"Those little virgins, after five minutes you got sick of playing them - to make them more interesting was hard work."
— Lillian Gish
Lillian Diana Gish (1893-1993) was a silent film actress known for her waif-like, innocent characters and a favorite of D.W. Griffith
Gish was one of the most popular silent screen icons of the 1910's and enjoyed a long career that spanned over 75 years, the longest of any screen legend male or female
, making her one of the few actors whose careers were able to survive the transition from silent film to sound.
She starred in the infamous The Birth of a Nation
and outright refused to acknowledge that the film was racist, preferring to defend her dear friend and mentor D.W. Griffith until the very end. She worked with Griffith many other times, including a small role in the classic Intolerance
, and a main role in Broken Blossoms
and Orphans of the Storm
. Also famous for the climax of Way Down East
, which required her to lie still on a very real ice floe for hours on end while her hair and right hand were submerged in below-freezing water. Thanks to the stunt, Gish's hand would be partially impaired for the rest of her life
, but she contributed to what is considered one of the most exciting climaxes in cinema history.
Her last silent film was one of her best, The Wind
. After the end of the silent film era, she played several supporting roles in major sound films, most importantly Rachel in The Night of the Hunter
. She played her last role when she was over 92, in The Whales of August
, alongside Bette Davis
Despite her somewhat controversial views on politics, sexual and otherwise (she was raised in the early 1900's, after all
but her prudish utterances did not stop the Hollywood-insider rumours over her exceptionally close relationship with sister Dorothy
), she was still adored by fans for her humble attitude and unfailing generosity towards them. She received an Honorary Academy Award in 1971, and an AFI Life Achievement Award in 1984. She is #17 on AFI's list of the 25 Greatest Female Stars of All Time.The Smashing Pumpkins
' debut album was named after her. Billy Corgan says
it's specifically a reference to his grandmother telling him about Gish once passing through her hometown, a "middle of nowhere" insignificant location, on a train.
Provides examples of: