Thursday, October 14, 2010

In Memoriam: Lillian Gish

Of all the great Hollywood careers, no doubt the one with the greatest lifespan belongs to Lillian Gish; from her first movie, An Unseen Enemy (1912), to her last, The Whales of August (1987), her physical delicacy contrasted with a steely resolve made her one of the world's best loved actors.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketEarly in her career, Gish appeared in many of the films of D. W. Griffith, including his notorious The Birth of a Nation (1915) in which she plays Elsie, the flower of white womanhood the heroic Ku Klux Klan are trying to protect from... I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, so I'd better not finish that sentence; but you get the point.

During the transition from silent to talking pictures, many of Gish's roles were on the stage. She was quite proud of having played a lewd Ophelia; not only did her portrayal stray from the typical way the role was acted, but it was a departure for Gish as well, always having played helpless virgins before this. Among her most memorable film roles from this era is The Night of the Hunter (1955) in which she portrays a heroic woman saving two children from a menacing Robert Mitchum.

Gish maintained close friendships throughout her life to her sister Dorothy (also an actress), Mary Pickford, and Helen Hayes. For her final film role she was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Cher, whose politics were more in line with the Academy's; Gish was a lifelong Republican.

Born on this day in 1893, Lillian Gish died in February 1993, approaching her 100th birthday; she is buried in New York City, in St. Bartholomew's Episcopal.
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