Lillian Gish discusses the play "Passage to India" and her career
BROADCAST: Jan. 16, 1963 | DURATION: 00:35:38
Actress Lillian Gish joins Studs Terkel to talk about her role in the play “Passage to India.” Gish connects the play based on a book by E. M. Forster to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and discusses the relevance and importance of historical works like those mentioned. Studs asks Gish about working with D. W. Griffith, and the two praise Griffith’s impact on the world of film; Gish comments on her experience with working with Charles Laughton too. Gish describes her beginnings in acting and talks about the future of theater and film - she says current films lack spirit and that the United States is experience a drought of playwrights. The conversation ends with Gish describing the creation of an iconic scene in “Birth of A Nation.”
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel I suppose a number of performers on, on, on the American stage in the American film. There's TV, too, there. Three, I guess, there three art forms, aren't there, for, for the performer. There's the film. There's the stage. And today, there is TV and radio for one who's been distinguished. And certainly two of the media- Three, I should say, is our guest this morning: Lillian Gish, distinguished actress of the American Theater. At the moment now and at the Goodman in A Passage to India, the adaptation of the Forster novel. Miss Gish, there are many questions to ask you, of course, dealing with the present and the future. But we talked about this earlier that the past, present, and future re- pretty much one that make you the performer you are. At the moment the interest is the role of Mrs. Moore, and the play, the Forster--
Lillian Gish Yes, you know this is an historical novel in a way. If you remember, Harriet Beecher Stowe was told by President Lincoln that she caused the civil war with her book Uncle Tom's Cabin, and I'm told by the British, many of them that this book of Forster's, of Foster's-
Studs Terkel Forster's.
Lillian Gish Forster's, brought about the freedom of India into- I believe published in 24, early 20s sometimes, and he, no doubt, like most artists that write looked about hims- didn't like what he saw and exposed it and brought it to the attention to so many people. As a result, India is a free country today.
Studs Terkel I'm, I'm not sure whether his book was the factor, but
Studs Terkel It was a factor in awareness--
Lillian Gish [unintelligible]
Studs Terkel I suppose, the awareness of the Britain of someone else.
Lillian Gish It emphasized
Studs Terkel We hadn't- we see for the first time clearly as he did--
Lillian Gish And--
Studs Terkel Isn't this Miss Gish- Pardon me, you were going to say something?
Lillian Gish And that's why I think the play is interesting. As our play, Uncle Tom's Cabin is- I wish the Goodman would do Uncle Tom's Cabin. I think now the centennial of the Civil War. Of course, it was not a play then. It was a book, but nevertheless it's one of our landmarks in theater.
Studs Terkel The- As you say, if Goodman or any theater did Uncle Tom's Cabin, today. Let's think of this for a moment, because this is connected to perhaps with, seeing old-time films today, too. Some would say, isn't this dated?
Lillian Gish Well, so is history dated. You can't get away from the civil war, and if this brought it about, it is an historical thing--
Studs Terkel Yes--
Lillian Gish That we as Americans ought to be interested in.
Studs Terkel Seeing something from the standpoint- A historic novel. Certainly, it was that, and seeing it a century after the fact. Nonetheless even though the style might be dated by our standards today. Yet what it says, the impact, probably would still be there.
Lillian Gish Well, for instance, a Boucicault wrote plays. He, he wrote one, I think. It was originally called The Streets of London, and the beginning of the summer theaters in a way started at Westport by the Theater Guild, and Dorothy, my sister, was a, a member of the original company. And they were to do six plays and a repertory, including Shakespeare, Ibsen, and they did a Boucicault. The Streets of New York, they changed it to. Well, it became such a success, it spoiled all the rest of the five plays, because everyone wanted to come to see Streets of New York. So, that ended the repertory idea. They had a big success--
Studs Terkel Yeah--
Lillian Gish And they rode along on that.
Studs Terkel Well, seeing this Boucicault play. Here's a writer turn of the century, end of the last century. Did the audience- The middle 20th century- Did, did, did your sister tell you, just how did the audience react? Did they laugh at times? That is but--
Studs Terkel No,
Studs Terkel I don't mean, I don't mean laughing derogatorily.
Lillian Gish No, they played it more or less in the style with a bow to the present. It, it takes very expert playing. It's well like any period drama, perhaps excluding Shakespeare because you can transplant and do Shakespeare in any century, any one of his plays. He, he's the genius of the world. But this was right after the Depression when people were selling apples on the street, so that it was timely. After all, the one thing you learned from history is that you learn nothing from history, and it keeps repeating itself.
