Cherie’s comment about Lillian Gish:
Cute, demure and sophisticated. Some of the best qualities in a woman.
… has to be tongue in cheek or else she’ll have half of womanhood down on her – the now outdated half. Of course, Cherie said “some of the best qualities”. I’d like to reiterate some things said about Gish and introduce some others from various sites:
1. She was inspirational for men in one way and for women in another. ”With her death,” Katharine Hepburn told Entertainment Weekly, ”all the things that made me think, ‘Oh, I want to be an actor,’ disappeared.” That’s a big statement.
2. Director D.W. Griffith may have developed the close-up, but it was Gish who figured out what to do with it, bringing a naturalism to screen behavior that stood in subtle contrast to the vampy histrionics of Theda Bara or the stagy simpering of Mary Pickford.
She movied movie history onwards and upwards.
3. The heroines Gish portrayed — especially for Griffith, her discoverer and mentor — were fluttery, waiflike creatures assaulted by cruelties straight out of Dickens. However, the actress herself was sensible, gracious, and, according to screenwriter Frances Marion (The Champ), ”as fragile as a steel rod.” After her pure-hearted persona fell out of synch with the party-hearty 1920s, Gish blithely absented herself to the New York stage and occasional character parts in movies.
She was therefore strong inside and this comes out further:
She was actually one tough cookie who took complete control of her career in the early ’20s and crafted some of the best movies of the age. Nobody could sway her from her self-appointed course. With a Botticelli face, she had the mind of a good Queen Bess, dictating her carefully thought-out policies and ruling justly, if firmly.
4. She’s a great role model for women and men alike: there is the balanced, compassionate grace of that rare person fully at ease with life. ”I’ve never been in style,” Gish once said, with her usual serene clarity, ”so I can’t go out of style.”.
5. This fragment form Wiki says a lot:
“D. W. Griffith took his unit on location—he told Gish that he thought the crew would work harder for a girl. Gish apparently preferred to remain in front of the camera rather than behind it, since she never directed again. She told reporters at the time that directing was a man’s job.”
That was a measure of the respect he had for her and her compliment to men in return. Who got his/her way in the end? She did, of course. She always would.
6. This is a post in itself but Gish became one of the leading advocates on the lost art of the silent film, often giving speeches and touring to screenings of classic works. In 1975, she hosted The Silent Years, a PBS film program of silent films.
She’s right. Silent film was an art form and the clarity and production values of the nitrate film had reached a peak by the time of the talkies. It was not out of tune honky tonk pianos which accompanied the film, it was often lush orchestration, in the spirit of John Barry. The acting requirements were different, the whole thing was different.
As I say, that’s a separate post.
7. Her personal values and poise were admirable: Gish and D. W. Griffith [were] so close that some suspected a romantic connection, an issue never acknowledged by Gish although several of their associates were certain they were at least briefly involved. For the remainder of her life she always referred to him as “Mr. Griffith”.
Mutual respect, professionalism and at the same time, all the obstinacy and other faults of womanhood and why not?
8. Sense of humour, sense of proportion:
“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.”
“The older I get, the more I believe in what I can’t explain or understand, even more than the things that are explainable and understandable.”
“You can get through life with bad manners, but it’s easier with good manners.”
To sum up – she got what she wanted her own way, she’s revered today, she made a statement about the power of women without ever making a statement, she wasn’t shrill about her rights nor a manhater. She used men and used her charms to do it with, reserving decency to temper the inflamed hearts of men. It’s because they knew she liked them and respected them too that men didn’t stand in the way of her ambitions.
Contrast that with the shrill nagging of the feminist whose only reaction from me is to stonewall her at every opportunity. If she hates me, then I’m going to block her. Simple.
She wasn’t a slatternly woman like some of the vamps and yet her career lasted far longer than theirs. She got men on by a combination of her inner reserves and her accentuated look – not for her letting it all hang out with the mistaken notion that the only way to attract a man is to show flesh or act coarsely.
Gish – same gender, different approach. Instead of lecturing, preaching and rewriting history to misrepresent women, she simply showed women the way forward.
Your humble blogger doesn’t have many human heroes to date but Lillian Gish is most certainly one of them. Fortunately, there are some current day women who are in the same league and I’m lucky enough to know one or two.