Great War Films – Lawrence J. Quirk 1994 (The Birth of a Nation 1915)

  • Great War Films
  • Lawrence J. Quirk 1994
  • A Citadel Press Book Published by Carol Publishing Group

The Birth of a Nation 1915


CAST: Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Wallace Reid, Miriam Cooper, Donald Crisp, Joseph Henabery, Raoul Walsh, Walter Long, Eugene Pallette.

CREDITS: D. W. Griffith, director; D. W. Griffith and Frank E. Woods, screenplay; based on the novel The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon; G. W. Bitzer, photographer. Running time: 185 minutes.

D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation remains one of the most famous and influential motion pictures of all time. It was the first great epic, and the film that introduced many of the cinematic conventions we take for granted today. And it is one that has been steeped in controversy from its initial release right up to the present day.

Birth of a Nation details the events before, during. and after the Civil War of 1861-65 and focuses on two families—one Northern (the Stonemans) and one Southern (the Camerons)—whose sons are friends. Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), known as “The Little Colonel,” falls for Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) just by looking at her picture; one of the Stoneman boys, Phil (Robert Harron), also falls for one of Ben’s sisters, Margaret (Miriam Cooper).

Movies in America – Birth of a Nation

But the love stories are secondary to the Civil War action; Birth of a Nation features panoramic battle scenes employing thousands of extras who engage in fighting in such a realistic manner that it creates a near-documentary effect. Stoneman and Cameron eventually meet as enemies on the battlefield, where the latter is badly wounded but succored by his new found friend, who writes to sister Elsie, asking her to take special care of his pal in the hospital where she is a nurse.

Cameron’s reunion with his mother is touching, as is an affecting scene when he finally comes back home and greets his older sister on the doorstep; the two feign a happy air at first, but eventually both succumb to grateful tears. The assassination of Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, is meticulously detailed. For many of the war scenes, Griffith worked from photographs by Matthew Brady and others to help recreate the settings and action as authentically as possible. The picture is initially choppy and episodic, but eventually the audience comes to know the characters and gets caught up in their stories.

The main problem with Birth of a Nation is that it has absolutely no perspective (thus giving it an almost comically dated quality), as it is told by Griffith—a native of the South—strictly from the Confederacy’s point of view. Thus the scene that follows the title card “The master in chains before his former slaves” is not depicted as poetic justice but as the tragic downfall of a noble character (Ben Cameron, who later forms the Ku Klux Klan in response to Northern and carpetbagger-inspired Negro outrages).

The depiction of blacks in Birth ofa Nation has always engendered much comment. On the one hand, the scenes of blacks rioting, breaking into houses, and disporting themselves in a disgraceful manner often seem disquietingly and shamefully contemporary. On the other hand, Birth of a Nation unmistakably suggests that the only “good blacks” are those who toe the line and remain loyal to their former masters. Virtually all of the black characters (most of whom are played by white actors in black-face) are negatively portrayed, and their Northern supporters are the worst kind of “guilty white liberals.” Phil Stoneman’s father is pleased to hear that his protege, mulatto Silas Lynch, is going to marry a white woman. That is, until Stoneman learns that Lynch has designs on his own daughter—after which he is repulsed and furious. The final scenes show the “heroes” in their white hoods and raiment rushing to the rescue of the Camerons who are trapped in a cabin by crazed Negroes and Northerners. Birth ofa Nation may be historically accurate in some respects, but it lacks balance.

The NAACP protested strongly against the film upon its release, and many in this era of political correctness would like to see it consigned to oblivion. Others, such as black filmmaker John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), feel that Birth of a Nation’s artistic achievements override its political content. “It’s like the Holocaust,” Singleton has said. “We should never forget.”—W. S.

The great war films – Birth of a Nation

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GRIFFITH (Hearts of the World) – Kevin Brownlow 1979

  • The War The West and The Wilderness
  • Kevin Brownlow 1979
  • Alfred A. Knopf – New York


The center of Ypres by 1917 has been so heavily shelled that the cathedral-like Cloth Hall has been blasted to a slender Islamic minaret. The other buildings, too, have been knocked into such extraordinarily delicate fingers of stone that there seems no way for them to remain vertical. Into this chilling scene steps a tall, jaunty figure in a smart tweed suit of English cut, a bow tie—and a tin hat. It is David Wark Griffith, recorded by a British official cameraman on his tour of the front.

Griffith and the Great War 5

The sight of this elegant figure touring the scenes of the battle is like something out of H. G. Wells’s Time Machine. Griffith, dressed for a grouse shoot, appears to be on a thoroughly pleasant afternoon outing in the midst of the bloodiest war in history. A group of French soldiers ambles past the camera, some of them turning round to give a surly glance at the lens; Mr. Griffith follows them into the picture. The camera pans as he inspects a half-completed trench. French soldiers are sweating away with shovels. Griffith peers down, grins, makes a little digging gesture, and wanders out of shot. Next, he visits a heavily shelled concrete dugout. He stumbles over the rubble, awkward in his polished shoes, descends into a crater, and disappears into the dugout. Moments later he reappears to signal to the cameraman to cut.

