Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook but I’m taking a detour today to try something a little older. In 1916, Photoplay magazine published a collection of sandwich recipes that were said to be based on the screen personalities of the biggest female stars. This time around, we will be tasting the Lillian Gish sandwich.
The home invasion robbery was one of the most popular suspense tropes of the nickelodeon era. It was cheap to stage and could really have audiences on pins and needles.
Yes, the hug-me-tight is not exactly popular these days but they were everywhere 100+ years ago. And, no, they aren’t bizarre and villainous contraptions invented by Dr. Seuss. (That would be a lock-me-tight.)
“Are you burying bodies in the back yard again?”
The Wind is a complicated psychological puzzle of a film and thousands of words have been written examining its story and characters. Lillian Gish gives the performance of her career as a completely self-absorbed character who finds herself without the necessary tools to cope with harsh desert life. The supporting cast is also excellent with Montagu Love playing a perfectly hissable sleaze and Lars Hanson as the rough but kind-hearted fella who gets that kind heart broken.
One supporting player who gets relatively recognition is Dorothy Cumming as Cora. She thinks that Lillian is after her husband. She may be right, the movie is ambiguous. Not only is Cumming a good physical counterpoint to Gish, she gives a performance that is a study in smouldering.
This is the scene where the unspoken dislike finally comes bursting out. I certainly wouldn’t want Dorothy Cumming mad at me. And I love the phrase Miss Sly Boots. Isn’t it just perfection? (Trivia! Cumming played the evil queen in the 1916 version of Snow White, the one the inspired a certain Mr. Disney to try his hand at the fairy tale game.)
Availability: The Wind was released on VHS with a brilliant score by Carl Davis and the music is such a big part of the film’s impact that I know a lot of fans (myself included) cannot imagine a viewing without it. This version is NOT yet available on DVD, Blu-ray or via streaming in the U.S. as of this writing. There are PAL format DVDs available if you are a good movie buff and own a region-free player. But do seek out the Carl Davis scored version.
The Gish girls made their debut in the 1912 short, An Unseen Enemy, in which they are menaced by a “slattern maid” and Harry Carey. Fortunately, their brother steals Antonio Moreno’s car and races to the rescue. Yes, it is just chock-full of soon-to-be-famous people.
It’s interesting that Dorothy Gish’s persona as “the sassy one” is already in place at the tender age of fourteen. She is in love with Bobby Harron but Lillian will not put up with any hanky-panky on her watch. Dorothy’s expression as she is pulled away matches mine exactly when I am told there is no time for an ice cream run. “But, but… WANT!”
(You can read my review of the short here.)
The Wind is among my favorite silent films so I am very excited about this article. It is an examination of three myths that have attached themselves to the 1928 Lillian Gish vehicle:
MGM slapped on a happy ending
The original tragic ending still exists in Europe
The Wind is too windy (and shot in 120-degree weather)
I begin this article with a certain amount of trepidation, in spite of my excitement. You see, two of these myths can be directly traced back to Lillian Gish herself. I want to go on record as saying that I have enormous respect for her as an actress. However, these myths have gone unchallenged for long enough. I will endeavor to be respectful but the facts deserve to be discussed.
MGM slapped on a happy ending
Bless Lillian Gish’s heart. She did so much to increase the awareness and appreciation of silent films. However, sometimes the best actors carry on acting and storytelling in real life. Her video introduction to The Wind is a good example of this.
I am not a fan of calling out nanogenarians on every exaggeration or misremembered detail. It just seems a little rude. I mean, I doubt any of us would come out very well if every word we spoke got fact-checked. (Ha! You said you ate Kix for breakfast on Tuesday but I discovered that you actually ate Rice Krispies!) However, Miss Gish’s version of the events surrounding the ending of The Wind has has been dutifully repeated by authors, historians, TCM hosts and fans.
Taped in 1983, this video introduction is to be found on the movie’s VHS release, aired on television and even screened at film festivals. The only problem is that her tale is not borne out by internal MGM documents, shooting scripts or by the structure of the film itself.
