About twenty-five years ago a high school buddy who knew I liked old movies caught up with me one morning to ask about Way Down East. Well, not so much about Way Down East itself as PBS had aired it the night before and he had watched. But he'd fallen in love with leading lady Lillian Gish. "Who was that beautiful actress?" he asked.
She'd be the lovely lady who made Silent Film modern enough to allow me to push tapes of old movies into my VCR whenever that particular friend stopped to visit! (Tapes with old tyme "hot chicks," at least!) Thank you, Lillian Gish, for allowing me to share the classics with friends at an age where potential peer pressure could have easily put on hold a passion which continues to this day!
By the way, my friend liked the famous climax with the ice floes too. We're still friends and it still comes up!
On to the old papers:
We Need Some Safety Regulations!
From October 5, 1902:
MARION - Miss Lillian Gish, age 8, was taking part in a play when she was painfully injured by the accidental discharge of a revolver. The powder from the blank cartridge entered her leg.
Wow, they even got her age right! Gish often gave her date of birth as 1896 or even 1898. She was born in 1893 and would presumably still be healing on her ninth birthday, October 14.
Recent Gish biographer Charles Affron notes that "To celebrate the art that defined her, Lillian participated obsessively in the telling of her life by others and told it herself as often as people would read or listen" (14). In the process some details beyond her age got fudged. Consistently. For decades. Longer form biographical coverage of Lillian Gish began in the 1920's and she continued telling her own story throughout her long life.
That's why I've been trying to stick to the earliest clippings I can find in this series. Back when press notices were honor enough that there was less likely need to make up the actual coverage.
By the way, I'm only a few chapters into the Affron book having just picked it up yesterday but I must say I'm impressed so far.
The Introduction takes a bit of a negative tone in discussing the Gish biography to date, primary source of which was generally Lillian Gish. But Affron had access to Gish's papers after her death for this 2001 biography and so I expect this opening is just a bit of front to let you know some long held truths are going to be put down on the pages to follow.
Now, I haven't even gotten Lillian to the Biograph as of yet, but what I have read so far is meticulously researched and easy to read. Two key attributes of most biographies I enjoy and at this time I fully expect to add the Affron book on Lillian Gish to that list.
Related to Peerless Leader? Doubt It
This info actually comes from a 1906 Dorothy Gish clipping but on the infinitesimal chance that there is any truth to the claim that Dorothy is the niece of baseball Hall of Famer Frank Chance, then the same would be true of Lillian as well.
But the same clip gives me a chance to post a fascinating early Dorothy Gish clipping inside this post that is really supposed to be about her sister!
Cubs' Mascot Bet All Her Pin Money is the title of the October 15, 1906 article inside the Des Moines Daily News which includes a grainy photo of 8 year old Dorothy Gish that I've also reproduced below.
A very much disappointed girl is little Miss Dorothy Gish, the clever little child actress, who will appear with Blake O'Hara in "Mr. Blarney from Ireland" at the Grand next Sunday. The young lady is the niece of Capt. Frank Chance of the National Base Ball league and was the Mascot of the tear all summer, until she went on the road with Mr. O'Hara. Her face is as familiar to the Chicago fans as any of the players, as she always sat on the bench with her uncle. She also has the proud distiction of having taken the trip around the world, with the famous All-American team. She sent Captain Chance all kinds of lucky charms, for the Championship series, but they could not avail against the White Sox. As she says herself, although her uncle didn't win, yet she knows that the Cubs will hold the National Pennant for a long while. Needless to say, that the young lady will have very little pocket money for awhile as she had a bet on the Cubs with every member of the Mr. O'Hara company.
The 1906 World Series, referenced in the paragraph above has actually just ended the previous day. Chance was manager and star First Baseman of those Cubs and for the non-fan is also the Chance immortalized in the famed Tinkers to Evers to Chance poem, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," by Franklin Pierce Adams. Peerless Leader refers to Chance's nickname.
But the question here is about Dorothy Gish. Was she the unofficial mascot of the 1906 Chicago Cubs and is there any possibility that the Gish girls were related to Frank Chance?
By the way, here's some genealogical research someone has done about Frank Chance's immediate family.
Hometown Visit in 1913
Lillian Gish returns to Massillon from filming in Los Angeles and talks to the local press about life in the movies.
"There is a popular impression that we have a life of ease ... with large pay and some occasional poses and some silent acting before the camera," said Lillian. "It is not quite so easy, however. There are fifty-two weeks of work every year for us, and six workdays in every week of the fifty-two."
The Gish sisters stopped over in Massillon on their way back to the new Biograph studios in New York. It is mentioned that the Biograph company will number 600 people when it reopens today.
It's interesting that they ask the young actress about the budgets involved in production. The question seems posed in order to illustrate to readers that the movies aren't some fly by night operation. They are a real business!