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

All the scenes have been carefully posed, and at the start of each shot, the participants wait for a moment before jerking into action, as though instructed by a director. Everyone plays the game but Griffith. As the party files through a reserve trench, they all duck their heads. Griffith, however, remains imperiously upright, spoiling a subtitle’s illusion that the enemy is but sixty yards away.

This trip to the front in May 1917 was a result of Griffith’s agreement to make a propaganda film for the British. It is perhaps ironic that Griffith should have traveled to England, ostensibly to attend the premiere of his great pacifist film Intolerance, but actually to make a film to promote the Allied cause. I owe to Russell Merritt the startling information that Griffith had already been approached by the British government before he left for England. Griffith’s own version has always been accepted as the truth: that he happened to be in England when a meeting of “the gifted men of Britain”-Barrie, Wells, Shaw, Bennett, Galsworthy, Chesterton—decided the most effective medium for the Allied nations was not a book or a play but “a drama of humanity, photographed in the battle area.”

Griffith and the Great War 4

The new chairman of the War Office Cinematograph Committee was Lord Beaverbrook, and he had already instilled a more vigorous attitude to film-making among the Official Kinematographers. The idea of inviting Griffith to make a propaganda film was undoubtedly his, and the much-publicized meeting of the authors and playwrights probably a way of deflecting criticism from the fact that the “great director” was not British.

Griffith had left Triangle in March 1917, and a big special was part of his new contract with Adolph Zukor. By coincidence, one of the financiers of Triangle, and formerly of Mutual, was Otto Kahn, of Kuhn, Loeb and Company, who now moved to back Zukor. Otto Kahn was a close friend of Lord Beaverbrook, and despite being of German extraction, he was a naturalized British citizen who fervently supported the British war effort.

The New York Times leaked the news that Griffith’s plan was to make a motion picture history of the war—on a commission from the Allies that would take him to all the fronts—that would eventually be placed in the archives. This may have been a smoke screen for Beaverbrook’s true intention; he seems to have had a massive propaganda epic on the lines of The Birth of a Nation in mind.

Griffith and the Great War 6

The offer from the British government came at a moment when history had inspired Griffith with a sense of adventure. “In one way, this is indeed a great day to be alive,” he told reporters upon his arrival in Britain. “In another terrible. It is terrible when you see the things you must see and feel the things you must feel. It is the most terrific moment in the history of the world. We used to wish that we could have experienced the days of Caesar and Napoleon. And now incomparably greater times are taking place around us all.”

DW Griffith in France 1917

A special tour of the war zone was arranged for Griffith; he crossed the Channel in a Royal Navy destroyer and made a preliminary inspection of the front. Upon his return to England, he began to set up the production, and cabled to California for Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Robert Harron, and Billy Bitzer.

In London the company stayed at the Savoy Hotel. Billy Bitzer picked up film from Kodak—during an air raid-and then bumped into Lowell Thomas, who was on a similar mission. Thomas explained how hard it was to get film, and Bitzer told him to use his name. Thus the Griffith picture replenished the supplies of the Lowell Thomas operation, and when the two men met again, at a Press Association dinner at the Savoy, Thomas confirmed that the film was still coming through.

Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

The Gishes and Bobby Harron had raced up to the roof of the Savoy during the raid, and had seen the German planes returning, the pilots waving at the watchers on the roof. Lillian Gish suggested they go out to see the damage, and they discovered that a school in Whitechapel had received a direct hit. “Children and teachers were the victims,” wrote Bitzer. “When you hear the moans of the dying and see their mangled bodies, you realize what it is all about. We thought by getting to work immediately we might forget this scene. But we never did. Griffith, as a Southerner, was fascinated by the aristocracy of England. For a film concerned with the triumph of democracy, Hearts of the World was to have had a surprising amount of footage devoted to society beauties. But Griffith planned another film, Women and the War, to show how the idle rich had thrown themselves energetically behind the war effort.

Griffith introduced to Queen Alexandra 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

Dowager Queen Alexandra made an appearance and among the extras were such friends of Beaverbrook’s as Lady Lavery, Elizabeth Asquith, the Countess of Massarene, Princess Monaco, and Lady Diana Manners. The scenes were shot at Lady Ripon’s estate at Coombe Hill, Kingston, and the Army and Navy Hospital. Griffith sported his finest clothes; Bitzer was astounded at the gap between the classes, and wondered at the complacency of the working class in their support of the aristocracy. The material was eventually used in The Great Love.

