They Say in New York … By Karen Hollis (Picture Play Magazine – 1933)

Picture Play Magazine – 1933

They Say in New York

By Karen Hollis

The stars, our first solvent citizens, can make or break a play opening, restaurant, hotel, or dress designer.

Lillian Gish in Camille, Central City, Colorado
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Camille–Gish, Lillian Central City, Colorado; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.87

BROADWAYITES have finally had an opportunity to see Lillian Gish as Camille, and she is assured a place in arguments about illusion in the theater for years to come. Not every one approved her delineation of the role, but every one found some evanescent magic in it. There were harsh words said about her playing the fabulous courtesan as a chaste spinster. There was some confusion over the play being presented in the manner of fifty years ago with quaint lighting, soliloquies, and exagerrated posturings.

Lillian Gish and Raymond Hackett in Camille, Central City, Colorado. First Production in the Old Opera House
Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); Camille–Gish, Lillian, [And] Raymond Hackett [Made at Chappell Home, Denver]; 1932; Platinum print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas, Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.193

One commentator, however, described expertly what Miss— Gish accomplished. Arthur Ruhl of the New York Herald-Tribune said. “It isn’t the Paris courtesan that she is playing. What she really is playing is Marguerite’s pathos itself, the sadness of the irrevocable of all those memories evoked by the yellowed lace of old hall dresses, by pressed roses found in a book, by the tinkle of dance music played on a harpsichord; the tragedy of fleeting beauty, of love lost, of fragile youth so soon to yield to death.

Universal Images Group 1930 Uncle Vanya (Helena) Lillian Gish
Universal Images Group 1930 Uncle Vanya (Helena) Lillian Gish

Last month I set out to tell you about the book which Albert Bigelow Paine has written, called “Life and Lillian Gish,” but I tore up my remarks before they ever reached you. In my dissatisfaction over what seemed to me the most extravagant and moonstruck drive, I attempted to set down a little of what I know and feel about Lillian Gish. Children, it was drool. So who am I to growl at the scholarly gentleman who wrote a book which preserves some lovely photographs at least?

1930 Uncle Vanya - Helena
1930 Uncle Vanya – Helena

Since Lillian Gish bids fair to be the measuring rod by which all film players present and future are to be gauged, something ought to be done about this book. It perpetuates the legend that she is an exquisite sprite. Maybe that will be news to posterity. She would seem more convincing to them, however, if the author had known her well enough to round out the picture with some of the occasionally grim or casual contacts of her career.

Charles H. Duell - Inspiration Pictures Director 2
Charles H. Duell – Inspiration Pictures Director

He is guilty of one flagrant omission. He skips over the tragic lawsuit with Charles Duell in one sentence, that front-paged episode when Lillian’s childlike love letters were read in court while she sat munching a raw carrot to calm her rasped nerves.

Lillian Gish and The Carrot syndrome 1925
Lillian Gish and The Carrot syndrome 1925

Lillian Gish SUED by Charles Duell – Articles /compilation

Going through with that suit to free herself from a business contract took far more courage than anything demanded of her in making pictures. He ignores her visits to the Duell home at Newport. He never faces honestly that widespread, but now proved unfounded, legend that D. W. Griffith exerted hypnotic influence over her to make her act. Mr. Paine’s book is not a biography in any real sense. It is more of a press agent’s blurb or an enraptured admirer’s labor of love. Any of the fan-magazine writers who grew up with her could have done better. Inez McCleary, who for more than a year some ten years ago wrote a daily syndicated newspaper article under the byline of Lillian Gish, revealed in them far more of her human qualities. This was no small feat since she was acting under orders from the Griffith office that Miss Gish was never to express a personal opinion about anything.

ANNIE LAURIE, Norman Kerry (links), Lillian Gish (Mitte), Direktor John S. Robertson, am Set, 1927
ANNIE LAURIE, Norman Kerry (links), Lillian Gish (Mitte), Direktor John S. Robertson, am Set, 1927

Harry Carr, who was everybody’s right hand during the great and grim years of the Griffith company, could do the best book of any about Lillian. Norman Kerry and John Gilbert could contribute a companion portrait. They drew her out of her shell more than any other players who worked with her ever could ; they made her laugh gayly and look forward to seeing them. John even taught her to shoot craps and revel in winning.

(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish retrouvaille, caleche, diligence, cocher, chevaux d'apres le roman de Henri Murger detail

That the girl casts a magic spell over every one who knows her I would be the last to deny. But I don’t want strangers to see just this uncanny quality in her. I want them to see her hustling through a Chicago railway station with John, her parrot, under her arm in order to catch a glimpse of Geraldine Farrar.

Lillian Gish and her parrot

Lillian Gish – New York, Returning from abroad R-6-4-26 (International Newsreel)
Lillian Gish – New York, Returning from abroad R-6-4-26 (International Newsreel)

I want them to see her in a red bathing suit, chuckling to find that she could go on swimming with Gene Tunney after other girls in the party were exhausted. I want them to see her primly going out to the kitchen of the Pen and Brush Club to shake hands with the cook, saying that she might be just a name to the guests in the parlor, but that workers looked on her as one of them. I should like them to be transported back to her dressing room at Mamaroneck to find Lillian washing out stockings and underwear while she explained that Mr. Griffith thought all women should love doing homely tasks like that. I want readers in future to know that she went two blocks out of her way to follow Corinne Griffith, whom she did not know, because she thought Corinne so beautiful.

Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding - Orphans of The Storm)
Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding – Orphans of The Storm)

I want them to see her entertaining old friends at luncheon at Sherry’s so that she could show off the suit designed for her to wear when she lunched at the White House with the late President and Mrs. Harding. In short, I should like every one to know the lovely Lillian as a tangible and companionable person rather than as a misty angel.

Nickolas Murray - Lillian Gish in 1922 WB
Nickolas Murray – Lillian Gish in 1922 (White House)

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