More than 50 actors, artists ask for Gish name to be restored at BGSU

More than 50 actors, artists ask for Gish
name to be restored at BGSU


Sentinel-Tribune Staff | Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2019 2:23 pm


More than 50 artists, writers and film scholars are supporting the immediate restoration of the names of the Gish sisters, Dorothy and Lillian, to the film theater that was established more than 40 years ago at Bowling Green State University.


“This controversy detracts from the great legacy Gish left us in her extensive and varied career,” the statement said.
“For a university to dishonor her by singling out just one film, however offensive it is, is unfortunate and unjust. Doing so makes her a scapegoat in a broader political debate. A university should be a bastion of free speech.
This is a supreme ‘teachable moment’ if it can be handled with a more nuanced sense of history.”
Among those signing their names are James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese, Malcolm McDowell and Lauren Hutton.
Their statement reads in part: “Lillian Gish (1893-1993) is one of the greatest artists ever to grace the motion picture screen. So we were disappointed to learn that Bowling Green State University in Ohio has decided to strip Miss Gish’s name — and that of her sister, Dorothy, another prominent actress and fellow Ohio native — from its Gish Film Theater and Gallery.”
In May, the BGSU Board of Trustees passed a resolution renaming the theater, citing Lillian Gish’s connection to the film “The Birth of a Nation” and its “negative and hostile impact on society.”
Mike Kaplan, who produced Gish’s “The Whales of August,” led the petition effort. “What should happen because of this is this should be a teachable moment. There should be a symposium, where lots of scholars should come in, where they talk about the period, about the film business, about the film industry and about how it affected people, and all of her movies should be shown, so people would know what she was about,” Kaplan said in a phone interview.
Kaplan worked for MGM and met Gish during the making of “The Comedians.” He is listed on the Gish Film Theater and Gallery National Advisory Committee and said he was not consulted by the BGSU task force on the name change.
Kaplan said that other members have asked for the return of donations, but he is not going to do so, as he believes they should be studied both in general and in relation to this issue.
“I really hope that this opens up a dialogue. That’s more important than this individual issue because people jump on bandwagons and make instant knee jerk responses and things without exploring the ambiguity of history and what things mean. I really hope something more comes from this,” Kaplan said.

He is hoping “something can happen” when the BGSU trustees next meet on June 27. The university, however, in a statement released Tuesday, said the decision to take the Gish name off the theater would stay.
“Bowling Green State University has a primary responsibility to serve its students, faculty, and staff, and an obligation to create an inclusive learning environment. That obligation outweighs the University’s small part in honoring the Gish sisters’ legacy.
“The decision to remove the Gish name from the relocated film theater was made with the values and best interests of our community in mind, and we stand by it.”
The statement said that the decision was made following extensive input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the public.
“We understood that, whatever the decision, some would be unhappy. However, we are proud of the way our community dealt with this issue – coming together to have a respectful dialogue. We believe that is what strong learning communities do.
“The artistry and accomplishments of the Gish sisters are not lost on the University. The honorary degree the University awarded Lilian Gish, the scholarship in her name, and our archival collections of Gish memorabilia remain in place,” the BGSU statement concluded.
Ralph Wolfe, distinguished professor emeritus of English and Gish Professor of Film Studies, said he welcomed the artists’ and actors’ attention.
“I’m pleased to know that this is getting national coverage and what has happened at Bowling Green State University,” he said. “I’d be happy to see it (the Gish name) restored.”
The statement by the actors and artists was released on Tuesday. It’s titled “Lillian Gish: An Opportunity for Fairness and Justice.”
“Gish was a warm and caring human being who worked tirelessly to champion the causes of film preservation and film as a medium to promote universal harmony,” the statement said.
Wolfe agreed, citing the prestigious Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize that she established through her will inIt is for “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
“She was a really very genuine person and it’s one of the biggest prizes in the country,” Wolfe said.
Recipients have included Bob Dylan, Frank Gehry, Pete Seeger, Maya Lin, Laurie Anderson, Chile’s Isabel Allende, Nigerian author-diplomat Chinua Achebe, and African-American artists Spike Lee, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Anna Deavere Smith, Lloyd Richards and Suzan-Lori Parks.
When Lee accepted the Gish Prize in 2013, he said, “Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Miss Lillian Gish. Those films were D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and Charles Laughton’s ‘The Night of the Hunter.’ Isn’t it funny
(sometimes) how life works? And how ironic life can be? God can be a trickster. Peace and love to the Gish Sisters. …”

