US film and stage actor. She worked with the director D W Griffith, playing virtuous heroines in The Birth of a Nation (1915), Broken Blossoms (1919), and Way Down East (1920). She went on to appear in such silent classics as Victor Sjöström's The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928). Her career continued well into the 1980s, including performances in Duel in the Sun (1947), Night of the Hunter (1955), and The Whales of August (1987).
Gish appeared in over 100 films, though her work was less prolific during the sound era. Her pure style was far removed from the gesticulation often thought of as silent film acting. She went to great lengths in pursuit of physical conviction; she deprived herself of food and water for several days to make her death scene in La Bohème (1924) look authentic. She was the sister of the actor Dorothy Gish (1898–1968).
Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, and made her first stage appearance at the age of five. She and her sister Dorothy followed their mother into show business as a double act. In 1912 they were introduced to D W Griffith at Biograph's New York studio, and they (and their mother) made their first film appearances the same day.
During the 1930s Lillian Gish played several classical roles on the Broadway stage. In 1970 she received a special Academy Award for her contribution to films, and the American Film Institute presented her with its life achievement award 1984. She published The Movies, Mr Griffith and Me in 1969.
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