The sad story of “The Gish”, victim of ignorance, politics and hatred
Sunday’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lillian and Dorothy Gish Film Theatre on campus took place under a shadow.Posted By: David Dupont October 18, 2016
By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
The theater in Hanna Hall faces relocation as Bowling Green State University makes plans to convert the 95-year-old building into a new home for the College of Business Administration.
That would mean the removal of the theater, its affiliated gallery and the Wolfe video collection and viewing room from Hanna Hall.
University officials have promised to find a new home for the facility on campus.
Wolfe, who is the founder and curator of the theater, said that he’s been told the theater would move into the theater space now in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. But that would not have room for the collections of memorabilia and the video collection, he said.
“The theater space in the student union can in no way rival the aesthetics of this space and will not have the gallery documenting the history of American film,” Wolfe said.
He said he saw no contradiction in the theater remaining after Hanna Hall becomes the home for the College of Business, given the film industry is so large.
Lillian Gish herself has visited the venue four times, first in 1976 when it was first named for her and her sister, and the last time in 1982 when the lobby and gallery space was dedicated, Wolfe said.
At that time, Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint also attended, the first time she’d returned to campus since her graduation in 1947.
James Frazer, Gish’s manager, who was the special guest for the occasion, said she was proud of the theater at BGSU. He traveled around the world with her as she promoted her view of American film, and that vision lives on in the theater. “This gives the right impression to the world.”
“Lillian Gish’s spirit resides in Hanna Hall,” Wolfe said.
University spokesman Dave Kielmeyer said that the student union is an option for the new location of the theater, but plans have not been finalized.
He said it would be spring before any further plan on Hanna Hall is presented to the board of trustees.
The celebration included a talk by Frazer about his career which began with a teenage infatuation with an actress, led to playing kid parts in Westerns, and culminated decades later with his affiliation with Gish. He traveled with her around the globe where she made presentations.
It was at one of those in 1971 at then Findlay College where Wolfe, a professor of English at BGSU, first met the legendary actress. She and her sister were born in Springfield, and she made her stage debut in Risingsun, before her mother moved her and her sister to New York, where the mother pursued acting, followed by her daughters.
Shortly after seeing Gish in Findlay, Wolfe approached then BGSU president Hollis Moore about awarding an honorary degree to Gish.
When the auditorium in Hanna Hall was renovated in 1976 to support the new film studies program, he recommended it be named for Gish.
The trustees agreed if Gish would attend the dedication. Wolfe reached her through Frazer. Gish said she was honored, but would be more honored if the theater was named for her sister as well.
She visited BGSU for the first time for the dedication and to receive an honorary doctorate. She returned the campus three more times, the last occasion in 1982.
The Gish space expanded as programs were moved out of the building. The Wolfe viewing center was opened in 2009.
An endowment, which was started with $500,000 in private donations including many from some of the biggest names in Hollywood, was established to support programming. Wolfe noted programming at the theater is free, as Gish wanted, and now includes three film series. Proceeds from the endowment were also used to create the viewing center which has a collection of video cassette recordings donated by Wolfe.
The celebration included the showing a tape of the broadcast of the ceremony in which Gish received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, where she was honored not just for her acting, but her business acumen and her dedication to film preservation.
Now it falls to Wolfe and his supporters to try to preserve the theater that bears her name.
From BGSU OFFICE OF MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS
Bowling Green State University is making final preparations for the transformation of Hanna Hall into the Robert W. and Patricia A. Maurer Center, the new home for the College of Business.A transformational gift from the Maurers of Bowling Green provided major support for the new facility that will bear their names in recognition of their longtime service and generosity to BGSU.
The $44.5 million renovation and expansion will include high-tech classrooms, an atrium gathering place, a student success center, a café and a wide range of meeting areas and other amenities to keep BGSU at the forefront of educating business students.
Construction will begin in fall 2018.
In preparation, the current occupants of the building – the Department of Geography, the Gish Film Theater and the Women’s Center – will be relocated to new homes at the end of the current academic year.
According to Provost and Senior Vice President Rodney Rogers, the geography department will move to Hayes Hall to be closer to the Department of Geology, which along with the Department of the Environment and Sustainability makes up the School of Earth, Environment and Society. Eventually the entire school will be brought together.
The Gish Film Theater will be moved to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Theater. The theater will continue to recognize the contributions of Ohio actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish with a display featuring photographs and other items from Lillian Gish’s estate. The rest of the Gish collection will be housed in University Libraries.
In addition, a lecture hall in Olscamp Hall will be updated to meet the teaching and learning needs of the University’s film program. The remodeled classroom and group viewing space will be named for Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe, replacing the current center in Hanna Hall.
Over his 50-year affiliation with BGSU, Wolfe, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Gish Professor of Film Studies, championed film studies and was instrumental in the establishment of the Gish Film Theater. The BGSU Board of Trustees approved the naming of the viewing center in his honor in 2009.
