“Uncle Vanya” 1930 – Program

Miss Gish came back in “Uncle Vanya,” a comedy by the Russian Chekhov. She had the role of Helena. Of her, Robert Litell said in The New York World: “She is not quite like any other actress I have ever seen, with a lovely repose and certainty, a combination of delicate shades and pastel dignity which make us realize how great the screen’s gain has been all these years, to our loss.”

Uncle Vanya Program – Cort Theatre NY

LILLIAN GISH returns to the stage in the Chekhov comedy after an absence of 17 years. She last appeared on a prosceniumed platform in New York in 1913, along with Ernest Truex and Mary Pickford, in “A Good Little Devil” at the Republic. Since “The Birth of a Nation” her fame in pictures has been secure. Among the notable films which she has illumined, are “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East,” “Orphans of the Storm,” “The White Sister,” “Hearts of the World,” “Romola” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Miss Gish made her stage debut at the age of six in a melodrama, “In Convict’s Stripes,” in Rising Sun, Ohio. She was born in Springfield, Ohio, and has never married.

Uncle Vanya Program – Cort Theatre NY

“Uncle Vanya” represents a perfectly balanced cast under consummate stage direction – and for play-goers who are immune to the subtle, brooding enchantment of Chekhoff. It offers a pretty lady whose name was a household word in the great days of David Wark Griffith and the silent silver screen. She, of course, is Lillian Gish, fair haired, slender, spirituelle – an actress who might have stepped out of Tennyson’s lyrics – “She has a lovely face, the Lady of Shalott.”

Uncle Vanya Program – Cort Theatre NY

Photo Gallery

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After 64 Years, Lillian Gish Gets Chance To Sing On Stage – By William Glover (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1965)

  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 109, Number 275, 21 November 1965
  • After 64 Years, Lillian Gish Gets Chance To Sing On Stage
  • By William Glover – Associated Press Drama Writer

New York (AP) Lillian Gish is singing at last.

“Since I began business at age 5,” gently banters the thousand – role veteran, “I’ve wanted to be in a musical and a circus. I’d better be careful, or I’ll end up in the center ring.” Miss Gish ventures into modest melody during portrayal of the dowager empress of all the Russians in “Anya.” due November 29 at the Ziegfeld theater.

The production is based on “Anastasia,” a mildly successful drama a decade ago which investigated the purported survival by one imperial princess of the Bolshevik slaughter in 1917. For Slavic atmosphere, all the tunes are adapted from Sergei Rachmaninoff compositions.

Lillian Gish – Little Hands – Anya (musical)

Miss Gish’s special song is “Little Hands.” If she shows a measure of inner fear about doing the number, the 69-year-spry star has no qualms whatever about everything else in the musical.

“I’m doing it because I was asked by producer George Abbott it’s that simple.” she says. Rather ruefully, she recalls, she might have branched out earlier.

Constance Towers and Lillian Gish in the stage production Anya – Friedman Abeles Photo 1965

“I was the last pupil taken by Victor Maurel he was the great vocal teacher a half century ago. I was only 19 and I’m afraid I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity.” There were later voice sessions with another eminent instructor, Margaret Carrington. “She taught Barrymore and I went to her off and on through the years.” Always there were plenty of screen and stage calls to keep Miss Gish busy, and in between she was always avid to dash off on further travels. “Going places and reading books are the two greatest things in my life,” she declares. “There are still so many places in the world I want to see.” Miss Gish is unequivocal about the current condition of Broadway.

“I won’t go to see straight plays anymore.” she says. “They are all brown plaxs about brown people in brown sets.” She feels much of the dull atmosphere crept in with elimination of footlights.

Close up Anya 1965 – Lillian Gish

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Ugliness in films disturbs Lillian Gish, 77 – By Bob Thomas (San Bernardino Sun, 1973)

  • San Bernardino Sun, 30 October 1973
  • Ugliness in films disturbs Lillian Gish, 77
  • By Bob Thomas

Actress Lillian Gish … wants a return to good taste

1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish promoting book 1973

BOB THOMAS BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) “As an American, I am against censorship of any kind,” remarked Lillian Gish, one of the treat stars of the silent screen. She added wistfully, “But I do wish we could do something about taste.” Miss Gish, the fragile beauty of “Birth of a Nation,” “Broken Blossoms” and a host of other silent classics, was paying a return visit to the Hollywood she first saw exactly 60 years ago. She reminisced about the past, particularly her prideful association with D. W. Griffith, but she also talked about present day films. “Ugliness disturbs me,” she commented, “and much of what is shown on the screen is ugly. Not only in exposure of the human body. I also mean the ugliness of violence. To me, violence is just as offensive as nudity. “Although I do not approve of censorship, I wish there were some way to impose taste on the people who make films. It’s not that I mind the portrayal of sex in movies, but sex should be beautiful, an expression of human love. But too often it is made to seem ugly.” A youthful 77, Miss Gish is in the middle of a tour of 30 cities in seven weeks to call attention to her new book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish,” a S20 family album of the rich careers of the two sisters. She added a historical perspective on the film world’s flirtation with obscenity: “You know, I helped the Italian film industry get started. I went to Rome after the first World War and made the first American film there, ‘The White Sister.’ There was only one broken-down studio in Rome, and we rebuilt it. Then I went to Florence and made another movie, Romola.

