Sunday, September 8, 2013

Don't You Wish You Were a Gish? -- Lillian Gish -- September 8, 2013

Film Fun, June, 1916.

This post is part of  the Gish Sisters Blogathon hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently and Lindsey at The Motion Pictures.   Dorothy and Lillian Gish made their motion picture debut 101 years ago on 09-September-1912.  Be sure to click on most images to see larger versions.  

Sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish made their film debut 101 years ago, on 09-September-1912.  The girls had moved to New York when their Ohio home burned down.  They got to know their next door neighbor, child actress Gladys Smith.  Lillian and Dorothy became actresses and models.  Gladys, who would soon change her name to Mary Pickford, persuaded them to visit the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company's studio at 11 East 14th Street in Manhattan.  Director DW Griffith approved of the sisters and put them to work.

In the first of three posts for Gish Sisters Blogathon, I featured younger sister Dorothy Gish, who is often overlooked because her sister Lillian is considered one of the greatest American actresses.  In this, the second post, I will write about Lillian, and in the third I will write about the sisters' work and life together.  In each post, I will cobble together a variety of newspaper and magazine items, looking for interesting items about the lives of the Gish sisters. 

I don't want to appear ungentlemanly, but I should point out that the Gishes, like many people in show business, were flexible about stating their ages and years of birth.

Washington Herald, 29-December-1912.
Lillian left the Biograph for a while to appear in David Belasco's theatrical fantasia A Good Little Devil, which featured Mary Pickford, whose name is listed in the fine print.  Lillian played a fairy.  After her flying gear broke and she fell to the stage, she decided to go back to the Biograph. 

Moving Picture World, 04-July-1914.
Dorothy and Lillian followed Griffith from the Biograph to Reliance-Majestic and beyond.  I like the ad above which says that the two reeler "Angel of Contention" features "the beautiful Lillian Gish in a beautiful story beautifully told."  It also mentions that Lillian Gish "Appears exclusively in Majestic Releases and Griffith Specials.  I like Lillian's smile in the photo. 

Lillian starred in a Griffth Special Birth of a Nation; This established her as a star. 

Salem Daily Capital Journal, 15-July-1916.
Salem Daily Capital Journal, 15-July-1916.
This article from the 15-July-1916 Salem (Oregon) Daily Capital Journal praises Lillian Gish's performance in Birth of a Nation. "Miss Gish is of the 'golden aureole' blonde type which makes for photographic beauty." The only problem is, I believe that this is a photo of Miriam Cooper, who played Margaret Cameron, Ben's Cameron's elder sister. She had black hair. 

Photoplay, August, 1915.

Very early in her career, people started writing lots of sappy paeans to Lillian's beauty.

Photoplay, September, 1915.
"D. W. Griffith called (her) 'the most beautiful blonde in the world.'"  It says she collected rare books as a hobby.  That could be true.

Photoplay, November, 1915.

 I came across a page titled "Business Men's Lunch" in the November, 1915 Photoplay.  I started looking at the menu items and noticed all sorts of interesting things like "Chaplin Supreme," "Stuffed Arbuckle," "Hamanbud Frazzle" and "Kimball of Young, au Clara."  "Glace Gish" is very funny.  They don't mention Lillian's name, but I have no doubt it refers to her. 

Photoplay, February, 1916.
"Sandwiches a la Movie" is a quirky article which attempts to create sandwiches that describe various actresses.  The Lillian Gish is "a sandwich that charms, just as dainty Miss Gish never fails to do on the screen."

Lillian got passed over for the large roles in Griffith's epic Intolerance.  She played a woman endlessly rocking a cradle between the different scenes. 

Photoplay, August, 1917.
Griffith took Lillian and Dorothy across the Atlantic, risking attack from German U-Boats, to film scenes for Hearts of the World and The Greatest Thing in LifeHearts of the World became a huge hit, which boosted the careers of both sisters.  I love the simplicity of this passport photo. 

Photoplay, May, 1918.
Photoplay received many more questions about Dorothy's marital status than Lillian's.  I think Lillian was regarded as an unapproachable icon by many people. 