Griffith and the Great War 1

Griffith was given facilities to film on Salisbury Plain, the British Army’s central maneuver area, and at Witley and Blackdown, near Aldershot. Official receipts refer to vast numbers of troops and explosives—some of which blew up by accident in storage and were the subject of an army enquiry. According to Griffith, he was also given the opportunity to return to France, with his cast. A somewhat confusing impression of the film’s production has grown up around this fact. Historians have stated that Hearts of the World was actually made at the front.

The front refers specifically to the battle area; the opposing trenches that zigzagged six hundred miles from the English Channel to Switzerland were known as the front lines. The only member of the company permitted to visit the front was Griffith himself, as the Ypres reels testify. Not even his cameraman, Billy Bitzer, was allowed near the place, although he flew to Le Bourget and filmed scenes in Montreuil. The fact that his full name was Johann Gottlieb Wilhelm Bitzer didn’t help, but the army refused to allow photographs to be taken in the war zone except by official cameramen. Griffith was assigned an Official Kinematographer at Ypres, Frank Bassill.

Griffith 50 yards from German trenches – The war, the West, and the wilderness

When he returned to France in October 1917, Griffith was based in Paris, and assigned a cameraman from the Section Cinematographique of the French Army. A great deal of conflicting information has been written about the adventure. Did anyone accompany Griffith? According to Lillian Gish, she, her sister and her mother, and Bobby Harron went over; the French trip was hair-raising, and over the months” the Gish family became highly nervous and lost weight. But Griffith was only in France for a matter of two weeks. Mrs. Gish suffered a serious case of shell shock—was this due to the bombardment in France or to the concussion of the air defense guns situated next to the Savoy Hotel in London? The main location was the village of Ham, near St. Quentin, on the River Somme; Griffith stated that by a strange and unpleasant coincidence, the first scenes of the second act were taken in the village of Ham, “which has only recently fallen again into the hands of the German invader.” Yet just a handful of shots in the surviving versions were taken in France, and only one of them shows a member of the cast (Lillian Gish entering a devastated house). Billy Bitzer states categorically, While it is true many scenes were taken at the battle front by cameramen, I did not go there, and neither did any other member of the company, with the exception of Mr. Griffith.” (However, the Bitzer book is very inaccurate.)

DW Griffith with war correspondents 1918 – France

Griffith later made a statement that, appearing out of context, makes him seem an obsessive, single-minded, and callous man: “Viewed as a drama, the war is in some ways disappointing.” Single-minded Griffith may have been’ but he was not callous. The quote comes from a Photoplay interview with his old friend Harry Carr, war correspondent and future Griffith press agent, and it goes on to say that everything he saw—troop trains moving away to the front, wives parting from husbands they were never to see again—precisely fitted his imagination. “All these things were so exactly as we had been putting them in the pictures for years and years that I found myself absently wondering who was staging the scene.” The front lines were lacking in visual impact. “Everyone is hidden away in ditches. As you look out over No-Man’s Land, there is literally nothing that meets the eye but an aching desolation of nothingness. At first you are horribly disappointed. There is nothing but filth and dirt and the most soul-sickening smells. The soldiers are standing sometimes almost to their hips in ice-cold mud.

Griffith – gas alarm 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

“It is too colossal to be dramatic. No one can describe it. You might as well try to describe the ocean or the milky way. A very great writer could describe Waterloo. But who could describe the advance of Haig? No one saw it. No one saw a thousandth part of it.”

Griffith’s disappointment with the war reflected his inability to capture any more than a fleeting impression of it. By this point, artillery bombardments and mortar shelling occurred intermittently around the clock, but the kind of action Griffith hoped for—”the dash and thrill of wars of other days”—tended to take place at night.

Griffith and the Great War 2

This is pure conjecture, but so much mystery surrounds the film that I feel obliged to make a few assumptions. Once Griffith had realized the difficulty of shooting at the front, he abandoned interest in it. His remarks to Carr suggest that he was justifying to himself his work of reconstruction—the real thing, after all, had proved indistinguishable from his inspired guesswork. There was no respect for documentary per se in those days, therefore why should he not reconstruct all the action scenes at his leisure, when he could lavish his customary care on each scene?

The reason advanced by Griffith for returning to France was to make use of the devastation; yet Russell Merritt has found evidence that the War Office offered Griffith the kind of ruins he needed in England. So why the second trip to France?