The Gish Film Theater honoring Dorothy and Lillian Gish

The BGSU Trustees’ resolution passed in May stated that upon reviewing the totality of Lillian Gish’s acting career, no evidence was found that she denounced or distanced herself from Griffith or her link from “The Birth of a Nation.”
BGSU has a primary responsibility to its students, family and staff and an obligation to create an inclusive learning environment, the trustees’ resolution stated.
“The artistry and accomplishments of both Gish sisters throughout their careers was not lost on the task force, which recognized that other honors bestowed on Lillian Gish by BGSU, including an honorary degree, a scholarship in her name and the archival collections, should remain unchanged.”
The Task Force on the Gish Film Theater recommended the removal of the Gish name in its April 17 report to BGSU President Rodney Rogers.
The Black Student Union showed Ava DuVernay’s film “13th” as part of Black History Month celebrations. In that film, clips from the 1915 D.W. Griffith movie “The Birth of a Nation” were used as part of discussions of racism in America.
The report states, on Feb. 10, the “BSU noted the irony of showing ‘13th’ in a theater named for the star of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and brought to the university’s attention the problematic nature of the Gish name for BGSU’s African American students.”
The task force was formed as a result of the BSU request for a change to the theater name. It was led by Raymond Craig, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and included 11 others representing faculty, administrative staff and students, meeting over a period of six weeks.
For more than 40 years, the theater was located in Hanna Hall. In 2017, the decision was made to move the theater to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union.

The Gish Film Theater, Hanna Hall, Miss Lillian Gish


Lillian Gish: An Opportunity for Fairness and Justice


Here is the full statement:
An Opportunity for Fairness and Justice at Bowling Green State University
Lillian Gish (1893-1993) is one of the greatest artists ever to grace the motion picture screen. So we were disappointed to learn that Bowling Green State University in Ohio has decided to strip Miss Gish’s name — and that of her sister, Dorothy, another prominent actress and fellow Ohio native — from its Gish Film Theater and Gallery.
Lillian Gish set the standard for nuanced, eloquent film acting in her silent-era classics Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm, La Bohème, The Scarlet Letter, and The Wind, and she played memorable roles in many talking pictures, most notably The Night of the Hunter and The Whales of August. Her nine-decade career also encompassed landmark successes in theater, including as Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet, and television, such as in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful, about which William S. Paley declared, ”’Television came of age last night.”
Gish was a warm and caring human being who worked tirelessly to champion the causes of film preservation and film as a medium to promote universal harmony.

She established through her will in 1994 the prestigious Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize for “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Recipients have included Bob Dylan, Frank Gehry, Pete Seeger,
Maya Lin, Laurie Anderson, Chile’s Isabel Allende, Nigerian author-diplomat Chinua Achebe, and African-American artists Spike Lee, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Anna Deavere Smith, Lloyd Richards, and Suzan-Lori Parks.
When Spike Lee accepted the Gish Prize in 2013, he said, “Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Miss Lillian Gish. Those films were D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Isn’t it funny (sometimes) how life works? And how ironic life can be? God can be a trickster. Peace and love to the Gish Sisters…”
In 1976, Bowling Green opened The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater (the joint title was Lillian’s choice). The university accepted a gift from Lillian as part of an endowment to provide scholarships and support the theater; she also donated memorabilia to the university. Bowling Green gave her the honorary degree of Doctor of Performing Arts. But in May 2019 the university decided to remove the Gish name from the theater and call it “The BGSU Film Theater,” while retaining the endowment and Lillian’s personal memorabilia.
This action was taken because of Lillian’s supporting role in D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, one of more than a hundred appearances she made on the screen (it’s worth noting that Dorothy Gish didn’t even appear in that film but is simply collateral damage in this controversy). Lillian has been recognized with an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and an honorary Academy Award, so her legacy as a film artist remains secure. But removing her name and that of her sister from the university theater is a disservice to film history and to the university itself. Griffith’s film takes an indefensible, racist approach to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
But as even the university admits in its task force report on the theater’s name, Lillian was no racist. Her work in many films, such as Griffith’s own Intolerance (1916), a dazzling four-part overview of world history in which she plays the symbolic mother figure rocking the cradle of humanity and tolerance; Griffith’s deeply moving 1919 interracial drama Broken Blossoms; the 1955 masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, in which she plays a beatific protector of endangered children; and the 1967 film of Graham
Greene’s The Comedians, in which she challenges Haiti’s dreaded secret police, demonstrates her outspoken belief in universal brotherhood among races and nations.
This controversy detracts from the great legacy Gish left us in her extensive and varied career. For a university to dishonor her by singling out just one film, however offensive it is, is unfortunate and unjust.
Doing so makes her a scapegoat in a broader political debate. A university should be a bastion of free speech. This is a supreme “teachable moment” if it can be handled with a more nuanced sense of history.
We call on Bowling Green State University to restore the original name of The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater. Since some inadequate language in a wall display at the theater helped provoke the university’s action, a more informative and artful display should be created to acquaint students and others with the full context of Lillian’s legacy in all its varied facets. Screening her films and holding discussions on campus about film history would foster the themes and ideals Lillian Gish advocated throughout her illustrious lifetime.