BGSU announced last spring that the Women’s Center will also be moving to the center of campus to Hayes Hall— a more prominent location for a center that serves students, faculty and staff across the University.
Once completed in the summer of 2020, the Maurer Center will create an active space for faculty, students and business professionals to engage, collaborate and grow. Accessible interior spaces will promote interaction while classrooms, labs, offices and collaboration spaces will encourage spontaneous learning.
Provost Rodney Rogers stated in the release: “This project allows us to meet the needs
In response to Wolfe’s concerns, Rogers stated: “We appreciate Dr. Wolfe’s longtime passion and contributions to the Gish Film Theater and the Gish collection, which have brought tremendous recognition to the University. We look forward to his continued involvement and counsel as we transition the theater and collection to their new homes.”
Last October the theater celebrated its 40th anniversary
Posted By: David Dupont September 24, 2017
By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Ralph Wolfe, the founder and, until recently, the curator of the Gish Film Theater, has mixed feelings about the venue’s move from its home in Hanna Hall.“I am grateful for the preservation of the Gish sisters name and the fact that there will be a theater on campus,” he said.
The Gish Theater will be moved to the theater space in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Some of the memorabilia of the Gish sisters, now in the Gish lobby, will be displayed in the space. Other items will be sent to the Jerome Library. Wolfe said that through his efforts BGSU has the largest collection of Gish sister memorabilia anywhere other than California and New York.
This and other details of the administration’s plans are the source of Wolfe’s disappointment.
The university plans to renovate a room in Olscamp Hall to be used for film studies and take the place of the Ralph Wolfe Viewing Center, which contains a collection of more than 3,000 video cassettes and DVDs. The room will be named in Wolfe’s honor.
He’s also concerned what will happen to the commemorative seats that recognize donors to efforts to fund the theater and its $500,000 endowment.
Wolfe said he was not consulted about the arrangements. “I had no involvement whatsoever.”
Describing the approach as “top-down management.”
Also last year, the title of curator of the Gish, which had been bestowed on him in 1982 by President Paul Olscamp at the initiation of the BGSU Foundation, was not approved. He was never told why.
On Friday Bowling Green State University issued a press release outlining where programs now in Hanna Hall will be relocated as the 96-year-old building undergoes renovation and expansion to become the Maurer Center, the new home for the College of Business.
The Women’s Center and the Geography Department will move to Hayes Hall. (Story here.)
2018, The Beginning of … The EndPosted By: David Dupont September 21, 2017
Confusion and miscommunication have plagued the renovations of Hanna Hall and the relocation of the Gish Film Theater. As part of the University’s plans to update the interiors of its “traditions” buildings, Hanna Hall is scheduled to receive interior remodels, possible additions to the structure and the relocation of the College of Business into the building. Ralphe Wolfe, the curator at the Gish, said he was left out of the loop when the decision was made to renovate Hanna Hall. Wolfe spoke with Mazey in September 2015 and told her he had no idea the renovation was occurring. He said Mazey told him he was “out of town” at the time.
“I thought, ‘I do have a cell phone and an email address’…so it was kind of sprung upon me,” Wolfe said.
He was originally under the impression that the theater would be worked around as the rest of Hanna Hall was prepared for the College of Business. He said the original plan was for the College of Business to have a new building, but President Mazey was unable to raise funding.
The Gish TheaterNamed for the sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish, renowned actresses who began their careers during the era of silent film, the Gish Film Theater was opened for film instruction in 1975.
“(The Gish) has been the center for all of film culture since the 1970s,” said Cynthia Baron, a professor in the theater and film department.
The sisters were originally from Ohio and began their acting career in Rising Sun, Ohio in Wood County. Wolfe himself worked with Lillian to garner her support for her and her sister’s namesake.
“I realized…she’s an Ohio native and she began her career in Rising Sun…so I thought this (was) a great historical connection,” Wolfe said.
Currently, the construction plans are to relocate the Gish to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, to a theater on the second floor.
“As we’ve looked around at various choices, it seemed like putting (the Gish) in the Union made a great deal of sense because we have the outline of a theater now,” said Rogers.
However, this has raised concerns among the theater and film department, especially for Wolfe and Baron.
“(The Union theater) is used for a whole range of other events…things that are connected to what’s happening in the ballroom,” said Baron. “I’m not seeing how this is going to work out very well.”
Baron also said it is one of the few remaining locations with a single screen that is necessary for screening films. The theater in the Union, she said, is “radically” different from the Gish, in regards to their physical layout.
Wolfe expressed concern at the handicapped accessibility and whether or not there would be room for the organ and piano used to accompany the silent film screenings.
Rogers admitted some renovations to the Union theater would need to be done to accommodate both the new and old technology used to screen current and silent films.