Photoplay, August, 1918.
"Lace and lavender, roses in moonlight, gentle kisses, flower-hung garden walls -- these are the things you unconsciously associate with Lillian Gish.  But in reality, Lillian, an ingenue in appearance, is a rather suave woman off the screen."

Photoplay, February, 1919.
People who are familiar with stereotypes about Lillian Gish will suspect that she is planning to kiss the bird.

Photoplay, July, 1919.
This is an unusual portrait of Lillian Gish, as Marie in Hearts of the World.

Photoplay, November, 1919.
Lillian appeared on the cover of the November, 1919 Photoplay.  Some of their cover paintings did not closely resemble the actresses they were meant to represent. If the caption didn't say "Lillian Gish," I would not thought it was her.

Photoplay, June, 1920.
Robert Harron, who did not get the part of the hero in Way Down East, died under mysterious circumstances in September, 1920. See my first post for a little more about Bobby Harron.

Photoplay, June, 1920.
Yet another poem inspired by Lillian Gish.  Instead of sappy similes about her beauty and grace, this one blames D.W. Griffith for the awful treatment that she received in his movies.  Just a few examples (with spoilers):
-- Birth of a Nation -- imprisoned and almost forcibly "married" to villain Silas Lynch. 
-- Hearts of the World -- almost raped by evil Hun Von Strohm.  Driven mad by death of her family.
-- Broken Blossoms -- physically abused by her drunken brute father and finally beaten to death.
-- Way Down East -- seduced, impregnated and abandoned by villain Lennox Sanderson.  Forced to lie on an ice flow by director Griffith.  Suffered life-long frostbite damage to one hand.
-- Orphans of the Storm -- abducted by evil aristocrat Marquis de Praille.  Almost executed on the guillotine.
Photoplay, October, 1920.

"Student and philospher, big-sister and Director ... The tragic Gish sister..."

Photoplay, July, 1921.
More poetic tripe.

Photoplay, December, 1921.
This Photoplay cover painting looks more like Lillian than did the November, 1919 cover.

Photoplay, December, 1921.
This full page photo refers to Griffith's The Two Orphans.  This was the title of the creaky old play Griffith used as the basis for Orphans of the Storm.

Photoplay, December, 1921.
"Her beauty is spiritually satisfying and artistically amazing ... A close-up of that illusive young star, Lillian Gish."  At first I thought illusive was an old or incorrect spelling of elusive, but I was wrong, it means illusory, having the nature of an illusion.  Good word.

Photoplay, December, 1921.

Any time Great Thoughts are attributed to people in the movie business, watch out.  Lillian Gish's Great Thought, at least, makes sense: "I should like to do all the classics..I think my appeal is largely to the more intellectual element."  I left the following comment from Carol Dempster because she replaced Lillian Gish as Griffith's favorite leading lady.  I won't comment on Miss Dempster's Great Thought. 

Photoplay, February, 1922.
New York City vs Los Angeles?  As a native of San Francisco, I don't have a dog, or a cat, in this fight. 

Orphans of the Storm was the last movie the Gish Sisters made with D. W. Griffith.

Photoplay, May, 1922.
Asked if she would do it all over again,
"She gave me a stricken look, a sudden red flag of defiance in her cheeks. 

"'No--no.  Never.  Oh, never!  Work on a farm--scrub floors.  Anything. 

"'But go through again what I have gone through, work as I have worked, knowing,--I couldn't.'"

She also complained about paying her income tax. 

Photoplay, May, 1922.

Photoplay, August, 1922.
Many stars formed their own production companies in the late Teens and early Twenties.  That way production expenses could be deducted from income taxes on their profits.  The studios crushed this during the Twenties and independent productions by stars did not become common again until after World War Two.  She did not produce under the supervision of D. W. Griffith.  

Photoplay, October, 1922.
More poetry.

