Thursday, October 13, 2005

Happy Birthday Lillian Gish

''I've never been in style, so I can never go out of style."

In case you don't know who she is, Lillian Gish was one of the leading actresses from the silent movie era, and also had a long post-silent career in movies and stage, appearing in her last movie in 1987. But the bulk of her fame came from the work she did during the silent era. She was born in Springfield, Ohio in 1893. Her father was absent during her childhood, so her mom pushed her and her sister Dorothy into acting at an early age to help support the family. She made her stage debut at age 4. In 1912, an actress friend of theirs named Mary Pickford convinced them to get involved in screen acting (like the Gishes, Mary also had supported her family through acting). They joined up with famed director D.W. Griffith and Lillian became one of his star actresses.

She appeared in a lot of his shorts, and in his two major epics - Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. In the 20s, she signed with MGM and gained creative control over the types of films she worked on. As sound came on the scene, her popularity faded, and she moved back to stage acting. She did start appearing back in films in the 40s and received an Oscar nomination, but she would never regain the starring roles she had in the 10s and 20s. She died in NYC in 1993 and never married.

To those who never watched silent movies or Lillian on screen, I think she brings a lot of elegance and class to any scene she is in. She definitely doesn't have a comedic or silly edge to her like Mary Pickford. Lillian Gish, with her doe-eyes, pouty lips and curled hair is probably the perfect example of a female star from the 1910s. Her look and style is definitely pre-flapper, with lots of innocence and no hint of rowdy behavior. A good introduction to her work would be picking up the Biograph shorts DVD if you don't want to take on a full length silent movie. Mother Heart is probably her best performance in that DVD collection.

- Lillian Gish Official Site
- Gish sisters theatre at Bowling Green State University in Ohio


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