The sad story of “The Gish Film Theater”

The sad story of “The Gish”, victim of ignorance, politics (money) and hatred


Posted By: David Dupont October 18, 2016


BG Independent News

The theater in Hanna Hall faces relocation as Bowling Green State University makes plans to convert the 95-year-old building into a new home for the College of Business Administration. That would mean the removal of the theater, its affiliated gallery and the Wolfe video collection and viewing room from Hanna Hall. University officials have promised to find a new home for the facility on campus. Wolfe, who is the founder and curator of the theater, said that he’s been told the theater would move into the theater space now in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. But that would not have room for the collections of memorabilia and the video collection, he said.

“The theater space in the student union can in no way rival the aesthetics of this space and will not have the gallery documenting the history of American film,” Wolfe said.

He said he saw no contradiction in the theater remaining after Hanna Hall becomes the home for the College of Business, given the film industry is so large. Lillian Gish herself has visited the venue four times, first in 1976 when it was first named for her and her sister, and the last time in 1982 when the lobby and gallery space was dedicated, Wolfe said. At that time, Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint also attended, the first time she’d returned to campus since her graduation in 1947.

James Frazer, Gish’s manager, who was the special guest for the occasion, said she was proud of the theater at BGSU. He traveled around the world with her as she promoted her view of American film, and that vision lives on in the theater. “This gives the right impression to the world.”

The Gish Film Theater Hanna Hall – View from the projection room

University spokesman Dave Kielmeyer said that the student union is an option for the new location of the theater, but plans have not been finalized. He said it would be spring before any further plan on Hanna Hall is presented to the board of trustees. The celebration included a talk by Frazer about his career which began with a teenage infatuation with an actress, led to playing kid parts in Westerns, and culminated decades later with his affiliation with Gish. He traveled with her around the globe where she made presentations. It was at one of those in 1971 at then Findlay College where Wolfe, a professor of English at BGSU, first met the legendary actress. She and her sister were born in Springfield, and she made her stage debut in Risingsun, before her mother moved her and her sister to New York, where the mother pursued acting, followed by her daughters.

Shortly after seeing Gish in Findlay, Wolfe approached then BGSU president Hollis Moore about awarding an honorary degree to Gish. When the auditorium in Hanna Hall was renovated in 1976 to support the new film studies program, he recommended it be named for Gish. The trustees agreed if Gish would attend the dedication. Wolfe reached her through Frazer. Gish said she was honored, but would be more honored if the theater was named for her sister as well.

She visited BGSU for the first time for the dedication and to receive an honorary doctorate. She returned the campus three more times, the last occasion in 1982.

The Gish space expanded as programs were moved out of the building. The Wolfe viewing center was opened in 2009.

An endowment, which was started with $500,000 in private donations including many from some of the biggest names in Hollywood, was established to support programming. Wolfe noted programming at the theater is free, as Gish wanted, and now includes three film series. Proceeds from the endowment were also used to create the viewing center which has a collection of video cassette recordings donated by Wolfe.

The celebration included the showing a tape of the broadcast of the ceremony in which Gish received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, where she was honored not just for her acting, but her business acumen and her dedication to film preservation. Now it falls to Wolfe and his supporters to try to preserve the theater that bears her name.

Gish 1 X Theater



Bowling Green State University is making final preparations for the transformation of Hanna Hall into the Robert W. and Patricia A. Maurer Center, the new home for the College of Business.

A transformational gift from the Maurers of Bowling Green provided major support for the new facility that will bear their names in recognition of their longtime service and generosity to BGSU.

The $44.5 million renovation and expansion will include high-tech classrooms, an atrium gathering place, a student success center, a café and a wide range of meeting areas and other amenities to keep BGSU at the forefront of educating business students.

Construction will begin in fall 2018.

In preparation, the current occupants of the building – the Department of Geography, the Gish Film Theater and the Women’s Center – will be relocated to new homes at the end of the current academic year. According to Provost and Senior Vice President Rodney Rogers, the geography department will move to Hayes Hall to be closer to the Department of Geology, which along with the Department of the Environment and Sustainability makes up the School of Earth, Environment and Society. Eventually the entire school will be brought together. The Gish Film Theater will be moved to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Theater. The theater will continue to recognize the contributions of Ohio actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish with a display featuring photographs and other items from Lillian Gish’s estate. The rest of the Gish collection will be housed in University Libraries.



