Lillian Gish: Queen of the silent screen

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The Independent Online
LILLIAN GISH, one of the queens of the silent era, has died in New York, writes Andrew Gliniecki. She was 96.

She continued to act until the 1980s, appearing in more than 100 films, including roles in silver screen classics directed by the legendary D W Griffith such as Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Her agent, James Frasher, said yesterday that she died of heart failure in her apartment late on Saturday night.

The key to Gish's longevity as an actress lay in her ability to survive the advent of talking pictures. She was given a special Academy award in 1970 for her film work and in 1984 the America Film Institute honoured her with its Life Achievement award.

Gish's was a precocious talent. Born in 1893 in Springfield, Ohio, she made her first stage appearance at the age of five. She and her sister Dorothy, who died in 1968, entered show business as a double act following in the footsteps of their mother, who had taken to the stage after their father deserted the family home.

The three of them lived a nomadic life; Gish recalled in her 1969 autobiography, The Movies, Mr Griffith and Me: 'In order to survive, we would steal out of a hotel room or boardinghouse at night, leaving behind unpaid bills.' But a turning point came when the sisters were introduced to Griffith, who was captivated by Lillian's ethereal quality.

(Photograph omitted)

Obituary, page 18