Ralph Wolfe and Eva Marie Saint Return to Bowling Green Fall 1976

Signed:


— Ann Louise Bardach, former contributing editor at Vanity Fair, journalist for The New York Times,
The Washington Post, and Politico; author of several books on Cuba, including Cuba Confidential (2002
and 2004) and Without Fidel, and Killed: Great Journalism: Too Hot to Print
— John Belton, film historian, author of American Cinema/American Culture, Movies and Mass
Culture, and Widescreen Cinema; and professor emeritus of English and film, Rutgers University
— Robert Carringer, film historian, author of The Making of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent
Ambersons: A Reconstruction; and professor of film and English
— Mike Clark, former film critic and home entertainment columnist for USA Today and former
American Film Institute Theater Director/film programmer
— Jay Cocks, screenwriter of The Age of Innocence, Strange Days, Gangs of New York, and Silence;
former film critic for Time
— Jon Davison, producer, Airplane!, White Dog, RoboCop and RoboCop 2, Starship Troopers
— Joe Dante, director, Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Matinee, The Second Civil War, Small
Soldiers, Masters of Horror: “Homecoming”
— A. J. Eaton, director of David Crosby: Remember My Name
— Illeana Douglas, actress, Goodfellas, Guilty by Suspicion, To Die For, Action, Six Feet Under, Easy
to Assemble; host on Turner Classic Movies
— David Ehrenstein, author of The Scorsese Picture and Open Secret: Gay Hollywood, 1928-2000, and
co-author of Rock on Film; critic for many publications, including L.A. Weekly, The Los Angeles
Reader, Rolling Stone,The Advocate, and the Criterion Collection
— F. X. Feeney, author of books on Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, and Michael Mann; screenwriter of
Frankenstein Unbound and The Big Brass Ring; critic and journalist for publications including L.A.
Weekly, Vanity Fair, and Written By
— James E. Frasher, manager of Lillian Gish
— Anne Farley Gaines, fine artist, muralist, and independent curator; 1980 MFA Graduate in Painting
from Bowling Green State University
— Tess Gallagher, poet, essayist, short story writer, and teacher; author of books including Is, Is Not:
Poems, Moon Crossing Bridge, Portable Kisses, Midnight Lantern, The Lover of Horses, and The Man
from Kinvara: Selected Stories
— Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming for New York’s Film Forum; founder, Rialto
Pictures
— Shep Gordon, music manager, executive producer of The Whales of August and numerous other
films, subject of Beth Aala and Mike Myers’s documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
— Taylor Hackford, director, An Officer and a Gentleman, White Nights, Dolores Claiborne, Ray, Love
Ranch, The Comedian, and former president of the Directors Guild of America

