Another great find on You Tube, a 1996 interview with 93 year old LILLIAN BURNS (1903 – 1998) who was the head drama coach at MGM from 1936 to 1956.
As she said, “I came to MGM the day after IRVING THALBERG was buried.”
Displaying why she was so good at her job, Lillian still had a strong, clear voice and very expressive hands. Just listening to the way she spoke, you could understand why she was so successful in coaching young actors.
“As for my work, I saw everybody who was brought on the lot by an agent. I never ran a school – it was a one to one process.”
“Young contract players had an extensive apprenticeship.”
“I remember very well at MGM when CLARK GABLE made a film in which he played an Irish political character – he wore exactly the same outfit he wore in Gone With The Wind, except for the hat.
The film was an absolute failure, but he had two other pictures coming out that year – you didn’t remember the failures.”
In addition to helping MARGARET O’BRIEN, Lillian ( known as ‘Burnsy’) coached CLAUDE YARMAN JR. extensively on THE YEARLING.
Of DEAN STOCKWELL, she said, “He was loaded with talent.”
“I worked with LANA TURNER before she became a star – when she was doing ZIEGFELD GIRL.”
“For me, JUDY GARLAND was the great chanteuse of this century.”
Other stars whom Lillian coached included AVA GARDNER, ARLENE DAHL,ESTHER WILLIAMS and DONNA REED.
Lillian mentored DEBBIE REYNOLDS when she came to MGM.
(Debbie and Janet Leigh and Donna Reed came to Lillian’s aid when she needed financial help late in her life.)
When Lillian finally left MGM , she became HARRY COHN’s executive assistant , but I couldn’t find much reference to Lillian in the Cohn Biography,’King Cohn”.
Lillian was married to GEORGE SIDNEY ( director of Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun) for 30 years. She was close to 70 when Sidney divorced her and married Edward G. Robinson’s widow, Jane.
This fascinating interview was conducted by Carole Langer and runs nearly an hour.
If only Lillian had written a book about her life at MGM.