I can think of no better way of remembering Lillian Gish tonight than by watching her play Letty Masoninthe 1928 film, The Wind. Because of her long career, lO5 films from the 1912 An Unseen Enemy until the 1987 The Whales ofAugust. Lillian earned the title bestowed upon her, The First lady of Fllm.
In a tribute to her by Ty Burr in the March 12 edition of Entertainment Weekly, three reasons were given for why "she matters to this day":
At Bowling Green we are luckier than most because as long as The Gish Film Theater stands we will always be connected to that past with film showings and the memorabilia. For those of us who were here when Lillian made her four visits our memories are full of her remarks about the past.
Lillian's remains lie alongside those of her mother and sister Dorothy in St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City. That is her spiritual home, but her artistic home is here in Bowling Green along with her actress mother and sister. A photograph memorializing the three hangs in the upper Gallery of The Gish Film Theater. I feel their presence here tonight as Lillian felt the presence of her mother and Dorothy when the photographs were dedicated in 1982. Lillian reports in her autobiography that when Dorothy died in 1968, the first words that came to her mind were from the character Hal Holbrook played in I never Sang for My Father, which co-starred Lillian: "Death ends a life, but not a relationship." At Bowling Green we will always have a relationship with the Gish actresses.
A memorial service was held in New York City for our beloved Lillian on Thursday, March 11, which coincided with Dorothy's birthday. Thanks to the generosity of President Olscamp I was privileged to attend. Tributes were given by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and James MacArthur, Lillian's godson and the son of Helen Hayes. A reading from The Pilgrim 's Progress was given by Tony Award-winning actress Irene Worth. Richard Woitach, associate conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, played "Clair de Lune" on the piano, and Metropolitan Opera soprano Marie Plette sang "Donde lieta usci" from La Bohéme" as a tribute to Lillian who had played Mimi in the 1926 film of La Bohéme;. The Reverend Terence J. Finlay, Rector Emeritus of St. Bartholomew, served as Lillian's spiritual adviser for more than twenty years and he said that Lillian's presence on Sunday morning always made him want to do his best. He told an amusing story about himself: Midway during his tenure the St. Bartholomew's Players asked him to take a small role in their production of Brigadoon. On the day of the opening, he received, much to his surprise, a telegram from Dubrovnik. When he opened it he read: "Congratulations. Real work at last. Love, Lillian." Acting to Lillian was real work, and her performance in The Wind demonstrates that work. Lillian has said many times, quoting her mentor D.W. Griffith, "What you get is a living. What you give is life." We remain forever grateful for the living that gave us all those marvelous performances and for the life that has enriched us all.
Last modified on: Thursday, October 30, 1997.