The accepted narrative, per Miss Gish:
Lillian Gish and company filmed a version of The Wind that was very close to the tragic original source novel by Dorothy Scarborough. However, the executives, preview audiences and film exhibitors got cold feet at the downer ending. As a result, MGM frogmarched the cast and crew back to the set to create a happy ending. Gish and co. were horrified, one and all, by the bastardization of their work of art but a contract was a contract. The tragic ending was lost, probably destroyed, and all we have left is the compromise ending.
What the evidence says:
The evidence against the accepted narrative comes in two forms. First, we have the internal documents from MGM. The tragic ending was not included in any of the shooting scripts, while the happy ending was there from the beginning. There were some retakes a month after production wrapped (a reasonably common occurrence) but they were to change minor aspects of the already-filmed happy ending, specifically to remove a comedy sidekick from the romantic reunion of the main characters.
I should mention, though, that MGM did have major reservations about The Wind. They shelved it for an entire year and then dumped it in late 1928, when talkies were an unstoppable force.
You can read more details about the shooting scripts and reshoot in Charles Affron’s Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life. Mr. Affron is quite antagonistic toward his subject but his sources do check out and, in any case, it matches what the extremely reliable Scott Eyman wrote in Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. (Eyman’s books are respectful but not fawning and his research is pristine. I heartily recommend them to anyone who wants a level-headed look at silent and golden age Hollywood.) Both books reach the same conclusions: The happy ending was negotiated before a single foot of film was shot.
Now on to the second point. We can learn a great deal by comparing the original Scarborough novel with the Frances Marion screen adaptation.
You see, both Gish and Marion claimed that the film followed its source novel almost exactly. That’s true for the first half but the second half was changed considerably.
Here is the very basic plot for the first part of the tale: Virginia belle Letty (Lillian Gish) arrives in the western desert to live with her cousin. Cousin’s wife is jealous and hates her. Letty has a crush on Roddy (Montagu Love) but discovers he has a wife already. A cowpoke named Lige (Lars Hanson) proposes to Letty but is turned down cruelly. Meanwhile, Letty is slowly driven insane by the raging wind. All of this closely follows the novel, with the exception of Letty discovering that Roddy is married.
(If you want further details on the film’s plot, you can read my full-length movie review.)
In the book, Letty agrees to marry Lige while in a blind panic caused by the windstorm that is raging outside. In the movie, Letty fights with her cousin’s wife, who wants her out of the house. She marries Lige because there is nowhere else for her to go.
From this point forward, most of the novel takes place in Letty’s head until Roddy reenters the narrative. There is much gazing out at the landscape, remembering her old home and wishing to escape the wind. It works very well for a book but the movie adaptation needed more visible events to keep the narrative going. Lots of changes were needed.
From the wedding on, the book and film begin to diverge.
In the novel, Letty does not let on to Lige that she does not love him. She continues to live with him as his wife (in every sense of the word) and is slowly driven mad by the wind. Things erupt when Letty asks Lige to send her away for the summer to escape the wind. He has no money to do so and is hurt that she is not willing to stand by him. They fight and in a rage, Letty tells Lige that she never loved him. His illusion shattered, Lige rides out into a storm, gets drunk and collapses.
Roddy takes the opportunity to catch Letty alone. He taunts her with mental images of the wind attacking her and wears her down until she gives herself to him. In the morning, he tries to get her to elope with him. Instead, she shoots him dead.
Okay, rewind and let’s discuss the film. In the movie, Lige is giddy about his marriage and eager for the wedding night. Letty rebuffs him and kicks him out of the bedroom. So, from the very start, Lige knows that his marriage is based on a lie. He begins to take on extra work so that he can make money to send Letty home to Virginia. While he is away on a job, Roddy shows up. He forces himself on Letty and she shoots him.
So, can you see the different relationship arc between Lige and Letty? In the book, Lige’s discovery that Letty does not love him is the climax of their relationship. In the film, that knowledge there from the beginning, which leads to a very uncomfortable living arrangement. The emotional climax for Lige comes when he leaves for the job that will give him enough money to send Letty home. He kisses her (something he has not attempted since the wedding night) and rushes out into the storm.
