Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish was one of the best-known American actresses of the silent-film era. She later moved on to “talkies." Gish was a lifelong friend of fellow actress, Mary Pickford.

Beginnings

She was born as Lillian de Guiche on October 14, 1893, in Springfield, Ohio. Her mother was Mary Robinson McConnell and her father was James Leigh Gish. Lillian had a younger sister, Dorothy, who also became an actress. After her father abandoned them, her mother began acting to support the family. When the two sisters were old enough, they joined their mother's act. Over the next 13 years, she and her sister appeared on stage with great success.

In 1912, the sisters' friend, Mary Pickford, introduced them to director D.W. Griffith. Favorably impressed by the pair, he signed them on with Biograph Studios. Lillian was cast in her first film, An Unseen Enemy, followed by The One She Loved and My Baby. From 1912 onward, she would make 12 films with Griffith. She appeared in 25 films over the following two years. Gish's heavy exposure to the public helped to make her one of the top stars in the film industry. In 1915, she starred in Griffith's most ambitious project to date, The Birth of a Nation.

Speaking on screen and stage

In 1920, Gish directed her sister, Dorothy, in Remodeling Her Husband, and in 1922, she made her last film under Griffith’s direction, Orphans in the Storm. In 1924, Lillian Gish joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and made her first “talkie," One Romantic Night, in 1930.

Gish's debut in the talkies was only moderately successful, so she returned to the stage for the better part of the 1930s and early 1940s. She appeared in roles as varied as Ophelia in Guthrie McClintic's 1936 production of Hamlet, and in a limited run of La Dame aux Camélias.

When Gish returned to the movies, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Duel in the Sun in 1946. Lillian would appear in films, off and on, for the remainder of her life. In 1971, she won a special Academy Award "...for superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures." In 1984, she received an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award. She also was awarded the D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime achievement.

Gish's last film role was in 1987, in The Whales of August, at the age of 93. Her final professional appearance was a cameo on the 1988 all-star studio recording of Jerome Kern's Show Boat.

The end of a long life

On February 27, 1993, Lillian Gish died peacefully in her sleep in New York City. She was 99 years old. Her remains were placed beside those of her sister, Dorothy Gish, in the Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church columbarium, New York City.

Gish never married, but she maintained a close relationship with her sister, as well as with Mary Pickford. One of her closest friends was actress Helen Hayes. She left her estate to Hayes, who died a month later. Valued at several million dollars, the estate provides prizes for artistic excellence.

A Lillian Gish star shines on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the main street in Massillon, Ohio, is named after her.

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Gish, Lillian
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