Lillian Gish, a century of cinema

Lillian Gish in ‘The Birth of a Nation’.

Griffith’s muse was able to make the transition to sound and was active practically until the end of his days


If in the early years of cinematographer Mary Pickford (nicknamed ‘America’s Bride’) was the star that drove millions of viewers into theaters, Lillian Gish was the actress, one of the strongest in silent movies,
musa de David Wark Griffith, but that he continued his career with notable success in the sound scene during the 20th century, with such iconic films as ‘The night of the hunter’, ‘Duel in the sun’, or ‘The whales of August’, his latest work, in which he starred with 93 years.

Lillian Gish (1893-1993) was actually called Lillian Diana de Giche and she was born in Springfield, Ohio. In 1899, when she was just six years old, she began to act in the theater, and would be on stage, always with her sister Dorothy, two years younger, until 1912. It was on that date that the young Lillian met David W. Griffith thanks to the sisters’ relationship with then-budding star Mary Pickford. Griffith was so impressed by the talents of the two sisters, but especially Lillian’s, that he made her the lead in ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1912) and offered her work in twelve other films.
It is said that Lillian and Dorothy Gish were so similar that Griffith asked them to dress differently in order to distinguish them.

Lillian Gish in ‘The Night of the Hunter’.

With Lillian Gish’s theatrical baggage behind her, she always took her work very seriously, preparing her characters thoroughly. His fame would come in 1915 with
‘The birth of a nation’. The colossal success of the film makes Lillian Gish one of the greatest, most admired and idolized actresses in cinema, a representative figure of the time and interwar mentality. Griffith turns Gish into one of the great heroines of the screen
(‘Hearts of the world’, ‘Intolerance’, ‘The fault of others’, ‘The two orphans’, ‘The two storms’) and in 1920 the actress made her directorial debut in ‘Remodeling Her Husband’, in which her sister Dorothy was the lead.

In the 1920s, the actress went one step further by accepting more complex characters than she always came out with with enormous success: ‘The White Sister’ (1923), by Henry King, ‘La Bohème’ (1926), by King Vidor and the two best films directed in Hollywood by the Swede Victor Sjöström,
‘The Scarlet Letter’ (1926) and ‘The Wind’ (1928), as well as the great pacifist film by Fred Niblo,
‘The enemy’ (1928). Before, in 1926, she signed a contract with MGM, managing to be one of the few actresses with power over the cameras and the director: When the filming of ‘The Wind’ was planned, she imposed the director and protagonist.

With the arrival of the sound, which withdrew so many actors from the screen, she chooses to pause until she checks the direction that the cinema is taking, and returns to the theater, although soon, after the death of David Wark Griffith, who had failed in his His debut in the talkies, and whom he helped financially in his last years of life, when he had been relegated from the world of cinema, would reappear on celluloid. And other actresses who had gone from mute to sonorous with ease like Greta Garbo always recognized Lillian Gish’s skill and inspiration.

In 1946, again by the hand of his friend King Vidor, he played Laura Belle McCanles, the great matriarch of
‘Duel in the sun’, which earns her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Lillian Gish seeks more strong characters than leads. She works in films like ‘Jennie’, 1948), but her great work in these types of characters is when Charles Laughton calls her for her directorial debut with
‘The night of the hunter’ (1955), as a mature, strong and brave woman who saves a group of children from the criminal disguised as a preacher played by Robert Mitchum. Her character has made history and remains one of the great women in film history.


Lillian Gish in her latest film, ‘The Whales of August’, with Bette Davis.

In 1960 John Huston claims him for ‘Those who do not forgive’, he continues with titles such as’ Twenty dozen sons’ (1966), ‘The Comedians’ (1967), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe,’ A day of wedding ‘(1978) under the command of Robert Altman o
‘Sweet freedom’ (1986). In addition, Lillian Gish is intensely active as an actress in television series, from ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ to ‘Vacation by the Sea’.

In 1971, three years after the death of her sister Dorothy, Lillian received the honorary Oscar. But she keeps working, until sixteen years later, at the age of 93, Lillian stars in her latest movie,
‘The whales of August’ along with Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern, under the command of Lindsay Anderson. Lillian Gish died on February 27, 1993, a few months before her 100th birthday, in New York. With her died a century of film history.

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Lillian Gish, a century of cinema