“This project allows us to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students while honoring the legacy of the Gish sisters,” Rogers said. “Moving the theater to the center of campus will highlight the Gishes’ contribution to early film for our students and the community.”

In addition, a lecture hall in Olscamp Hall will be updated to meet the teaching and learning needs of the University’s film program. The remodeled classroom and group viewing space will be named for Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe, replacing the current center in Hanna Hall.

Over his 50-year affiliation with BGSU, Wolfe, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Gish Professor of Film Studies, championed film studies and was instrumental in the establishment of the Gish Film Theater. The BGSU Board of Trustees approved the naming of the viewing center in his honor in 2009. BGSU announced last spring that the Women’s Center will also be moving to the center of campus to Hayes Hall— a more prominent location for a center that serves students, faculty and staff across the University. Once completed in the summer of 2020, the Maurer Center will create an active space for faculty, students and business professionals to engage, collaborate and grow. Accessible interior spaces will promote interaction while classrooms, labs, offices and collaboration spaces will encourage spontaneous learning.

Provost – Rodney Rogers stated in the release: “This project allows us to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students while honoring the legacy of the Gish sisters. Moving the theater to the center of campus will highlight the Gishes’ contribution to early film for our students and the community.”



In response to Wolfe’s concerns, Rogers stated: “We appreciate Dr. Wolfe’s longtime passion and contributions to the Gish Film Theater and the Gish collection, which have brought tremendous recognition to the University. We look forward to his continued involvement and counsel as we transition the theater and collection to their new homes.”


Posted By: David Dupont September 24, 2017


BG Independent News

Ralph Wolfe, the founder and, until recently, the curator of the Gish Film Theater, has mixed feelings about the venue’s move from its home in Hanna Hall.

“I am grateful for the preservation of the Gish sisters name and the fact that there will be a theater on campus,” he said.

The Gish Theater will be moved to the theater space in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Some of the memorabilia of the Gish sisters, now in the Gish lobby, will be displayed in the space. Other items will be sent to the Jerome Library. Wolfe said that through his efforts BGSU has the largest collection of Gish sister memorabilia anywhere other than California and New York.

This and other details of the administration’s plans are the source of Wolfe’s disappointment.

The university plans to renovate a room in Olscamp Hall to be used for film studies and take the place of the Ralph Wolfe Viewing Center, which contains a collection of more than 3,000 video cassettes and DVDs. The room will be named in Wolfe’s honor.

He’s also concerned what will happen to the commemorative seats that recognize donors to efforts to fund the theater and its $500,000 endowment. Wolfe said he was not consulted about the arrangements. “I had no involvement whatsoever.”

Describing the approach as “top-down management.”

Also last year, the title of curator of the Gish, which had been bestowed on him in 1982 by President Paul Olscamp at the initiation of the BGSU Foundation, was not approved. He was never told why. On Friday Bowling Green State University issued a press release outlining where programs now in Hanna Hall will be relocated as the 96-year-old building undergoes renovation and expansion to become the Maurer Center, the new home for the College of Business.

The Women’s Center and the Geography Department will move to Hayes Hall. (Story here.)


2018, The Beginning of … The End

Posted By: David Dupont September 21, 2017

Confusion and miscommunication have plagued the renovations of Hanna Hall and the relocation of the Gish Film Theater. As part of the University’s plans to update the interiors of its “traditions” buildings, Hanna Hall is scheduled to receive interior remodels, possible additions to the structure and the relocation of the College of Business into the building. Ralphe Wolfe, the curator at the Gish, said he was left out of the loop when the decision was made to renovate Hanna Hall. Wolfe spoke with Mazey in September 2015 and told her he had no idea the renovation was occurring. He said Mazey told him he was “out of town” at the time.

“I thought, ‘I do have a cell phone and an email address’…so it was kind of sprung upon me,” Wolfe said.
He was originally under the impression that the theater would be worked around as the rest of Hanna Hall was prepared for the College of Business. He said the original plan was for the College of Business to have a new building, but President Mazey was unable to raise funding.


The Gish Theater

Named for the sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish, renowned actresses who began their careers during the era of silent film, the Gish Film Theater was opened for film instruction in 1975.

“(The Gish) has been the center for all of film culture since the 1970s,” said Cynthia Baron, a professor in the theater and film department.

The sisters were originally from Ohio and began their acting career in Rising Sun, Ohio in Wood County. Wolfe himself worked with Lillian to garner her support for her and her sister’s namesake.

“I realized…she’s an Ohio native and she began her career in Rising Sun…so I thought this (was) a great historical connection,” Wolfe said.