While the book focuses entirely on Letty (she is a very self-absorbed character), the film opens up a bit and allows Lige to have his own character arc. A lovable goofball at the start of the film, Lige gets the emotional stuffing knocked out of him by Letty’s wedding night rejection. He spends the rest of the tale trying to balance his love for his wife with his dignity and his self-denial in sending her away.
The wedding night scene was not in the original novel. As many others have pointed out before me, the scene and much of Letty and Lige’s relationship was likely based on the 1926 film The Canadian, starring Thomas Meighan and Mona Palma. The Canadian was released in November of 1926, around the same time that The Wind was in pre-production.
I realize that speculation like this can be dangerous, especially with no paperwork to back up claims of inspiration, but I feel that that parallels between The Wind and The Canadian are too strong to be a coincidence. The Wind actually lifts some title cards from Thomas Meighan’s character in The Canadian and gives them to Lige.
The Canadian has the same setup as The Wind: Pretty newcomer, disliked by relative’s wife, ends up marrying a rough fella, looks down on him, no love on the wedding night. The Canadian got some pretty good reviews upon its original release but was not flashy enough to command a lot of attention. (It was released opposite films like Old Ironsides and The Winning of Barbara Worth.) Thought lost for decades, it was rediscovered 1969 and has received considerable acclaim for its subtle performances.
In my opinion, from the wedding night forward, The Wind becomes an amalgamation of The Canadian and the original Scarborough novel. In The Canadian, Thomas Meighan works hard on his farm trying to get enough money to send his wife home to England. This is paralleled by Lige taking on extra work and even risking life and limb to earn enough for his wife to leave him. In contrast, the novel, Lige is neither as self-aware nor as self-sacrificing. He cannot comprehend why Letty would want to leave, hasn’t the money to send her away and has no way to earn more in any case.
That’s not to say that the films are identical. Unlike The Wind, The Canadian has no real villain but its characters do take dark turns. Although he seems to accept his marriage as a business-only arrangement, Thomas Meighan’s character later rapes his wife during a violent argument. He spends the rest of the picture trying to atone. In contrast, Lars Hanson keeps away from Lillian Gish after her first rejection.
The Canadian was based on a 1913 play by W. Somerset Maugham entitled The Land of Promise. The play unpleasantly treats the marital rape as a necessary corrective measure on the part of the husband that the wife accepts as her lot. The film adaptation jettisons much of its source material, thankfully. (It actually seems to borrow plot and visual elements from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1925 film The Road to Yesterday.) I will discuss the film further when I post a full review.
After Letty kills Roddy, both the book and the film have her hide his body in the sand and grow steadily more hysterical as the wind buries and unburies the corpse. In the book, Letty waits for Lige to come home but he does not arrive. She runs out into the desert to die. In the film, Lige returns and is reunited with Letty for that happy ending.
As you can see, this is not simply a case of the scenario writer slapping a different ending on an established story. The inner workings of the tale have been rearranged to accommodate the new ending. In the book, Lige is still processing his wife’s confession that she never loved him. This comes after months of what he thought was a happy union. Lige is a more childlike figure in the book and equals Letty in his self-aborption. Therefore, it is quite believable that he would stay away as Letty goes mad.
In the film, Lige has had months to come to terms with his wife’s disdain. He fell for her because she was pretty and refined but did not really know her. Since physical affection has been denied, he has to show his love in other ways. Lars Hanson was a fine actor of extreme range and power. His skill allows him to convey Lige’s transition from goofy romantic suitor to injured party to self-sacrificing hero. In my opinion, having Letty wander off to die sells short the character arcs of both halves of the couple.
Of course, Lillian Gish was thirty-three and Lars Hanson was forty when The Wind was filmed, which made them well over a decade older than the characters in the book. (Letty was only eighteen.) The more mature behavior of the movie characters reflects this difference in age and experience.