“I might believe that having it in the Union, it’ll be higher profile because a lot more people come to the Union…than, perhaps, Hanna Hall,” Rogers said.
Despite understanding the need for the updates in Hanna Hall, Baron still expressed concerns that the students in the film and theater department, specifically the student filmmakers, were not being considered.I do know that the students are extremely distressed,” said Baron. “They feel like their home is being taken away from them.
Wolfe said the Union theater also does not have the historical significance of the Gish, as Lillian Gish had visited when the theater was first dedicated to her.
The theater in Hanna Hall is home to a museum of sorts that showcases pictures, objects and movie posters associated with the Gish sisters and their film careers.
Rogers said some of the museum would certainly be on display in the Union, but the rest of it would be in the archives in the Jerome Library as well as in the Brown Pop Culture Library.
The individual seats in the Gish were also dedicated to donors who helped fund the Gish, some with well-known names like Sally Fields and Tom Hanks.
Baron said she thought the donors who helped fund the theater would be particularly upset by the relocation, but the “University (did) not want those people contacted.”
While the Gish would be converted for the College of Business,
Rogers said he hoped the new
But this has not put Baron’s or Wolfe’s minds to rest.
We are not consulted,” said Baron.
“(Mazey) wanted to have a campaign to raise money for a new building, she didn’t get it,” said Wolfe. “And so, her failure trumps my success in here.”
Eva Marie Saint to help dedicate new Gish TheaterPOSTED BY: DAVID DUPONT JANUARY 7, 2019
BGSU alumna and Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint will return to campus as part of the celebration of the re-opening of the Gish Film Theater—the newly renovated cinema now located in 206 Bowen-Thompson Student Union, Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m.
The original Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall was dedicated in 1976 to honor the achievements of Ohio natives Dorothy and Lillian Gish, renowned actresses of the stage and screen.
The evening will include a reception at 6 p.m. and a special appearance by Saint, who appeared with Lillian Gish in the classic television movie, “The Trip to Bountiful. “
— David Dupont, BG Independent News
Gish name for venerable BGSU venue challengedPOSTED BY: DAVID DUPONT FEBRUARY 20, 2019
First it was moved from its original location, and now the Gish Film Theater may lose its name.
In a message today (Feb. 20) to the university community, Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers said that concerns have been raised about the theater being named in part after actress Lillian Gish, whose extensive credits on film, stage, and television, include starring in “Birth of a Nation.”
The 1915 film by D.W. Griffith celebrates the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and is cited as a factor of the revival of the Klan in the early 20th century.
Last week, he wrote, members of the Black Student Union approached the administration “about the propriety of the naming.”
The Black Student Union will host a town hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in 210 Mathematical Sciences Building to discuss the issue.
The theater was named for Gish in 1976 after the auditorium in Hanna Hall was transformed as a home for the university’s growing film program.
Lillian Gish visited at that time, the first of four visits to campus. She had insisted that the theater be named for her sister, Dorothy, also a renowned actress. The Gish sisters were born in Springfield, Ohio, to an actress and made their stage debuts in Risingsun.
All this seemed good reason to English Professor Ralph Wolfe for the theater to be named for them. Wolfe was the guiding light behind the development of the theater and opposed moving to make way for the Maurer Center, which will be the home for the College of Business.
Rogers said he has asked Dean Ray Craig, of the College of Arts and Sciences, to lead a task force of students, faculty, staff and “other University stakeholders” to make recommendation before the Board of Trustees meeting in May.
A rededication ceremony scheduled to be held March 29 will not be held “so we can explore these issues,” David Kielmeyer, university spokesman said. BGSU graduate and Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint was to participate in the event. Saint and Lillian Gish performed together in the television version of “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Kielmeyer said: “We are currently finalizing details for another event, featuring Eva Marie Saint and our students, to take place on March 29 in the Wolfe Center for the Performing Arts. Seating for the event will be limited. We’ll provide more details soon.”
Eva Marie Saint cancels trip to BGSUPOSTED BY: DAVID DUPONT MARCH 21, 2019
An Evening with Eva Marie Saint, scheduled for Friday, March 29, has been cancelled.
Dean Raymond Craig of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a notice addressed to Friends of BGSU Arts that: “Ms. Saint regrets that she will not be traveling to Bowling Green State University this spring.”
The Academy Award winning actress and graduate of BGSU was schedule to perform with students during the evening event.
Dave Kielmeyer, spokesman for the university, said that the change of plans was not related to the controversy over the name of the Gish Film Theatre. Plans for the event just were not coming along as well as the university would want, he said. “It’s as much on us.”
Saint’s appearance was originally scheduled as part of the rededication of the Gish Film Theatre in its new space in the Bowen Thompson Student Union. However, that was cancelled when members of the Black Student Union questioned the venue being named in part for Lillian Gish, who starred in “The Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 D.W. Griffith silent movie epic has been tied to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist depictions of African-Americans.
