Saturday, April 7, 2012
G Is For Lillian Gish
I just love this woman. Lillian Gish is truly one of America' s greatest cinematic treasures, a giant talent who started at the veritable dawn of cinema with her sister Dorothy, in D.W. Griffith's silent short An Unseen Enemy in 1912. However, she'd been acting on the stage since 1902, which means technically, her active acting career lasted an astounding 87 years. Her last film was The Whales of August with the incomparable Bette Davis and one of my favorite actors, the legendary Vincent Price in 1987. I loved that movie and highly recommend it.
She was the consummate actress, suffering for her craft under some extreme conditions like starvation and intense heat. At one point, during the run of the play A Good Little Devil, she collapsed on stage from anemia. Lillian gave her all in every part,and willingly adapted herself to each new era and technology. She transitioned to talkie films in 1930 and began to work in radio as well. In 1948 she made her television debut in The Late Christopher Bean.
At a time when most of her contemporaries had gone quietly into retirement, Lillian continued to reinvent herself and hone her craft. In 1969, she began lecturing on her career in the silent film era, introducing a new generation to the wonder of early film. She became a fierce advocate for the preservation of the silent films through her lectures and hosted a PBS series in 1975 called The Silent Years.
She never received an Academy Award, but was nominated in 1946 for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the western Duel in the Sun. She was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970 for her "superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures." The Kennedy Center honored her in 1982 and in 1984 she was awarded the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. Only the second woman to be so honored after Bette Davis.
Lillian was a strong woman who definitely forged her own path in life and is someone to be admired for all that she accomplished.
I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite quotes from her.
"You know, when I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather. Later he played my father and finally he played my husband. If he had lived, I'm sure I would have played his mother."
"Young man, if God had wanted you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your bellybutton."
Lillian's godson is James MacArthur, Danno from the original Hawaii Five-O series.
She was considered for the roles of both Ellen O'Hara and Belle Watling in Gone With The Wind.
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