belly button” remark was made by Lillian Gish while celebrating her 100th movie [A Wedding] during the party organized by director Robert Altman. And it was a photographer, not a cameraman. The incident was documented by Kevin Brownlow.

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

Chicago Tribune – Monday February 13, 1956 – Page 70

Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln

By Larry Wolters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raymond Massey – Lincoln

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

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

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Grandma Moses Life To Be Told Friday On TV (Chicago Tribune – 1952)

Chicago Tribune – March, Sunday 23 1952 – Page 67

Grandma Moses Life To Be Told Friday On TV

Lillian Gish will star in the title role of “Grandma Moses” when the biography of the American Artist is presented on Playhouse of Stars over WBKB at 8 p.m. Friday. The television play will highlight episodes in the life of the painter which reveal how she happened to undertake her work at the age of 80. In addition to Miss Gish, three other actresses will portray Grandma Moses – in scenes depicting her early years. Denise and Jane Alexander, sisters, will play the painter at the ages of 12 and 5 respectively and Georgianne Johnson will have the role of Grandma Moses at 26. Sidney Smith will portray Otto Kallir, art connoisseur who discovered the artist.

Adapted by David Shaw from Mrs. Moses’ recently-published autobiography, the play had Lillian Gish in the title role spinning tales to her grandchildren on her early life and how she won recognition with her colorful American primitives after she had passed 80. Story flashed back from camera shots of Grandma Moses paintings to the related incidents in her life, which was a clever technique. This was one spot, though, where color TV was urgently needed.

With Miss Gish etching a warmly human characterization of the nice old lady who was as eager to receive compliments for her strawberry preserves as for her life on a farm dating back to the days when Abraham Lincoln was President. Sisters Denise and Jane Alexander were competent as the artist at the ages of five and 12, respectively, and Georgianne Johnson turned in a sympathetic portrayal of Mrs. Moses at age 26. Russell Hardie was good as her husband, and Sidney Smith limned an okay role as the art connoisseur who discovered her artistic talents.

Joseph Scibetta reined both the actors and the cameras through their paces in fine style. Sets and other production mountings were standout. Durward Kirby again handled the Schlitz commercials, tying them cleverly with the sets of the play.

Illustration below: Lillian Gish with Grandma Moses painting, a gift from the artist to Miss Gish

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