Currently, the construction plans are to relocate the Gish to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, to a theater on the second floor.

“The board in the February (2017) meeting will be considering a renovation and an addition to Hanna Hall…but it will require the relocation of the Gish Theater,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Rodney Rogers. Rogers said the traditions buildings have never had a full-scale renovation such as they are receiving now, and were long due for the attention.



“As we’ve looked around at various choices, it seemed like putting (the Gish) in the Union made a great deal of sense because we have the outline of a theater now,” said Rogers.

However, this has raised concerns among the theater and film department, especially for Wolfe and Baron.

“(The Union theater) is used for a whole range of other events…things that are connected to what’s happening in the ballroom,” said Baron. “I’m not seeing how this is going to work out very well.”

Baron also said it is one of the few remaining locations with a single screen that is necessary for screening films. The theater in the Union, she said, is “radically” different from the Gish, in regards to their physical layout. Wolfe expressed concern at the handicapped accessibility and whether or not there would be room for the organ and piano used to accompany the silent film screenings.



Rogers admitted some renovations to the Union theater would need to be done to accommodate both the new and old technology used to screen current and silent films.

“I might believe that having it in the Union, it’ll be higher profile because a lot more people come to the Union…than, perhaps, Hanna Hall,” Rogers said.

Despite understanding the need for the updates in Hanna Hall, Baron still expressed concerns that the students in the film and theater department, specifically the student filmmakers, were not being considered.I do know that the students are extremely distressed,” said Baron. “They feel like their home is being taken away from them.

Wolfe said the Union theater also does not have the historical significance of the Gish, as Lillian Gish had visited when the theater was first dedicated to her. The theater in Hanna Hall is home to a museum of sorts that showcases pictures, objects and movie posters associated with the Gish sisters and their film careers. Rogers said some of the museum would certainly be on display in the Union, but the rest of it would be in the archives in the Jerome Library as well as in the Brown Pop Culture Library.

The individual seats in the Gish were also dedicated to donors who helped fund the Gish, some with well-known names like Sally Fields and Tom Hanks.

Baron said she thought the donors who helped fund the theater would be particularly upset by the relocation, but the “University (did) not want those people contacted.”

While the Gish would be converted for the College of Business, Rogers said he hoped the new “location might bring (more) notoriety.”

But this has not put Baron’s or Wolfe’s minds to rest.

We are not consulted,” said Baron.

“(Mazey) wanted to have a campaign to raise money for a new building, she didn’t get it,” said Wolfe. “And so, her failure trumps my success in here.”




Eva Marie Saint to help dedicate new Gish Theater


BGSU alumna and Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint will return to campus as part of the celebration of the re-opening of the Gish Film Theater—the newly renovated cinema now located in 206 Bowen-Thompson Student Union, Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m.

The original Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall was dedicated in 1976 to honor the achievements of Ohio natives Dorothy and Lillian Gish, renowned actresses of the stage and screen. The evening will include a reception at 6 p.m. and a special appearance by Saint, who appeared with Lillian Gish in the classic television movie, “The Trip to Bountiful. “

— David Dupont, BG Independent News



Gish name for venerable BGSU venue challenged


First it was moved from its original location, and now the Gish Film Theater may lose its name.

In a message today (Feb. 20) to the university community, Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers said that concerns have been raised about the theater being named in part after actress Lillian Gish, whose extensive credits on film, stage, and television, include starring in “Birth of a Nation.”

The 1915  film by D.W. Griffith celebrates the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and is cited as a factor of the revival of the Klan in the early 20th century.

Last week, he wrote, members of the Black Student Union approached the administration “about the propriety of the naming.”



In his statement, Rogers wrote: “The film … is widely recognized as racist and discriminatory, advancing and inflaming the prejudicial stereotypes of the time period. The controversial film and its commercial success is believed to have helped revive the Ku Klux Klan. … I can unequivocally affirm that the values and the views expressed in the film do not align with those of Bowling Green State University.”

The Black Student Union will host a town hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in 210 Mathematical Sciences Building to discuss the issue.

The theater was named for Gish in 1976 after the auditorium in Hanna Hall was transformed as a home for the university’s growing film program.

Lillian Gish visited at that time, the first of four visits to campus. She had  insisted that the theater be named for her sister, Dorothy, also a renowned actress. The Gish sisters were born in Springfield, Ohio, to an actress and made their stage debuts in Risingsun. All this seemed good reason to English Professor Ralph Wolfe  for the theater to be named for them. Wolfe was the guiding light behind the development of the theater and opposed moving to make way for the Maurer Center, which will be the home for the College of Business.

