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Lillian Gish 1893-1993

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Lillian Gish 1893-1993
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"I just wanted films I'd be proud of because I felt they were permanent and I didn't want to apologize for any of them."
- Lillian Gish on her film career

This Beautiful, Ethereal Queen

Lillian [click for larger image]

She was born Lillian Diana Gish on October 14, 1893 in Springfield, Ohio.
The daughter of James Leigh Gish and Mary Robinson McConnell. Lillian was proud of her roots, deeply planted in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century America. The Gish name was initialy the source of some mystification.  I 1922 at the time of the opening of Orphans of the Storm, Lillian reported that the Gish family was of French origin, descending from the Duke de Guiche, who fled France to escape his military duties. This French connection is reported in the programme biography for Orphans of the Storm, in keeping, perhaps, with the French locale (Paris) of the picture. Such press-agency falsification was common. Just a few years later the story was modified slightly so that de Guiche becomes the more illustrious Duc de Guise. It is also possible that Lillian was, at this time, genuinely ignorant of her father's origins. Her ties were infinitely stronger to her mother's side, and she had, in fact, had little contact with her father's family for many years.  The first "Gish" to settle in North America was Matthias Gische, who came from the Saar region, around Wolfersweiler, in Germany. The family historian, J.I. Hamaker, a professor at Randolph-Macon Women's College, alerted Lillian in 1933 to the two hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Gish homestead near Manheim, Pennsylvania, six miles north of Lancaster, where Matthias received a land grant of 170 acres from William Penn. A monument marks the site at eight-tenths of a mile south of Penryn, at Gish and Newport Roads. The Newport Road was a highway that linked Harrisburg and the port of Wilmington, Delaware.Matthias was a prosperous blacksmith as well as a farmer. When it was sold in 1942, the farm consisted of ninety-eight acres, a brick house built in 1851, and a barn with a cornerstone dated 1733.
Not only was Lillian Gish born in the right era, but she was also born with the ethereal beauty and grace to make her a star in the silent film industry. If Mary Pickford was the silent cinema's greatest personality, Lillian was its greatest actress. A consummate actress, Lillian seemed to take delight in suffering for the art form that became her obsession. In order to experiment, Lillian worked in extreme conditions such as starvation, intense heat and bitter cold. Soon, she became the quintessential silent screen heroine, lovely and open to suffering. However, despite her characters' apparent weakness, Lillian's performances also let their inner strengths shine through.

Her stage debut took place in 1902 when she performed at The Little Red School House in Rising Sun, Ohio. From 1903 to 1904, with her mother and her sister Dorothy, Lillian toured in Her First False Step. The following year, she danced with the Sarah Bernardt production in New York City. From 1908 to 1911 she moved around, staying with various relatives. She lived with her aunt in Massillon, Ohio, with her mother in East St. Louis and briefly with her father in Oklahoma.

Lillian's film debut came in 1912, when she and her sister starred in
An Unseen Enemy under the direction of D.W. Griffith. In 1913, during the production of A Good Little Devil, Lillian collapsed from anemia during a run of the play.
That same year, in The Mothering Heart, Lillian started showing signs of the emotional power hidden in the seemingly frail and hauntingly beautiful actress. Griffith utilized Lillian's aura to its fullest to develop the image of the suffering heroine. She also demonstrated an intense anger as shown in the same film, when she beats a bush after the death of her child. This intensity was present in all her films thereafter. Broken Blossoms is arguably Lillian's greatest silent film. The terror she expressed as her drunken father breaks down the door to the closet she was hiding in was communicated directly to the audience. She displayed that same intensity in Way Down East, when she baptizes a dying baby and in The Wind, where she roams, dying, through the streets of Montmartre. In 1920, she directed Dorothy Gish in Remodeling Her Husband and in 1922 she made Orphans in the Storm, her last film under Griffith's direction. She joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924 and made her first "talkie" One Romantic Night in 1930. She then returned to the stage in Uncle Vanya.

During the 1930s Lillian began working in radio. She made her television debut in 1948 with the Philco Playhouse production
The Late Christopher Bean. In 1969, Lillian began giving the film lecture "Lillian Gish and the Movies: The Art of Film, 1900-1928."

