Lillian Gish


  1. Camilla Horn, Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage, Germany, 1926.      Before Hollywood called after her triumph in the German film, Die freudlose Gasse (UK/US: Joyless Street), 1924,  Garbo was supposed to play Gretchen for director FW Murnau. He  also tried to win over Gish. Then he remembered Lil Dagover’s  double during their Tartuffe, 1925, and Horn’s star was born.  For a Hollywood moment. Or two.
  2. Greta Garbo, Flesh and the Devil, 1926.  Felicitas was designed to attract Gish. But as she was making $1m a week, MGM genius Irving Thalberg decided to risk a newly signed Swede – at her contracted $450 a week. Not for much longer! The film was a smash. Garbo even bigger – representing 12% of the studio’s value by 1927.  Co-star John Gilbert was immediately smitten (as he ahd been with Gish the previous year during La Bohème. (He’d mess up their love scenes so he could keep kissing her in extra takes). Now he was mad about Garbo and never returned home. At the official end of one passionate embrace, director Clarence Brown never said Cut! and waved the crew to leave. And had dinner sent in!
  3. Greta Garbo, Love, 1927. Director Edmund Goulding almost returned to his first choice once “the dumb Swede” refused to work her salary rose from $600 to $5,000 a week. MGM paid to get the hype it craved: John Gilbert Greta Garbo in Love. She loved the heroine so much, she re-made it in 1935 under the true title. Anna Karenina.
  4. Phyllis Haver, The Battle of the Sexes. 1927.    DW Griffith – Him Self! – filmed the Daniel Carson Goodman story in 1914 with Lilian Gish as Donald Crisp’s daughter.   He  decided to try it again  13 years later.  With Gish, this time, as in the much livelier role of gold-digger Marie Skinner.  Too lively, apparently, for Gish as Mary Philbin was quickly announced  – and even Lupe Velez, but DW kept her for his next gig, the semi-talkie Lady of the Pavements, in 1928. Finally, and with much less of a fanfare, Haver landed Marie – and the Judsons, father and daughter,  became Jean Hersholt  and Sally O’Neil.
  5. Norma Shearer, Strange Interlude, 1932.      Overshadowed by Garbo at MGM (where production chief Irving Thalberg even offered to invent a scandal to boost her), Lilian had   conquered talkies as UA’s “Miracle Girl with the Miracle Voice.” She could not, howsever, defeat a plagiarism suit against Eugene O’Neil’s play forcing the film into   a   much longer interlude.
  6. Helen Hayes, White Sister, 1933.      Decided against the talkie-version of   her 1924   nun – nearly banned by the Women’s Clubs of America.
  7. Merle Oberon,  These Three, 1935.     A Radio WMCAW broadcast in January said the Gish sisters (Lillian and Dorothy) were headed to  Hollywood for a screen  version of Lillian Helman’s Children’s Hour – about two teachers accused of being lesbians. Hopkins and Merle Oberon’s version avoided the L Word. So did the 1961 re-make, The Children’s Hour, also directed by William Wyler, with Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, James Garner – and Hopkins, as Aunt Lily.  
  8. Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet, 1936.      Lilian was set in 1926 until MGM switched her and John   Gilbert into the La Boheme lovers. Suited their ages better.
  9. Ona Munson, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  10. Edna Best, Swiss Family Robinson, 1939.      Writer-producers Gene Towne and C Graham Baker wanted Gish as Mrs Robinson – Thomas Mitchell’s wife. She did not agree. Freddie Bartholomew and Tim Holt were among the four (instead of three) sons. (So was Dennis Hopper in the 1958 NBC TVersion).

  11. Elsa Lanchester, Ladies In Retirement, 1940.    According to Hollywood Reporter, Gish, Judith Anderson, Helen Chandler,  Pauline Lord and Laurette Taylor were all in the mix for Ida Lupino’s sisters.  Demented, every one.  Like Lanchester’s Emily.
  12. Fay Bainter, Mrs Wiggs of Cabbage Patch, 1941.    More like Cow Patch…! When Gish read the script, Paramount scurried around fixing a loan of Bainter from MGM. Didn’t save the day.
  13. Mary Howard, Swamp Water, 1941.    Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck suggested the silent diva as Hannah for Jean Renoir’s first US film since fleeing his Nazi-occupied France. As usual, Hollywood had scant respect for anyone who was better than Hollywood.   Zanuck dared to complain that the master réalisateur of La Grande Illusion, La bête humaine La règle du jeu, revered as the greatest film-maker by Chaplin and Welles, was too slow!! He was fired, then asked to stay. Soon as the film was finished, Renoir quit Fox. “He’s not one of us,” said DFZ. Dissolve. On the Oscar night of April 8, 1975, he received an honorary Academy Award for his career. One of his stars, Ingrid Bergman, picked it up for him. I know because I was there.
  14. Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette, 1943.    The silent  star and “her wistful personality”  was  first choice in 1942 for the French girl who had a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in 1858… Didn’t anyone realise  she was too old at 49 to playh a girl… !!!  Then,  Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick fell madly in love with Jones, 23. (His very own Susan Alexander).  And on December 9, 1942, she won “the plum role of the year” – which “introduced” her although she had made two Republic movies under her real name, Phylis Isley.). To win her the film, DOS offered to share her contract with Fox. Henry King directed tests,  telling actresses  to look beyond the camera at a shining light.  Jones, said King, didn’t just look – she saw. Hence her Best Actress Oscar on March 2, 1944, although the film was not fully released until April 1945.
  15. Ethel Barymore, Moonrise, 1947.      Nonstop alterations as the Theodore Strauss book went from Garson Kanin to John Farrow to James Stewart (as star and director) and finally, Frank Borzage – who made Barrymore the Grandma. What else at 68?
  16. Dorothy Strickland, I Never Sang For My Father, 1970.      First choice as Fredric March’s wife.
  17. Jeanette Nolan, The Fox and the Hound, 1980.   Old-timers Gish and Helen Hayes were also in the voice mix for the Widow Tweed,   who adopted the fox named Tod. Nolan (whose husband, John McIntire, played Grumpy Badger) had voiced Ellie May in The Rescuers, 1976.
  18. Jessica Tandy, The Bostonians, 1984.       James Ivory tried all his wooing techniquesbut no go.
  19. Geraldine Page, The Trip To Bountiful, 1985.     No film of his play was possible, insisted Horton Foote, without Miss Gish as Carrie Watts, who has one wish before dying: to see her “home” town of Bountiful, Texas. Miss Gish was 92. Foote relented, now his proviso was Kim Stanley… or Geraldine Page, who finally collected an Oscar with her eighth nomination, when presentor F Murray Abraham announced the winner as..   .“the greatest actress in the English language.” Any comment, Meryl, Glenda, Glenn, Judi, Vivien…


 Birth year: 1893Death year: 1993Other name: Casting Calls:  19