Photoplay, December, 1922.
"Inspiration" was Inspiration Pictures, a production company that caused all sorts of problems for Lillian and Dorothy.  I find it interesting that this item raises "the question, 'Will Lillian Gish be a great actress without Griffith's direction?"  I never thought anyone would ask that, but she had, at that point, done all of her famous work under Griffith's direction or supervision.

Photoplay, March, 1924.
Photoplay, March, 1924.
There had always been rumors that Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith were romantically involved, but Lillian never spoke of it.  The items above are the only things I found attempting to connect her to anyone else.  She did not marry Charles Duell, but they spent a lot of time in court facing each other.

Photoplay, June, 1924.
Photoplay, October, 1924.

Inspiration Pictures fell apart when Dick Barthelmess accused Charles Duell of "devoting all his time to the Gish pictures."  Duell and Gish's business relations didn't last much longer.

Photoplay, June, 1925.
Photoplay, June, 1925.
Photoplay, June, 1925.

After escaping from the clutches of Charles Duell, Lillian Gish made a nice deal with Metro-Goldwyn (which would soon add another "M"), where she made The Scarlet Letter, La Boheme and The Wind

Photoplay, July, 1925.
There were lots of lawsuits floating around Inspiration Pictures.

Film Daily, May 30, 1926.

Film Daily, June 17, 1926.

Motion Picture News, December 11, 1926.
Charles Duell got charged with perjury for his testimony against Lillian Gish, but the federal government eventually dropped the case.  

Film Daily, August 1, 1927.
Film Daily, August 3, 1927.

Film Daily, August 22, 1927.

Film Daily, December 1, 1927.
Film Daily, December 9, 1927.
Film Daily, April 24, 1928.

Film Daily, April 26, 1928.
Film Daily, June 27, 1928.

Motion Picture, August, 1928.

Picture Play, April, 1931.
From an article titled "Slaves of Hollywood."  Hell hath no fury like an attorney spurned. 

New Movie, December, 1929. 
I had to throw in one more nice photo of Lillian Gish, from the time when she was preparing to make her first talkie.  MGM let her go after it did poorly, but she spent most of her time after that on the stage, returning to make a movie now and then.  Her last movie appearance was in The Whales of August in 1987.  She lived to be 99 years old, passing on in 1993. 

Moving Picture Classic, August, 1926.
In conclusion, a cartoon featuring Lillian Gish and W.C. Fields from Moving Picture Classic's "Things That Will Never Happen" page: "Lillian Gish asked for and got the part of the native dancer in a South Sea Island picture with W. C. Fields as the shipwrecked yachtsman." That could have been fun. 

This post was part of the Gish Sisters Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently and Lindsey at The Motion Pictures.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read as many posts as you can.  

My posts for the blogathon:
Post One: Have You Been Gished? -- Dorothy Gish
Post Two:  Don't You Wish You Were a Gish? -- Lillian Gish
Post Three: Gish Sisters Have Imperfect Noses -- The Gish Sisters


Fritzi Kramer said...

Gracious! That was a fun post! :)
By the way, the two Great Thoughts from Lillian Gish and Carol Dempster capture exactly the difference between the two women, in my opinion. Can't wait for part 3!

Joe Thompson said...

I'm glad you found it fun, Fritzi. I had a lot of fun putting it together. I'm also you glad you spotted the differences in the Great Thoughts section.


Thanks for the kind comment on my blog post!
I learned a lot with your two posts and surely I'll be back to read the third one. Only one thing, Lillian's last film was Whales of August, from 1987.

Joe Thompson said...

You're welcome, Le. I enjoyed your post. I'm glad you found something interesting in mine. Thank you for pointing out my mistake about Lillian Gish's last movie. I fixed it.

Jon said...

Again Joe, a treasure trove of information. Job well done.

Joe Thompson said...

Thank you, Jon. I was especially happy when I found the "Poor Gish" poem. This whole blogathon has been a blast.

ClassicJo said...

loved it. Lillian gish is my favorite silent film star .loved the blog! thank you

ClassicJo said...

Loved the blog. Lillian is my fave silent star. thank you!

Joe Thompson said...

Hi ClassicJo. I'm happy you visited and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love Lillian Gish, too.