Studs Terkel Unless we learn, we learn
Lillian Gish You don't [laughs]
Studs Terkel Of course, we should--
Lillian Gish Apparently, because it just repeats--
Studs Terkel 'Course, this was a depression play of another time.
Lillian Gish Yes--
Studs Terkel The people struck home--
Studs Terkel Yes, Because the situation, the human condition was the same.
Lillian Gish Now, we're having difficulty with the race problem. India, all the world is, Africa's awakening. Therefore, I should think Uncle Tom's Cabin, the race problem as it was a hundred years ago would be interesting. It might be amusing, too, because our colored people have made such great strides that they- I think have reached a point where they could probably smile or maybe laugh at this.
Studs Terkel At Uncle Tom, the figure, the name
Studs Terkel Uncle Tom has become
Lillian Gish Oh well, it shouldn't--
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Lillian Gish He was a lovable character, any
Studs Terkel No but the, the today in the mid twentieth century. The, I- the concept of Uncle Tom as one who grovels and loves his master, who was kind to him, you see. This is of a certain time, you see.
Lillian Gish yes but on the other hand That love was returned in the, the way that love was returned at that time and I should think it would interest people
Studs Terkel well certainly historically it would the fact that this was a certain kind of book written at a certain kind of time the drama of that moment can be recreated and even, even though as you said a moment ago people were amused that amusement is not. It's not a derogatory kind of laugh
Lillian Gish oh
Studs Terkel how things have changed.
Lillian Gish Yes it's a compassionate amusement.
Studs Terkel Yes
Lillian Gish and there's a, a sentiment and a tenderness about that, that carries over into any period. Perhaps our play as of today will be just this a hundred years from now- perhaps no doubt will be just as quaint and old fashioned and peculiar.
Studs Terkel Unless of course a Shakespeare came along.
Lillian Gish oh but look you've only had one--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish in the history of drama in 3, 4,000 years of course. We have some very good Greek playwrights have- that have come down
Studs Terkel they've lasted through a few years
Lillian Gish and they're just as moving too
Studs Terkel Miss Gish you mentioned Shakespeare and Thought occurs to me- a fact does that of which not too many people may be aware you, you were John Gielgud's leading lady in Hamlet you played Ophelia to his Hamlet.
Lillian Gish Yes when he first came over
Studs Terkel What is your memory of Sir John Gielgud.
Lillian Gish Oh, this is a not only a great actor but a great gentleman of the theater and a great intelligence. He had produced it himself I think at Oxford he is an Oxford graduate and he's a Terry. He was Ellen Terry's nephew and a this a great heritage to bring over. I think you hear it in his voice and certainly you feel it in his personality. And I played with him later in Crime and Punishment also with Komisarjevsky. The Russian director who Sir John said had taught him 25 years earlier. So much of everything he knew in the theater but of course it's a poor pupil that doesn't surpass his teacher so of course he had at that time and it was an import from London and in London Tony Quayle a young man handled 40 actors on a stage. They didn't know who could do this but Tony was just out of the army where he'd been handling thousands of English and they thought well what would he do with 40. Well he did amazing things with 40 on a stage it was the most exciting most successful play in London when we flew over directly after the war in 46
Studs Terkel in- the directors you've worked with there's Gielgud, Komisarjevsky, you worked Crime and Punishment with him.
Lillian Gish Yes.
Studs Terkel And, and Fred Coe who certainly is a pioneer in TV in the medium of TV. You were in the Pulitzer Prize winning play you played the old lady in, in
Lillian Gish Well
Lillian Gish earlier I played in many television. When he was doing television in 48 and 9 it was a new medium that interested me. And when I found him I was so excited I thought he was
Lillian Gish them-- thrilling--
Studs Terkel A Trip to Bountiful.
Lillian Gish That was later. Yes. You see Mr. Coe Horton
Studs Terkel Horton Foote, Horton Foote
Lillian Gish developed Horton Foote and Komisarjevsky and any number of writers as well as directors. You had The Sound of Music directed by Vincent Donehue and Campobello and now Lord Pengo in New York here's another young wonderful director that out of his school and Arthur Penn. Oh he, it--
Studs Terkel did Penn direct All the Way Home.
