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1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

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.

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

Hollywood actress Lillian Gish, half-length portrait, wearing coat and hat with flower and long veil. Photo by Charles Albin, New York, 1922.

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

Lillian and Dorothy Gish in a screenshot from the 1912 movie An Unseen Enemy

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly left, possibly in costume. Photo by Charles Albin, New York, 1922.

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

LILLIAN AND DOROTHY GISH (Orphans of the Storm – publicity still) 1921

1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

J. Barney Sherry and Lillian Gish in The White Sister (1923), a film directed by Henry King.

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.

2 thoughts on “1920s Screen Icons: Lillian Gish

  1. Missy

    I just love her, have seen a few of her movies … Probably now she’s best known as the woman that took in the runaway children in The Night of The Hunter … I remember her on talk shows when she was quite elderly speaking of Mr Griffith, always very respectfully as if D. W. was still alive and she was still his biggest star … (Not in a senile way!) she appeared in a Legends of Blackgama shoot too …

    Reply
  2. Peggy Case

    I am looking for my Great Aunt. I was told as a child that she was in silent movies. My aunt lived in New York City and her birth name was Lena Mintzer. I thought she used a screen name of Lillian Leah not sure of that spelling. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply

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