WHEN the ‘First Lady of American Cinema’ chose Glasgow to make her European stage debut, two things were proven, according to our sister title the Glasgow Herald.

“First, that the premiere of a play in Glasgow can by satisfying and secondly, that it is possible for a Hollywood idol, either of today or yesterday, to demonstrate an ability to give a really good stage account of his or herself,” said the reporter.

This was his (rather longwinded) expression of approval for Lillian Gish’s performance at the King’s Theatre in March 1936. The play was The Old Maid, Zoe Atkins’ adaptation of a New York-set melodrama written by Edith Wharton. (The play was adapted for the screen in 1939, with Bette Davis taking over from Gish in the leading role.)

First Lady of American Cinema, Lillian Gish

Lillian, known for her expressive performances, versatility and air of fragility, wowed the Glasgow crowd and critics alike.

“Lillian Gish demonstrated last night that she has title to the front rank of actresses not because of accident or a gift for the wistful look but because she has the ability and training to place her there,” said the Herald reviewer, who had many good things to say about Miss Gish and her co-stars, Carol Goodner, Irene Vanbrugh and Harcourt Williams.

“The triumph of Miss Gish is that during the years required for the action of the play, she portrays with great delicacy the souring of a noble character, which despite all vicissitudes, remains noble to the end....The Old Maid must be rated as excellent stage entertainment which, after a dull beginning, has two very vital acts that cannot fail to grip.”

The writer ends: “Not always is it possible to understand why America enjoyed a play. In the case of The Old Maid, it is not only possible, but easy….”

Lillian Gish in the 1927 film Annie Laurie.

Lillian Gish in the 1927 film Annie Laurie.

Lillian was born in 1893, and had a tough upbringing. According to IMDB, the young Miss Gish and her sister Mary started acting in local productions. Legendary film-maker DW Griffith gave her her big break by casting her in An Unseen Enemy in 1912, and she went on to star in countless films, alongside many Hollywood greats.

She became a silent movie superstar - in 1927, she starred in the silent film Annie Laurie as a young woman caught between the warring Campbell and MacDonald clans at Glencoe. It is a movie which makes Braveheart look like a documentary, but a good yarn with great personality all the same.

READ MORE: The forgotten Glasgow star who turned down a life in Hollywood

When talkies took over, Lillian went back to the stage, and later said: “I never approved of talkies. Silent movies were well on their way to developing an entirely new art form. It was not just pantomime, but something wonderfully expressive.”

In the 40s and 50s she returned to movies, appearing in big-budget pictures like Commandos Strike at Dawn and The Night of the Hunter, and she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1946 for her role in Duel in the Sun. Her last movie was The Whales of August in 1987, alongside Bette Davis, marking the end of a 75-year long career, almost unparalleled in the business. She died in New York, aged 99, in 1993.