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Lillian Gish Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (2) | Trade Mark (4) | Trivia (28) | Personal Quotes (19) | Salary (2)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 14 October 1893Springfield, Ohio, USA
Date of Death 27 February 1993New York City, New York, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NameLillian Diana Gish
Nickname The First Lady of American Cinema
Height 5' 4" (1.63 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Lillian Diana Gish was born on October 14, 1893 in Springfield, Ohio. Her father James Lee Gish was an alcoholic who caroused around, was rarely at home and left the family to more or less to fend for themselves. To help make ends meet, Lillian, her sister Dorothy Gish and their mother Mary Gish a.k.a. Mary Robinson McConnell tried their hand at acting in local productions. Lillian was all of six years old when she first appeared in front of an audience. For the next 13 years, she and Dorothy appeared before stage audiences with great success. Actually, had she not made her way into films, Lillian quite possibly could have been one of the great stage actresses of all time. Ultimately, though, she found her way onto the big screen. In 1912, she met famed director D.W. Griffith. Impressed with what he saw, he immediately cast her in what was to be her first film, An Unseen Enemy (1912), followed by The One She Loved (1912) and My Baby (1912). She would make 12 films for Griffith in 1912. With 25 films in the next two years, Lillian's exposure to the public was so great that she fast became one of the top stars in the industry, right alongside Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart". In 1915, Lillian starred as Elsie Stoneman in Griffith's most ambitious project to date, The Birth of a Nation (1915). She was not making the large number of films that she was in the beginning, because she was successful and popular enough to be able to pick and choose the right films to appear in. The following year, she appeared in another Griffith classic, Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916). By the early 1920s, her career was on its way down. As in anything else, be it sports or politics, new faces appeared on the scene to replace the "old", and Lillian was no different. In fact, she did not appear at all on the screen in 1922, 1925 or 1929. However, 1926 was her busiest of the decade with roles in La Bohème (1926) and The Scarlet Letter (1926). As the decade wound to a close, "talkies" were replacing silent films. However, Lillian was not idle during her time away from the screen. She appeared in stage productions to acclaim of the public and critics alike. In 1933, she filmed His Double Life (1933), and then didn't make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Top Man (1943). It was as though she had never been away. Although these roles did not bring her the attention she had in her early career, Lillian still proved she could hold her own with the best of them. She earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role of Laura Belle McCanles in Duel in the Sun (1946), but lost to Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge (1946). One of the most critically acclaimed roles of her career came in the thriller The Night of the Hunter (1955), also notable as the only film directed by actor Charles Laughton. In 1969, she published her autobiography "The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me". In 1987, she made what was to be her last motion picture, The Whales of August (1987), a box-office success that exposed her to a new generation of fans. Her 75-year career is almost unbeatable in any field, let alone the film industry. On February 27, 1993, Lillian Gish died at age 99 peacefully in her sleep in New York City.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson

Lillian Gish was born into a broken family where her restless father James Lee Gish was frequently absent. Mary Robinson McConnell a.k.a. Mary Gish, her mother, had entered into acting to make money to support the family. As soon as Lillian and her sister Dorothy were old enough, they became part of the act. To supplement their income, the two sisters also posed for pictures and acted in melodramas of the time. In 1912, they met fellow child actress Mary Pickford, and she got them extra work with Biograph films. Director D.W. Griffith was impressed by both the girls and especially by Lillian, who he saw as a exquisitely fragile, ethereal beauty. Over the next decade, Lillian was to become one of Griffith's greatest stars. She appeared in features such as The Birth of a Nation (1915); Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919); and Orphans of the Storm (1921). With Griffith, she became the greatest screen heroine of the time and was known as 'The First Lady of the Silent Screen'. Lillian even tried her hand at directing with a movie called Remodeling Her Husband (1920) starring her sister Dorothy. After 13 years with Griffith, Lillian went to MGM where her first picture was La Bohème (1926). Her new contract gave her control over the type of picture, the director, the supporting lead and the cameraman. In the late 20s, Lillian's star began to wane and sound pictures became the rage with the viewing public. Lillian would resist the new sound pictures as she believed that silent pictures had a greater power and impact on audiences. And this was true in the beginning as they did not worry about the microphone. So Lillian was released by MGM in 1928 and went back to the stage and was a great success. She would continue on the stage for the next half century. Lillian never forgot D.W. Griffith, even when everyone else in Hollywood did. She helped care for the ailing Griffith and his wife until Griffith died in 1948. In the forties she again appeared in a handful of 'talkies' and received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Laura Belle McCanles in Duel in the Sun (1946). In 1970 she received a special Academy Award 'for superlative artistry and distinguished contributions to the progress of motion pictures'. Her last film was The Whales of August (1987) in which she shared the lead with Bette Davis. Lillian Gish never married.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Trade Mark (4)

