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Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life Paperback – March 12, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 445 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520234345
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Following her renowned performances in such classic silent films as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), Gish was famous worldwide until her death in 1993, just before her 100th birthday. While a tremendous amount has been written about Gish's career (she herself penned numerous memoirs and autobiographies), this appreciative biography corrects the multiple misunderstandings and mistakes (many originating from Gish herself) that have become part of the actress's mythos. Affron (Start Acting: Gish, Garbo, Davis) has uncovered much new information about Gish's personal and professional life, based on extensive research, including confidential correspondences. There is nothing startling hereAGish's orderly, nonsensational life was centered around her career, which spanned the years 1902 to 1987Abut he provides many new details, such as Gish's possible romance with business partner Charles Holland Duell Jr. and her complex relationship with critic George Jean Nathan. Affron is sensitive to Gish's political sentimentsAshe always defended D.W. Griffith against charges of racism for Birth of a Nation and harbored nascent pro-German sympathies in the late 1930sAbut he never exploits them for scandalmongering. Well attuned to the sexual politics that pervade the entertainment industry, he is also deft in discussing how Gish's fragile innocence was used in films and to further her success. Well written, ambitious and intelligent, this biography is an essential addition to the work on Gish and on American film and theater. Agent, Curtis Brown, Ltd. (Mar. 20)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Gish emerges here as a stronger, savvier woman than we have met in previous accounts." -- Wendy Smith, Variety

"Granted unprecedented access to Gish's private letters and journals, [Affron] has used his privilege well." -- Jeanine Basinger, Washington Post

"Though most of Gish's story is known, we've never had it told with such balance and completeness." -- Jay Carr, Boston Globe

"Well written, ambitious and intelligent . . . an essential addition to the work on Gish and on American film and theater." -- Publishers Weekly

"[Affron] scrupulously tracks the life . . . and pays sensitive homage to the art." -- Robert Gottlieb, New York Review of Books

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Mr Peter G George on April 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Charles Affron's biography of Lillian Gish is well researched. He has consulted various documents which were unavailable prior to Gish's death and thus, in many ways, provides a more detailed picture than that provided hitherto. His book is clearly concerned to debunk some of the myths surrounding Gish's life. He spends a great deal of time showing that Gish presented an idealized picture of her life and that many of the autobiographical incidents she related were untrue. This is fine up to a point. It is good to know the truth and it is not as if Gish hid anything really serious. Hers were the white lies of someone in a business concerned with the presentation of images. If she lied about her age, how many other actors have done likewise? Where Affron's revisionism becomes more serious however, is in his criticism of Gish's silent pictures. Unfortunately his late twentieth century perspective continually informs his judgement and he can be rather sneering of her work especially her films with D.W. Griffith. Calling Way Down East a parody of melodrama shows that Affron does not particularly care for it as a film. The problem is that what makes Gish an important figure is her silent pictures and especially her acting for Griffith. If Affron is correct in his criticism of Gish for trying to keep alive the memory of Griffith, then it should be asked why he should wish to keep alive the memory of Gish by writing this biography.
The difficulty that Affron has as a biographer is that Gish's last truly important starring role was in The Wind (1928) yet she lived until 1993. His account of what she did in the interim is somewhat dull. For the most part it consists of descriptions of long forgotten theatrical productions and small film parts.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Mark Thrice on February 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you have been (like me) dissatisfied with having only Gish's autobiography, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me, as a source of information on her life, then buy this book.
But be warned.
While there is much more information about Gish than was ever available before her death, the author Charles Affron belongs to that new school of biography in which the writer turns snide and bitchy toward his subject. Affron did not make the effort necessary to understand the world in which Gish was born and raised - an era so far from our own in its values that it is another world. Not having this insight, Affron loses patience with Gish and begins to snipe about her "victorian values." He does not even understanding that she was a part of the American EDWARDIAN era and her values display the emphasis on art and beauty and education that was so much a part of that time.
If the world surged into the partying 20s and on and on, moving further from what shaped Lillian Gish, this is not a reason to pick at her personally. A good biographer would explain how she struggled to maintain good values as she saw them.
The upshot is that the author's bias renders the facts so tainted with his dislike that in the end his shallow view spoils all. What is the use of a book that you have to wrestle with in order to discern unbiased information?
I found this book ultimately disappointing, very disappointing. But if you have a Gish collection and want access to its facts about her, then buy it secondhand.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By NY Reader on February 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Excellent, well-written and well-researched, by someone who is enough of a film scholar to be able to weigh Gish's individual performances (see also his excellent "Star Acting").
No scandals here-she didn't really have any. A half-hearted affair or two and one lawsuit. The real emphasis is on her career and friendships, and her self-creation of the Lillian Gish Mythology. A lot I didn't know, and one of those books you just don't want to end. Not enough photos, perhaps-but I never think there's enough photos.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Calvert on April 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is fantastic! I have always thought that Miss Gish was a great performer and one of the most beautiful actresses ever, but it turns out she was a pretty smart cookie (except in the romance department) and lead a very interesting life.
Book reviewer Richard Schickel has given this book a bad review. He is all hot and bothered in that Gish was not very truthful about her life (like umpteen other famous movie stars) and he apparently doesn't like her "proper", chaste, Victorian-era image. The author, Charles Affron, had access to many of her personal papers, including may personal letters that she wrote. While Affron may knock her off her pedestal a little bit, it is only because she was a real person who sometimes made mistakes.
Gish fibbed about all kinds of things like her birthdate, her engagement, and the cause of her mother's stroke. The famed "happy" ending of THE WIND was actually in Francis Marion's script, not a late addition forced by the studio like Gish claimed so much later. She chose to "forget" or not mention all kind of things like her personal relationship with D.W. Griffith (which was probably not sexual anyway) and the fact that she didn't always get along with her sister Dorothy.
Gish's image (which was still close to her actual personality, even if some of the details were not true) really hurt her in the 1920's when the fan magazines turned against her and MGM didn't know what kind of vehicle would be right for her.
She seems to have been the only woman (or person) who could stand up to Griffith when it came to artistic decisions. She certainly was an artistic force to be reckoned with, and the loss of her lone direction credit REMODELING HER HUSBAND (1920) seems worse now that I have read the book.
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