Thursday, March 31, 2011

Van Dyke Parks meets Lillian Gish

Van Dyke Parks was a child actor. Here, from an interview, is a story about those days:

One time, I was in a show with Teresa Wright, I forget the name of the show, but I do remember that there was a bit actress, a small role — and my mother cautioned me (my mother went into New York with me — my parents were reluctant to see me in this business, but it helped me pay my tuition at the Boychoir school) — there was one actress and her name was Lillian Gish. And my mother said, she cautioned me, “Van Dyke, that woman over there was once *the* biggest star in the world. She was D.W. Griffith’s Sweetheart Actress. She’s been to the top, so you treat her with great respect.”

So, I’m sitting there, and neither Lillian Gish nor I were the center of attention — we were just sitting there waiting for the important people to do what they did. So I turned to her and said, “Miss Gish?” and she said, “Yes?” And I said, “My mother said you were a great actress in the silents.” And she said, “Oh, that’s true. Yes, indeed it was true.” So I asked, “Weren’t you scared when you heard that the talkies were coming?“ And Lillian Gish, without missing a beat, said, “No, in fact — we didn't call them ‘the talkies’ when we heard that film was going to have sound. We just knew it would have sound, and we all somehow imagined that the sound would be entirely music.”

Now, that’s a phenomenon — how people would imagine that sound would come to film.
I thought of this story after watching The Night of the Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955). The film is available, beautifully restored and with many extras, from the Criterion Collection.

[Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper, protector of children, in The Night of the Hunter.]

A related post
Van Dyke Parks in The Honeymooners

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

LOOOOOOOOOOOOOve that movie.

Michael Leddy said...

Lisa, if you don’t have it, get the Criterion version — it has two-and-a-half hours of outtakes, with Charles Laughton directing his actors.