The Canadian ends with a sorrowful Thomas Meighan sending his wife away with his permission for a divorce and enough money for her passage home. Instead, she opts to stay with him and build a life. The Wind ends with Letty confessing her murder to Lige, who does not entirely believe her. By this time, the sand has swallowed Roddy’s body (if it was ever there, the film hints that Letty may have hallucinated). Lige then makes his offer to send Letty home but she says she wants to stay and that she is not afraid of the wind anymore.
The Wind‘s scenario writer, Frances Marion, did not abandon a tragic ending. Rather, she had two sources (possibly more) that she drew from and she chose to use the happier ending rather than the tragic one. The idea that the happy ending was manufactured out of whole cloth is inaccurate. Was the decision to end happily the result of studio pressure? Quite likely. But the idea that the cast and crew were blindsided in post-production by studio execs twirling their proverbial mustaches is fiction. There is a huge difference between agreeing to a compromise ending in pre-production and having one forced on you after a studio bait-and-switch in post-production.
Do I think The Wind‘s ending is a little too peppy? Yes, a more understated one would probably have been better. However, as I am fond of saying, a happy ending is not always inferior and a tragic ending is not always superior. Frances Marion did a masterful job of adapting the source novel and incorporating elements from a similar film. The story flows and is emotionally honest. While Letty’s sudden recovery from her fear of the wind stretches credulity a bit, in general, I have no complaints.
As Senses of Cinema brings out, having Letty die at the end actually changes The Wind into one of those “her maidenhood is despoiled and therefore she must perish” morality tales. My problem with the tragic ending (if it had been attached to the film adaptation as-is) is that it turns the movie into one of those “let’s watch a woman suffer as much as possible” stories.
I should note that stories about The Wind‘s fabled “real” ending are not limited to Lillian Gish. Frances Marion’s autobiography, Off With Their Heads, and her biography, Without Lying Down, go along with this version of the events. The latter book can be useful but cites some very suspect sources and so I use it with caution.
(For the record, I have no issue with screenwriters swiping elements from other films so long as they improve upon the material. Since The Canadian is better than The Road to Yesterday and The Wind is better than The Canadian, I would say that we viewers are winning on the deal. One of the most famous cases of this story ping-pong is The Glass Key to Yojimbo to A Fistful of Dollars.)
Of course, viewers will make their own decisions regarding the ending of the film. Some may still dislike the happy ending. However, I hope I have provided enough information to allow them to look at the movie with new eyes. Miss Gish is extremely compelling and persuasive when she speaks of the ending of The Wind but I respectfully disagree with her.
(For years, Dorothy Scarborough’s novel was only available as a pricy university press edition. It has recently been released as a reasonably-priced e-book.)
The original tragic ending of The Wind still exists in Europe
This is highly unlikely as the tragic ending was never shot in the first place. It is possible that the European version was recut and had different title cards to make the ending more downbeat (this was not unheard of) but that’s not the same thing.
The Wind is too windy (and was filmed at 120-degrees)
I grew up not far from where The Wind was filmed.
I am afraid that Miss Gish (as seen in the embedded video at the beginning of the article) is not correct about the temperature being “rarely below 120.” In fact, her own autobiography states that the weather was cool when the filming started and then there was a burst of heat, which would be more typical. There will be a few days that spike near 120 but these are individual days, not a wave and they usually occur in July or August, if at all. You will certainly not find them in May or June, which was when The Wind was filmed. (A typical temperature for that time of year would be 95-105 degrees.) The hot temperatures may have felt like 120-degrees to someone used to Los Angeles weather but that is not the same thing.
I bring this up because the temperature has become yet another aspect of the film that has taken on a life of its own. If you don’t believe me, just look at the breathless descriptions on IMDB.
I guess “filmed in temperatures of 105 degrees!” just doesn’t have the same ring. Even if there were one or two freak almost-120 days during the production, saying that the entire movie was shot in 120-degree conditions is like saying Way Down East was shot entirely during a blizzard.
I do, however, believe Miss Gish when she talks about a hot metal handle taking off her skin. The sun is blazing and my earliest childhood memory is actually of burning my hand on a hot metal railing.