Lillian Gish and director Henry King – Romola candid on set

“I spent two years in Italy, and I had time to learn all about their art. The Italians in the Renaissance went through what our film makers seem to be going through today. Nudity had not been seen before, and at first they exploited it. But then they learned to portray the human body with beauty. “I say to today’s movie makers: Do what you will but do it beautifully.” Lillian Gish conveyed an air of fragility on the screen, but she is in reality the most resilient of ladies. She has proved that by crossing the country 11′ times in the last four years, lecturing to colleges and other audiences on “The Art of the Film.” “I’ve lectured in 41 states only nine to go,” she announced proudly. The barnstorming is a throwback to her childhood, when she and Dorothy toured the country in melodramas. The Gishes made their movie debuts in 1912 in “An Unseen Enemy,” starring a stage chum they had known as Gladys Smith now she calls herself Mary Pickford. The director was D. W. Griffith. It was the start of Lillian’s long, distinguished association with the greatest of the silent film makers. She recalled her arrival in California in 1913: “There was nothing but citrus groves, all the way from San Bernardino. I remember passing a little Santa Fe station named Gish; I never saw it again or learned why it was so named. Our first studio was in a car barn on Pico Boulevard, and they put rugs over the tracks when we were filming. We worked only in the daytime, of course, because we couldn’t shoot when the light failed.” She recalled Hollywood as “a village full of churches and a white hotel with a verandah where old ladies in California for the winter sat in rocking chairs.” Throughout her career, Miss Gish only lived here when she was working. Her home was, and still is, New York “an awful, dirty, noisy, filthy city, but still the most exciting place in the world.” She recently ended a run in a play there, “Uncle Vanya,” directed by Mike Nichols and starring George C. Scott and Julie Christie. After touring the United States and England for her book, she may do the film version. After that? “I don’t know. Things just happen to me. I never plan.”

Uncle Vanya – 1973 (slideshow)

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George Jean Nathan and Lillian Gish – by Thomas Quinn Curtiss (1988)

An Applause Original THE SMART SET:

George Jean Nathan & H.L.Mencken

  • by Thomas Quinn Curtiss
  • Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Quinn Curtiss

Nathan had been denouncing the movies as a menace to the arts for many years, but the screen appearance of Miss Gish bewitched him. A year earlier he had published a rapturous essay about her in Vanity Fair, attempting to explain the spell her celluloid image cast. That she is one of the few real actresses that the films have brought forth, either here or abroad, is pretty well agreed upon by the majority of critics. But it seems to me that, though the fact is taken for granted, the reasons for her eminence have in but small and misty part been set down in print.

Lillian Gish and George Jean Nathan — Chateau Du Plessis France

“The girl is superior to her medium, pathetically so. Her genius lies in making the definite charmingly indefinite. Her technique consists in thinking out a characterization directly and concretely and then executing it in terms of semi-vague suggestion. The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness trembling on a bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl are the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his waltzes. The whole secret of the young woman’s remarkably effective acting rests as I have observed, in her carefully devised and skilfully negotiated technique of playing always, as it were, behind a veil of silver chiffon. She always dominates the scene, yet one feels somehow that she is ever just out of sight. There is ever something pleasantly, alluringly, missing, as there always is in the case of women who are truly ‘acting artists.’

Nathan proposed that Hergesheimer profile Lillian Gish and the novelist complied with an essay that ran in the August 1924 Mercury and is considered one of the memorable contributions to the magazine. The critic also told Hergesheimer that he would very much like to meet Miss Gish, but just then she was away filming in Italy. In November 1924, back from Italy, Miss Gish was on her way to spend a weekend at Joe Hergeshiemer’s home in Pennsylvania when, on the train to Philadelphia, a man introduced himself to her. She remembered him as being handsome and charming. She was suprised to find that he was George Jean Nathan, as she had imagined him to be a much older and ruder fellow, in keeping with his destructive humor. He, too, probably by pre-arrangement, was to be a guest at the Hergesheimers, and they chatted away the two hours of railroad journey. He was immediately and utterly enchanted. Miss Gish, however, was not entirely at ease with her new admirer. Once back in her New York apartment she was reluctant to accept Nathan’s frequent telephone calls. When he caught her on the line she would disguise her voice and, pretending to be her maid, would say that her mistress was out. Eventually, though, she began to accept Nathan’s phone calls and his invitations to first nights and dinners.