— Philip Hallman, film studies field librarian, Department of Screen Arts & Cultures/ Hatcher Graduate
Library, University of Michigan
— Mike Hodges, director, Get Carter, Pulp, The Terminal Man, Flash Gordon, Black Rainbow, I’ll Sleep
When I”m Dead
— Lauren Hutton, actress and model; with films including Paper Lion, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, The
Gambler, Welcome to L.A., A Wedding, American Gigolo, Hecate
— Larry Jackson, producer of Bugs Bunny Superstar and Steal Big Steal Little; former executive at
Samuel Goldwyn Company, Miramax, and Orson; developer and programmer, Orson Welles Cinema
— Harlan Jacobson, film critic, WGBO Jazz 88.3, former editor-in-chief Film Comment, former staff
writer at Variety and USA Today
— James Earl Jones, actor, the Star Wars films, The Great White Hope, Dr. Strangelove, The Comedians,
Claudine, Roots: The Next Generations, Paul Robeson, Field of Dreams, Jefferson in Paris, The Lion
King
— Mike Kaplan, producer of The Whales of August, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead; marketing strategist for
Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Hal
Ashby; director, Luck, Trust & Ketchup and Never Apologize
— Steven Kovacs, cinema professor, San Francisco State University; former production executive for
Roger Corman’s New World Pictures; and director of ’68 and Oscarnominated producer of Arthur and
Lillie
— Robert Lesser, film and theater actor, New York Shakespeare Festival and Yale Repertory, in such
films as David Holzman’s Diary, Hester Street, Die Hard, and Best Wishes for Tomorrow
— Rod Lurie, writer-director, The Contender, Nothing But the Truth, Straw Dogs, Killing Reagan, and
The Outpost; creator of TV series Commander in Chief
— Joseph McBride, biographer of John Ford, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg; author of three books
on Orson Welles; co-writer, The American Film Institute Salute to Lillian Gish; professor of cinema at
San Francisco State University
— Malcolm McDowell, actor, If …, A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man!, Time After Time, The
Company, Evilenko, Star Trek Generations, Never Apologize, and the TV series Mozart in the Jungle
— Joe McElhaney, author of The Death of Classical Cinema: Hitchcock, Lang, Minnelli and Albert
Maysles; and film professor, Hunter College
— Douglas McGrath, screenwriter of Bullets over Broadway; director of Emma and Infamous; and
political commentator for The New Republic
— Patrick McGilligan, biographer of Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, George Cukor, Oscar Micheaux,
Clint Eastwood, and Mel Brooks
— Russell Merritt, film historian and adjunct professor of film, University of California, Berkeley;
former film professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; author of numerous critical studies of D. W.

Griffith and co-author of Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney and Walt Disney’s Silly
Symphonies
— Dame Helen Mirren, actress, The Queen, O Lucky Man!, Hamlet, Excalibur, The Madness of King
George, Some Mother’s Son, Gosford Park, The Last Station, Trumbo, and the TV series Prime Suspect
and Elizabeth I
— James Naremore, film historian of books on Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, film noir, and Charles
Burnett; and chancellors’ professor emeritus, Media School, English, and Comparative Literature,
Indiana University
— Joanna Ney, co-curator, Dance on Camera Festival; former curator, Special Projects, The Film Society
of Lincoln Center
— Carolyn Pfeiffer, producer, Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare, Choose Me, The Whales of
August, The Moderns, Children of Giant
— David W. Rintels, screenwriter of Clarence Darrow (adapted from his Broadway play), Fear on Trial,
Gideon’s Trumpet, Andersonville, and Nuremberg; former president of Writers Guild of America, West;
winner of the WGA Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television
— Victoria Riskin, screenwriter-producer of My Ántonia; former president of Writers Guild of America,
West; activist in Human Rights Watch; First Amendment Award winner from American Civil Liberties
Union; author of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir
— Howard A. Rodman, screenwriter and novelist; films, Joe Gould’s Secret, Takedown, Savage Grace,
August; author, Destiny Express and The Great Eastern; former president of Writers Guild of America,
West; professor and former chair of the writing division at the University of Southern California School
of Cinematic Arts
— Carl Rollyson, biographer of Susan Sontag, Rebecca West, Marilyn Monroe, Walter Brennan, William
Faulkner, and Sylvia Plath
— Annie Ross, singer and actress; member of the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross; actress in
Pump Up the Volume, Short Cuts, and The Player and onstage in Side by Side by Sondheim and The
Pirates of Penzance
— Jonathan Rosenbaum, author of Discovering Orson Welles, Moving Places, Movies as Politics, Movie
Wars, and Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia; former film critic for The Chicago Reader and now
freelance critic for numerous international publications
— Alan Rudolph, director, Welcome to L.A., Remember My Name, The Moderns, Mrs. Parker and the
Vicious Circle, Breakfast of Champions, Ray and Helen
— Martin Scorsese, director, Mean Streets, Italianamerican, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of
Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Blues: “Feel Like Going Home,” The
Departed, Hugo, Silence, Rolling Thunder Revue, The Irishman
— Anthony Slide, film historian, author of more than seventy books and editor of 150 more; with books
including Early American Cinema, Early Women Directors, The Silent Feminists, and Lois Weber: The