Small frame
Doll-like looks
Early roles as innocent, virginal characters who are victimized by a cruel world
Later often played willful but conflicted women

Trivia (28)

Sister of Dorothy Gish. Daughter of actress Mary Gish.
On June 11, 1976, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater was dedicated on the Bowling Green State University campus in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Following his death, she was interred beside her sister Dorothy Gish at Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City.
Received the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award (1984).
Every year on Gish's birthdate, October 14, New York's Museum of Modern Art shows at least one of her films or television performances.
She once autographed an 8mm copy of her film The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) for a young filmmaker named Harry McDevitt.
Related, on her mother's side, to United States President Zachary Taylor.
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1720 Vine Street in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1960.
After her amicable parting with D.W. Griffith she joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925, but was unceremoniously dumped when Greta Garbo emerged as a star. Considered a "sexless antique", she turned to radio and her first love, the theater. Ironically, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had Garbo on the set of The Scarlet Letter (1926) every day to watch Gish work as part of her apprenticeship.
John Gilbert was infatuated with her, and would mess up his "love scenes" with her in the filming of La Bohème (1926) on purpose, so he could keep kissing her.
While shooting Way Down East (1920), she was required to lie down on a slab of ice that was floating in a river for several hours in order to shoot a scene. While she did this, one of her hands was immersed in freezing cold water for hours, which permanently damaged the nerves in her wrist.
She held director D.W. Griffith in such high regard that, up until her death in 1993, she would always refer to him as "Mr. Griffith".
Lillian and Mary Pickford were childhood friends, but Mary tried to never be left alone with Lillian--remembering her mother's superstitious belief that "the good die young", Mary was in constant fear that Lillian would drop dead at any moment.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lillian Gish #19 on their list of 50 Greatest American Female Screen Legends.
She was of English, French and German heritage.
She and Dorothy Gish both started working for D.W. Griffith in the early days of American Mutoscope & Biograph. While it has been claimed that Griffith was immediately infatuated with Lillian, in their first film for him, An Unseen Enemy (1912), he thought they were twins. According to Lillian's autobiography, he had to tie different colored hair ribbons on the girls to tell them apart and give them direction: "Red, you hear a strange noise. Run to your sister. Blue, you're scared too. Look toward me, where the camera is.".
She was taught how to shoot by notorious western outlaw Al J. Jennings, who was in one of her early films (after having served a long term in prison for train robbery). When John Huston and Burt Lancaster took her to the desert to teach her how to shoot for The Unforgiven (1960), they were astounded to discover she could shoot more accurately and faster than they did. She found that she liked shooting, and over the years had developed into an expert shot.
Lillian was originally a member of the America First Committee, which advocated against US intervention in WII. It was not an uncommon position to be against America joining the war, with polls showing that 40% of Americans agreed at one point, but eventually apparent Nazi brutality made anti-war sentiment a radical opinion-one most infamously associated with the fascist sympathizing Charles Lindbergh. Gish was against any war due to her experience filming Hearts of the World, a WWI propaganda film, with Griffith in war-time France, in which she saw the horrors the Great War had unleashed. On why she opposed American involvement in WWII, Gish said "if I could save one American life and ruin my career in doing so, I would consider my career well lost." She resigned as a member of the committee several months before Pearl Harbor, and would later write a letter "I made War Propaganda" in Scribner's Commentator asking for forgiveness. After War was declared with Germany, any feelings of isolationism were seen as non-patriotic. Mary Pickford defended her: "This lady is as you and I are. She was merely against war".
In 1970, she wrote to congratulate California's First Lady Nancy Reagan after the Governor's wife likened anti-war protesters to Nazis in an interview. "Every time you and Ronnie open your mouths you echo my thoughts," Gish wrote.
Left her entire estate, which was valued at several million dollars, to Helen Hayes. Hayes died 18 days after Gish.
She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She maintained a very close relationship with her sister Dorothy Gish, as well as with Mary Pickford, for her entire life. She never married or had children.
At her 1984 AFI Life Achievment Award ceremony, John Houseman claimed that she and her sister Dorothy Gish were offered the chance to buy the Sunset strip for $300. After considering the offer, they decided to spend the money for two dresses at the fashionable Bullock's department store instead.
She was filmed for a scene in Woody Allen's Zelig (1983). She scolded legendary director of photography Gordon Willis on his lighting set-up and, while the crew watched aghast, gave Willis step-by-step instructions on how to relight the scene. Willis complied. The scene did not make it into the final version of the film.
The debut album of the rock band Smashing Pumpkins was named "Gish" after her.
Ended her relationship with George Jean Nathan after finding out that he was Jewish. This was despite the fact that Nathan had converted to Protestantism and he shared Gish's right-wing views.
Strongly denied The Birth of a Nation (1915) was racist until her death, despite ongoing complaints that it was a glorification of the Ku Klux Klan.
She met with Benito Mussolini, whom she greatly admired, during a visit to Italy.

