Lillian Gish

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Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish-edit1.jpg
Lillian Gish, 1921
Birth name Lillian Diana Gish
Born Oct 14, 1893
Springfield, Ohio USA Flag of USA.png
Died Feb 27, 1993 - age 100
New York City NY
Height 5' 5" / 1.65m
Years active 1912 - 1987
Official site The Official Website of Lillian Gish
Awards AFI Life Achievement Award 1984 Lifetime Achievement


This article is part of
"The Early Movie History Project"
Click here for information on Special History Projects

Early life

Lillian Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, the elder sister of actress Dorothy Gish. The sisters' mother, Mary Robinson McConnell (an Episcopalian) began acting in order to support the family after her husband, James Leigh Gish (who was of German Lutheran descent) abandoned them. When Lillian and Dorothy were old enough, they joined the theatre, often traveling separately in different productions. They also took modeling jobs.

In 1912, their friend Mary Pickford introduced the sisters to D.W. Griffith, and helped get them contracts with Biograph Studios. Lillian would soon become one of America's best-loved actresses.

Career

Their first role was in Griffith's short film An Unseen Enemy. Lillian went on to star in many of Griffith's most acclaimed films, among these The Birth of a Nation (as Elsie), Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, and Orphans of the Storm.


1921 fan magazine cover by Rolf Armstrong.Having appeared in over 25 short films and features in her first two years as a movie actress, Lillian became a major star, becoming known as "The First Lady of the Silent Screen" and appearing in lavish productions, frequently of literary works such as The Scarlet Letter (1926). MGM released her from her contract in 1928 after the failure of The Wind, now recognized by many as among her finest performances and one of the most distinguished works of the late silent period.

She directed one film, Remodeling Her Husband (1920), when D.W. Griffith took his unit on location -- he told Gish that he thought the crew would work harder for a girl. Gish apparently preferred to remain in front of the camera rather than behind it, since she never directed again. She told reporters at the time that directing was a man's job.

With her debut in talkies only moderately successful, she acted on the stage for the most part in the 1930s and early 1940s, appearing with distinction in roles as varied as Ophelia in Guthrie McClintic's landmark 1936 production of Hamlet (with John Gielgud and Judith Anderson) and Marguerite in a limited run of La Dame aux Camélias. Of the former, she said, with pride, "I played a lewd Ophelia!," contrasting the role with the virginal "ga-ga babies" she had tired of portraying on screen.

Returning to movies, Gish was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1946 for Duel in the Sun. She appeared in films from time to time for the rest of her life, notably in Night of the Hunter (1955) and A Wedding (1978). She was considered for various roles in Gone with the Wind ranging from Ellen O'Hara, Scarlett's mother to the red-headed prostitute Belle Watling.

Gish made numerous television appearances from the early 1950s into the late 1980s. Her most acclaimed television work was starring in the original production of The Trip to Bountiful in 1953. She appeared as Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in the short-lived 1965 Broadway musical Anya.

In addition to her latter-day acting appearances, Gish became one of the leading advocates on the lost art of the silent film, often giving speeches and touring to screenings of classic works. In 1975 she hosted The Silent Years, a PBS film program of silent films.

Gish received a Special Academy Award in 1971 "For superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures." In 1984 she received an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming only the second female recipient (Bette Davis was first in 1977), and the only recipient who was a major figure in the silent era. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1720 Vine Street.

Her last film role was in The Whales of August in 1987 at the age of 93, with Vincent Price, Bette Davis, who was dying of cancer, and Ann Sothern, who earned her only Academy Award nomination for her final film performance.

Her final professional appearance was a cameo on the 1988 studio recording of Jerome Kern's Show Boat starring Frederica von Stade and Jerry Hadley, in which she affectingly spoke the few lines of The Old Lady on the Levee in the final scene. The last words of her century-spanning career: "Good night, dear."