STUDENTS PUSH TO RENAME THEATER AT BOWLING GREEN STATEUpdated 11:42 am CST, Saturday, March 2, 2019
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — The Black Student Union at an Ohio university is pushing the school’s president to rename a theater honoring an actress who starred in “The Birth of a Nation,” considered one of the most racist movies ever made.
The Toledo Blade reports Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater was named after actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish 40 years ago.
Lillian Gish starred in the 1915 black-and-white silent film, which served as a tribute to the Ku Klux Klan and helped revive the white supremacist group.
Black Student Union President Kyron Smith says the push to rename the little-used theater comes after its relocation to the student union.
Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/
The university’s president, Rodney Rogers, released a statement Feb. 20 just hours before the school welcomed Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Opal Tometi, the leading key speaker for the university’s third annual “Beyond The Dream” series celebrating diversity and inclusion.
Black Student Union president Kyron Smith said it started with a Feb. 10 tweet, posted on the organization’s Twitter page.
“BSU shows “The 13th” at the BTSU theater and then they change the name to the Gish Film Theater…”
For more than 40 years, the theater has honored actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish. Members of the Black Student Union questioned the theater’s name because Lillian Gish is so well-known for starring in The Birth of a Nation, a 1915 silent-movie tribute to the Ku Klux Klan that is credited with reviving the white supremacist group.
The university had relocated the Gish Theater from its home of more than four decades in Hanna Hall to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union — a central hub for students on campus — and renamed the union theater the Gish Film Theater.
Many black students were aware of the name’s legacy, but it became more of a hot-button issue after the name was transferred from a “rarely visited” theater to the student union.
“We have always had an issue with the name, but it was an old building that was rarely visited. It being moved to the union is really just a slap in the face, at this point,” Mr. Smith said.
The initial tweet was followed by a formal email to President Rogers, and later, a conversation with the university president and faculty.
Following the meeting, Mr. Rogers issued a letter calling for students and faculty “to engage in dialogue, reflect, and work to understand the historical complexities of this naming.
“Many regard Ms. Gish as the greatest actress of the silent film era and may also argue that she should be judged by the totality of her work according to the values of the time in which she lived,” Mr. Rogers wrote. “However, I believe her close ties to [Director D.W.] Griffith and her involvement in The Birth of a Nation requires us to reassess the naming of the Gish Film Theater.”
In closing, Mr. Rogers wrote that a task force of students, faculty and “other University stakeholders” will not only make a recommendation for immediate change, but also address the ways the university can “use this opportunity to better position” itself to “face similar issues.”
During his visit to BGSU last week, journalist and activist Shaun King implored the task force to change the name of the theater.
“I plead with that task force, don’t be dumb,” Mr. King said during his keynote speech during the Black Issues Conference. “Do your job. Do it methodically. Do it in the way you know it needs to be done. But get it right. To show the students on this campus that you value their emotional well being more than the history of this campus.”
Mr. King also encouraged students to continue pushing back.
“When there is a place on this campus that causes pain for some people to even step into the room — that’s not OK,” he said. “So start here. Make this place better. Make this campus better. Make Bowling Green better. Make Toledo better.”
GISH THEATER TASK FORCE CONTINUES WORK – APRIL 3, 2019The task force charged with looking into whether the name of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Theater at Bowling Green State University should be changed is on track to present its report to university trustees when they convene in early May. At Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Joe Whitehead said that the task force is made up of six students and six faculty and staff. The task force was assembled by Arts and Sciences Dean Raymond Craig.
Whitehead said the task force will “assess the impact of the naming on the campus and the community.” One key concern, he said, is to study the historical context of Gish’s career and her time as well as the context “of the time we live in.” Gish was a star in the silent film era, whose career continued on the stage, screen, and television. Throughout her life she advocated for an appreciation of silent movies and for film preservation.
Update: APRIL 3, 2019 – By David Dupont (BG Independent Media)Meanwhile on Twitter:
# DITCH THE GISH
Black Student Union opposes Gish name in Union theatre
Black Student Union Executive Board
Apr 7, 2019 Updated 9 hrs ago – BG Falcon Media
The Black Student Union at BGSU is an organization meant to represent the interests of Black students and other underrepresented communities to which Blackness is intersectionally affiliated. \ The Black Student Union does not in ANY WAY bear ill will toward the Gish Sisters OR their legacy in American cinema/film history. \ The new theater display is more visible, open and noticed. \ As a representative body, the Black Student Union’s OFFICIAL POSITION regarding the Gish Film Theater name is OPPOSED.
