Lillian Gish, Actress, b. Lillian de Guiche October 14, 1896, Springfield, Ohio, d. February 27, 1993.

A contemporary of Mary Pickford who was often overshadowed by Pickford's stardom, Lillian Gish is best remembered as the first actress to see movie acting as an art form rather than a cheapening of the theatre. Her talents brought her critical attention, from those who took moving pictures seriously, although that rarely translated into popular recognition. It is only in the modern era, through study of the motion picture as an art form, that Lillian Gish finally received her due, winning a special Academy Award in 1971 for her contributions to the artistry of cinema.

Lillian Gish's acting career began soon after her birth in 1896. Her mother Mary was an accomplished stage actress and raised both Lillian and her younger sister Dorothy to be actresses. Their success with stage acting brought them to Hollywood in 1909, when Lillian was merely fifteen years old. There they were "discovered" by director D.W. Griffith and signed to a contract with his Biograph Studios. In 1912 the Gish sisters made their film debut together in An Unseen Enemy. For the next decade, the sisters would appear in multitudes of Biograph films before Lillian shucked Griffith in 1923 to sign with MGM Studios. It was her desire to become involved with more artistic and literary films, and her career with MGM began with silent film versions of La Boheme and The Scarlet Letter.

In 1930, Lillian Gish would make her first "talkie", and for her the transition was far more seamless than it was for many of the other actors of her generation. However, talk around Hollywood was that Gish was running out of fuel and she decided to return to Broadway. She would make only one film over the next dozen years and became a heavyweight on the stage, starring in, amongst other things, Hamlet as Ophelia opposite John Gielgud's Hamlet.

In 1943 she would decide to return to Hollywood, but appeared mostly in supporting roles. She would receive her first Oscar nomination in 1947's Duel in the Sun but soon after returned full time to the stage. It would not be until 1955 that she again returned to Hollywood, this time re-opening her film career with The Cobweb and then starring with Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters in the classic Charles Laughton directed The Night of the Hunter. She would then make infrequent appearances in the movies, on stage and on television, wrote her memoirs and became mostly inactive until her special Academy Award in 1971.

In 1977 she made another return to film, this time for Robert Altman's A Wedding and then concealed herself in the mists, making a few appearances in made for television movies, until the American Film Institute honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 for her contributions to the world of filmmaking. In 1987 she made her final appearance on film, co-starring with Bette Davis in The Whales of August before retiring. She passed on in New York City in February of 1993.


Research assistance from allmovie.com
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