Some in the entertainment industry were angry that Gish had not received an Oscar nomination for her role in The Whales of August, despite the fact that it was obviously her swan song. Gish, herself, was more complacent, remarking that it saved her the trouble of "losing to Cher" (who did, in fact, win the Oscar for her performance in Moonstruck). Ironically enough, Cher's then-boyfriend, Rob Camiletti, confided to a friend before the nominations were announced that, while Cher deserved to win the Oscar, she didn't have a chance of winning because the Academy would inevitably give it to Lillian Gish.

Private life

The association between Gish and D.W. Griffith was so close that some suspected a romantic connection, an issue never acknowledged by Gish although several of their associates were certain they were at least briefly involved. For the remainder of her life she always referred to him as "Mr. Griffith".

She was involved with Charles Duell (a producer) and the drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan. Gish's association with Duell was something of a tabloid scandal in the 1920s after he sued her and made the details of their relationship public.

During the period of political turmoil in the United States that lasted from the outbreak of World War II in Europe until the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was unable to find work in Hollywood due to being blacklisted for her outspoken non-interventionist stance. She was an active member of the America First Committee, a controversial anti-intervention organization founded by retired General Robert E. Wood with aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh as its leading spokesman.[1]

She maintained a very close relationship with her sister Dorothy, as well as with Mary Pickford for her entire life. One of her closest friends was actress Helen Hayes. Gish was the godmother of Hayes' son James MacArthur.

She died in her sleep of heart failure on February 27, 1993, at the age of 99. Her estate, which she left to Helen Hayes, who died a month later, was valued at several million dollars, and went to provide prizes for artistic excellence.

The main street in Massillon, Ohio is named after Gish, who had lived there during an early period of her life and fondly referred to it as her hometown throughout her career. She was interred beside her sister Dorothy at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church Columbarium in the undercroft of the church in the heart of New York City.


Filmography

Silent

  • An Unseen Enemy (1912)
  • Two Daughters of Eve (1912)
  • So Near, Yet So Far (1912)
  • In the Aisles of the Wild (1912)
  • The One She Loved (1912)
  • The Painted Lady (1912)
  • The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
  • Gold and Glitter (1912)
  • My Baby (1912)
  • The Informer (1912)
  • Brutality (1912)
  • The New York Hat (1912)
  • The Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)
  • A Cry for Help (1912)
  • Oil and Water (1913)
  • The Unwelcome Guest (1913)
  • A Misunderstood Boy (1913)
  • The Left-Handed Man (1913)
  • The Lady and the Mouse (1913)
  • A Timely Interception (1913)
  • The House of Darkness (1913)
  • Just Gold (1913)
  • The Mothering Heart (1913)
  • During the Round-Up (1913)
  • An Indian’s Loyalty (1913)
  • A Woman in the Ultimate (1913)
  • A Modest Hero (1913)
  • So Runs the Way (1913)
  • Madonna of the Storm (1913)
  • The Blue or the Gray (1913)
  • The Conscience of Hassan Bey (1913)
  • Just Kids (1913)
  • The Stolen Bride (1913)
  • The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913)
  • A Duel For Love (1914)
  • The Green-Eyed Devil (1914)
  • Judith of Bethulia (1914)
  • The Hunchback (1914)
  • The Quicksands (1914)
  • The Battle of the Sexes (1914)
  • Silent Sandy (1914)
  • The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
  • Man’s Enemy (1914)
  • The Angel of Contention (1914)
  • The Tear That Burned (1914)
  • The Folly of Anne (1914)
  • Men and Women (1914)
  • The Sisters (1914)
  • Home Sweet Home (1914)
  • The Escape (1914)
  • Lord Chumley (1914)
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • His Lesson (1915)
  • The Lost House (1915)
  • Enoch Arden (1915)
  • Captain Macklin (1915)
  • The Lily and the Rose (1915)
  • Pathways of Life (1916)
  • Daphne and the Pirate (1916)
  • Sold for Marriage (1916)
  • An Innocent Magdalene (1916)
  • Intolerance (1916)
  • Diane of the Follies (1916)
  • The Children Pay (1916)
  • A House Built Upon Sand (1916)
  • Souls Triumphant (1917)
  • Hearts of the World (1918)
  • The Great Love (1918)
  • Liberty Bond (1918)
  • United States Fourth Liberty Loan Drive (1918)
  • Canadian Victory Loan Drive (1918)
  • The Greatest Thing in Life (1918)
  • A Romance of Happy Valley (1919)
  • Broken Blossoms (1919)
  • True Heart Susie (1919)
  • The Greatest Question (1919)
  • Way Down East (1920)
  • Orphans Of The Storm (1921)
  • The White Sister (1923)
  • Romola (1924)
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) (uncredited extra)
  • La Bohème (1926)
  • The Scarlet Letter (1926)
  • Annie Laurie (1927)
  • The Enemy (1927)
  • The Wind (1928)