Lillian Gish Yes--
Lillian Gish Yes. And Guthrie McClintic Katharine Cornell's husband directed Hamlet. It was Judith Anderson's first Shakespearean role too. She played the Queen
Studs Terkel oh she oh she played Gertrude to your Ophelia.
Lillian Gish Yes
Studs Terkel I was thinking of All the Way Home again. Agee's novel adapted to the stage "A Death in the Fami"- Did you know James Agee.
Lillian Gish Yes
Lillian Gish He was in New York and the modern museum that run- old films called up and said that Mr. Laughton was running all the old Griffith films and I said wha- They said "What do you know when? I said no, do you?" and they said [laughs] And in about 2 or 3 weeks Mr. Laughton called and asked if I'd have tea over there with him and then he told me that he was getting ready to do a film but that he thought pictures today had lost the excitement they used to have. And he was studying these old films to try and learn what they had lost. And he had his whole staff that happened to be in New York five of them Agee one of them and then later when he r- finished running them he had them sent to the coast so they could see out there what he was trying to regain in films. And Agee wrote that script also it was a film called The Night of the Hunter. And David Grubb wrote the original novel but Charles was so frightened of directing. You would try to help and he if you had a suggestion he'd immediately say Oh you don't like what I'm doing. Oh that isn't good you know he was like a child we all ended just putting props under him saying everything is wonderful Charles because he was so frightened and so unsure.
Studs Terkel He's a man of such talent.
Lillian Gish Yes-
Studs Terkel Such a bountiful supply yet who had such diffidence.
Lillian Gish and he had such enormous respect for Griffith the man he was trying to imitate. But the Russians do quite well imitating Griffith.
Studs Terkel This well ff course we can't think of you Lillian Gish though you are so much part of our present and now and we'll asked about plans to and the past India yet somehow the name of Griffith must inevitably arise as fantastic figure who perhaps more than any other single man developed the art form that is the film today
Lillian Gish Oh the only one. I think the one man since Griffith that's added to it would be Disney
Studs Terkel Something you said earlier Agee used that something was lost. We would come to Griffith Griffiths [unintelligible] something in the film today. What is it you feel?
Lillian Gish Spirit.
Studs Terkel Spirit.
Lillian Gish People work for money. Today we work for a medium we believed in it was a great much more important medium than any of us would survive us and would affect the world. And we took the responsibility too of everything we said in the films felt that deeply because we knew or at least were told by people who were supposed to know that what we did was much more influential than the press or the printed word. And that weighed heavily on our conscience.
Studs Terkel Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, Intolerance, Orphans of the Storm, Birth Of A Nation, you were in all these landmarks classics certainly. What is it that there's a book that deals with him. What is it that comes to your mind the name of Griffith? There are so many -what is it? What would you feel his. We're told we read of so many of his contributions. Technically whether it's using the close-up or the camera angle or the lighting. What to you who were so directly involved with his classics as a performer. What is it that of him--
Lillian Gish the way of telling a story on film it's that simple he invented that and there's a book out called- by Edward Wagenknecht which I believe he's a Chicagoan called "The Movies in the Age of Innocence" that is the best book I believe ever written on the films certainly by an outsider because I don't think he was ever in a studio. He teaches he's now teaching lit- English literature at Boston University, he taught at the University of Washington in Seattle and then before that he was educated and taught here.
Studs Terkel He writes many book reviews for The Chicago Tribune
Lillian Gish Indeed he does. An erudite man, he's written 25 books I think so far he has three sons sending through college I believe one is teaching out here now.
Studs Terkel Looking through this chapter just leafing through this chapter of the book "The Movies in the Age of Innocence" by Edward Wagenknecht which incidentally is a, is immersive Oklahoma Press that's--
Lillian Gish Yes--
Studs Terkel available this chapter called D. W. Griffith presents, just the reading of it is as a man who loves films a layman who loves films and he said you introduced him to Griffith. Once he was here in Chicago
Lillian Gish at the opening of--
Studs Terkel "Orphan's
Studs Terkel and--
Lillian Gish you know you have Mrs. Hargrave, Colleen Moore--
Studs Terkel yes--
Lillian Gish living here and she took me on Monday to see a, her dollhouse. And was it hurt by the fire yesterday by any chance? Oh how I, I hope not--
Studs Terkel we
Lillian Gish because it's an extraordinary thing. I hope you everyone
Lillian Gish has seen it if they haven't
Studs Terkel Colleen Moore's doll's
Lillian Gish Yes. I sure they'd enjoy it as much as I did. It's must have a million different pieces to it and the time the trouble the people that are represented in this doll's house is much better than the Queen's in London and much more to scale. And I think the Queen herself would be, would be the first to say that.