DW Griffith shooting a scene from The Great Love 1918

If it was for authentic backgrounds, why did they not appear more often in the final film? Only a few brief shots were taken in France. A cable from Griffith to Zukor refers to $5,000 paid to the French for “facilities,” which may explain why Griffith did not shoot the entire film on the locations described in the story. I put forward the suggestion that the trip to France with the cast was the equivalent of the trip round the trenches; the idea of it gave the film a reputation for authenticity, and a veracity and dignity beyond all other war films. This is supported by the elaborate fiction given out by Griffith and his press agents, for example in a New York Times interview of 14 April 1918, which asserts that Bitzer, George Siegmann, George Fawcett, and the child, Ben Alexander, went to France, which they did not, and which describes the company sheltering from bombardment for four hours in a cellar and becoming the target of an air raid. Lillian Gish, in her book The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, gives as definitive an account of the trip as we are likely to have; she talks of shells falling “close enough to make us nervous.”

Hearts of the World

It is this lurid melodrama that acts as a barrier for modern audiences. George Siegmann’s attempt to rape Lillian Gish seems somewhat less important today than the mass slaughter raging outside. While Siegmann’s behavior would have aroused audiences of 1918 to a pitch of patriotic fury—and we must always remember that people reacted to films in those days far more intensely than we do today—sixty years later audiences are merely amused. But look at the scene. It is actually very cleverly directed. It begins as a game; Siegmann sees his opportunity, locks the door, and has a bit of fun with the girl. He leans back in a chair and traps her tiny figure with his legs. At this point, Siegmann plays the scene amusingly, and his jack- booted horseplay fits his character. He is transformed to door-battering fury not by his inability to rape Miss Gish, but by the more serious matter of enemy infiltration. Bobby Harron, a French soldier in German uniform, has penetrated the building, an officer has been killed, and Siegmann’s desperation is thus dramatically legitimate.

Lillian in the hands of a German … (Hearts of The World)

Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, according to Russell Merritt, was horrified by the scenes of German brutality, and she conveyed her feelings, which undoubtedly coincided with those of her husband, directly to Griffith. He sent a lengthy telegram: “Spent a sleepless night and troubled day, trying to think why the play has made such an effect on you.” He blamed his excesses on the fact that the public was “a very stolid, hard animal to move or impress. We must hit hard to touch them.” Nevertheless, he agreed to eliminate a couple of scenes so that his film would “hit the masses” but would not offend “the refined and sensitive spirits such as yourself. Otherwise I shall be a very disappointed, broken individual, for my hopes and my work and prayers have been so bound up in this that, unless it is pleasing in your household, I feel that everything has been in vain.” Mrs. Wilson’s criticism evidently led to the reshooting of the scene in which the German soldier whipped Lillian Gish.

Lillian Gish witnessing her mother’s death in the Hearts of The World

Griffith must have been particularly hurt by Mrs. Wilson’s reaction since he despised the pro-war propaganda pictures and was aiming at a much more elevated kind of film. Melodrama apart, the picture has some admirable scenes. Griffith never falls into the trap of romanticizing war. There are no false heroics, and the horrors of war are shown as powerfully as possible. “War’s gift to the common people” declares a title before scenes of panic and evacuation in the village. Lillian Gish’s old father refuses to leave his home. A shell explodes on the house. When Miss Gish rushes back to search for him, Griffith makes us flinch, even today, with a brief flash of the old man’s body-blown in half. And the audience has to share Lillian Gish’s agony at the death of her mother-a most moving performance- and her delirious state when she celebrates what should have been her wedding night. She finds out where Bobby Harron’s company has been fighting, and by the light of the moon, she runs out to join him. When she finds him, he is apparently dead. Wrapping herself in her wedding dress against the cold, she gently presses her body against his and joins him in sleep.

Hearts of The World – Lillian Gish with the girl’s most precious possession – her wedding dress

It is the sense of authenticity that makes the film so compelling, and yet there is very little that is authentic. The village is compounded of parts of Stanton, near Broadway, Worcestershire, and Shere, in Surrey, together with back-lot construction in Hollywood (on the old Intolerance set). The close-combat scenes resemble Gettsysburg more than Verdun. Worse still, the child, Benny Alexander, remains the same age throughout the entire four years of war. But for much of the film, it takes an expert to distinguish the reconstruction from the actuality material. Griffith included documentary scenes that are now beyond price. Almost shyly, he begins the film with a title begging the audience’s indulgence for his unusual prologue. “It has no possible interest except to vouch for the rather unusual event of an American producer being allowed to take pictures on an actual battlefield.” Griffith is shown in the trench at Cambrin, and at Number io Downing Street; Lloyd George shakes Griffith’s hand, wishing him “great success for his picture.” (He was actually saying goodbye on the day Griffith left for the United States!) “Apologies and thanks,” says a title. “The picture follows.”

