Brett Holden and the Gish Film Theater

by

Jeffrey Harris

To start my research on archival work, I stopped by yhe Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall to see who worked on the films that are shown there. The Gish Film Theater is one of the secrets of Bowling Green State University that is still unknown to many students. I first found out about the theater during their month-long, Sunday afternoon film series held every semester.

For those who do not know about the theater, I was able to ask the assistant curator, Brett Holden, questions about the history of the space. Dedicated to two acting sisters, the theater opened on June 11, 1976. “Dr. Ralph Haven Wolfe (the head curator) built the theater, with the permission of Lillian Gish, as a tribute to the Gish sisters and to silent film as an art form,” Mr. Holden explains.

For those unfamiliar with the Gish sisters, Lillian (1893-1993) and Dorothy (1898-1968) were two of the superstars of the silent film age and got their start from legendary director D. W. Griffith. Mr. Holden explains why the theater is named after the duo: “The Gish sisters grew up in Springfield, Ohio, and had their stage debut as the Rising Sun opera house, about fifteen miles from Bowling Green. They were Ohio natives.

The story of how the theater came to be named is interesting. When Dr. Wolfe wanted to dedicate the theater to the Gish sisters, he flew to California and visited Lillian. She was delighted, but put forth one condition - that the theater be named the ‘Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater,’ in honor of her sister, as well. Her sister had passed in the late 1960’s, and Lillian was convinced that her sister had been the better actress.”

I learned from Mr. Holden that the film preservationist, Eric Honneffer, was not only in charge of the films that play there, but was also in charge of the great amount of memorabilia left to the University by Lillian Gish after her death. The memorabilia goes on display in the back of the theater. Mr. Holden states, “Many crates of materials arrived and we had to open them and log them and put them in storage. Eric Honneffer, our archivist, takes care of the collection for us. He preserves what needs attention, keeps an archive of all theater materials, and rotates the collection throughout the year.” For more information on the Gish film theater, check out their website at www.bgsu.edu/welcome/tour/gish2.html.