Studs Terkel You were saying something. Well this is connected I suppose a doll's house, films, a recreation of some aspect of life creatively. You say Griffith told the way, he told a story in other words it was not on the stage. On the stage we see people walk we see them go on the stage and off the stage we see their full body. We see them but he, he saw something else here didn't
Lillian Gish Well the film can move as your mind--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish moves the camera has no proscenium arch the sun moon and stars of the proscenium arch. Now we - I could we could go into orbit with it so there's no limit to the camera and there's certainly great limitations to the theater.
Studs Terkel He wasn't looking for people then who were theater people were they
Lillian Gish yes he was- Oh yes--
Studs Terkel he
Lillian Gish he was out of the theater and he wanted talent. And that's where
Studs Terkel oh I thought he sought something new. A new form of acting
Lillian Gish They had to learn a new form of acting but he wanted talent--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish and that's where it had been reared and trained. Oh yes. He, he had great respect for the theater and the people in it.
Studs Terkel You said something now. He had great respect for the theater and the people in it. Earlier you were talking of Sir John Gielgud a general of the old schools, a phrase you use. Before we went on the air talking about a story about you a biography written by Albert Bigelow Pa--
Lillian Gish Paine--
Studs Terkel Albert Bigelow Paine
Lillian Gish yes--
Studs Terkel was a biographer of Twain.
Studs Terkel And you described him as an old time academician would you mind. And you said there are none such today would you mind explaining this--
Lillian Gish well he was a gentleman of the old school. I didn't hear from him I never knew him and it at when he was 70 he wrote me a letter and asked if he could do my story and ignorant as I was. I didn't know him but I did know Henry Mencken and George Jean Nathan and I asked them about this man and they said, "oh you've got the name wrong. He wouldn't be interested in you or your story." So I went home and looked up the letter and brought it and it was Albert Bigelow Paine. And they couldn't get over it. They said I wish he'd ask to do our story you get right home and let him do yours. So I was flattered and he took three years to do it.
Studs Terkel I think this book we should point out this book probably is available. I hope it is today.
Lillian Gish That I wouldn't know it was published by Macmillan.
Studs Terkel [Where?] your story since you are the subject of this interview, Miss Gish there are so many aspects about you, artists with whom you've worked. Directors colleagues on the stage in on the screen on TV. How did you - this is phra- since if we know beginnings then we know the present too. How, how, how did you say come to the screen to the movie to the film. How did this happen?
Lillian Gish Well I was in the theater when I was five years of age and playing children. I got to be 11 or 12 and got to be awfully long-legged long-armed. Leading ladies in those days were short. One of our leading ladies Helen Ray who is still playing in the films. I have a picture with her and I'm looking way up at her to me as I remember her she was a great tall handsome leading lady. Well she's five feet high. Now a tall child I found difficult times finding roles where they wanted lanky children and the films of that time needed young faces so they just dressed the young ones up in long skirts and they played heroines until they were 18 then they were too old and they went into character roles. An old hag of 18--
Lillian Gish was passe as a heroine because the photography was so cruel and so trying and their liability was an asset to me. And I only transferred to bridge the gap until I was old enough to get back into the theater as a young ingénue.
Studs Terkel So you grew up then it was the in the very first almost the first time you could speak. You grew up then in theater-- and
Lillian Gish before I could read--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish I was taught my lines and on a stage. So I never knew anything else. It's very nice I should think for the children of the Goodman to grow up and say I want to be that and then go to school and study for it and make a success of it that must be a great satisfaction. But if you've never known anything else you always think oh I might have been better at something other than the thing you have been doing your entire life.
Studs Terkel Did that thought ever cross your mind?
Lillian Gish Oh yes. I loved to read. And I wanted to be a librarian.
Studs Terkel You- here's, here's a celebrated actress of the American theater and films who wants wanted to be a librarian.
Lillian Gish Yes.
Studs Terkel How many librarians want to be actresses?