Hearts Of The World Press Book – The Bride Gish – searching on the battlefield for her lover (Robert Harron)

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Reel America and World War I – by Craig W. Campbell (1985)

  • Reel America and World War I : a comprehensive filmography and history of motion pictures in the United States, 1914-1920
  • Reel America and World War I
  • A Comprehensive Filmography and History of Motion Pictures in the United States, 1914-1920 by  Craig W. Campbell
  • ® 1985 Craig W. Campbell. All rights reserved
  • Printed in the United States of America
  • McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640
Hearts of The World

From 1914 to 1920, movies developed into an important element of the mass American culture. Movie-going became part of the entertainment habits of the public, and film increasingly became a factor in business and government activity. The reality of World War I accentuated the popularity of the cinema as the producers catered to the audience’s interest in seeing images relating to the conflict. As the nation moved toward participation in the war, motion pictures presented various viewpoints in filmmakers’ attempts both to shape and to follow public attitudes toward the ongoing struggle. After American entry the nation’s film industry was utilized as an arm of the government propaganda effort, aiding in the creation of support for the war, eventually catering to and encouraging a hysterical patriotic response.

Hearts of The World

Over the Top

Griffith had accepted a commission from the British government to make a movie for the Allied cause. Sailing to England, and from there making two trips to France, he used footage filmed overseas, purchased some German documentary film, and shot most scenes in Hollywood for the finished product. Starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Robert Harron, along with a large cast, the film centers on the romance between two youths of American-families living in France, and war’s interruption and destruction of their happiness. Three versions of the film were prepared, one for each nation’s business, subtitles identifying the principals as either American, British or French.

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

As a prologue, Griffith includes footage shot of his visit to a trench at the front and of his shaking hands goodbye with Prime Minister Lloyd George, the latter captioned as Lloyd George’s wishing him success on the venture. Opening with the title “God help the next nation to make war for conquest and greed,” the film has a prewar German agent/tourist visiting the village in France. He is described as “Sometime finger to the mailed fist,” while the Kaiser is “The shadow of war’s ideal of all races and time.” The war itself is “The struggle of Civilization.” Scenes recreate the British Parliament cheering in support of French and Belgian neutrality, and the cheering French Chamber of Deputies as the nation goes to war. Yelling Germans on the attack illustrate “War’s Old Song of Hate,” and precede scenes of killing, soldiers battling with bayonets, and “War’s Gift to the Common People,” the German destruction of the village and the flight of the refugees.

Hearts of The World

Lillian Gish as the heroine is put to work with other women in the fields by the Germans. She is unable to lift the baskets of crops onto a cart, and a German guard whips her mercilessly, blood running out of her mouth. Scenes of three small children in the cellar, where they exist in hiding and have buried their mother, are contrasted with a sequence of a German officer bacchanalia. The Hun officer later attempts to ravage the heroine, but is interrupted by the hero, who struggles with him; the fight ends when Lillian stabs the German. Hun trenches are bombed by the Allies, and “Happy Times” result when the Germans are vanquished and American troops free the village from enemy domination.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

Greeted by its initial Los Angeles audience with continuous applause and a rousing cheering ovation, the film was placed on the state rights market in May. By that time it was doing fine business in its bookings in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. It stayed for at least three months in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia; New York audiences were still patronizing the film in November. Twenty-five companies, each with an orchestra, were touring sections of the nation by mid-August. Michigan had five prints of the film working within the state in September; Detroit’s run lasted thirteen weeks. Describing the audience reaction, a theater manager in Atlanta, Georgia, stated, “I have never seen such enthusiasm displayed in a playhouse…. The people down here went wild. It was all we could do to keep many persons from standing in their seats.

Hearts of the World

Also becoming apparent was a sense of brutality, of a coarseness, perhaps reality, pervading the consciousness of the body politic in the wake of the war. While Lillian Gish had stabbed a German with a knife in Hearts of the World, Gladys Brockwell thrusts a sword in the back of the Mexican bandit villain of The Bird of Prey, a scene described by a reviewer as causing “shivers to run up and down your spine.”

Gushing briefly from a bayonet wound and flowing from Lillian Gish’s mouth in Hearts of the World, by the fall of 1918 blood was becoming more frequent. Dripping down the wall from the shots that rip through the heroine of Kultur, blood also drips at least twice in front of the camera in The Law of the North with Charles Ray.

Hearts of the World 1918 (D.W. Griffith, Inc.)12r. Dir.: D.W. Griffith; Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Dorothy Gish. Premiered in Los Angeles in March, opened in New York, Chicago and Boston in April, and on the state-rights market in May. American and French youths, in France, survive the German invasion and occupation, finding eventual happiness.

Note: Above illustrations are not part of Mr.Campbell’s book.

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America First To Hear Talk By Miss Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1941)

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 1 Apr 1941, Tue · Page 1

America First Rally Today To Hear Talk By Miss Lillian Gish

Miss Lillian Gish, stage and screen star, and Gen. Thomas S. Hammond, former head of the Illinois National Guard, will address an antiwar luncheon rally today at 1 p.m. in the Grand ballroom of the Hotel Sherman. The rally is sponsored by the first Chicago chapter of the America First committee.

