April 12, 2012
If you’ve been hanging out with me on clusterflock for a while, you may know that I am crazy-mad for Van Dyke Parks.
Okay, there is this interview and it focuses on VDP’s career as a child actor and it is really good and one of the things I like best is a recollected exchange between VDP and Lillian Gish.
Other people who brought legitimacy and cachet to television were people who had served in movies to great distinction. 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.”