Wednesday, 26 August 2009

America's Other Sweetheart

Lillian Gish started making movies a few years after Mary Pickford, but both had started out on the stage. The girls were childhood friends, but Mary was terrified to be left alone with Lillian, her mother had told her that 'the good die young'. Mary was afraid that Lillian would drop dead at any moment. In Mary's old age, Lillian became one of the few people who Mary would speak to in person. Lillian would eventually become the star of an enormous portion of D.W. Griffith's short and feature films - her most famous being Birth of a Nation. I was lucky enough to take a Griffith film class - basically a Lillian Gish fest. She was a phenomenal actress, but would never have made it in today's movies. Lillian acted with her face. Though she did make several forays into the world of talkies (I saw one of them as well- it was even in color) her voice was high and squeaky, and she was not terribly graceful on her feet. It was her expressions and smaller movements that really took to the screen. She frequently played the part of the innocent little girl. In Broken Blossoms, probably my favorite of her movies, she was given the part of the lead who, in the novel was 12. Lillian was 27. Griffith assured her that it would be all right, they were raising the girl's age to 15 so it would be more believable. Believe it or not, it was.

Lillian's decline came with the rising popularity of the flappers and the jazz babies. She was dropped from her MGM contract as a 'sexless antique' to be replaced by Greta Garbo. The same Greta Garbo who was required to be present every day of Lillian's filming of The Scarlet Letter as part of her acting apprenticeship.

1921 Orphans of the Storm with sister Dorothy

1920 Way Down East (pretty much Tess of the D'Urburvilles)

Mrs. Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish

1928 The Wind


Those little virgins, after five minutes you got sick of playing them
- to make them more interesting was hard work.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't acting,
so I can't imagine what I would do if I stopped now.

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.

I've never been in style, so I can't go out of style.

P.S. I'm still taking requests for Saturday's post!

1 comment:

Katie B said...

I love love love Lillian Gish.