You might be surprised to know that during the 1910s and 20s the biggest name in American cinema was that of Lillian Gish. I’m sure you’ve heard of her more notorious contemporaries (good time girl Clara Bow springs to mind) but Miss Gish was the star known as The First Lady of The Silent Screen.
Born in 1893 Gish grew up with her sister Dorothy working in her mother’s sweet shop which was called the ‘Majestic Candy Kitchen’ – not because it had illusions of grandeur (although it may have done) but because it was next to the Majestic Theater. When the theater burned down the family moved to New York where by happy coincidence they moved next door to the child-star Mary Pickford (who was then known as Gladys Smith) and who introduced the girls to the studio bosses.
Lillian Gish appeared in 25 short movies during her first few years as an actress, often with her sister Dorothy, and she was instantly popular with cinema audiences. She then moved onto lavish full-length silent movies such as The Scarlet Letter.
When it came to the transition to talkies, things didn’t go particularly well for Gish and she returned to theatre acting for a while before continuing her movie career, albeit without her previous success. She worked in movies until the 1950s when she moved more into TV work. She was also considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in Gone With the Wind. Well, fiddle di dee! (sorry).
Gish died at the age of 99 and is buried along with her sister Dorothy in New York.
Above: Lillian Gish in An Innocent Magdalene – a 1916 American silent drama film directed by Allan Dwan which is considered to be a lost film.
Image source and copyright: 1, 3, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 2, 5, This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. 4, 6 This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.