— Philip Hallman, film studies field librarian, Department of Screen Arts & Cultures/ Hatcher Graduate
Library, University of Michigan
— Mike Hodges, director, Get Carter, Pulp, The Terminal Man, Flash Gordon, Black Rainbow, I’ll Sleep
When I”m Dead
— Lauren Hutton, actress and model; with films including Paper Lion, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, The
Gambler, Welcome to L.A., A Wedding, American Gigolo, Hecate
— Larry Jackson, producer of Bugs Bunny Superstar and Steal Big Steal Little; former executive at
Samuel Goldwyn Company, Miramax, and Orson; developer and programmer, Orson Welles Cinema
— Harlan Jacobson, film critic, WGBO Jazz 88.3, former editor-in-chief Film Comment, former staff
writer at Variety and USA Today
— James Earl Jones, actor, the Star Wars films, The Great White Hope, Dr. Strangelove, The Comedians,
Claudine, Roots: The Next Generations, Paul Robeson, Field of Dreams, Jefferson in Paris, The Lion
King
— Mike Kaplan, producer of The Whales of August, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead; marketing strategist for
Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Hal
Ashby; director, Luck, Trust & Ketchup and Never Apologize
— Steven Kovacs, cinema professor, San Francisco State University; former production executive for
Roger Corman’s New World Pictures; and director of ’68 and Oscarnominated producer of Arthur and
Lillie
— Robert Lesser, film and theater actor, New York Shakespeare Festival and Yale Repertory, in such
films as David Holzman’s Diary, Hester Street, Die Hard, and Best Wishes for Tomorrow
— Rod Lurie, writer-director, The Contender, Nothing But the Truth, Straw Dogs, Killing Reagan, and
The Outpost; creator of TV series Commander in Chief
— Joseph McBride, biographer of John Ford, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg; author of three books
on Orson Welles; co-writer, The American Film Institute Salute to Lillian Gish; professor of cinema at
San Francisco State University
— Malcolm McDowell, actor, If …, A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man!, Time After Time, The
Company, Evilenko, Star Trek Generations, Never Apologize, and the TV series Mozart in the Jungle
— Joe McElhaney, author of The Death of Classical Cinema: Hitchcock, Lang, Minnelli and Albert
Maysles; and film professor, Hunter College
— Douglas McGrath, screenwriter of Bullets over Broadway; director of Emma and Infamous; and
political commentator for The New Republic
— Patrick McGilligan, biographer of Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, George Cukor, Oscar Micheaux,
Clint Eastwood, and Mel Brooks
— Russell Merritt, film historian and adjunct professor of film, University of California, Berkeley;
former film professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; author of numerous critical studies of D. W.

Director Who Lost Her Way in History; co-director of the documentary The Silent Feminists: America’s
First Women Directors
— George Stevens, Jr., producer (including of The American Film Institute Salute to Lillian Gish);
former director of the Motion Picture Service of the United States Information Agency; founder of
American Film Institute; former producer of the Kennedy Center Honors
— Kevin Stoehr, film historian, author of Ride, Boldly Ride: History of the American Western Movie
and co-editor of John Ford in Focus; and associate professor of Humanities, Boston University
— Bertrand Tavernier, director of The Clockmaker of St. Paul, The Judge and the Assassin, Mississippi
Blues, ’Round Midnight, and A Journey Through French Cinema; co- author of Fifty Years of American
Cinema and author of American Friends: Interviews with the Great Auteurs of Hollywood
— Laura Truffaut, French translator and tutor; human rights activist; actress and crew member, Small
Change; daughter of director François Truffaut and co-administrator of his estate
— Robert B. Weide, director of Curb Your Enthusiasm and documentaries on Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl,
the Marx Bros., Kurt Vonnegut, and Woody Allen
— Armond White, film critic for National Review and Out; former critic for New York Press; author of
Rebel for the Hell of It: The Life of Tupac Shakur and New Position: The Prince Chronicles
— Tony Williams, film historian, author of books on Vietnam War films, horror films, Italian Westerns,
Jack London, Robert Aldrich, and Larry Cohen; and professor of English and area head of Film Studies,
Southern Illinois University

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Lillian Gish and her art are finding a home at BGSU


The Gish Film Theater (1976 – 2018)

Can anything be written about a legend?