Rogers said he has asked Dean Ray Craig, of the College of Arts and Sciences, to lead a task force of students, faculty, staff and “other University stakeholders” to make recommendation before the Board of Trustees meeting in May.

A rededication ceremony scheduled to be held March 29 will not be held “so we can explore these issues,” David Kielmeyer, university spokesman said. BGSU graduate and Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint was to participate in the event. Saint and Lillian Gish performed together in the television version of “The Trip to Bountiful.”

Kielmeyer said: “We are currently finalizing details for another event, featuring Eva Marie Saint and our students, to take place on March 29 in the Wolfe Center for the Performing Arts. Seating for the event will be limited. We’ll provide more details soon.”


Eva Marie Saint cancels trip to BGSU




An Evening with Eva Marie Saint, scheduled for Friday, March 29, has been cancelled.

Dean Raymond Craig of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a notice addressed to Friends of BGSU Arts that: “Ms. Saint regrets that she will not be traveling to Bowling Green State University this spring.”

The Academy Award winning actress and graduate of BGSU was schedule to perform with students during the evening event.

Dave Kielmeyer, spokesman for the university, said that the change of plans was not related to the controversy over the name of the Gish Film Theatre. Plans for the event just were not coming along as well as the university would want, he said. “It’s as much on us.”

Saint’s appearance was originally scheduled as part of the rededication of the Gish Film Theatre in its new space in the Bowen Thompson Student Union. However, that was cancelled when members of the Black Student Union questioned the venue being named in part for Lillian Gish, who starred in “The Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 D.W. Griffith silent movie epic has been tied to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist depictions of African-Americans.



Updated 11:42 am CST, Saturday, March 2, 2019

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — The Black Student Union at an Ohio university is pushing the school’s president to rename a theater honoring an actress who starred in “The Birth of a Nation,” considered one of the most racist movies ever made.

The Toledo Blade reports Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater was named after actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish 40 years ago.

Lillian Gish starred in the 1915 black-and-white silent film, which served as a tribute to the Ku Klux Klan and helped revive the white supremacist group.

Black Student Union President Kyron Smith says the push to rename the little-used theater comes after its relocation to the student union.



University President Rodney Rogers says a task force of students, faculty and other stakeholders will make a recommendation for an immediate change.___


Information from: The Blade,


Black Student Union on Twitter - Hashtag - DITCH THE GISH
Black Student Union on Twitter – Hashtag – DITCH THE GISH, upper left corner a logo (fist combined with the map of Africa, colors Red-Green-Yellow)

Black Student Union on Twitter – Hashtag – DITCH THE GISH, upper left corner a logo (fist combined with the map of Africa, colors Red-Green-Yellow)



The university’s president, Rodney Rogers, released a statement Feb. 20 just hours before the school welcomed Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Opal Tometi, the leading key speaker for the university’s third annual “Beyond The Dream” series celebrating diversity and inclusion.



In his statement, Mr. Rogers said the administration had been approached by the university’s Black Student Union leaders regarding “the propriety of the naming.”

Black Student Union president Kyron Smith said it started with a Feb. 10 tweet, posted on the organization’s Twitter page.

BSU shows “The 13th” at the BTSU theater and then they change the name to the Gish Film Theater…

For more than 40 years, the theater has honored actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish. Members of the Black Student Union questioned the theater’s name because Lillian Gish is so well-known for starring in The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 silent-movie tribute to the Ku Klux Klan that is credited with reviving the white supremacist group.

The university had relocated the Gish Theater from its home of more than four decades in Hanna Hall to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union — a central hub for students on campus — and renamed the union theater the Gish Film Theater.

Many black students were aware of the name’s legacy, but it became more of a hot-button issue after the name was transferred from a “rarely visited” theater to the student union.

“We have always had an issue with the name, but it was an old building that was rarely visited. It being moved to the union is really just a slap in the face, at this point,” Mr. Smith said.

The initial tweet was followed by a formal email to President Rogers, and later, a conversation with the university president and faculty.

Following the meeting, Mr. Rogers issued a letter calling for students and faculty “to engage in dialogue, reflect, and work to understand the historical complexities of this naming.



“Many regard Ms. Gish as the greatest actress of the silent film era and may also argue that she should be judged by the totality of her work according to the values of the time in which she lived,” Mr. Rogers wrote. “However, I believe her close ties to [Director D.W.] Griffith and her involvement in The Birth of a Nation requires us to reassess the naming of the Gish Film Theater.”