Lillian has been honored with many of the motion picture industry's top honors, including an honorary Academy Award, The American Film Institute Life Achievement Award and the D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime achievement.

Lillian's combination of fragility and strength, as well as her rare beauty and brilliant performance on screen, made her one of the greatest stars in silent films. She will always be remembered as one of the pioneers in the motion pictures industry.
Lillian Gish died on February 27, 1993 in New York City at the age of 99, and  she is still greatly missed and still greatly mourned

Orphans of the Storm 1921

Broken Blossoms DVD

Broken Blossoms 1919

Lillian Gish

the official site of the production
company for which D.W. Griffith 
and Lillian and Dorothy Gish
produced some of their most
well known films

this site is still being worked on
so check back regularly

at Bowling Green State University,
in Ohio, the birth place of
the Gish sisters

a comprehensive overview of
Lillian Gish's career featuring a
biography, career highlights,
famous quotes and more

An article written by Gish Film Theatre
curator, Dr. Ralph Haven Wolfe,
describing the Gish sisters' ties to
their native Ohio and the history
of the Gish Film Theater at
Bowling Green State University

a filmography

An Unseen Enemy (1912)
Two Daughters of Eve (1912)
In the Aisles of the Wild (1912)
The One She Loved (1912)
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
My Baby (1912)
Gold and Glitter (1912)
The New York Hat (1912)
The Burglar's Dilemma (1912)
A Cry for Help (1912)
Oil and Water (1913)
The Unwelcome Guest (1913)
The Stolen Bride (1913)
A Misunderstood Boy (1913)
The Left-Handed Man (1913)
The Lady and the Mouse (1913)
The House of Darkness (1913)
Just Gold (1913)
A Timely Interception (1913)
Just Kids (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)
The Madonna of the Storm (1913)
The Blue or the Gray (1913)
The Conscience of Hassan Bey (1913)
The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913)
The Green-Eyed Devil (1914)
The Battle of the Sexes (1914)
The Hunchback (1914)
The Quicksands (1914)
Home, Sweet Home (1914)
Judith of Bethulia (1914)
Silent Sandy (1914)
The Escape (1914)
The Rebellion of Kitty Belle (1914)
Lord Chumley (1914)
Man's Enemy (1914)
The Angel of Contention (1914)
The Wife (1914)
The Tear that Burned (1914)
The Folly of Anne (1914)
The Sisters (1914)
His Lesson (1914)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Lost House (1915)
Enoch Arden (1915)
Captain Macklin (1915)
Souls Triumphant (1915)
The Lily and the Rose
Daphne and the Pirate (1916)
Sold for Marriage (1916)
An Innocent Magdalene (1916)
Intolerance (1916)
Diane of the Follies (1916)
Pathways of Life (1916)
Flirting with Fate (1916)
The Children Pay (1916)
The House Built Upon Sand (1917)
Hearts of the World (1918)
The Great Love (1918)
Liberty Bond Short (1918)
The Greatest Thing in Life (1918)
The Romance of Happy Valley (1918)
Broken Blossoms (1919)
True Heart Susie (1919)
The Greatest Question (1919)
Way Down East (1920)
Remodeling Her Husband (1920) - Director
Orphans of the Storm (1921)
The White Sister (1923)
Romola (1924)
La Boheme (1926)
The Scarlet Letter (1926)
Annie Laurie (1927)
The Enemy (1927)
The Wind (1928)
One Romantic Night (1930)
His Double Life (1933)
Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942)
Tap Man (1943)
Miss Susie Slagle's (1946)
Duel in the Sun (1946) - Academy Award Nomination
Portrait of Jennie (1948)
The Cobweb (1955)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Salute to Theaters (1955)
Orders to Kill (1958)
The Unforgiven (1960)
Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
Warning Shot (1966)
The Comedians (1967)
The Comedians in Africa (1967)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1969)
Henri Langlois (1970)
Twin Detectives (1976)
A Wedding (1978)
Thin Ice (1981)
Hobson's Choice (1983)
Hambone and Hillie (1984)
Sweet Liberty (1985)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1986)
The Whales of August (1987)

Broken Blossoms. 1919

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