College Republicans recommend changing Gish Theater nameCollege Republicans Executive Board Apr 8, 2019 Updated 11 hrs ago
After speaking with the BSU and learning of their desire to change the name, we have decided to stand beside them in their efforts. This does not mean to imply that we wish to erase history; rather, we hope to reconcile with the past atrocities committed in our nation against African Americans.
Task force on Gish recommends renaming theaterBG Falcon Media
- Stepha Poulin | Editor-in-Chief
- Apr 21, 2019 Updated 8 hrs ago
President Rodney Rogers announced in a press release that he will review the report and consider its recommendations. He will also discuss the task force’s findings with relevant BGSU administrators and constituents.
The report calls for BGSU to rename the theater “to support the University’s mission and values, as it embraces the importance of the theater not only to film students but to all academic units and student organizations.”
Members of the Gish Task Force referenced BGSU policy to “determine appropriate actions” regarding the theater. They focused on two policies, including: University Policy 3341-9-2: Naming and University Policy 3341-5-36: Racial & Ethnic Harassment.
BGSU policy outlines procedures for naming on-campus facilities. As referenced in the report, the name of a demolished facility won’t be transferred to a new facility unless a “useful facility is relocated to serve the greater interest of the university.”
the basics of the findings include the following:
- “The reference to The Birth of a Nation and the images of Lillian Gish in the display area outside the theater contribute to an intimidating, even hostile, educational environment. The display, with its oversize images and text, are prominent in a well-used space and evoke the film and its racist legacy.”
- “The stereotypes of African Americans in The Birth of a Nation are offensive, and the film presents a white supremacist vision.”
- “Lillian Gish’s role in the film is central, and thus her image evokes and embodies the racism explicit in The Birth of a Nation.”
If the present period is one of heightened concerns about race, it is also one with a reawakened feminism, a fresh emphasis on the need to recover and remember a long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema. One sure way to rebuild support for the Gish Film Theater is to remind people of the roles of Lillian and Dorothy as strong, emancipated women at a time when females were struggling to obtain the vote and define themselves as something other than the property of their husbands.Trying to talk to BSU protesters, to reason with them, seemed almost as futile as saying to the flames at Notre Dame, “Please stop burning up everything in this wondrous artistic monument.”
The Birth is on sale again on all major online sites (Amazon, Ebay), that’s because , as it happens it was restored to full HD. And that is what BSU really achieved.
D.W. Griffith had previously produced and directed Biograph’s The Rose of Kentucky (1911), which showed the Ku Klux Klan as villainous – a sharp contrast to “The Birth of A Nation”, made four years later, in which the KKK was portrayed in a favorable light.
LILLIAN GISH social media groups have constantly requests for membership from Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, the REAL African citizens who are enjoying Lillian’s silent films because (She was right) those movies are interpreted in universal language of “dancing emotions”.
“That night, however, the horrors of war seemed far away. We were young and in Paris, and Paris in the dark was beautiful. We walked until the lovely dawn bathed the city, along the Seine where Notre Dame suddenly loomed up, down the avenues and boulevards, across the bridges, past the great monuments and fountains.” –Lillian Gish, “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me”
B(G)SU “Task Force” report, recommends as expected, removal of The Gish name from the theater RE-located in Bowen – Thompson Union Building. Recommendations were based on one movie, “Birth of A Nation”, despite the fact that “The Black Student Union does not in ANY WAY bear ill will toward the Gish Sisters OR their legacy in American cinema/film history.”Go Back to Home Page
Opinions – Pro – The Gish Film Theater:
April 20, 2019
To Raymond Craig, Alex D. Solis, and President Rodney K. Rogers:I have just seen your task force recommendation on the reasons for changing the name of the Gish Film Theater. First of all, I want to congratulate you. You have come up with a document advocating totalitarianism in as perfect a manner as any I have ever seen. However, because I am not only a fairly knowledgeable film historian but also someone who believes in the old-fashioned principles of democracy that includes reasoned debate, critical thinking and taking all available facts into consideration, I would like to present some additional information that was not considered in this recommendation.
Since you do mention my name as having presented documented evidence that there were a number of Klan revivals prior to the release of “The Birth of a Nation,” I would like to insert into the record documentation that the major reason for its later more massive resurrection was not the release of the film in 1915 but rather the participation of the United States in World War I in 1917-18. As I have been attempting to coordinate an online effort to stop the insane course upon which you have embarked, I have not had time to gather all the relevant articles from 1918 that I had intended sending you. So at this point I will attach the following page from the May 26, 1918 edition of the “New York Tribune” containing the article, “Ku Klux Klan Returns to Fight the Hun.” There are many more articles of this kind from 1918 with information about the revived Klan’s activities all across the country, actions stemming not from a popular movie but rather from the coordinated effort of the US government to mobilize the public to fight a war. Had the USA in 1919-20 been able to return to the pre-war environment dominated by Progressive reform, it is likely that the 1918 resurgence of the Klan would have been only temporary. Alas, a combination of factors–the Red Scare of 1919-20, the enactment of Prohibition, the constant agitation against “foreigners” that resulted in the Johnson-Reed act of 1924–all sustained a climate in which the Klan continued to thrive. However, you, like many of the recent sources upon which you draw, continue to ignore the actual historical record, preferring to utilize a simplistic presentation of the past in order to justify your twisted move to publicly disgrace Lillian and Dorothy Gish.