A town hall meeting was held Feb. 21, hosted by the Black Student Union. Mr. Smith said the goal was to give students a platform to share ideas for a resolution. Although a few faculty members attended the meeting — originally intended for only students — the responses of both groups were insightful.

In closing, Mr. Rogers wrote that a task force of students, faculty and “other University stakeholders” will not only make a recommendation for immediate change, but also address the ways the university can “use this opportunity to better position” itself to “face similar issues.”

During his visit to BGSU last week, journalist and activist Shaun King implored the task force to change the name of the theater.

“I plead with that task force, don’t be dumb,” Mr. King said during his keynote speech during the Black Issues Conference. “Do your job. Do it methodically. Do it in the way you know it needs to be done. But get it right. To show the students on this campus that you value their emotional well being more than the history of this campus.”

Mr. King also encouraged students to continue pushing back.

“When there is a place on this campus that causes pain for some people to even step into the room — that’s not OK,” he said. “So start here. Make this place better. Make this campus better. Make Bowling Green better. Make Toledo better.”




The task force charged with looking into whether the name of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Theater  at Bowling Green State University should be changed is on track to present its report to university trustees when they convene in early May. At Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Joe Whitehead said that the task force is made up of six students and six faculty and staff.  The task force was assembled by Arts and Sciences Dean Raymond Craig.

Whitehead said the task force will “assess the impact of the naming on the campus and the community.” One key concern, he said, is to study the historical context of Gish’s career and her time as well as the context “of the time we live in.” Gish was a star in the silent film era, whose career continued on the stage, screen, and television. Throughout her life she advocated for an appreciation of silent movies and for film preservation.

Update: APRIL 3, 2019 – By David Dupont (BG Independent Media)

Meanwhile on Twitter:

BSU - Fight is not OVER


Black Student Union opposes Gish name in Union theatre

Black Student Union 2019 apr 7


Black Student Union Executive Board

Apr 7, 2019 Updated 9 hrs ago – BG Falcon Media

The Black Student Union at BGSU is an organization meant to represent the interests of Black students and other underrepresented communities to which Blackness is intersectionally affiliated. \   The Black Student Union does not in ANY WAY bear ill will toward the Gish Sisters OR their legacy in American cinema/film history. \    The new theater display is more visible, open and noticed. \   As a representative body, the Black Student Union’s OFFICIAL POSITION regarding the Gish Film Theater name is OPPOSED.

College Republicans recommend changing Gish Theater name

College Republicans Executive Board Apr 8, 2019 Updated 11 hrs ago

After speaking with the BSU and learning of their desire to change the name, we have decided to stand beside them in their efforts. This does not mean to imply that we wish to erase history; rather, we hope to reconcile with the past atrocities committed in our nation against African Americans.

Artist Joe Ann Cousino unveils her sculpture of Lillian Gish in March, 2007
Artist Joe Ann Cousino unveils her sculpture of Lillian Gish in March, 2007

Artist Joe Ann Cousino unveils her sculpture of Lillian Gish in March, 2007

Task force on Gish recommends renaming theater

BG Falcon Media

The Gish Film Theater, Hanna Hall – Miss Lillian Gish visits BGSU and The Gish Film Theater
The Gish Film Theater, Hanna Hall 2016
The Gish Film Theater – Hanna Hall
  1. “The reference to The Birth of a Nation and the images of Lillian Gish in the display area outside the theater contribute to an intimidating, even hostile, educational environment. The display, with its oversize images and text, are prominent in a well-used space and evoke the film and its racist legacy.”
  2. “The stereotypes of African Americans in The Birth of a Nation are offensive, and the film presents a white supremacist vision.”
  3. “Lillian Gish’s role in the film is central, and thus her image evokes and embodies the racism explicit in The Birth of a Nation.”
  • Stepha Poulin | Editor-in-Chief
  • Apr 21, 2019 Updated 8 hrs ago

Does BGSU have a (moral) right to keep in custody the “Gish” memorabilia?


BGSU task force recommends that Gish
Theater get a new name
BG Independent News (part of the article)

“Changing the name of the theater at BGSU will not erase film history, US cultural history, ‘Hollywood history,’ or the legacy of the Gish sisters.”

The Gish name will not be erased at BGSU. A scholarship given in her name, the honorary degree bestowed on her in 1976, and the archives of Gish material will remain.