Both Miss Gish and Gen. Hammond advocated the entry of the United States into war in 1917, but are now convinced that the participation in the present European conflict would bring dictatorship and financial collapse.

Miss Gish, who starred in British propaganda films which helped to draw the United States into the first world war, will describe propaganda technique again being used by the British and American governments. Gen. Hammond, chairman of the Illinois America First committee, will discuss the economic peril to America if the nation goes to war.

Mrs. Janet Ayer Fairbank, national vice chairman of the America First committee will preside. All the 55 state chapters are expected to send representatives to the luncheon.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

Miss Gish’s Argument

“Why not bring freedom of speech and religion, freedom from fear and want, to our own land before we set out to bring them to other lands by letting the people of the United States, who will have to pay, decide by vote on the issue of war?” Miss Gish asked. “If there is any foresight or justice in Washington, the question will be put to a vote.

“In 1936 I voted for Mr. Roosevelt. I didn’t vote in the last election, however, because I felt that both candidates were more interested in other countries than their own. We won the last war, but what did we get out of it? Three hundred forty-six thousand dead and wounded, an over-all cost of 45 billion, prohibition with its attendant hypocrisy, lawlessness, gangsters, ten thousand bank failures and a depression from which we have not yet recovered.

 “Now is a good time for us to recall George Washington’s words – that the nation which holds toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave – a slave to its animosity or its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interests.”

WWII Scribners COMMENTATOR Magazine 1941 War Propaganda

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Mother of Miss Gish (Chicago Tribune 1941)

Mother of Miss Gish

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 10 January 1941, Friday · Page 17

Probably the last Christmas tree in Chicago to be taken down is that of Miss Lillian Gish, in her apartment at the Blackstone hotel. The tree, hung with ornaments and webbed in silver mist, the holly wreaths, the Christmas angels on the mantelpiece, and the Christmas candles go down today with the departure of Mrs. Gish for New York after a holiday visit with her daughter here in her long run of Life With Father.

Lillian Gish, Mrs. Robinson (Gish) and Dorothy after Mother had a stroke – press photo taken on the roof top of their apartment in NY

Mrs. Gish, who with her dazzling white hair and deep blue eyes is reminiscent of a Dresden figurine, is an invalid as a result of shell shock in the world war, when she accompanied her daughters, Lillian and Dorothy, to the war area, where they made propaganda pictures under the direction of David Wark Griffith. She lost 35 pounds during the stay in the war zone, and has been invalided ever since.

Lillian and Mrs. Gish sailed for England on the first boat to cross the Atlantic after America had declared war, the St. Louis. Dorothy Gish sailed later on the Baltic, the same boat that carried Gen. Pershing and his staff overseas, and took 13 days to do it.

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

“Think of any one having the courage to face the movie camera,” the commander of the A.E.F. said to Miss Gish.

Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

The Gishes were in London during two months of heavy bombardment. In September they sailed for France on a troop transport that started out twice and returned because of floating mines. Griffith had gone ahead to get into production, and when the two Gish girls arrived with their mother they went into the war area and made pictures in trenches and beyond the barbed wire. During their stay in Paris they lived with a French family in a bomb shelter, and learned to tell by the sound of the motors overhead what kind of plane and which country’s it was. The pictures made were Hearts of the World, The Greatest Thing in Life, and The Great Love. Remember?

Hearts of the World program – Little Disturber

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Boost Shop to Aid War Sufferers (Chicago Tribune 1940)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 23, 1940 – Page 15

Boost Shop to Aid War Sufferers

Miss Lillian Gish and Mrs. Ernest A. Hamill II. With a Toby jug that Mrs. Robert J. Dunham donated to the shop for the British War Relief society that decorators and architects of Chicago will open today. The jug will bring a considerable sum, no doubt, for it was made in 1780 by Ralph Wood, English potter. Miss Gish will assist in the shop late this afternoon.

Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 23, 1940 – Page 15

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“The Enemy” Pros and Cons (Chicago Tribune 1928)

Chicago Tribune – Sunday, April 22, 1928 – Page 91

Film Depicts War Minus the Glamour

“The Enemy”

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Directed by Fred Niblo, Presented at the Chicgo theater tomorrow.

