Miss Lillian Diana Gish… absolutely no doubt she is my favorite actress from the Golden era of Hollywood.
I became her fan in 2013 (I know, it took a long time), but I can say it was basically, admiration at the first sight.
I was looking on google for the old Hollywood actresses when I came across a picture of Lillian and I remember thinking she looked like a doll, and i had to find out the name of that lady.
One thing took to another and when I noticed I was saving every picture of her I could find and also making researches to know more about her, bought the book: Life and Lillian Gish and started watching her movies on Youtube until I bought Orphans of the Storm, that is a great movie.
Recently I bought Whales of August, that was her last movie.
Lillian fascinated me from the beginning, she was surely a bewitching woman, and everything that she added to the Cinema, she was really the first Lady of it, I think that, although we saw many talented actresses, none of them could ever be compared to Lillian in many ways.
She is, indeed, a name I love to mention when I talk about The old Hollywood, so I make sure that, those who don’t know her yet, will start knowing, because in my opinion, she is in fact, an actress that must be always remembered.
Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, to Mary Robinson McConnell (1875-1948) (an Episcopalian) and James Leigh Gish (1872-1912) (who was of German Lutheran descent).She had a younger sister, Dorothy.
The first several generations of Gishes were Dunkard ministers. Her great-great-great-grandfather came to America on the shipPennsylvania Merchant in 1733 and received a land grant from William Penn. Her great-great-grandfather was in the American Revolutionary War and is buried in a cemetery in Pennsylvania for such soldiers. Letters between Gish and a Pennsylvania college professor indicate that her knowledge of her family background was limited.
Gish’s father left the family before she was old enough to remember him; her mother then took up acting to support the family. The family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, where they lived for several years with Lillian’s aunt and uncle, Henry and Rose McConnell. Their mother opened the Majestic Candy Kitchen and the girls helped sell popcorn and candy to patrons of the old Majestic Theater, located next door. The girls attended St. Henry’s School, where they acted in school plays.
The girls were living with their aunt Emily in Massillon, Ohio, when they were notified by their uncle that their father, James, was gravely ill in Oklahoma. Lillian traveled to Shawnee, Oklahoma, to see her father, who by then was institutionalized in an Oklahoma City hospital. She saw him briefly and stayed with her aunt and uncle, Alfred Grant and Maude Gish, in Shawnee and attended school there. She wrote to her sister Dorothy that she was thinking of staying and finishing high school and then going to college, but she missed her family. Her father died in Norman, Oklahoma, January 9, 1912, and, soon after, Lillian returned to Ohio.
When the theater next to the candy store burned down, the family moved to New York, where the girls became good friends with a next door neighbor, Gladys Smith. Gladys was a child actress who did some work for director D.W. Griffith and later took the stage name Mary Pickford. 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 Gish would soon become one of America’s best loved actresses. Although she was already nineteen, she gave her age as 16 to the studio.
The sisters debuted in Griffith’s short film An Unseen Enemy (1912).
Lillian was 28 years old when she starred in Broken Blossom, playing a 16 year-old girl, what was really a great movie that made me see even more what that lady was capable of, the talent that she had.
Her two most famous scenes are: The Smile and The Closet Scene.
I read that Lillian got everybody unaware during the Closet scene, she was so real on her panic, that Griffth later told her that she should have told him about what she was going to do, not even Griffth was waiting for that.
I can say with every word and intention, that sadly we don’t see actresses with this potential in Hollywood nowadays, none of them clearly can cause the impact that Lillian Gish could cause, that is why I think everybody really should know who she was and what she represented and still represents for those who appreciate real good movies and natural and real talent.
Gish never married or had children. 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.” Lillian Gish was the sister of actress Dorothy Gish. Gish was a survivor of the 1918 flu pandemic.
She was involved with producer Charles Duell and drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan. In the 1920s, Gish’s association with Duell was something of a tabloid scandal because he had sued her and made the details of their relationship public.
During the period of political turmoil in the US that lasted from the outbreak of WWII in Europe until the attack on Pearl Harbor, she maintained an outspoken non-interventionist stance. She was an active member of the America First Committee, an anti-intervention organization founded by retired General Robert E. Wood with aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh as its leading spokesman. She said she was blacklisted by the film and theater industries until she signed a contract in which she promised to cease her anti-interventionist activities and never disclose the fact that she had agreed to do so.
She maintained a very close relationship with her sister Dorothy, as well as with Mary Pickford, for her entire life. Another of her closest friends was actress Helen Hayes; Gish was the godmother of Hayes’s son James MacArthur.
She died in her sleep of heart failure, age 99, and is interred beside her sister Dorothy at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City. Her estate was valued at several million dollars, the bulk of which went toward to the creation of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust.
She was named 17th among the greatest female stars of all time by American Film Institute.
She was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1971, and in 1984 she received an AFI Life Achievement award. Gish, an American icon, was also awarded in the Kennedy Center Honors.
Books about Lillian:
1) The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (with Ann Pinchot) (Prentice-Hall, 1969)
2) Dorothy and Lillian Gish (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973)
3) An Actor’s Life For Me (with Selma G. Lanes) (Viking Penguin, 1987)
4) Lillian Gish: Her Legend, her life
5) Lillian Gish: a life on the stage and screen
*You can read: Life and Lillian Gish here
*Find a Grave
*Official Web Page