Lillian Gish was born today in 1893, and in honor of her birthday, I went searching for something new to learn about her. I found it thanks to the Internet Archive. In its files it has the San Francisco Cinematheque‘s 1985 program, which includes a personal remembrance of Gish by film historian Kevin Brownlow.
He recounts his encounter with Gish when she appeared at a Thames Silents film program in 1984. My favorite bit involves the question and answer portion of a lecture she gave at a packed National Film Theatre, where according to Brownlow “she delighted the audience with her enthusiastic recall and her humor.”
During this, Gish got asked a typical question:
“Is there any part you wished you’d played?” asked a member of the audience.
Her response may be surprising as atypical to some:
“A vamp,” she replied. “Oh, I’d love to have played a vamp. Seventy-five percent of your work is done for you. When you play those innocent little virgins, that’s when you have to work hard. They’re all right for five minutes, but after that you have to work to hold the interest. I always called them ‘ga-ga babies.’ “
So Gish longed to have played the bad girl at least once! She wanted the fun of that role. No matter how much she proclaimed the role as easy, I’m sure she would have put her usual amount of effort in. As Brownlow noted, “Griffith had imbued his players with the discipline and dedication of the nineteenth-century theater, and Lillian Gish carried these qualities to unprecedented lengths.”