George Jean Nathan and Lillian Gish at Chateau Du Plessis – France 1922

A calamity brought Lillian Gish from Hollywood on a lighten-ing visit in the summer of 1926. Her mother, who had gone to London where her daughter Dorothy was filming Nell Gwyn had suddenly suffered a severe stroke. Lillian was in the last week of shooting The Scarlet Letter. She learned that by leaving Los Angeles in three days she could catch the liner, Majestic, leaving New York for England. The last week of filming was compressed into the three days available and she was rushed to the Los Angeles depot with a police escort. Nathan saw her off on the Majestic and continued to write to her:

“Darling, I hope for all time: I tell you again what I have told you daily for the last solid year; that you are the only girl who can ever figure in my life, that you are the only one I can ever really and deeply love, and that I wish you would feel the same way about me as I do about you. “

The Gish girls nursed their mother in London and in a few weeks she was sufficiently improved to be transported to New York. There they broke the journey, preparing for the five-day train trip back to California. Nathan was most attentive during their New York stay. He gave Lillian a wirehaired terrier which she named Georgie, a playful puppy who cut his teeth on all the best chairs of the hotel drawing room. Nathan also presented the actress with a ring on which his profile was engraved. She wore it often and it attracted the attention of interviewers who asked whether it represented her engagement. To this she would evasively reply, “Mr. Nathan is a very brilliant man and my friend.” After Lillian went back to California, Nathan sailed for an inspection of the London theatres. While there, he visited A.B. Walkley, the British drama critic. During a day spent with Walkley at his seaside home, Nathan asked his host—who showed little partiality to Americans in general—how he explained the affinity that made his host and he friends. “You are the only American I have ever met who when you speak does not make me fear that all the dishes on the table will crash to the floor,” replied the advocate of Artistotelian reasoning.

George Jean Nathan, Lillian Gish and Rudolph Kommer at Leopoldskron

Nathan kept encouraging Lillian Gish to pursue the theatre in her career. She eventually did decide to enact mature drama as well as motion pictures. She gave her initial Broadway performance as Helena in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya on April 15, 1930. Jed Harris, a flamboyant producer, led the moving measure of the company and the excited public.

Her next three plays were Camille by Alexandre Dumas fils, Sean O’Casey’s tragedy about a prostitute, Within the Gates, and John Gielgud’s Hamlet, she playing Ophelia.  Shortly after the death of George Jean Nathan on April 8, 1958, after he was stricken with arteriosclerosis in 1956, Lillian Gish came to see me. She spoke of the letters she had owned since 1924. Most of her friends believed that he wanted to marry her. But in 1933 she wrote him that she had no more love for him. He replied that he was ready to commit suicide. She persuaded him to survive and he swallowed the bitter experience.

Lillian Gish 1930’s

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Life With Father – Booklet (Chicago)

When Life with Father opened in New York in November 1939, no one could have predicted that it would become the longest-running nonmusical play in Broadway’s history—3,224 performances in more than six years. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s family comedy meant to raise no earthshaking issues. At a time when war news was crowding the daily press, its depiction of the life of an affluent New York family in the “gilded” 1880s delighted audiences nostalgic for crises no larger than those touched off by the irascible but good-natured ” Father.

Lindsay and Crouse urged Lillian not to sign a run-of-the-play contract since they were about to produce a vehicle that would be ideal for the two sisters. The Gishes did not heed their advice and lost out on the chance to create the hit Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway. Life with Father kept them gainfully employed for far longer than they had anticipated.

Lillian’s company opened in Chicago on February 19, 1940, where it stayed, with her, for a record-breaking sixty-six weeks. “Mother” Vinnie Day suited Lillian in many ways. She had no trouble passing for “a charming, lovable, and spirited woman of forty.” She certainly had Vinnie’s “lively mind,” even if hers did not dart “quickly away from any practical matter.” There was also the “bustled” era of the play, when women comported themselves with a gentility and grace that Lillian enacted with ease. She knew something of that world, and she loved it. She also shared Vinnie’s strong religious convictions.

After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town (LLOYD LEWIS – Chicago)

Lillian Gish, by virtue of sixty-six weeks in “Life With Father” at Chicago Blackstone Theatre, now takes her place beside the Lunts, Helen Hayes and Katharine Cornell as a truly national star.