(article posted on BGSU website before the decision to relocate the Gish Theater)

Lillian Gish, famous the world over for her work in silent films, stage productions and sound motion pictures, has probably been asked more questions by more reporters than any other actor or actress in America. And with good reason, because no other actor or actress alive today has appeared in as many productions, in every decade of this century, as Lillian Gish.

Despite her fame and abundant talent, this wisp of a woman with the strong, rich voice is disarmingly humble. The actress seems delighted to be honored by Bowling Green, the university only 20 miles from the site of her professional debut in Risingsun. An Ohio native, Miss Gish has been officially recognized several times by the university. She, in turn, has unofficially adopted Bowling Green as her favorite university – endowing a scholarship fund, presenting her lecture series, visiting campus four times since 1976 and delighting the University community with her spunky comments and vivid recollections of a long-ago era. The occasion of her most recent visit was the October dedication of an impressive collection of photographs in the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall. Commemorating the enduring career of the pioneer cinema star, the collection was originally displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, for the 1980 Lillian Gish Retrospective.

Elegantly dressed in a black velvet suit and a lacy white blouse, Miss Gish relaxes in a loveseat in the University Guest House before the evening ceremony in Hanna Hall begins. Her manager, James Frasher checks last minute details as special invited guest Eva Marie Saint arrives, back from a tour of the campus, which she had not seen for 36 years. Miss Gish sits back, preparing to begin the interview, then looks down in chagrin.

“Oh, dear, I’m about to lose a button,” she announces, her voice carrying across the room as though she were giving an important line in one of her films. “Does anyone sew?”

Actress Saint comes to the rescue, offering to sew the dangling button in place.

“Oh, my dear, they told me you were wearing black velvet, too,” Miss Gish worries as she takes off her jacket.

Saint, dressed in a soft brown suit, laughs, “Lillian, we’d look like the Bobbsey Twins if we both wore black velvet tonight.”

“Yes, well, I suppose you’re right. That would have been all right, though,” Miss Gish smiles.
Her celebrated lack of vanity is apparent and a bit touching in her wish to dress like her friend.

The two actresses, who first worked together in The Trip to Bountiful in 1953, are obviously fond of each other. Miss Saint quickly sews on the button and helps Miss Gish back into her jacket.

“Oh, that’s so good of you, my dear.” She is sincere, open and charming.

It is becoming obvious why one never reads or hears disparaging stories of the actress, well known for her admirable ability to easily make and keep friends. While Gish is busy, her manager recalls the day in 1969 when he was hired to manage Gish.

“My father said, ‘Be careful, that woman will change your life.’ And she has. She’s made me realize the beauty of life. I’m younger today than when I started working for her. That’s her great gift. That’s why she tunes in to young people. College kids respond to her,” Frasher says.

“She has great vitality and generosity. Coming to Bowling Green is truly exciting to her. She loves seeing the people, the trees, the town, the University. She has a very special feeling about Bowling Green – the people here have been so good to her, and she wants to return the good wishes. She doesn’t visit any other university as often, or show as much interest.”

Gish returns. She is an impressive woman at 5’7″ and carries herself with dignity. Always attractive, her delicate features radiate an inner joy, retaining the beauty of the young actress who played opposite such leading men as Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, John Gielgud, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and others.

“Oh, tell them how happy and proud they’ve made me,” she instructs when asked how she felt about the University’s acquisition of the photo collection.
“Of all theaters, if I could have my choice, it would be this one.”