Lillian Gish I wouldn't know but I was very envious of all my cousins who went through universities and I used to have a great inferiority complex when I was young when I or being around them and soon I learned that they couldn't hold their own on many subjects that I knew about because I'd been educated in films and theater on the spot and my knowledge was quite different from theirs. Probably I didn't know arithmetic and geometry and trigonometry but I knew many other things
Studs Terkel That's interesting within these films in which you took part came an education save my suppose something like Intolerance or
Lillian Gish think of the education of Intolerance there that was the greatest film ever made. We had to know all about Babylon we had to know all the crucifixion. When I went to the Holy Land and I thought why Griffith built this because his sets in Intolerance for the cross you know where Jesus takes the cross to Calvary was it was identical with the present day street over there. Everything about it was so familiar that I expected him to call "camera" any minute.
Studs Terkel [laughs]
Lillian Gish And then we came up to the French period the eve of Saint Bartholomew the massacre we had to know all of that and then the modern period the beginning of the ca- battle between capital and labor. So each film was an education then we did Romola fifteenth-century Florentine we not only had to know the history of Florence and Italy at that time but the world around it so as to know what these characters we were trying to play were concerned with. So this is this used--
Studs Terkel I
Lillian Gish to be a great education--
Studs Terkel I suppose in Orphans of the Storm you learned something
Lillian Gish everything--
Studs Terkel revolution
Lillian Gish and our you know Franklin and our--
Studs Terkel yes,
Lillian Gish people there our own history with it.
Studs Terkel Did, did Griffith talk to the this is interesting points you learn. Did Griffith talk to the cast too about the theme aside from the actual--
Lillian Gish Oh we were immersed in our period--
Studs Terkel yeah,
Lillian Gish That's all he, he, you went around these little books and if you had a minute you were reading everyone was because that was the interest and that's where you lived you never stay- you worked seven days a week. You never stayed home because after all wasn't as interesting no play and there was no social life whatsoever.
Studs Terkel So it was, it was the that's interesting the imagina- the life of fantasy was a more the life you portrayed was more interesting than the actual life of
Lillian Gish Yes and it wasn't all fantasy. Very often history
Studs Terkel and history I should say
Lillian Gish and that educated young people--
Studs Terkel He
Lillian Gish and older ones too.
Studs Terkel He was bold too I mean bold in what he said. Griffith.
Lillian Gish He had the courage of his ideas and he- there were no scriptwriters. He did everything very often he changed his name to someone some other name he said people wouldn't like if they thought you did everything so he would use nom de plumes and
Studs Terkel You say there were there were no script. You mean he would improvise a great deal of it?
Lillian Gish Oh, there were no scriptwriters for any of our pictures none they were all Griffith, he, he was--
Studs Terkel He would be all in his mind? He, he would--
Lillian Gish Everything and ours.
Studs Terkel and your oh there was and then there was a give and take before--
Lillian Gish Oh we had to create our own characters certainly but you do more or less--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish you have a words in say this present play isn't really written. You have to try and tell an audience between the lines what it's about--
Studs Terkel Yes--
Lillian Gish It's very diffuse.
Studs Terkel this is a subtle play
Lillian Gish Well when it go- when you go into eastern philosophy into Zen Buddhism or any of their philo- it's, it's into something that really can't be put into words. And we say that in and we say- say say say as if anything can be said.
Studs Terkel We should point this out that a past India is now at the Goodman and will be there. let's See we should give certain [vital?] [latistics? statistics?] said
Lillian Gish We will be there until the thirtieth of January.
Studs Terkel until the thirtieth of January.
Lillian Gish We play the thirtieth of January. That's the last performance.
Studs Terkel So
Lillian Gish and it's very nice because you can't come at half-past 7 like England and I like an early curtain particularly for people that live far away. They like it in England you know you go to the theater from quarter past 6. One play curtain goes up another one half past quarter 7 7 o'clock some 8:30 is ours in New York but in New York everything goes up between half-past 8 a quarter of 9 and you can't get to the theater the streets are blocked and it's a, a chore particularly on a rainy snowy night.
Studs Terkel So they sort of you can stagger the audience and can
Lillian Gish yes
Studs Terkel can be staggered unfortunately we
Studs Terkel many theaters here. That's the I wish there were crushes here in, in Chicago
Lillian Gish Oh how the actors and they. Well I di- we're short on playwrights that's the main reason our theater suffers we haven't enough good playwrights. I hope you encourage out here
Studs Terkel Do, do you have a, a theory about this. Do You wonder why we're - why do you think we're short of playwrights
Lillian Gish Because the drama of the world is so extraordinary you can't keep up with that--
Studs Terkel We--
Lillian Gish The morning newspapers Sputnik you, you're, we are going to the moon. Why oh how can you compete with what's happened in our century.
