‘Don’t Look Back’: Refugee, plant worker writes of survival
The following article originally appeared in Inside the Actor’s Studio, a bi-annual publication.
Lillian Gish was a renowned American actress and movie director who lived a life of great passion and great tragedy. She was born in New Orleans, grew up in Mississippi, worked in the motion picture industry in Hollywood, and died in poverty in New York in 1955. Her most famous acting role was as a slave in John Ford’s “Gone With the Wind”, but the real Gish was much more than a character actor.
Lillian Lillian Gish was born on April 25, 1887, in New Orleans.
Hollywood did not exist in Lillian’s home state of Louisiana. She was the only Southern white child in the New Orleans suburb of Algiers, Mississippi. She had to travel to the South to get to what would later be called “The Big City,” Hollywood.
Her parents, who were both teachers, separated when Lillian was young. Her father, whose mother had died when he was young, never really knew where his daughter was or how she had taken to the movies. Lillian had to tell him. She never told her mother, who died young herself. She and her two sisters, who were two, never saw their mother.
“I was raised by aunts and uncles and a single older woman, my grandmother,” Gish says. “When I was very little I used to have to sleep in bed with her and wake up with her, and she would feed me. She used to tell me stories and I would think to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t they tell me these stories the way she told me them?’”
She never knew her mother. Her father, while in New Orleans working for the railroad company, died when she was seven. She was left in care of an aunt who raised her in her own home in New Orleans. After her father’s death she moved out of her aunt’s with her mother, who had died when she was very young. When Gish was 12 years old, she was taken in by a woman she called “Mother Bessie. She was about 60 years old and used to come to my house and sit and talk to me and tell me stories.”
Gish moved to Los Angeles