Her pride in the theater is obvious, mainly because it also honors her sister Dorothy and her mother, Mary McConnell Gish, as well as Lillian. She is devoted to their memories.

vThe Gish Sisters (2)


Lillian, as a child, with Dorothy and her mother

“I like people from Ohio,” Gish declares. “Of course, since I was born here, I may be prejudiced, but I do think they have the best manners and are more considerate of the other fellow than most people are. I got my start just down the road here, in Risingsun, so I really feel like I’ve come home when I come here.”

She doesn’t have much to say about modern films, but her disappointment in the current products of the media so beloved to her is evident.

“Film is the universal language. It can do great things. We have advanced, technically, in films enormously, but intellectually and spiritually, we have gone in the opposite direction.” She pauses, then continues.

“I feel strongly that actors and actresses today need to take responsibility for what they say and do in film, even if they are only acting. They don’t have to do the script. Look at the crime in our country. A little boy of nine holds up a bank. Where did he learn that? I’m not saying, but I have an idea.”

“Film is the most powerful thing that has been invented in this century,” she continues.

“Many of the actors are still concerned about messages, but the business end has taken over. There have always been fights between the artists and the businessmen. Not many people have both talents.”

16112749_1213800508703244_2546695881285175690_o


Lillian Gish – Hambone and Hillie.

She has a bit of advice for University students hoping to make a career in the performing arts.

“Use your body as an artist uses his canvas. Learn to use it to speak. Study dancing. Take care of it.”

She has obviously taken excellent care of her body and is in wonderful health. Beneath her apparent delicacy is a strong woman with strong convictions. Although she must have expressed the same thoughts hundreds of times, she is animated and enthusiastic when discussing her goals and interests.

“Live equally in your body, mind and spirit,” Miss Gish advises.
“You must feel your faith inside, and live it outside. I know there’s a higher power watching out for me.”

She has been a member of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York for many years and attends whenever she is there. As for her traveling lifestyle, she says, “Mother used to tell us that even if we couldn’t find Qur own church, any church was better than no church at all!” Her deep Christian convictions have helped her lead a fruitful and joyful life, she adds. Her father’s family was German Lutheran and her mother’s, Episcopalian. Miss Gish recently wrote an article for “Guideposts,” a Christian magazine with a large national circulation, and is now working on a book about the history of religion in film.

Because her father deserted the family when Lillian was a toddler, she learned to take care of herself at an earlier age than most youngsters.

“I learned to work as if everything depended on me, and to pray as if everything depended on God,” she says. “Theater people are wonderful, though,” she adds.
“They watched out for my sister and me when we were little girls. No one ever dared to swear in front of us unless he wanted a beating. The men would put their coats down on railroad benches for us to sleep on. We always had someone looking out for us as we moved from town to town.”

Her life is still as busy and interesting as it was in those early days. People and projects fill her days. She never married, but men have been in love with Lillian Gish since she first appeared on screen as a teenager in 1912.

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With Lindsay Anderson during filming of “Whales of August.”

“I have loved many men, but have never been in love with any of them,” she says. “I never had the time.”
With more than 100 movies, 50 stage productions, two books and numerous articles and other projects behind her, she didn’t have much extra time. She has worked hard and tirelessly over the years. “It was D.W. Griffith (the pioneer director) who taught me that working is more fun than playing,” she says of her mentor.

AIways fiercely faithful to her friends, Miss Gish didn’t forget the man who gave her her start, even when the rest of the world did. Her career blossomed after the 1915 classic, Birth of a Nation. Griffith, however, eventually drifted into poverty- his brilliance dulled by alcohol and broken dreams. Although there were many stories that she and Griffith were in love, she recalls him fondly as just a dear friend and teacher. The actress regards the veteran director as a true genius of silent films. When he married a much younger and rather helpless woman, Miss Gish took both the ailing Griffith and his bride under her wing and helped care for them until Griffith died. The “talkies” were his downfall.

Miss Gish first resisted the new sound motion pictures and went back to stage work. She still prefers silent film, believing it to have great power and impact on audiences. Finally, though, she began acting in sound films and was a great success.

Lillian Gish seems to have led a charmed life. From the day her film Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, she has been a star. Her pictures have made millions of dollars. She is renowned as a superior stage actress. She made her 103rd movie, A Wedding, in 1978 with Robert Altman and is planning still more films. An Academy Award – the Oscar – was presented to Miss Gish in 1971. In addition to all this, she has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, Russia and Australia, narrating her presentation on the history of film at nearly 400 universities. That she manages to include visits to Bowling Green into her hectic schedule is a tribute to the University which has dedicated and renovated a theater in honor of the Gishes.