POST-SILENT

  • One Romantic Night (aka The Swan) (1930)
  • His Double Life (1933)
  • Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
  • Top Man (aka Man of The Family) (1943)
  • Miss Susie Slagle's (1946)
  • Duel in the Sun (1946)
  • Portrait of Jennie (aka Tidal Wave) (1948)
  • Outward Bound (TV) (1949)
  • The Late Christopher Bean (TV) (1949)
  • The Joyous Season (TV) (1951)
  • Ladies in Retirement (TV) (1951)
  • The Autobiography of Grandma Moses (TV) (1952)
  • The Trip to Bountiful (TV) (1953)
  • The Quality of Mercy (TV) (1954)
  • The Corner Druggist (TV) (1954)
  • Film Fun (1955) (uncredited)
  • The Cobweb (1955)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • I, Mrs. Bibb (TV) (1955)
  • The Sound and the Fury (TV) (1955)
  • The Day Lincoln Was Shot (TV) (1956)
  • Morning's At Seven (TV) (1956)
  • Orders to Kill (1958)
  • The Grass Harp (TV) (1960)
  • The Unforgiven (1960)
  • Mr Novak-Hello, Miss Phipps (TV) (1963)
  • Stowaway (TV) (1964)
  • Body in the Barn (TV) (1964)
  • Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
  • Warning Shot (1967)
  • The Comedians (1967)
  • Arsenic and Old Lace (1969) (TV)
  • Twin Detectives (1976) (TV)
  • Sparrow (1978) (TV)
  • A Wedding (1978)
  • Thin Ice (1981) (TV)
  • Hobson's Choice (1983) (TV)
  • Hambone and Hillie (1984)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985) (TV)
  • Sweet Liberty (1986)
  • The Whales of August (1987)

Books

Autobiographical:

  • The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (with Ann Pinchot) (Prentice-Hall, 1969)
  • Dorothy and Lillian Gish (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973)
  • An Actor's Life For Me (with Selma G. Lanes) (Viking Penguin, 1987)

Biographical & Other:

  • Lillian Gish an Interpretation - Edward Wagenknecht (University of Washington, 1927)
  • Life and Lillian Gish - Albert Bigelow Paine (Macmillan, 1932)
  • Star Acting - Gish, Garbo, Davis - Charles Affron (E.P. Dutton, 1977)
  • A Moment with Miss Gish - Peter Bogdanovich (Santa Teresa Press, 1995)
  • Lillian Gish A Life on Stage and Screen - Stuart Oderman (McFarland & Company, 2000)
  • Lillian Gish Her Legend, Her Life - Charles Affron (Scribner, 2001)

Documentaries about Lillian Gish

  • Gish's life is documented in Terry Sanders' 1988 documentary Lillian Gish: An Actor's Life for Me.
  • Actress Jeanne Moreau produced a documentary on Lillian in the 1980s that has not been released.

External links


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