Studs Terkel And so that which is happening in life is so overwhelming that the playwright who wants to comment upon today finds himself so overwhelmed. So-
Lillian Gish He has to go into a--
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]--
Lillian Gish psychological drama. And It's a great challenge to
Lillian Gish man's imagination.
Studs Terkel if he can find some heroic framework which this seems to be the challenge that certain playwrights seem to be trying to face.
Lillian Gish Well let's hope we find them.
Studs Terkel On, on some other theme Life with Father. I'm sure this was a this again connect with you and theater with the longest run I believe of nonmusical plays isn't that I believe it is the longest run of nonmusical plays
Lillian Gish I know it is in some places--
Studs Terkel yeah--
Lillian Gish I don't know. I couldn't say about Chicago
Studs Terkel What's your memory of that as Vinnie?
Lillian Gish As you know the Blackstone had been closed for seven years before we went into it and the Blackstone Hotel and all business up in that part of town was feeling it. And then the play went in and business moved back. I think the greatest example they don't like dogs here you know and I don't believe now. You could go into the Blackstone with a dog but I had a little white Scotty named Malcolm and he practically was Mr. Blackstone. Well if they were happy and glad to have a Mr. Malcolm four-legged white-haired terrier you know. I must say he was a good guest had better manners than his owner really
Studs Terkel How I doubt that. But I think that I didn't realize that your company, the company in which you were Vinnie, opened the Blackstone after that long darkness.
Lillian Gish Yes after seven years and it's been going ever since--
Studs Terkel It has been one of the two the only legitimate that is professional full of re- legitimate theater house in town
Lillian Gish Yes. I can't remember when I was a child and used to play here but Chicago was thriving with theaters there were so many every place. I, I wish I could remember how many you had.
Studs Terkel Wait we was Chicago a factor in your in your
Lillian Gish Oh we played here every year--
Studs Terkel Yeah--
Lillian Gish Of course children
Studs Terkel and looking through the Wagenknecht book here from the [unintelligible] different theaters are mentioned here the Colonial, the Illinois where there were openings of Griffith films too. Was that it?
Lillian Gish No no no I, I'm talking about the
Lillian Gish We didn't come up--
Studs Terkel but
Lillian Gish with the films often.
Studs Terkel but no but these were theaters were now and them special films I suppose were shown too
Lillian Gish I suppose they've been turned out - they had been turned over into moving picture houses but then very soon the silent films made so much money that they built these great movie palaces from one end of the nation to the other in fact around the world. But they hadn't built any with talking pictures. Of course, Radio City Music Hall was built with oil money in New York and most of those great palaces are coming down the Roxie's been torn down in New York.
Studs Terkel To be what a parking lot?
Lillian Gish what-- hotel went out--
Studs Terkel a hotel well that's something. I mean-
Lillian Gish And I think out here I was here some 10 years ago and they told me 175 picture theaters were closed around Hinsdale which is an extraordinary amount of theaters to shut down.
Studs Terkel What's the challenge then how is the challenge of the box at home of television to be met with the closing of movie house there are attempts of course to revive movies special films where that's big in size or certain small size films that can say things TV can't. What is the answer to this challenge for? You're, you're now with Flesh and Blood theater. You're now with-
Lillian Gish Well I do television and
Studs Terkel No I'm just wondering what the what the--
Lillian Gish movies,
Studs Terkel how the challenge is to be met how theater itself--
Lillian Gish Oh, look to see what happened to the movies. How they killed the movies and not repeat it. They did a very good job of destroying their medium those great studios out there are now closed down or if television hadn't moved west they would be empty and see the mistakes learn from their mistakes and not repeat them. I would say that would be the only thing I would know--
Studs Terkel The mistakes are the mistakes seen with we, we speak of progress and of course you know the phrase progress can't be stopped yet in the name of progress something else happens that is 'cause you several times spoke of a certain vitality that was lost in film. Agee was looking for this. You feel this was lost this vitality has been lost in theater too to some extent or?
Lillian Gish No no no no when theater's good it's, it's quite wonderful. But our theater has been taken over more or less by musicals. They're the ones they're the things that thrive and seem to have a better chance for success.
Studs Terkel And now your Mrs. Moore, a special kind of figure.
