TV magic: the one and only Miss Gish

Lillian Gish: The Actor's Life for Me PBS, tonight, 9-10 p.m. (check local listings for day and time). Narrator: Eva Marie Saint. Producer/director: Terry Saunders. Lillian Gish, the first lady of the silent screen, says she ``never doubted film was the mind and heartbeat of our century.''

In this premi`ere film for the third season of ``American Masters,'' a series which profiles the lives and achievements of people in the creative arts, Miss Gish delves into her own experience, recalling everything from her stage debut in 1902 at the age of five to her performance with Bette Davis in the 1987 movie ``Whales of August.''

Her memories of her own creative inspiration - D.W. Griffith - are alone worth the hour of magical viewing. But there is much more - scenes from early Gish films, anecdotes about pioneer filmmaking, hints about acting technique. All from the perspective of a compassionate woman who has made her unique actor's journey without a hint of regret or recrimination. ``I grew up in a beautiful, kind, generous, unselfish world,'' she says glowingly.

A presentation of American Film Foundation and ``American Masters,'' this film is informative as well as entertaining, an invaluable learning tool for the student of films and filmmaking. But it is essential viewing for anybody interested in celebrating a wonderful actress who, in all modesty and honesty, says: ``I didn't plan what happened. It happened to me.... I saw myself as a painter when I was in film, painting on canvas with movement.... I was never interested in money.... I just wanted films I'd be proud of because I didn't want to have to apologize for any of them.''

Drug special worth watching

Viewers who saw the rebroadcast of ABC's excellent ``Drugs: A Plague Upon the Land,'' anchored by Peter Jennings on Saturday, will want to see the timely Jennings update titled ``Drugs: Why This Plague?'' which airs tonight, 8-9 p.m. on ABC, just before the Gish interview on PBS, and which was not ready for previewing at deadline time.

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