In attempting to rationalize your move to remove the Gish name from the theater, you make the dubious claim that Lillian’s role in “The Birth of a Nation” is her most significant one, the part that defines her. To anyone who knows anything about Miss Gish’s career, that is utterly absurd. While Lillian’s performance as Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth” is considered good as far as it goes, it has never been ranked by serious critics and historians as one of her most outstanding roles. In this film, she was the traditional ingenue and the best feminine performance in “The Birth” is usually considered to have been given by Mae Marsh as the half-crazy Flora Cameron. It was Lillian’s subsequent performances, both for Griffith–“Hearts of the World,” “Broken Blossoms,” “True Heart Susie,” “Way Down East,” “Orphans of the Storm”–and for other directors–“The White Sister,” “La Boheme,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Wind”–that rank among the greatest in film history and that won her world-wide respect as the silent cinema’s premier dramatic actress. This does not even take into account her many memorable performances in such later films as “The Night of the Hunter” and “The Whales of August” to say nothing of her work in other media.
Also, since the theater honors two actresses, not one, how does Lillian’s performance in “The Birth of a Nation” define Dorothy Gish who was not even in the film but did conclude her career with the anti-Klan film, “The Cardinal?” You have clearly taken your guilt by association to an unprecedented level by attempting to trash another actress whose only crime is that she was related to an actress who, in turn, was guilty of nothing more than appearing in a film that itself has been scapegoated for all of America’s racial woes.
That this move to remove the Gish name from the BGSU campus is sexist and misogynist has been apparent to me for some time. It was glaringly apparent in the use of the sexist hashtag, “Ditch the Gish,” as a designation for this campaign. It is further evident in your citation of Bill Cosby as a supporting source for your planned measure to get rid of the Gish Film Theater. Perhaps you are unaware that Mr. Cosby is a convicted criminal, found guilty of numerous felonies that include sexual assaults on women. If you are aware of Mr. Cosby’s record, why did you include him as a source when there are innumerable others from a variety of perspectives that you could have referenced? Obviously, however, this orchestrated campaign to tarnish the names of two brilliant women who furthered the cause of feminine emancipation in the 20th century is profoundly sexist. As such, if the university acts on your recommendation, it will go very hard with BGSU and will bring lasting shame and discredit to the university.
You do not mention that, in advocating the removal of two actresses because one of them simply acted in a film you did not like, you are taking the unprecedented step of symbolically blacklisting and publicly dishonoring two distinguished performers for no other reason. Even during the era of the Hollywood blacklist, actors and actresses were not banned or disgraced merely because they had prominent roles in films that were then being branded as subversive and “un-American.” To the best of my present knowledge, even in Germany during the Third Reich and the Soviet Union in Stalin’s time actors and actresses did not find their entire careers under a cloud for no other reason than their having appeared in just one film that the dictatorships found objectionable.
In your comments on both the Gishes and D. W. Griffith, you seem to be entirely unaware or dismissive of all the other films they made. Never once do you make reference to the content of these other films, their social and political impact, or how they were received, whether in the United States or around the world. I am attaching to this e-mail a review of Griffith’s “Intolerance” in the November 18, 1916 edition of the “California Eagle,” then the largest African-American newspaper on the West Coast. You will notice that, despite the paper’s criticism of Griffith’s prior film, “The Birth of a Nation” (shown in California under its original title, “The Clansman”), the reviewer is able to make the distinction that the BGSU task force has not–namely, that Griffith, hailed by this African-American critic as “the greatest humanitarian of the age”–was capable of so much more than one would assume from the extremely narrow focus of your report.
You have no awareness of the fact that Griffith’s “Broken Blossoms” (1919) in which Lillian Gish gave such an outstanding performance was savagely criticized at the time by white supremacists who saw its depiction of the friendship between the Chinese Buddhist hero and the victimized white girl of the London slums as undermining traditional racial barriers. One of their number, the well-known Australian journalist E. C. Buley, wrote an op/ed piece, “‘Lil’ White Girl,’ A Protest Against a Popular Film,” published in the April 9, 1920 London “Daily Mail,” in which he maintained that “the inverted morality” of Griffith’s film could further cohabitation between young white girls and Chinese men. He said that “Broken Blossoms” had cast a “glamour of romance” over the “life of a white woman with a Chinese” which he claimed in reality was an “abomination” that was “repulsive, unnatural, and dangerous.” Buley concluded his racist editorial by declaring: “I don’t care how artistic and tragic and realistic ‘Broken Blossoms’ may be; I maintain that it is a dangerous thing that the sentiments of the young girls of this country should run the risk of being perverted to a wrong view of the mixed marriage question. If it were a cruder and less convincing production, protest would be unnecessary. The art of the thing constitutes its danger.”