The Cast:

  • Pauli Arndt …………..………… Lillian Gish
  • Carl Behrend ………………. Ralph Forbes
  • Bruce Gordon ………….. Ralph Emerson
  • Professor Arndt ……….…. Frank Currier
  • August Behrend ….….. George Fawcett
  • Mitzi Winkelmann …… Fritzi Ridgeway
  • Fritz Winkelmann ……… John S. Peters
  • Jan …………………….…………….. Karl Dane
  • Baruska …………….…………. Polly Moran
  • Kurt …………….………. Billy Kent Shaefer

By Mae Tinee

Director Fred Niblo (left) Lillian Gish (center) – The Enemy – behind the scenes

Good Morning:

And now comes “The Enemy” to put its influence on the side of the outlawry of war. The picture, adapted from Channing Pollock’s play, does not have war outlawry as its subject, but it’s portrayal of Hate as “the enemy”; its argument that profiteering and not patriotism is, in the last analysis, the spirit behind the wars of nations, makes strong food for the thoughtful.

Again one sees gallant youth marching to death on bloody battlefields for “God and country.” So many boys! So many countries! Only one God, to whom all are praying for aid and vengeance! And safe and snug at home – the profiteers! – crooning exultant lullabies to their war babies. That is what “The Enemy” is about. The action takes place in Austria, before, during and after the world war. With the exception of a few instances in which the director became rather awkwardly entangled with his material, Mr. Niblo has made his picture a telling one that whams the author’s meaning home with force and pain.

Lillian Gish and Ralph Forbes – The Enemy

The Story is Laid in Vienna.

The principal characters are Pauli, a gentle German maiden, daughter of an old university professor, dearly beloved by the student lads who come to Vienna to study from every other country in the world. A kindly philosopher is Prof. Arndt; a believer in all the powerfulness of love …

Pauli; the professor – then Carl Behrend, the German youth who has been Pauli’s sweetheart from babyhood; Bruce Gordon, an English student and Carl’s best friend, who also loves Pauli, and August Behrend, Carl’s father, the profiteer.

The other players are important asides, but the ones named bear the brunt of the story on their shoulders.

On the eve of the war the student body of the university at Vienna breaks class. There is an atmosphere of great good fellowship and later, at dinner at Pauli’s, the love of Pauli and Carl is wholeheartedly toasted and by none more cordially by Bruce Gordon who has accepted the fact that Pauli can never be his.

Into this gathering, like a bomb bursting in the air, comes the announcement that war has been declared. Bitter argument starts that ends in a fight between the students. Bruce leaves to serve his country.

Pauli and Carl are married – the music of their wedding march broken in upon by strains of martial music as the soldiers march to the front. And Pauli spends a sleepless wedding night, her anguished eyes on the clock that soon will strike the hour of five when her husband must leave her, perhaps forever.

Lillian Gish, Ralph Forbes, Fritzi Ridgeway, Frank Currier, George Fawcett, John S. Peters – Wedding scene – The Enemy

War, as It Was Behind the Lines.

After that the picture shows war as it was at home while the guns on the battle front were taking their toll. Starvation. Suffering of all kinds.

Pauli’s father is dismissed from the university because of pacifist utterances, and the Arndts and their devoted maid, Baruska, know utter poverty. Behrend, the profiteer, offers money that is refused.

“It is stained with the blood of women and children. The price for a corner in wheat. And you call yourself a patriot!” says Arndt.

“It is war,” says Behrend, shrugging, and takes his departure.

I need to go no further into detail regarding events that cause Pauli to make a good woman’s ultimate sacrifice in order that her baby may have milk; her terrible joy when it dies; or the fighter incident of the parrot who cries, once too often “Hurrah for the glory of war!” at a time when something is needed to strengthen the soup.

Nor of course, do you care to know about the ending.

Lillian Gish – promotional for “The Enemy”

As Pauli, Miss Gish has (I believe) her first modern role. Her characters have always lived in the past – Hester Prynne, Mimi, Romola, Annie Laurie … Personally I prefer her in portrayals of femmes of an earlier day. She is fundamentally, the most unmodern person in the world and is no more to be brought up-to-date than a crinoline. Her Pauli was, to me, somewhat of a ghost lady, to be approved  of and pitied in shadowy fashion. A ghost lady whose troubles chill the heart like a cold mist but are incapable of awakening that heart to strong, passionate, protesting response. She may affect you differently, but that’s how I felt about her. ***

Ralph Forbes you will find lovable and convincing, as is Ralph Emerson – great nephew, by the way, of the Emerson who has meant so much to so many of us.

Frank Currier is a dear as the professor, and George Fawcett a devil as the profiteer. Polly Moran and Polly the parrot contribute bits of needed mirth. And maybe you will care more for the others in the cast than I did.

Intelligent thought has been given stagings and the picture is excellently photographed. It is a production you will not lightly forget.

