I am going to attempt to write each day for a full week about Ladies... films that starred women, directed, written, anything where women were prominent in the making of the film. This Girl Week is hosted by Dell On Movies, another mad movie nut whom you should take a look at because he has seen some fun films especially the bad ass gals from the 60s and 70s like Pamela Grier. Here is my first entry...
WAY DOWN EAST-1920-STARRING LILLIAN GISH(OCT. 14, 1893-FEB. 27, 1993)
The great Lillian Gish stars in a melodrama, directed by D.W. Griffith, about an innocent, naive woman who is duped by an a-hole into believing they get married. He knocks her up before revealing it was all a sham and leaving her to deal with the townsfolk and her family. She has the baby but, the baby dies and, disgraced, she leaves town and ends up at the steps of a lovely family with a very nice young man, played by Richard Barthelmess. The climatic scene took place in a real blizzard where the cameraman, Billy Bitzer, made a small fire under his camera so it would not freeze. Lillian's face was frozen from the winds and, when she ended up on the ice flow, she decided to have her hair and hand in the frigid waters. Afterward, part of her hair literally broke off and her hand suffered nerve damage and gave her pain for the rest of her life.
Lillian was one of the first actresses to be known by name (the first was Florence Lawrence) starting in 1912. She became a stock actress with D. W. Griffith working in his films for many years and spoke highly of him until her dying day. She believed the Silent Cinema was the best form since everyone around the world could enjoy the films and not be hindered by the language barrier. She was also strong in her belief to not enter World War 2 since she saw the horrors of World War 1 first hand.
Lillian and her sister, Dorothy, opened their home to young actresses who came to Hollywood hoping for a career, and made sure they were taken care of. The home is now an exclusive hotel (I think the hotel built on from pictures I looked at). Lillian fell out of favour in the mid to late 20s, so she returned to the stage and received many accolades before returning to film in the mid 40s.
She looked quite waif-like but was made of sturdy stock surviving the flu from 1918 (50 million died), going above and beyond in her films, if she thought it would give a greater effect. She learned French, German and Italian when she lived, for a time, in Europe. Showed John Huston and Burt Lancaster up, who were going to teach her how to shoot, when she shot more accurately and faster then them because she was taught how to shoot by the western outlaw Al J. Jennings.
In 1976, the Bowling Green State University named their Theatre and Film Department after Lillian and Dorothy Gish(she was an actress as well) and Lillian attended. Over the years, they received memorabilia and photos to be displayed plus they received donations from her friends and associates to enlarge it. Unfortunately, in 2019, the Black Student Union called to have her name taken off because of her involvement in the horrible film, "The Birth Of A Nation." Her name was taken off of it which is a shame. Over 50 famous people from Helen Mirren, James Earl Jones to Martin Scorsese signed a petition to have her name reinstated. I would have signed this as well. Gish's other worthy films of notes:
Broken Blossoms-1919 (also quite racist but take it for the times)
Orphans Of The Storm-1921 (stars her sister, Dorothy, as well)
The White Sister-1923
The Scarlet Letter-1926
Duel In The Sun-1946
The Night Of The Hunter-1955
The Whales of August-1987
I abhor that film (The Birth Of A Nation) from the moment I saw it and do believe her reverence for Griffith is rose coloured to say the least, but her acting and what she gave to the world should never be diminished. The memorabilia did show pictures from this film but I think it should still be shown, but have it put in place by African American scholars, film makers etc who can shed the horrors of what this film did to resurrect the evil and vile KKK. I love this actress but I don't agree with everything she stated and I hate censorship. One must learn from history so it has a tougher time to repeat itself. Just a thought...
By the way, the early times of Cinema up until the later 1920s, had a huge amount of women in front and behind the camera. Check out Alice Guy, a director (great documentary I watched called "Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blanche" narrated by Jodie Foster. Lois Weber(starred, directed and wrote her films), Lotte Reiniger an animator who developed the multi-planed camera that Disney took and further developed it for his works. Writers were plenty like Anita Loos, Frances Marion, June Mathis and even a producer, African-American, named Maria P. Williams-an amazing lady!
Sorry for the lengthy post:)