She has achieved this position by merely spending well over a year at the crossroads of America, the railroad center, whereas the others have had to tour arduously from Tulsa to Des Moines to Seattle to Atlanta. An amazing number of transcontinental travelers stopped off in Chicago long enough to see this Chicago company of “Life With Father,” and the Pullman people say the show did a lot for midnight bookings.

The Lily Maid of Astolat is no longer a dream creature in an ivory belfry nor a flower-decked vision on a dark barge. She is now Mrs. Day, mother, wife and housekeeper. Lillian Gish has come from the unreal to the real. She has made people laugh, she has made people adore her for the simplicity and humor as well with the truly great charm with which she has worn the manners and costumes of the past century. She has identified herself with a character, a scene and a play wholly American, wholly practical and realistic so far as atmosphere is concerned.

“I don’t know, if I should play ‘Life With Father’ any longer; Helen Hayes tells me seventy-two weeks straight is too long for an actress. Other theatrical people tell me that I have thus set a new American record for an actress playing a principal role. I don’t know about this. I do know that I grew weary toward the end and only the enthusiasm of those crowds kept me going. I felt, too, that is was good for the theatre, especially in the midlands, to have a play run in one house for more than a year. That could mean the education of new thousands to the value of the drama.” – Lillian Gish

Life With Father – Lillian Gish

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Drama Leaguers and ‘Old Friends’ – By Irene Powers (Chicago Tribune – 1969)

  • Chicago Tribune – Saturday October 4, 1969 – Page 16
  • Drama Leaguers and ‘Old Friends’
  • By Irene Powers

At just about our lunch time today, the Chicago Drama league’s travelers, airborne from Copenhagen, will be circling in over the night lights of Moscow on the third lap of their global Theater Holiday junket. Before them are six and one-half days of opera, ballet and play-going [a circus and a puppet show included], interspersed with sightseeing in Moscow and Leningrad.

The stay-at-homes haven’t lost out in large numbers and keyed up with enthusiasm Friday to welcome a professional resident company at last

Lillian Gish in the sixties – close up

Women on the Go

The Goodman Theater Group – and Miss Lillian Gish to the first season’s parties for players.

For Miss Gish and the Drama league it was a reunion of old friends. She has been at the Goodman this week in her one-woman show, “Lillian Gish and the Movies” [last performance tonight].

Miss Eugenia Leontovich, just back from London with news to tell of a triumph for the Tolstoy play she adapted and directed, was another of the long-time friends of the league introduced at the party.

Mrs. Fred J. O’Connor, presiding, pledged the new Goodman company the support of the league members.

“We have waited a long time for this,” she said, “and our hearts are full of joy and anticipation.” Norman Ross, the master of ceremonies, praised the “understatement” with which the new venture had been undertaken.

By the time the Drama league’s theater tour returns home Oct. 18, the party of 68 will have seen Abby Theater festival productions in Dublin, ballet in Copenhagen, attended opera and plays in Stockholm, made a round of the theaters in London.

Lillian Gish after a BBC interview May 11, 1969

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Gish Sisters, House Attendants (Chicago Tribune – 1922)

  • Chicago Tribune – Sunday May 21, 1922 – Page 46
  • Gish Sisters, House Attendants

Various notables of the stage acted as ushers, water boys, coat room girls, and what not at a benefit for destitute Russian artists given in New York recently by the Chauve-Souris players from the famous Bat theater in Moscow. The “house attendants” in the picture are from left to right: Nikita Balieff, founder of the Bat theater; Sam Bernard, Leon Errol, Marilyn Miller, Walter Catlett, Laurette Taylor, Al Jolson, Doris Keane, Lenore Ulric, Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish, and Morris Gest, who brought the Chauve-Souris players to America. In the rectangle below: Ed Wynn.

Photograph from White Studio

From left to right: Nikita Balieff, founder of the Bat theater; Sam Bernard, Leon Errol, Marilyn Miller, Walter Catlett, Laurette Taylor, Al Jolson, Doris Keane, Lenore Ulric, Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish, and Morris Gest, who brought the Chauve-Souris players to America. In the rectangle below: Ed Wynn.

Benefit for destitute Russian artists given in New York Photo from “Dorothy and Lillian Gish” by Lillian Gish. To be noted Gish sisters costumes; Lillian and Dorothy Gish are wearing the famous gowns from “Orphans of the Storm.”

From left to right: Nikita Balieff, founder of the Bat theater; Sam Bernard, Leon Errol, Marilyn Miller, Walter Catlett, Laurette Taylor, Al Jolson, Doris Keane, Lenore Ulric, Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish, and Morris Gest, who brought the Chauve-Souris players to America. In the rectangle below: Ed Wynn.

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