Also, the task force calls for a display in the lobby of the theater or inside the venue that addresses the legacy of the Gish sisters  as well as the history of theater, including why it was renamed, and a discussion of the place “The Birth of Nation” holds in developing American attitudes toward race.

The task force said in particular it did not want to diminish Lillian Gish’s career. 

The entire article – link below:

BGSU task force recommends that Gish Theater get a new name – BG Independent News

And The Master, proud of his creation …

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 9:05 pm

By Roger LaPointe, Sentinel-Tribune Staff Writer


Closing out the statement of acceptance of the report, Rogers wrote “Building a just learning community requires effort and commitment by each of us. I’m proud of the way our community has come together to discuss and explore these issues in a thoughtful and respectful way.”

Standard answer sent to all letters addressed to Rodney Rogers
Standard answer containing THE TITLE of the orange poster placed at The Gish entrance (Thompson BGSU)

Standard answer containing THE TITLE of the orange poster placed at The Gish entrance (Bowen – Thompson BGSU)

The “Task Force”:

• Sacarra Bridgeforth, Undergraduate Student, Film
• Ana Brown, Interim Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Coordinator for Diversity and Retention Initiatives, Office of Residence Life, and Advisor to Latino Student Union
• Charis Hoard, Undergraduate Student, Black Student Union
• Dr. Lesa Lockford, Professor and Chair. Theatre and Film
• Laura Moore, Director of Stewardship (Ex-Officio)

• Daniel Ricken, Graduate Student, Theater
• Isaiah Smith, Undergraduate Student, Black Student Union
• Sadi Angel Trouche, Undergraduate Student, Latino Student Union
• Cali Vaugh, Undergraduate Student
• Daniel Williams, Associate Professor, Theatre and Film
• Michelle Sweetser, Head, Archival Collections

Go Back to Home Page

 Gish name gone from BGSU film theater


Gish name gone from BGSU film theater – BG Independent News


BG Independent News

The Gish name will be removed from the theater in Bowling Green State University’s student union.

The Board of Trustees today (Friday, May 3) acted on the recommendation of President Rodney Rogers. In making the recommendation Rogers was concurring with the findings of a report by a task force set up to studying the name of the film theater, which had until this fall, been located in Hanna Hall.

The Black Student Union challenged the name of the theater because Lillian Gish had a starring role in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation.” That silent film, set in the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction,  depicts African Americans in demeaning and dehumanizing ways and celebrates the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Based on the novel, “The Clansman,” the film played a role in the Klan’s revival and spread to the north. It was a blockbuster at the time.

The Black Student Union’s campaign to have the name changed, which included two town hall meetings on the issue, was sparked by the showing of the film “13th,” a  documentary film that explores the interrelationship of slavery, the regime of Jim Crow restrictions on blacks, racism, and the prison-industrial complex.

Kyle Thompson, vice president of the Black Student Union, talks with President Rodney Rogers
Kyle Thompson, vice president of the Black Student Union, talks with President Rodney Rogers


Lillian and Dorothy Gish’s legacy in film needs to be REMEMBERED and HONORED at Bowling Green State University and in their state of Ohio and the rest of the world, NOT ERASED!

Link for The Gish Theater Petition

Reasons For Signing The Petition for retaining the name of The Gish Theater

“When people have a medieval mindset and are living in the Dark Ages, there is little one can do to change them.”

“We didn’t even have a chance to present the petition signed by 526 individuals, including some very distinguished film historians, to retain the theater. We had reached the magic number of 500 by the first of May. I felt it should then be sent promptly to BGSU. On Thursday evening, I did write BGSU telling them the petition had gotten over 500 names including some very distinguished film historians and they would be getting it soon. I never heard back from them the next day, not even the standard reply they usually send out. Of course, for all I know, maybe my note of a forthcoming petition merely induced these moral cowards to hasten their insane decision without even giving a pretense of consideration. In any case, I think their minds were made up from the start and no petition would have ever persuaded them otherwise. After all, when people have a medieval mindset and are living in the Dark Ages, there is little one can do to change them. All one can do is try to build alternative structures that preserve the history and culture that latter-day barbarians are trying to tear down.”

Deadline for the petition was set to May 17.

Petition Supporters May 12, 2019

Petition Supporters May 12, 2019

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

The Gish Film Theater (1976 – 2018)

Toledo Blade, May 7, 2019

To the editor: BGSU should decline Gish money

The Bowling Green State University’s trustees have bowed to pressure from the Black Student Union and removed the Gish name from the theater’s marquee. Evidently the trustees and the Black Student Union don’t feel bad about keeping the money from a Gish Endowment and Scholarship program that supports film students and studies.

If they feel strongly enough to remove Gish name, they should stand strong with their beliefs and reject the endowment. That sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Perhaps the Gish Endowment Fund will voluntarily remove BGSU from it’s moral dilemma? I’m sure there is another institution that could [and would] proudly use that endowment to honor the Gish name.



BGSU missed the mark with Gish Film Theater


The Blade

Legendary actress Lillian Gish came of age, professionally speaking, when the big screen wasn’t so big, and movies were a technological wonder, even if they were black-and-white and silent.

And throughout her accomplished career of the screen and stage that followed, a span of nearly 75 of her 99 years, the Springfield, Ohio, native was beloved and acclaimed.

She received the best supporting actress Oscar for 1946’s Duel in the Sun, and an honorary Oscar in 1970 for “for lifetime achievements, exceptional contributions to motion picture arts and sciences, and outstanding service to the academy.”

In 1960, Gish, along with her younger sister Dorothy, was awarded a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. And in 1984, the American Film Institute honored Gish with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award, saying, “Her life and her work represent the finest traditions of the popular arts in this country.”

Those are impressive plaudits typically placed at or near the top of a resume and obituary. But in recent local news, the lede has been something else, as with this May 3 Blade story.

“The longstanding Gish Theater is no more.

“Bowling Green State University trustees [on May 3] voted 7-0 to remove the Gish name from the campus theater following student calls to do so …”

At issue is that a 21-year-old Gish was the costar of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 blockbuster long-praised for its landmark filmmaking techniques and for decades condemned as virulent racist propaganda. The movie had mostly been forgotten and rarely seen outside of universities, where it is a rite of passage for film students, much like Leni Riefenstahl’s brilliantly made but nauseating to watch 1935 documentary of Adolf Hitler, Triumph of the Will.

The Birth of a Nation’s Jekyll-Hyde duality was used to great effect last year by Spike Lee in his BlacKkKlansman. This, along with other not-so-favorable filmmaking tributes, brought awareness of Griffith’s work to a new generation, and they were understandably appalled. BGSU’s Black Student Union which, after screening Ava DuVernay’s powerful 2016 documentary about modern racism, 13th, in February at the Gish Theater, rightfully questioned the contradiction of the film and theater name.

And that’s where this story could have and should have taken a grand feel-good turn.

In this scenario: BGSU, rather than stoking the flames of controversy with weak-willed capitulation and disregard for context, expanded the discussion into a teachable moment. They lived up to the university’s charge to educate the students through analytical thinking, and to challenge conventional wisdom as well as personal beliefs.

The university offered free screenings of the significant work from Gish’s substantial oeuvre, which concluded with The Birth of a Nation followed by dialogue from university film professors, pop culture experts, and historians and an audience Q&A. And finally, students and faculty were afforded the decision of whether to keep the university’s honor to the Gish sisters by voting yea or nay for a theater name change.

Of course, BGSU opted for none of the above. Instead, they put together a task force charged with helping to make the decision for the university, which ultimately was to remove the Gish name, but to honor the legacy of the sisters. The committee cited as a reason for the recommendation the 1999 decision by the Directors Guild of America to rename the D.W. Griffith Award to the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Directing.

Should Gish be held to the same standard as Griffith, who wrote and directed the film? The answer is no, considering that Gish still has her Oscars, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, her AFI lifetime achievement, and a reputation that even the BGSU task force acknowledged was exemplary.

BGSU feels otherwise, though, which is why, in this cultural litmus test, the university failed hard.

The Gish Film Theater (1976 – 2018)

The Gish name was removed … This is what is left of a dream.

Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren, and More Decry Removal of Lillian Gish’s Name From Theater

Bowling Green State University removed the Gish name in response to student protests decrying her appearance in “The Birth of a Nation.”

The college censorship debate has reached Hollywood. More than 50 prominent artists, writers, and film scholars are supporting the restoration of the names of the Gish sisters, Dorothy and Lillian, to a film theater at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

The Gish Film Theater – Hanna Hall

The letter accuses the university of making “a scapegoat in a broader political debate.” Among those signing their names are James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese, George Stevens Jr., Bertrand Tavernier, Malcolm McDowell, Lauren Hutton, Joe Dante, and Taylor Hackford. The letter is a response to Bowling Green’s May 3 decision to change the name of the Gish Theater because of Lillian Gish’s acting role in D. W. Griffith’s incendiary 1915 silent film “The Birth of a Nation.”

