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.”

“Lillian Gish’s spirit resides in Hanna Hall,” Wolfe said.

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