Cher Public

“Never get caught acting”

Born on this day in 1893 actress Lillian Gish

Born on this day in 1585 composer Heinrich Schütz.

Born on this day in 1871 composer and conductor Alexander Zemlinsky.

Born on this day in 1873 composer José Serrano.

Born on this day in 1918 soprano and teacher Ellen Faull.

Born on this day in 1932 tenor Enrico di Giuseppe.

Happy 65th birthday composer Kaija Saariaho.

  • Lillian Gish starred in King Vidor’s 1926 adaptation of Puccini’s La Boheme as an ideal Mimi for the silent screen. Movie heartthrob John Gilbert was her Rodolfo, with the appropriately named Renee Adoree as Musetta. Gish was debuting with MGM with this film and was allowed a great deal of influence on the production’s costuming, rehearsals, etc. Something of an early “method” actress, she starved herself for a week before the shooting of Mimi’s death. The film was a huge hit in the U.S. and Europe, Germany in particular.

    • PCally

      She’s quite wonderful in that film, her death scene is unnervingly realistic. Vidor said he could have sworn she actually stopped breathing at one point.

  • Camille

    May I join both of you in the praise of and recommendation of seeing one of Lillian Gish’s earlier silent films? And I’d love to see her in La Bohème someday, if at all possible.

    Last year I had opportunity to see that melodramatic tearjerker Broken Blossoms, which I attended sort of just to check off my list of important films left yet to see—and was I ever glad to have seen her amazing, stupefying, unbelievably skilled and accomplished—I don’t know how many adjectives to use to describe that performance of hers. For a young girl with comparatively a limited acting experience and who knows what coaching, with yet not such a vast experience, it was simply astounding. Ah yes, that’s the word at last: astounding.

    While I had always heard of her and seen her in a couple of much later manifestations in talkies--the one with Robert Mitchum—this film finally explained to me why Miss Gish was truly a star and so highly regarded in Hollywood. An utterly harrowing film and dismal ending but what a performance. I will try to catch the Bohème someday as it would be of such interest to me, so thanks for speaking ao highly of it, as one never knows.

    • PCally

      Never will say no to someone who wants to gush over actresses (opera comes second to film for me). I would seek out the movies she made after she stopped working with Griffith. The Scarlett Letter, The Wind, and La Boheme. As much as he innovated cinema, I have a hard time watching Griffith’s films because of their content and their (IMO) obsession with devoting large amounts of time to watching their female protagonists (usually Gish) ward off rape threats. In her later silent films there’s an emotional maturity and complexity both to the characters she’s playing and the way she’s playing them and her directors are very much collaborating with her. Just my two cents.

      She also got an Oscar nomination for the hilarious Duel in the Sun, and while she’s not the most memorable thing in the movie, she’s the closest thing that approaches to being legitimately good.

      • Camille

        Ha! Duel in the Sun is fun—but then, I love Gregory Peck being bad and Joseph Cotton being bad OR good! Yes, another wonderful death scene--who doesn’t love to watch Miss Lillian die?
        Just saw it, along with her turn in the abysmally sanctimonious and self-satisfied Song of Bernadette this past summer. Hoping to never see Mrs David O. Selznick ever again, with the exception of her glorious turn as Madame Bovary. That has the added attraction of my grand amour, Louis Jourdan, in any case!

        Yes, I have heard tell of The Wind, somehow, but I really would like to see the Bohème plus The Scarlet Letter, so I’m in the hunt, thanks!
        Did not know you were a cinéaste. That would explain your great regard for the fascinating-to-watch Waltraud and the always fun Karita, who made a human being out of Elsa—which I thought impossible to achieve!

      • southerndoc1

        Have been looking for The Scarlet Letter for decades -- where did you see it?

        • PCally


    • berkeleygirl

      Not simply “the one with Robert Mitchum” but The Night o the Hunter -- one of the most chilling movies that I’ve ever seen…

    • MisterSnow

      The silent La Boheme has shown up periodically on TCM (which regularly shows silents). I saw it this summer. Her death scene was astounding.

  • fletcher

    Wondering if anyone else who’s seen the new Blade Runner thinks Sylvia Hoeks was giving us El?na Garan?a fierceness…

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    I don’t remember which televised ceremony it was but years ago I saw an elderly but still very with it Lillian Gish come onstage to speak. She ostentatiously and a bit scornfully stepped to the side of the standing microphone put there for her benefit and pointedly addressed and projected her comments to the public (it was a very large hall) without benefit of any artificial amplification. In her youth she studied voice and elocution with Victor Maurel. It certainly “took” and lasted.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Gish was very effective in one of the creepiest, unnerving films ever made: Night of the Hunter, in which she played that benevolent woman who protected children from the scary Robert Mitchum. Also, I thought, had she been young enough, she would have been ideally cast as Melanie Wilkes: the physical slightness/frailty with a tremendous inner strength.

  • laddie

    Back from today’s HD, Die Zauberflöte. From an HD perspective, this cast was ideal in the looks department. Absolutely lovely Mozartian singing from Charles Castronovo who displayed a heroic timbre with a very heroic demeanor appreciated in the close ups. Kathryn Lewek also very nuanced in her performance, maybe the best since Damrau gave up the role of QON. No one can accuse Markus Werba as an over-the-top Papageno; he seemed a bit off of his game in the first half; close-ups revealed him to be trying to find the conductor, or at least it appeared that way. In dialogue scenes he was superb and nuanced, a subtler approach to Papageno which I enjoyed very much. Golda Schutz has a lovely voice which I thought was a bit light, especially in “Ach, Ich fühl’s” She too was gorgeous in the close-ups. Pape was his usual gloriously-voiced self, showing emotional range captured by the camera. The orchestra was also wonderful as per usual, no break neck speeds today, but they seemed to know what Levine wanted from them. It’s too bad the entire production is so inert. The stage looked very dark in the theater where I was but I have seen it online and it never occurred to me that it was dark from previous online viewing. I am glad, however, that we have this production, which is very beautifully designed, in the full German version now available to everyone.

  • In May of 1961 I saw Lillian Gish on Broadway in Tad Mosel’s play All The Way Home. She was then 68 years old and in great form. She appeared in her last film, The Whales of August, in 1987 when she was 94. It was a most remarkable career.


  • Monabel

    My father knew Miss Gish, and corresponded with her over many years. I gave her letters to him to the Gish papers collection at the New York Public Library. I remember going backstage to see her one time when she was playing the Nurse in Uncle Vanya (Mike Nichols production? with George C Scott?) The lighting was very dark and she talked about how she had to hold her head up, and eyes open, to catch whatever light was there. She was a very great actress, and a warm and loyal friend to my parents.