“The Birth of a Nation” has been called one of the most racist films ever made, and it’s credited with leading to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in America. Spike Lee, who received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize filmmaking in 2013, was almost kicked out of NYU Film School for criticizing the film.

The Gish Film Theater, Hanna Hall 2016

Accepting the award, Lee said: “Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Miss Lillian Gish? Those films were D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and Charles Laughton’s ‘The Night of the Hunter.’ Isn’t it funny (sometimes) how life works? And how ironic life can be? God can be a trickster. Peace and love to the Gish Sisters.”

Known as “the First Lady of American Cinema,” Gish’s nine-decade career stretched from the silent film era into the 1980s. Following her work in silent era classics such as “Broken Blossoms” (1919), “La Boheme,” and “The Scarlet Letter” (1926), Gish transitioned into speaking roles that included the technicolor Western “Duel in the Sun” (1946), Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), and closed out her career playing opposite Bette Davis in “The Whales of August” (1987).

Her sister, Dorothy Gish, was a prolific comedic force onstage and screen. Her name was also removed from the theater, despite not having appeared in “The Birth of a Nation.”

Bowling Green opened the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater in 1976, and the joint name was undertaken on Lillian’s insistence. At that time, the university in her home state of Ohio also accepted a gift towards the endowment to provide scholarships as well as a gift from her archives. In May 2019, Bowling Green removed the Gish name, changing it to “The BGSU Film Theater,” while retaining the endowment and memorabilia.

The Gish Film Theater, Hanna Hall – Miss Lillian Gish visits BGSU and The Gish Film Theater

“This controversy detracts from the great legacy Gish left us in her extensive and varied career. For a university to dishonor her by singling out just one film, however offensive it is, is unfortunate and unjust. Doing so makes her a scapegoat in a broader political debate,” the letter reads. “A university should be a bastion of free speech. This is a supreme ‘teachable moment’ if it can be handled with a more nuanced sense of history. We call on Bowling Green State University to restore the original name of The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater.”

The letter is written by “The Whales of August” producer Mike Kaplan, and signed by more than fifty prominent names in Hollywood. Mirren and Hackford told Kaplan: “An actor should not be penalized for the roles they accept — unless they repeat a transgression again and again.”

Gish was not merely an actor in “The Birth of a Nation,” however, she played a large role in getting it made and took an active role in defending Griffith and maintaining his legacy. While she never acknowledged his racism, both Griffith and Gish attempted to make amends with two subsequent films; “Intolerance” (1916), in which she played the mother of history rocking the cradle; and “Broken Blossoms” (1919), an interracial love story.

Bowling Green has responded to the letter, saying it will not reverse its decision or restore the Gish name to the theater.

Bowling Green State University in Ohio says it will not reconsider its decision to remove the late actress Lillian Gish’s name from a theater there because she appeared in the controversial film The Birth of a Nation more than a century ago.

More than 50 prominent artists, actors and film scholars — including Martin Scorsese, James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Joseph McBride, Malcolm McDowell and Lauren Hutton — called on the university to reverse its recent decision. They accused the university of making Gish a “scapegoat in a broader political debate” because she appeared in the D.W. Griffith silent film, which is racist and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan.

The university issued a statement, saying it has a “primary responsibility to serve its students, faculty, and staff, and an obligation to create an inclusive learning environment. That obligation outweighs the University’s small part in honoring the Gish sisters’ legacy.”

“The decision to remove the Gish name from the relocated film theater was made with the values and best interests of our community in mind, and we stand by it.,” the statement read. “The decision was made following extensive input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the public. We understood that, whatever the decision, some would be unhappy. However, we are proud of the way our community dealt with this issue — coming together to have a respectful dialogue. We believe that is what strong learning communities do.”

In an apparent reference to criticism that the university is retaining the money donated decades ago by Gish, as well as her personal papers, the institution noted the “honorary degree the university awarded Lilian Gish, the scholarship in her name, and our archival collections of Gish memorabilia remain in place.”

McBride, a writer who scripted the “AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Lillian Gish” television special in 1984, told The Republican it was “shameful that Bowling Green State University shows such little regard for film history or cultural perspective in taking this rash overreaction to a film that, while deplorable in its racism, does not represent her entire career.”

The Gish Film Theater honoring Dorothy and Lillian Gish

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