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Essays

Lillian Gish

Cooper, Mark Garrett

In 1920, Lillian Gish both delivered a landmark performance in D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East and directed her sister Dorothy in Remodelling Her Husband. This was her sole director credit in a career as a screen actor that began with An Unseen Enemy in 1912 and ended with The Whales of August in 1987. Personal correspondence examined by biographer Charles Affron shows that Gish lobbied Griffith for the opportunity to direct and approached the task with enthusiasm. In 1920, in Motion Picture Magazine, however, Gish offered the following assessment of her experience: “There are people born to rule and there are people born to be subservient. I am of the latter order. I just love to be subservient, to be told what to do” (102). One might imagine that she discovered a merely personal kink. In a Photoplay interview that same year, however, she extended her opinion to encompass all women and in doing so slighted Lois Weber, one of Hollywood’s most productive directors. “I am not strong enough” to direct, Gish told Photoplay, “I doubt if any woman is. I understand now why Lois Weber was always ill after a picture” (29). What should historical criticism do with such evidence?

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Academic Units
Film
Libraries
Series
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 15, 2019