Nell Dorr

“Lillian does not remember where she first met “Nell” Nellie Becker, a sweet-faced, happy-hearted girl, somewhat older than herself. Lillian was tall for her years, and serious-minded—the difference did not count. What did count was their instant attraction to each other. Beginning in what school-girls know as a “crush,” it presently ripened into something less fleeting, something that was to stand the wear of years. Each was the other’s ideal — the companion of which she had dreamed. They shared their hearts’ secrets, read books together.

Nell Dorr (1893-1988); Nell Dorr and Lillian Gish on stairs 1930]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX

  • Photo: Nell Dorr (1893-1988); Nell Dorr and Lillian Gish on stairs 1930; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX

A fine young fellow, named Tom, was going to marry Nell one of these days; a boy called “Alb,” for short—a very proper boy, particular about his umbrella and overshoes—appears to have been wishfully interested in Lillian, who, being of a sober turn and not yet thirteen, was not too violently disturbed by his attentions. Whatever romantic love she had, she gave to Nell. When, at the end of the summer, she joined her mother in East St. Louis, she wrote frequent letters, though letter-writing was always her bane.” (Albert B. Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

Nell Dorr

dorr-late

“Dorr was born Virginia Nell Becker on August 27, 1893 in Cleveland Ohio, to Minnie and John Jacob Becker, a photographer. From 1900 the family lived in Massillon, Ohio. Dorr was introduced to photography by her father, John Jacob Becker, a graduate of the Art Institute of Cincinnati, who ran a commercial photography business.

Nell Dorr Self portrait Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932
Nell Dorr Self portrait Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932

It was in Massillon that Dorr made her first successful portrait; of actress Lillian Gish, who spent her summers in the town. The two became lifelong friends. She married at seventeen to Thomas Koons in 1910 and moved to Florida in 1923 with her family of three girls Virginia (Win), Elizabeth (Betty or Bets), and Barbara (Barby).

nell dorr - seascape with girl (early 1930s)

After her husband’s real estate speculation failed in the 1926 economic collapse, Nell opened her own portrait studio to support the family. Gondolier a local society magazine, was one of her clients. Meanwhile, she also made personal work in a Pictorialist style[3] of still life, nudes and child subjects, on day trips to the Florida Keys. These were to become the material for her first two books Mangroves and In a Blue Moon.” “… far away, peaceful places where you can throw off your fears and inhibitions, and bathe in the sea and the sun as you please” – In a Blue Moon, Nell Dorr 1939″ (Source – Wiki)

Nell Dorr – Gallery

First Letter written to Nell Dorr: “Not many girls of her age would have set out on a long railroad trip, with changes, but rail travel had few terrors for the child actress, who for six or seven years had known little else. She stopped over in Dayton, to see her Grandfather, and her first letter, with its very plain, school-girl writing, some uncertainty as to spelling, and a large indifference to punctuation, is dated from there: September 12, 1909:

Nell Dorr with Win, Barby and Lillian and Dorothy Gish 1920 by Nell Dorr

  • Photo: Nell Dorr with Win, Barby and Lillian and Dorothy Gish 1920 by Nell Dorr

“Well dear I am away from Massillon once again, but feel as if I had left something behind this time that I never left before. I arrived here at 4:05 yesterday afternoon and have been on one continual trot ever since then, and I leave here tonight at 11:25, and when I wake up I’ll be in St. Louis, as this is an awfully fast train. . . .” (Albert B. Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

Nell Dorr Self portrait mural Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932
Nell Dorr Self portrait with mural – Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

… “ [An all-night ride in a day coach, but what was that to her?]

Poor Dorothy what did she do when I left? I could hardly keep the tears back, and I couldn’t say a word for the lump in my throat. … I do hope she won’t be homesick. You know that feeling . . .

You know that feeling“—who knew it better than herself? The letter ends, “Your loving make-believe sister.”

It bears her East St. Louis address: 246 Collinsville Ave.

A week later she wrote, “How is my little fat sister? Does she seem to be satisfied? Bless her old fat heart, she is bad but I love her.” She tells of a day’s trip to a small town in Illinois, and how, when she got back to the store, they were “awfully rushed, so of course I had to help.” In another letter, we hear of a girl named Mertice, who is going to give a party for her, “at a big Hall.”

They have ordered an automobile, seven passenger—45 horsepower, but it won’t be here untill March. Oh, I wish you would hear her talk about all the trips we are going to take. She knows all about you, Nell. She couldn’t help but know if she is around me very long.” Life and Lillian Gish – 1932

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