But while “Broken Blossoms” aroused the ire of white supremacists in the West, it was enthusiastically received in Asia where audiences and critics saw it as a welcome contrast to the negative stereotypes of Asians that were so common in American and European films of the time. When it was shown in Shanghai in 1923, the Chinese critic Rui Kaizhi wrote: “After watching ‘Broken Blossoms,’ I developed an even greater admiration for Griffith’s noble idea and Lillian Gish’s performance. The reason I admire Griffith is that he has a large heart and dares to practice what he believes. Most Americans despise the Chinese, but Griffith elevates and praises them while depicting Englishmen and Americans as evil and ugly. . . .His insights and moral judgment are far beyond his contemporaries in the spheres of filmmaking and the law.”
I will be glad to furnish you with yet more material on the positive impact of Griffith and the Gish sisters on the world. I should also point out that on the other side of the ledger Griffith’s critics in the 1920s included the revived Ku Klux Klan who in one of their publications criticized “Orphans of the Storm” as inimical to their beliefs due to its sympathetic portrayal of the revolutionary leader Danton. The Klan later condemned the “filth promoting Griffith” for what they called his “vilely suggestive and abominable” film, “The White Rose,” which they labeled an “anti-Protestant play.”
Given the entirely biased and one-sided nature of the task force’s report, it may be that this and other information I can send you is so much wasted effort. However, if the board of trustees yield to the demands that BGSU get rid of the Gish Film Theater, do not think that this will be the end of the matter. Presently, those of us strongly opposed to such a move are circulating a petition online requesting that the Gish Film Theater be retained. If the measure to remove the Gish Film Theater from the BGSU campus is implemented, we will then circulate another petition demanding that the name be restored. We are open to a reasonable compromise by which the Gish Film Theater could be relocated to a building on the campus other than that used by the student unions. But if even that proves unavailing, we will then begin sponsoring an effort to reconstitute the Gish Film Theater elsewhere than at BGSU with memorabilia and displays that honor Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe for his work in establishing the theater in 1976. Given the shabby way in which I feel that Dr. Wolfe has been treated in this matter, I personally believe that if the Gish Film Theater is removed from your campus, all the cinematic memorabilia he obtained for BGSU should be relocated to another institution such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
There is no way I will let this matter rest if the Gish Film Theater is obliterated from the campus of BGSU. The entirely one-sided and simplistic presentation of Griffith and the Gishes in the task force’s recommendation; the blatant sexism evident in the objectification of the Gish sisters, the use of the hashtag, “Ditch the Gish,” to designate the campaign to remove their name from the theater, and the citation of Bill Cosby, a convicted felon who committed many crimes against women, as a legitimate source; the cynical, opportunistic alliance in support of the name removal that the Black Students Union has formed with the College Republicans, a group that is part of a political party now headed by the notorious racist demagogue, Donald J. Trump–all of this I will endeavor to bring to the attention of the world should the Gish Film Theater be terminated on the BGSU campus.
I will continue to write, including more e-mails, and do everything else within my power to ensure that the Gish Film Theater will be retained on the campus of Bowling Green State University.
William M. Drew
Links to US Newspapers, below:
The Blade: Mar. 6, 2019
To the editor: Keep Gish name at BGSUI am writing to voice my opposition to the renaming of the Gish Film Theateron the campus of Bowling Green State University. The body of work of the two sisters is so much more than one film Lillian appeared in in 1915. There is an award that the sisters established named the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. To quote Lillian Gish, “It is my desire that the prize be awarded to a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Several African-Americans have been awarded this prize, including Spike Lee in 2013. He said at the time that he was influenced by two of Lillian Gish’s films, Night of the Hunter and Birth of a Nation. I urge BGSU not to remove the Gish name from the theater.
Letter to the editor: Gish not responsible for ‘Birth of a Nation,’ its impact
BG Falcon Media
Gretchen L. Gaige
Mar 28, 2019 Updated Mar 28, 2019
I understand a Task Force is discussing the possibility of eliminating the Gish Memorial Theater. It’s interesting to note that while it is decried that Lillian Gish was somehow responsible for D.W. Griffith’s admittedly one-sided account of the KKK because she plays a role in his film, few would bother to pillory someone, say, like Margaret Sanger. Her view of the value of Black American lives was so low that she brought her eugenics plan to the Klan for their support! She saw blacks and poor whites as merely social problems and advocated the death of their young in the womb as a “Final Solution” — OUR young!