Studs Terkel in a Passage to India
Lillian Gish people seemed to- they all those that come back tell us they like this odd play it gives them pause they think they go home and wonder about it as we do as actors. I think if anything feeds your curiosity and your mind to that extent it's well worth listening to.
Studs Terkel I suppose any play that leads to discussion after it's over leads the very fact it leads to discussion itself-
Studs Terkel yes--
Lillian Gish I think it's good--
Studs Terkel yes--
Lillian Gish because it's nice to laugh and you certainly we need it but you don't want to do that all the time.
Studs Terkel The idea of thought provoking thought provoking plays just as Griffith himself Griffith in, in movies always sought to provoke didn't he? I mean inevitably
Studs Terkel No--
Lillian Gish sought to tell a good story--
Studs Terkel elegant
Lillian Gish and it was something he believed in thought would be interesting and he did
Studs Terkel One last question Miss, Miss Gish before we remind the audience again about the vital statistics of the Goodman and time and place. There's a, a certain picture appears in almost all books about the films when the classic shot it's from Birth of a Nation. It's the sad sentry the Union soldier that extra that sad face he's looking at you. And there's is always this, this mystery. Who was this extra? This comes up and he's - whatever happened to him is that it, it's a remarkable shot. Now in retrospect the loneliness of a soldier away from home, you know.
Lillian Gish Well he was a sailor working-out of work and he came and worked extra in the films and we had no one to help us with our costumes and my things were very heavy and had to be carried wherever I went because you had to change in a minute. They couldn't wait time was valuable and he Freeman would car- help carry some of my heavy clothes
Studs Terkel That was his name, Freeman?
Lillian Gish Freeman and he we-were doing the scene sing in the hospital and he was just leaning against his gun looking and Griffith said "Look at that face. Billy get a picture of it." and that's how it happened.
Studs Terkel Isn'that funny it was the face at that moment that caught
Studs Terkel He said this to his cameraman
Lillian Gish Yep and, and that's how that sce- That was the biggest [unintelligible] the Birth but that's the way pictures were made you see we improvised on the set. If we as actors had an idea we were allowed to put it in and we were creative people. You didn't go on the set and take orders you go on the. You went on the set to give ideas and I guess that's why we were happier
Studs Terkel Well this then obviously was what Agee was looking for and meant that it came that the performers were alive not only as actors as persons at that time and Griffith always when Griffith liked the idea he would take it and when he didn't he would. He listened he listened
Lillian Gish Oh always eager. We, we tried to be creative. We were full, we thought, of creativity.
Studs Terkel Isn't this a funny thought occurs to me. One last comment Miss Gi-- before I ask you one further question. He saw this face, Griffith did. and he said to his cameraman Billy it was I forget
Lillian Gish Bitzer
Studs Terkel That's it. And he puts- he says "Catch that face" the Italian director De Sica [unintelligible]--
Studs Terkel he said that certain he looked for a certain face in the bicycle thief of, of this father and he saw him he saw this boy watching he's that's the boy.
Lillian Gish Better a better id- example was La Strada that he did.
Lillian Gish technique of griffith.
Lillian Gish Exactly.
Studs Terkel They all learned from him I know Eisenstein lately a Russian director of--
Lillian Gish Gave him all the credit everyone everyone. Just a few months ago Frank Capra Hollywood director said that there had been nothing new since Griffith.
Studs Terkel Yeah I [unintelligible]- He was referring to the fundamental I suppose the, the fundamental changes in the discoveries. He would he would take an object and make the object dramatic wasn't that the clo- we're using a close-up it could be anything.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]--
Studs Terkel if it was valuable.
Studs Terkel Matter of a selection telling a story that goes right back to him telling a story through this new art form and thus Forster tells a story too that was adapted by Rama Rau. Santha Rama Rau it's at the Goodman until and including January thirtieth with Lillian Gish as Mrs. Moore. Anything else that we haven't talked about that occurs to you or is another aspect of anything Miss Gish?
Lillian Gish Well just your beautiful Chicago. How happy I am to be back in it. How it's grown beauty and you have so many wonderful new buildings the McCormick building we went out to on the lake. I'm sure you all know it. You, you travel enough to appreciate your lovely city.
Studs Terkel Well with this marvelous Chamber of Commerce postscript [laughs] Lillian Gish, actress. Thank you very much. To be seen and heard at the Goodman Theatre until, including January thirtieth in A Passage to India. Thank you very much.