10/14/1893 to 2/27/1993
Lillian Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio. Her father James Lee Gish was an alcoholic who was rarely at home and left the family to fend for themselves. To help make ends meet, Lillian, her sister Dorothy Gish and their mother Mary Gish a.k.a. Mary Robinson McConnell tried their hand at acting in local productions. Lillian was six years old when she first appeared in front of an audience. For the next 13 years, she and Dorothy appeared before stage audiences with great success. Actually, had she not made her way into films, Lillian quite possibly could have been one of the great stage actresses of all time.
In 1912 she met famed director D.W. Griffith. Impressed with what he saw, he immediately cast her in what was to be her first film, An Unseen Enemy (1912), followed the same year by The One She Loved and My Baby. She made 12 films for Griffith in 1912 and a further 25 films in the next two years, Lillians exposure to the public was so great that she fast became one of the top stars in the industry, alongside Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart".
In 1915 Lillian starred as Elsie Stoneman in Griffith's most ambitious project to date, The Birth of a Nation. She wasn't making the large number of films that she was in the beginning, because she was successful and popular enough to be able to pick and choose the right films to appear in. The following year she appeared in another Griffith classic, Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916).
However, by the early 1920s her career was on its way down. New faces were appearing on the scene to replace the "old". In fact, she didn't appear at all on the screen in 1922, 1925 or 1929. However, 1926 was her busiest of the decade with roles in La boheme (1926) and The Scarlet Letter (1926). As the decade wound to a close, "talkies" were replacing silent films. However, Lillian wasn't idle during her time away from the screen. She appeared in stage productions to acclaim of the public and critics alike. In 1933 she filmed His Double Life, and then didn't make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Man of the Family (1943). It was as though she had never been away. Allthough these roles did not bring her the attention she had in her early career, Lillian still proved she could hold her own with the best of them. She got an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role of Laura Belle McCanles in Duel in the Sun (1946). One of the most critically acclaimed roles of her career came in the 1955 thriller The Night of the Hunter (1955). In 1969 she published her autobiography, "The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me". In 1987 she made what was to be her last motion picture, The Whales of August (1987), a box-office success that exposed her to a new generation of fans.
Lillian and her sister Dorothy were once offered the chance of buying the Sunset Strip in Hollywood for $300. The Gish sisters talked the matter over, weighing the pros and cons. They then went down to fashionable Bullock's and bought a dress each instead.
She never married or had children. Her 75-year career is almost unbeatable in any field, let alone the film industry. On February 27, 1993, Lillian died peacefully in her sleep in New York City. She was 99 years old. Left her entire estate, which was valued at several million dollars, to actress Helen Hayes who herself died eighteen days after Lillian.