Classic Hollywood #65 – Lillian Gish, Ethereal Beauty In The Dawn of Cinema

Lillian Gish – An Eight Decade Career in Entertainment


Lillian Gish, whom George Jean Nathan the eminent critic, has termed “the finest actress in motion pictures”, has again scored a signal triumph by her characterization of “Romola” in the Inspiration company’s production of George Eliot’s celebrated novel of the same name. Miss Gish spent a year in Florence, Italy making this picture, under the direction of Henry King. Photoplay reviewers have classed her work in “Romola” as fine as that of “The White Sister”. “Romola is a Metro-Goldwyn release. October 20, 1925

For longevity there are few stars that can rival Lillian Gish (October 14, 1893 – February 27, 1993).

The star of D. W. Griffith’s legendary and highly controversial Birth of a Nation (1915), Gish made her stage debut in 1898 and her final movie The Whales of August in 1987. In between those many years, Gish alternated between the stage, movies and television.

In 1914 theatrical producer David Belasco was quoted as saying that Lillian Gish “is the most beautiful blond he had ever seen.”

George Jean Nathan the critic who provided the quote in the news caption above was in love with Lillian Gish and the two dated for many years. In April 1925, Variety, the weekly theatrical paper, reported that the two were engaged to be married. Similar reports emerged in 1927. Gish and Nathan never  married and no reason or announcement was ever provided except that they were just “good friends.”

Gish had one clear reason not to marry Nathan – the example of the failure of her own parents marriage. After the family moved from Ohio to New York when she was very young, Gish’s father, an alcoholic, abandoned the family. This precipitated Lillian and her younger sister Dorothy to appear on the stage and earn money at the ages of five and three.

There was a second reason Gish supposedly would not marry Nathan: because he was Jewish. Although Nathan was a non-practicing Jew, he never told Gish of his descent. When she found out, she soured on the relationship. Was Lillian Gish anti-Semitic or just upset at Nathan for never telling her of his background?

No one will ever know her reasons for sure.

Gish died in her sleep at her Sutton Place apartment in Manhattan at the age of 99. She never married.

3 thoughts on “Classic Hollywood #65 – Lillian Gish, Ethereal Beauty In The Dawn of Cinema

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