Ralph Wolfe, a University English professor, first suggested naming the theater in honor of Miss Gish, to commemorate her first performance in Wood County at the age of five. Then-University President Hollis Moore was in favor of the idea, so Wolfe contacted Miss Gish’s agent, Frasher, and she accepted, on the condition that the theater be named not only for her but also for her sister. Thus the “Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater” was dedicated on June 11,1976. The next day Moore presented Miss Gish an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts degree during spring commencement exercises.

Since that first visit, Miss Gish has shown true interest in the University, especially the Film Studies Program. When Wolfe established a scholarship for the annual film, studies award, Gish endowed it. She returned to Bowling Green in the fall of 1976 for the theater’s opening and again in 1979 to accept the Popular Culture Association Achievement Award and speak at a campus film restrospective at the theater.

The first phase of the theater renovation project included the construction of a marquee, an improved movie projection area and a lobby for featuring the Gish photographs. The improvements were made possible through private funding. Alumni Howard Beplat, James R. Good and Ronald Cohen of New York City, and Wolfe, who lives in nearby North Baltimore, donated the funds to obtain the photographic collection from the Museum of Modern Art. Wolfe had been invited to the 1980 retrospective and contacted the curators about the possibility of adding the Gish photos to the University theater. Through the joint efforts of Moore, Wolfe, the alumni office and the Museum of Art, Bowling Green now owns the collection, which includes stills from some of the Gishes’ most famous films.

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Lillian in “Way Down East”

The second and final phase of the theater renovation will also be dependent on private funding. Improvements planned include the installation of new theater seats. Gish is delighted with the entire project. “It would make Mother and Dorothy so proud,” she says.
She poses for a quick photograph. “Don’t shoot up at me, dear. I’ll play up to you,” she insists pleasantly. After the photograph, the trio – Gish, Saint and Frasher – hurry out the door of the Guest House off to Hanna Hall. “Oh, look,” Miss Gish points, delighted at several small squirrels tumbling through the grass on campus. She has the curiosity and “joie de vivre” of a young girl, and it’s infectious.

Inside, the Gish Film Theater is packed with nearly 200 invited guests. Visibly touched by the honors shown the Gishes, the actress tells the audience that she knows her mother and sister are present, too. “We three thank you,” she says. Special guest Miss Saint, a 1946 alumna, is also recognized as the University awards her an honorary doctorate. Miss Gish helps President Paul Olscamp present the award to Miss Saint. Following the ceremony, Miss Gish, despite her hectic day, patiently greets guests and signs autographs. Alumni, faculty and friends mingle, enjoying the photo collection, tasting refreshments, waiting to meet the honored actress.

After a lifetime of hard work, Lillian Gish certainly deserves to retire and relax. However, she has no intention of slowing down.

In December Miss Gish was the recipient of a prestigious Kennedy Center Achievement Award, and during her stay in Washington, D.C., she was the guest of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

The actress is not content to rest on her honors and accomplishments. Her future plans include writing another book, working on television specials and possibly another film. She also continues to travel with her lecture program. The future looks promising. Her legend continues to grow. With all these plans ahead will Miss Gish have time to visit Bowling Green again? “Oh, yes, if I’m invited and am free, sure,” she smiles. “I enjoy it here very much.”

Lillian Gish blows a Kiss to BGSU Former President Olscamp

Lillian Gish blows a Kiss to BGSU Former President Olscamp

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June 11, 1976, originally located in Hanna Hall …

Dedicated at BGSU on June 11, 1976, The Gish Film Theater and Gallery was originally located in Hanna Hall, and was named to commemorate the achievements of Ohio natives Dorothy and Lillian Gish in the history of American film.  Lillian’s acting debut was in the opera house at Risingsun, Ohio, a Wood County community approximately 20 miles from Bowling Green.

The BGSU academic departments of Theatre and Film, English, Popular Culture, Ethnic Studies, History, Romance Languages, and German, Russian and East Asian Languages were all frequent users of the theater. The theater was also used for various film programs sponsored by the University Activities Organization.

The Gish Film Theater – Hanna Hall

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