While the original novel makes it clear that it is set in Texas, the film is more ambiguous as to its location. Gish says that the film was made in “Bakersfield, in the Mojave Desert” but Bakersfield is not in the Mojave desert. It is in the San Joaquin valley and you probably eat grapes and baby carrots grown in the region, if that gives you some idea of the climate. Bakersfield does have desert areas but it is also cooler than the Mojave Desert (the highest recorded temperature in June was 114 degrees and the average high for the month is 90 degrees). Here are some pictures of Bakersfield in the twenties. It looks quite nice.
Judging from the terrain and the fact that Miss Gish mentioned Bakersfield (which is a little over an hour from the western edge of the desert with modern freeways), I would say that The Wind was made around what is now Jawbone Canyon, Edwards Air Force Base, California City and the town of Mojave. This is just a guess, obviously.
I know Death Valley is often mentioned as a filming location or at least as being in the vicinity. (And it does get over 120-degrees.) Yes, it is in the Mojave Desert but it is nowhere near Bakersfield (the desert is approximately the size of Greece) and I find it highly unlikely that a colorful narrator like Gish would fail to mention something called Death Valley. My money is still on the western side of the desert as the filming location.
The Wind was a challenging and uncomfortable shoot and everyone involved deserves credit. However, let’s not gild the lily.
Now for the wind itself. As I brought out in my review of the film, viewers must remember that the film is subjective, not objective. In other words, we are seeing the world through Letty’s eyes as she dances on the edge of madness.
Complaints about the windiness of The Wind started at its premier. The notoriously thick Mordaunt Hall criticized the film’s weather and ignored its brilliant leads. Even now, I sometimes hear remarks about the wind being too exaggerated in the movie. No, not really.
You see, the film crew used airplane propellers to simulate wind because there was no way of knowing exactly when a dust storm would kick up. However, had they been able to predict the wind…
Wind storms in the desert are unreal. They scream and howl. They tear metal highway signs in half. Not bend, tear. They uproot trees. They flip Mack trucks. They blot out the sun. I can assure you that they are terrifying. Weeks of that on end? I would be crazy too. (Check out this chart of average wind speed. See that spike?)
I don’t tell the good people of Ontario what it is like to have a blizzard. I don’t force my opinions about hurricanes on Floridians. If you live in Kansas, you know a lot more about tornados than I ever will. As a born and bred Mojave desert rat, I claim my expertise by right of experience.
Oh, and while we are on the subject, how’s about a DVD release? The Wind has been shown numerous times on TCM and came out on VHS but has never had an official DVD or streaming release. It’s a shame since it is a wonderful movie.
And please include the Carl Davis score! Pretty please?
Another wonderful Elmer Booth moment from The Musketeers of Pig Alley. Lillian Gish is the tomato of his dreams but she just wants to be pals. Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea, I guess.
Booth played Gish’s loving brother in An Unseen Enemy, her movie debut, and Mary Pickford’s ex-con husband in The Narrow Road. He would have likely been in demand during the gangster boom of the 20’s but tragically lost his life in a 1915 car accident. The driver, director Tod Browning, had been driving while intoxicated and was seriously injured.
While he did not make his mark on feature films, we still have Booth’s signature role to remember him by.
I always crack up at this part of The Musketeers of Pig Alley. Elmer Booth feels that as he has saved Lillian Gish from a rival gang, he is entitled to certain privileges. Not so! Lillian is happily married, thank you very much.
Elmer finds this odd as this is the guy he mugged earlier in the movie. He considers him a bit of a wimp. And Lillian prefers HIM? Women!
Two sisters, an empty house, a dishonest maid and a fortune in the safe. A recipe for a melodrama if I ever saw one! D.W. Griffith directs the Gish sisters in their motion picture debut, with able support from Bobby Harron, Elmer Booth, Harry Carey and a very early appearance from Antonio Moreno!
Continue reading An Unseen Enemy (1912) A Silent Film Review
See poor Lillian Gish, a damsel in distress once again! What can she possibly do when Elmer Booth (one of the screen’s first charming gangsters) tries to make her his chicken? Why, she must faint, of course!