"Take for instance, The Mothering Heart, in which I take the leading part," Lillian explains. "The cafe scene in this film alone cost $2,000. In Judith and Holfernes, in which I also appear, it cost $40,000 to construct a reproduction, in masonry, of the walls and city of Jerusalem, only to have it blown up and absolutely destroyed in the twinkling of an eye before a moving picture man's camera. This picture took two rolls of films. You won't see it for a dime--for a while at least. It has not yet been released, but when it is, it will be shown at $2 admission prices. It is the most expensive picture ever produced in America--and probably second to only one other picture in the world."
I don't know if Gish got her prices right, I'd prefer to ask D.W. Griffith about those numbers, but the film she is referring to is Judith of Bethulia and the more expensive one would be the Italian Dante's Inferno (1911).
Lillian also mentions how she learned to drive a car while rehearsing for a film and sister Dorothy also answers a couple of questions.
The author writes that "gun play, horse back riding, swimming, canoeing, automobiling, in fact, everything but flying machines seems to have entered the experience of the young ladies."
It Was Tough Going for Film Fans
Early on that is. The way the stars were billed, or more accurately unbilled, you sometimes didn't even know who exactly you were a fan of! To illustrate, here's a brief bit from a 1914 issue of Moving Picture World that's made me smile every time I've read it tonight:
In "Aisles of the Wild" the brunette was Clair McDowell and the blonde, Lillian Gish. Gish is not another name for Miss Pickford. Lillian Gish, a blonde, is with Miss Pickford in "A Good Little Devil." Dorothy, who is but 14, is still with the Biograph, too young for stage work. The Gishes have been friends of Miss Pickford since her own very recent childhood.
"Gish is not another name for Miss Pickford," is the part that gets me every time!
Some Modesty, Miss Gish, Please!
How do you think this would fly today?
Reported by the Evening Independent of Massillon, Ohio on April 27, 1917:
Love for her adopted home town and a desire to be one of Massillon's girls once more, prompted Miss Lillian Gish, formerly of Massillon, now a motion picture star, to enter her photograph in a beauty contest which is being conducted by the Chamber of Commerce ...
While here on a visit last winter, Miss Gish expressed a desire to enter the contest if acceptable to the Chamber of Commerce. Her offer was immediately accepted and her photograph was received Thursday.
The winner gets to be declared "Miss Massillon" and will have her photo sent all over the U.S. on postcards advertising the Industrial Exposition to be held there the following October.
While I found several references to the Miss Massillon contest in the Evening Independent leading up to Miss Gish's entry, I found none after her submission. If the paper ever announced a winner I couldn't find it.
- "A Massillon Girl, Movie Star, Risks Life for Pictures." Evening Independent 7 Jul 1913: 1. NewspaperArchive. Web. 15 Aug 2012.
- "Cubs' Mascot Bet All Her Pin Money." Des Moines Daily News 15 Oct 1906: 8. NewspaperArchive. Web. 15 Aug 2012.
- "Marion." Logansport Journal 5 oct 1902: 1. NewspaperArchive. Web. 15 Aug 2012.
- "Movie Star Would Be Massillon Girl Again; Enters Contest Here." Evening Independent 27 Apr 1917: 1. NewspaperArchive. Web. 15 Aug 2012.
TCM Summer Under the Stars 2012
Today's TCM Lillian Gish schedule is a bit disproportionate in remembering her career, but can certainly claim variety!
None of her real early stuff but her feature length work for D.W. Griffith is highlighted with a few selections as are her later prestige silent films for MGM--and don't miss The Wind! An early talkie caps the night with later supporting work from the 1940's through 1967 filling out the day.
Wednesday, August 15 - Lillian Gish - TCM Summer Under the Stars
- 6:00 am - Broken Blossoms (1919) starring Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp
- 7:45 am - Orphans of the Storm (1921) starring Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Joseph Schildkraut
- 10:30 am - La Boheme (1926) starring Lillian Gish, John Gilbert, Renee Adoree
- 12:15 pm - The Scarlet Letter (1926) starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Karl Dane
- 2:00 pm - The Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) starring Paul Muni, Anna Lee, Lillian Gish
- 3:45 pm - Portrait of Jennie (1948) starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore
- 5:15 pm - The Comedians (1967) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Lillian Gish
- 8:00 pm - Intolerance (1916) starring Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish, Constance Talmadge
- 11:30 pm - The Wind (1928) starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love
- 1:00 am - The Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
- 2:45 am - Orders to Kill (1958) starring Eddie Albert, Paul Massie, Lillian Gish
- 4:45 am - One Romantic Night (1930) starring Lillian Gish, Rod La Rocque, Conrad Nagel
*All times EST.