From the archive, 17 March 1936: Why I moved from film to theatre – Lillian Gish
The silent screen legend, appearing in The Old Maid at the Manchester Opera House, says she finds theatre ‘much more important and thrilling’ than film
Miss Irene Vanbrugh and Miss Lillian Gish, who are appearing in “The Old Maid” at the Opera House, Manchester, were guests at luncheon yesterday of the Town and Counties Club. Miss Vanbrugh is, in fact, a member of the club. “It is,” she averred, “the only club I belong to and the only one I shall ever belong to.”
Miss Gish, at the invitation of the chairman, Mrs. Harold Baerlein, gave her reasons for reverting from the cinema to the stage. She explained that it was interesting and exciting to turn to something new after years of work in one particular sphere. She was on the stage as a child of five, and “went into the movies” in their early days. “We thought the silent films had a universal language, but suddenly – overnight, as it were – speech was added. Now we cannot go into foreign countries as we did before; we have to go to the English-speaking countries. That being so, I thought the proper place for such presentation was in the theatre. I find it much more important and thrilling.”
Review: Opera House: Lillian Gish in ‘The Old Maid’
Edith Wharton’s novel “The Old Maid” is to be seen at the Opera House in the hands of a remarkably good cast. The play ended last night with long-continued applause, which had the effect of bringing back repeatedly the two great characters, Lillian Gish and Carol Goodner.
It is easy to be suspicious of chronicle plays which begin in the 1830s and end in the 1850s, particularly when they deal with old maids. The old maids who know everything are a nuisance, the ones who know nothing are worse. But here we have no type but a collection of human beings, having substance and feeling, in one of those situations with which Edith Wharton proved it is not necessary to have melodrama or murder to awake sensibility and make tragedy visible. The storm can rise as well in a teacup as elsewhere.
Here it is a wedding which brings the first disturbance. Carol Goodner [Delia] is discovered surrounded by a whirl of little bridesmaids. Miss Gish enters; and in a few rapid sentences, hurried and alarmed, we learn that Delia loves another man, Clem, who loves her, but that she will not change her course. Charlotte must stand by Clem and see that he does not make a disturbance at the wedding.
Six years later, Charlotte, about to be married, is looking after a school of little orphans. The scene opens pleasantly with a dancing game, disturbed by the children’s mockery of Tina, the foundling. Then we meet Delia and Jim, her husband. But when the lovers are left alone Joe discovers that Charlotte will not give up the school.
We do not grasp Charlotte’s reason for her obstinacy until, torn by her desperate situation, she confesses the truth to Delia; Tina is her own child by Clem. In Delia we have not the virtuous wife but a woman possessed by two passions. She is Clem’s lover again, in anguish at his infidelity. She is also Charlotte’s confidant, all-powerful in this situation. Having spurred Joe to a defiant declaration that he would have Charlotte, however many the orphans, Delia plunged the dagger into Charlotte’s heart. Charlotte, she said, had been coughing blood, and could never marry.
Miss Gish played her part with extraordinary skill, moving by the gentlest accretions from the ardent girl of the first act to the tortured, frightened woman preparing for her daughter’s wedding and shaken by her secret. Those who have tears to shed in the theatre could scarcely withhold them for her piteous state at the ending of this play.