(I hope you can see the GIF. Lillian smacks Elmer and shoves him back. Good girl!)
On a side note, Elmer Booth’s oddly made-up friend is future cowboy star and John Wayne mentor Harry Carey.
I can’t believe it’s almost here! The Gish Sisters Blogathon is launching this Saturday.
Some of the contributors expressed a day preference while others were free to be penciled in any time. My co-hostess, Lindsey of The Motion Pictures, did a marvelous job of scheduling everyone between the three days of the blogathon.
If you need to reschedule:
No problem! Just let one of us know and we will be happy to accommodate you.
If you want to join:
You can still do that too! Let us know your topic and the day you prefer.
Day 1: September 7
Critica Retro – Orphans of the Storm
Donald Mania – Video tribute
Falderal – The White Sister
Films Worth Watching – The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
The Great Katherine Hepburn – Remodeling Her Husband
The Motion Pictures – List of participants (to be updated throughout the blogathon w/ links)
Movies, Silently – Gretchen the Greenhorn
Once Upon a Screen – The Musketeers of Pig Alley
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion – Have You Been Gished?
portraitsbyjenni – The Scarlet Letter + BGSU’s Gish Theater
The “Semi” Daily Main — Broken Blossoms
Silent Volume – La Boheme
Silent Volume – Mothering Heart
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To – The Whales of August
Day 2: September 8
Cinemalacrum – The Night of the Hunter
Cinematic Catharsis – Broken Blossoms
Donald Mania – Article on Lillian’s influence on cinema
Films Worth Watching – True Heart Susie
MIB’s Instant Headache – Birth of a Nation Blu-ray
The Motion Pictures – Sweet Liberty
Outspoken and Freckled – The Night of the Hunter
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion – Don’t you wish you were a Gish?
Girls Do Film – Romola
Silent Volume – Birth of a Nation
Silent Volume – Intolerance
Silver Screenings – Portrait of Jennie
The Soul of the Plot – Duel in the Sun
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – The Wind
Day 3: September 9
Don’t Upset Granny Gish – His Double Life
The Joy and Agony of Movies – Intolerance
The Last Drive In – Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Body in the Barn”
The Man on the Flying Trapeze — The Day I Insulted Lillian Gish
Motion Picture Gems – Centennial Summer
The Motion Pictures – The Cardinal
Movie Classics – The Scarlet Letter
The Movie Rat – Orphans of the Storm, Lillian and Dorothy Together
Movies, Silently – An Unseen Enemy
The Nitrate Diva – Hearts of the World
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion – Gish Sisters Have Imperfect Noses
Silent Volume – Rebirth of a Nation
Strictly Vintage Hollywood – Nell Gwynn
True Classics – La Boheme
It’s hard to believe that the Gish Sisters Blogathon is less than a month away! I just wanted to update everyone on what has been happening.
What is it
A three day celebration of the careers of Lillian and Dorothy Gish.
When is it?
September 7, 8 and 9
Where is it?
Right here or at my co-hostess Lindsey’s blog, The Motion Pictures.
How can I join?
Just contact either one of us and say what you would like to contribute. We
Here is the roster, if you want to take a peek at what other folks are contributing.
If you can’t join…
You can still help us by spreading the word. Every little bit helps and is enormously appreciated.
If you want to join but aren’t sure what to contribute…
Here is a list of film suggestions!
Dorothy needs a little help!
While her films are not quite as available as Lillian’s, there are still lots to choose from so please consider contributing something about Dorothy.
Greetings! Well, it looks like I am at it again! Another blogathon!
September 9, 2013 is going to mark the 101st anniversary of Lillian and Dorothy Gish’s motion picture debut. I was really excited and wanted to do something special. However, the Gish sisters spent even more time making talkies than they did silents. I needed someone to help me, someone who was an expert on mid-century film…
My wonderful co-hostess is Lindsey of The Motion Pictures! Together, on September 7-9, we are going to celebrate the careers of these amazing women.