Please, guys, let’s retain our perspective! Let’s not trash Gish’s career in film — an art form that is subjective. She was an actress, not a social activist. Many of her roles portrayed the fragility of the human condition.
I’m very sad and frustrated after reading all that is happening at Bowling Green State University. Growing up as a poor kid behind the Iron Curtain in the 70s, the first time I saw Miss Lillian Gish was in a old Cinema Magazine and since then I’m in love with her memory.
For me as European it is very hard to comprehend what’s happening with the Gish Film Theater. She brought world attention to the university, linking it to her fame. She accepted the honor of the theater bearing her name. She made donations to the theater and many other celebrities followed suit.
Suddenly a campus group wants to destroy a reputation, a memory of one of the greatest personalities in American culture.
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize was presented to a number of African American artists, including Spike Lee, who accepted the prize.
I believe Miss Lillian Gish represents America. For me, she certainly does, the better part of America anyway. The Gish Theater has been a symbol for film culture and history for over 40 years. It was a workshop, where young artists could compare and debate their work as well.
I close this letter with a heavy heart, hoping that common sense will prevail, and BGSU will remain a neutral cultural institution, dedicated to providing opportunities for different views.
ADRIAN PAUL BOTTA
Bacau City, Romania
To the editor: Keep Gish name on BGSU theater
Mr. Solis, I am sending you this e-mail as you responded to Mr. Adrian Botta regarding the Gish Theater. I e-mailed several BGSU people, including the president and got no response. Mr. Botta is not alone in his feelings about the attempt to dishonor Miss Gish. I would like to point out that several African-Americans have received The Gish Award, an award established by Miss Gish. I wonder if the Black Student Union even knows who Bill T. Jones, Ornette Coleman or Suzan-Lori Parks are ? I’m sure they know who Spike Lee is. They are all African- Americans who have received the Gish Award. If these people could accept this award with her name on it, why is there a problem with leaving her name on the theater ? Is the BSU better than those people ? I really have no hope that her name will remain on the theater. These days everyone bends over backward to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings. I do have a few questions if that happens. Who will name the theater ? Will the donors to the Gish theater be informed that this is happening ? Will the donor list on the wall also be removed ? After all it won’t be the theater they donated to. In closing, if the BSU is so upset about Miss.Gish’s appearance in a movie from over 100 years ago how do they ever plan to live in the real world ? I feel sorry for them, they are focused on one role in a career that is incredible. Guilt by association , right ? Shame on them. Sadly,
Just e-mailed this to the Asst. Director of Presidential communications office of the president BGSU.
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Standard answer containing THE TITLE of the orange poster placed at The Gish entrance (Bowen – Thompson BGSU)
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Does BGSU have a (moral) right to keep in custody the “Gish” memorabilia?………………
BGSU task force recommends that Gish
Theater get a new name
By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News (part of the article)
“Changing the name of the theater at BGSU will not erase film history, US cultural history, ‘Hollywood history,’ or the legacy of the Gish sisters.”
The Gish name will not be erased at BGSU. A scholarship given in her name, the honorary degree bestowed on her in 1976, and the archives of Gish material will remain.
Also, the task force calls for a display in the lobby of the theater or inside the venue that addresses the legacy of the Gish sisters as well as the history of theater, including why it was renamed, and a discussion of the place “The Birth of Nation” holds in developing American attitudes toward race.
The task force said in particular it did not want to diminish Lillian Gish’s career.
The entire article – link below:
BGSU task force recommends that Gish Theater get a new name – BG Independent News
And The Master, proud of his creation …
By Roger LaPointe, Sentinel-Tribune Staff Writer
Closing out the statement of acceptance of the report, Rogers wrote “Building a just learning community requires effort and commitment by each of us. I’m proud of the way our community has come together to discuss and explore these issues in a thoughtful and respectful way.”
Standard answer containing THE TITLE of the orange poster placed at The Gish entrance (Bowen – Thompson BGSU)
The “Task Force”:• Sacarra Bridgeforth, Undergraduate Student, Film
• Ana Brown, Interim Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Coordinator for Diversity and Retention Initiatives, Office of Residence Life, and Advisor to Latino Student Union
• Charis Hoard, Undergraduate Student, Black Student Union
• Dr. Lesa Lockford, Professor and Chair. Theatre and Film
• Laura Moore, Director of Stewardship (Ex-Officio)
• Daniel Ricken, Graduate Student, Theater
• Isaiah Smith, Undergraduate Student, Black Student Union
• Sadi Angel Trouche, Undergraduate Student, Latino Student Union
• Cali Vaugh, Undergraduate Student
• Daniel Williams, Associate Professor, Theatre and Film
• Michelle Sweetser, Head, Archival Collections
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