Personal Quotes (19)

Lionel Barrymore first played my grandfather, later my father, and finally, he played my husband. If he'd lived, I'm sure I would have played his mother. That's the way it is in Hollywood. The men get younger and the women get older.
I never approved of talkies. Silent movies were well on their way to developing an entirely new art form. It was not just pantomine, but something wonderfully expressive.
Fans always write asking why I didn't smile more in films. I smiled in Annie Laurie (1927), but I can't recall that it helped much.
Those little virgins, after five minutes you got sick of playing them--to make them more interesting was hard work.
[1919] Marriage is a business. A woman cannot combine a career and marriage... I should not wish to unite the two.
[1939] I believe that marriage is a career in itself. I have preferred a stage career to a marriage career.
[after failing to receive a Best Actress nomination for The Whales of August (1987)] Oh, well. At least, I won't have to lose to Cher.
I don't care for modern films--all crashing cars and close-ups of people's feet.
I've never been in style, so I can't go out of style.
I can't remember a time when I wasn't acting, so I can't imagine what I would do if I stopped now.
[on D.W. Griffith] He inspired in us his belief that we were working in a medium that was powerful enough to influence the whole world.
[on Mary Pickford] It was always Mary herself that shone through. Her personality was the thing that made her movies memorable and the pictures that showed her personality were the best.
[on D.W. Griffith] It's true, sometimes I called him David. Even so, I might have said David, but I always thought "Mr. Griffith". He was a born general. His voice was a voice of command. It was resonant, deep and full.
I think the things that are necessary in my profession are these: Taste, Talent and Tenacity. I think I have had a little of all three.
[on Richard Barthelmess] The most beautiful face of any man who went before the camera.
[on Greta Garbo] Garbo's temperament reflected the rain and gloom of the long dark Swedish winters.
[Receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1971] Oh, all the charming ghosts I feel around me who should share this! It was our privilege for a little while to serve that beautiful thing, the film, and we never doubted for a moment that it was the most powerful thing, the mind and heartbeat of our technical century.
I'm a believing person. I believe in God even though I can't see him. You can't see the air in this room, right? But take it away and you're dead. And I believe there's something for us after we die. The world isn't wasteful.
[on why she acted in several comedies] I'm as funny as a barrel of dead babies.

Salary (2)

An Unseen Enemy (1912) $20
The White Sister (1923) $5,000 /week

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