We are inviting bloggers to join us in this celebration. The event is open to all!
While they are best remembered for their silent work, Dorothy enjoyed a 51 year career, acting until 1963. Lillian’s 75 year career lasted until 1987! And the versatile sisters made films in every imaginable genre. There is truly something for everyone.
What you can contribute:
- A review of a film that has one or both of the Gishes
- Information on their stage work
- A biography
- An article on their films, careers, relationships, etc.
- A pictorial post
- Get creative! I have seen blogathons feature video slideshows, poetry, works of art and more. If it is Gish-related, please consider submitting it.
- No film is “taken” so feel free to select a film even if others are already reviewing it.
(note: this list has been updated and the latest version can be found here)
Cinemalacrum – A review of The Night of the Hunter (Lillian)
Cinematic Catharsis – A review of Broken Blossoms (Lillian)
Crítica Retrô – A review of Orphans of the Storm (Lillian and Dorothy)
Donald Mania – A video tribute to the sisters and an article on Lillian’s influence on cinema
Don’t Upset Granny Gish – A review of His Double Life (Lillian) and an article on becoming a Gish fan
Falderal – Lillian Gish’s relationship with fellow screen star Mary Pickford
The Film Writer – An article profiling each sister and a video
Films Worth Watching – Reviews of True Heart Susie and The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
Girls Do Film – A review of Romola (Lillian and Dorothy)
The Great Katharine Hepburn – An article on Remodeling Her Husband (Lillian and Dorothy)
The Joy and Agony of Movies – A review of Intolerance (Lillian)
The Last Drive In – The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Body in the Barn (Lillian)
MIB’s Instant Headache – A review of The Birth of a Nation Blu-ray (Lillian)
Motion Picture Gems – TBD
The Motion Pictures – Sweet Liberty (Lillian) and The Cardinal (Dorothy) as well as keeping a list of the participants.
Movie Classics – A review of The Scarlet Letter (Lillian)
The Movie Rat – An article on the Lillian and Dorothy’s film careers.
Movies Silently – The Unseen Enemy and Orphans of the Storm (the first and last films that the sisters made with director D.W. Griffith), Gretchen the Greenhorn (Dorothy)
The Nitrate Diva – Way Down East (Lillian) and/or Hearts of the World (Lillian and Dorothy)
Nitrate Glow – A review of Broken Blossoms (Lillian) and poetry selections inspired by the film.
Once Upon a Screen – A review of The Musketeers of Pig Alley (Lillian and Dorothy), one of the earliest gangster films, and a pictorial post
Outspoken and Freckled – A review of The Night of the Hunter (Lillian)
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion – A collection of contemporary newspaper clippings on the sisters
Silent Volume – Reviews of La Boheme, Mothering Heart, Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation recut
Silver Screenings – Portrait of Jennie (Lillian)
The Soul of the Plot – Duel in the Sun (Lillian)
Strictly Vintage Hollywood – Nell Gwynn (Dorothy)
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To – A review of The Whales of August (Lillian), plus, we get Bette Davis in the bargain! Hurrah!
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – A review of The Wind (Lillian)
True Classics – Review of La Boheme (Lillian)
Remember, no movie is “taken” so don’t be afraid to pick a title even if it is already listed!
How do I join up?
Contact us and let us know your blog address, what you would like to contribute and the date on which you would like to participate. Here are some ways to get in touch:
- Leave a comment
Tweet me @MoviesSilently or Lindsey @TMPLindsey or both!
Then snag one of the banners we have supplied for the occasion.
Please link back to http://moviessilently.com/tag/gish-sisters-blogathon/
Director D.W. Griffith took a creaky melodrama and… kept it creaky! Lillian Gish is used and tossed aside by a rich creep. She stumbles onto Richard Barthelmess’s farm, where the whole family embraces her with open arms. Then said rich creep shows up. Works surprisingly well thanks to great work from Gish and Barthelmess, as well as one of Griffth’s very best Races to the Rescue™… On Ice! (On tour this winter!)