Lillian Gish and Ralph Forbes in “The Enemy” (MGM, 1927)

*** Admin note: Below are written some of the opinions of others, well known others, who indeed were affected by Miss Gish’s performance somewhat different than Miss Tinee here. Also if one cares to read more detailed and well documented reviews of above mentioned film, kindly access the home page and search for “The Enemy” (upper right corner)

“Although Miss Gish’s acting is on her own familiar lines, she has, as always, that valuable asset of restraint. Fred Niblo, who was responsible for the film version of “Ben Hur,” does not display in his direction any great imagination in the handling of the players nor in the continuity of action.” (Mordaunt Hall – NY Times)

“Lillian Gish ceases to be the ethereal goddess. She is an every-day woman who sacrifices her man, her child and finally her honor, for the necessity rather than glory of battle. As the Austrian bride of an Austrian soldier she proves that she is a really great actress. Her love scenes with Ralph Forbes are superb with genuine emotion; her sufferings as realistically tragic as though she had lived behind the German trenches.” (Photoplay – The Shadow Stage)

“Lillian Gish A Hit in her First Big Modern Role” (Loew’s Ohio Newsette UA 1928)

“Most of the interest goes to Lillian Gish, who never has done a more honest bit of acting. It is earnest, sincere, and save where the author grows over hysterical, convincing. It rises superior to her “Hester Prynne” and atones for “Annie Laurie.” (MOVING PICTURE WORLD December 31, 1927)

“The star is Lillian Gish and, as is her custom, she acts with fine poise and restraint and yet releases an admirable suggestion of pent-up emotions.” (Laurence Reid – Motion Picture News – December 31, 1927)

“Lillian Gish comes to the Strand theatre in her first modern role on the screen. Heretofore the famous star has always lived in the past, so far as her plays were concerned; in fact, it was often held that her type of wistful appeal could only be brought out in period plays and stories harking back to the days of long ago. But in “The Enemy,” she is even more effectively dramatic as a modern woman than even as a Romola or Mimi or Hester Prynne.” (San Pedro News Pilot, Volume I, Number 98, 27 June 1928)

“Beneath her frail exterior, Lillian Gish conceals an indomitable spirit and unshakable courage and willpower. Long ago, when she left D. W. Griffith’s direction, disaster was predicted. Few believed that she could stand alone, away from the man under whose guiding genius she had risen to the first rank of screen stars. But Lillian was no Trilby, to collapse when Svengali’s spell was removed. She determined to show a critical world that she had brains of her own and could use them. She made her first independent film, and to-day Lillian still ranks amongst the first-class stars.” (Picture Show Annual – 1929)

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Miss Gish Finds West Panicky at Talk of Air Raid (Chicago Tribune 1941)

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday, December 23, 1941 – Page 5

Miss Gish Finds West Panicky at Talk of Air Raid

Tells of Blackout System on California Coast.

Fear of raid attacks on the west coast has caused a rapid exodus to inland America, Lillian Gish, the actress, said here yesterday.

So strong is the movement that travelers find it difficult to get reservation on eastbound trains, Miss Gish said. She paused in Chicago on her way to spend Christmas in New York with her mother.

Reports Coast in Panic.

“The California coast is in panic,” she said. “They are expecting air raids hourly. Eddie Rickenbacker says that while raids are not impossible, they are improbable and impracticable, and I think he should know, but no one else thinks so.”

In general, she said people go about their business as usual, but all windows are blacked out with paint, a nightly blackout is observed, and no one ventures abroad after 6 p.m. This latter rule entails a 4:45 p.m. closing of shops and offices.

When she got of the Santa Fe Chief, Miss Gish, a slim, little figure dressed in plum from head to toe and wearing the new long skirt [8 inches from the floor] which she termed “dowdy,” found herself greeted by a tumultuous crowd.

Chicago Almost a Second Home.

“After all,” she said in laughing explanation, “Chicago is almost mu second home. I was here so long in ‘Life With Father’ that I feel I know everyone here.”

She recalled that the young, read-headed actor, O.Z. Whitehead, who played the role of Clarence Day Jr. in that play, enlisted in the army the day the United Stated declared war on Japan. “He’s 40 pounds under weight,” she said of young Zebby, as he was known here when he spoke for the America First committee, “but he’s at San Pedro now.”

Miss Gish said that her two weeks in California were spent visiting Mary Pickford at her estate, Pickfair, in Beverly Hills, and consulting with Paramount for the proposed filming of “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” She is being considered for the title role.

Disagrees on Portrayal.

“But,” she said, “I can’t see Mrs. Wiggs played as an old woman, and they do. Maybe eventually they will decide the mother of a 12 year old son doesn’t have to be fat, old, and decrepit, but if they are looking for a Marie Dressler in me they are not looking up the right street.”

“I’d like to do something like Mrs. Wiggs, a story of goodness and kindness in America,” she added frankly.

“We’re fed up with hate. When people go to the movies now, they want surcease from it. But I haven’t been on the screen for 10 years. To go back as an old woman might hurt me professionally.”

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