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Lillian Diana Gish (October 14, 1893 – February 27, 1993) was an American pioneering actress of the screen and stage, and a director and writer. Her film acting career spanned 75 years, from 1912, in silent film shorts, to 1987. Gish was called "The First Lady of American Cinema", and is credited with pioneering fundamental film performance techniques.
Gish was a prominent film star from 1912 into the 1920s, being particularly associated with the films of director D. W. Griffith, including her leading role in the highest-grossing film of the silent era, Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). At the dawn of the sound era, she returned to the stage and appeared in film infrequently, including well-known roles in the controversial western Duel in the Sun (1946) and the offbeat thriller The Night of the Hunter (1955). She also did considerable television work from the early 1950s into the 1980s, and closed her career playing opposite Bette Davis in the 1987 film The Whales of August. During her later years Gish became a dedicated advocate for the appreciation and preservation of silent film. Despite being better known for her film work, she was also an accomplished stage actress, and was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1972.
Gish never married nor had any children. The association between herself and D. W. Griffith was so close that some suspected a romantic connection, an issue never acknowledged by Gish, although several of their associates were certain they were at least briefly involved. For the remainder of her life, she always referred to him as "Mr. Griffith". She was also involved with producer Charles Duell, and drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan. In the 1920s, Gish's association with Duell became something of a tabloid scandal when he sued her and made the details of their relationship public.
Lillian Gish was the sister of actress Dorothy Gish.
by Carl Van Vechten
She was a survivor of the 1918 flu pandemic, having contracted the illness during the filming of Broken Blossoms.
Gish learned French, German, and Italian during 15 years in Europe, which she first visited in 1917. George Jean Nathan praised Gish's acting glowingly—comparing her to Eleonora Duse.
She maintained a close relationship with her sister Dorothy and with Mary Pickford for her entire life. Another of her closest friends was actress Helen Hayes, the "First Lady of the American Theatre". Gish was the godmother of Hayes's son James MacArthur, and designated Hayes (who survived her by less than a month) as a beneficiary of her estate.
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