Lillian Gish was one of the staunchest defenders of silent films in general and D.W. Griffith in particular. Her interviews and recollections are woven into almost every book and documentary that covers the early American motion picture industry. However, she was a fiercely private person who carefully curated her public image. Charles Affron proposes to go where no biographer has gone before: to find the woman behind the legend.
At least that was the idea. For me, mixed results.
What is it? An attempt to get under the skin of Lillian Gish. Affron uses Gish’s personal papers, as well as autobiographies of fellow actors, contemporary interviews, fan magazines, scholarly works and Gish’s films.
What works: There is no doubt that the book is well-researched. Affron is able to bring out nuances of Gish’s personality from forgotten information, redacted sections of letters and long-buried interviews.
For example, Lillian Gish was stuck playing a wire-flying fairy in a Belasco stage production in New York. Her sister, Dorothy, was in California making films. A stage accident resulting in Gish being dropped six feet and scaring her out of her wits. Considering what happened to the cast of Spiderman, I think that is understandable. Meanwhile, she had been offered a handsome salary to make motion pictures in California.
Let’s see, stay in New York to be lifted around on dangerous rigging for a bit part or go to California for more money and be able to join her beloved mother and sister… Hmm…
Gish wrote to her best friend with a description of the events:
“But as I am offered more money with the Biograph and the three of us can be together I think it is better for me to play sick here and go out there, now don’t you think so?”
Gish later redacted this part of the letter when it was published in a biographical series. I enjoyed this glimpse at a young Lillian Gish, more than a little sheepish at her subterfuge.
What doesn’t work: This is where things get a little sticky for me. I understand the desire to debunk the legends and self-aggrandization that, frankly, crop up around most major stars. However, Affron takes this to extremes. Every tiny misremebered detail, every exaggeration, every small inconstancy is dragged out and paraded. Should biographies be honest? Of course. Should biographers try their best to get to the truth? Naturally. Was Lillian Gish perfect? No, not at all. However, I felt that Affron’s approach was ham-fisted. Let me give you an example of what I mean:
At the start of chapter 8, Affron describes a car accident in which Dorothy Gish was struck by a car, dragged 40 feet and had to have one of her toes amputated. He then goes on (in the same paragraph) to debunk Lillian Gish’s claim that this accident prevented Dorothy from being in Birth of a Nation. And I was still thinking “Dorothy was dragged 40 feet and lost her toe? Dorothy was dragged 40 feet and lost her toe?!” What was Lillian’s reaction to her little sister’s accident? What did their mother say? Who nursed her? No information? None at all? Just more debunking? Sheesh.
Let me be clear, I am all for setting the record straight in historical matters but this just seems a little mean.
I also noticed Affron’s tendency to accentuate negative comments about Gish and bury more positive words. For example, he quotes liberally from Miriam Cooper’s bitter autobiography, Dark Lady of the Silents, which I had recently read. All of Cooper’s negative words about Gish are quoted verbatim. Her positive recollections, on the other hand, are paraphrased and placed at the very end of the chapter. Is this the truth? Technically. Is it really very honest to the reader? I don’t think so.
Tanner Colby, biographer of the late John Belushi, had an interesting observation about Bob Woodward’s book on Belushi, Wired.
“I say it’s like someone wrote a biography of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct, but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at playing basketball.”
I think that applies very well in this case.
Is this a bad book? Not really. Is it a fair book? Again, not really. I read it. It had some enjoyable passages. And Gish’s blind defense of D.W. Griffith’s obvious racism needed a bit of debunking. However, there is a mean-spiritedness to this biography that prevents it from being an entirely pleasant reading experience.
Lillian Gish is a Virginia belle who moves to Texas and slowly begins to lose her mind due to, you guessed it, the wind.
Lillian Gish (1893-1993)
Country of birth: USA
Director D.W. Griffith dives back into country melodrama with this adaptation of a hoary stage smash. Lillian Gish plays Anna, a country girl seduced and abandoned by a rich cad. The resulting baby dies and Anna is alone in the world. She meets the kindly Bartlett family and it seems that her life is taking a turn for the better… that is until her past is exposed.