An Intimate Story of the Gish PART II – (Movie Weekly) March 25 1922 …
EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the second instalment of the interesting story of the Gish Girls’ careers. You will recall that the last article concluded with Dorothy and Lillian meeting Mary Pickford and the rest of the Pickford family. Don’, miss this most fascinating story, which, for the first time in any publication, appears in “Movie Weekly.”
RECOLLECTIONS of their childhood days with the Pickford-Smiths, and stories of the good times they had when they all lived. together in a house on Thirty Seventh Street made Lillian and Dorothy Gish recall other incidents about Mary Pickford, and how, through her, they became movie actresses.
“Getting into the movies was not a very intricate business a dozen years ago,” Lillian continued. The Gishes and the Pickfords were then moving about New· York, living uptown on the west side for a time, until the Gishes went on the road again, leaving Mary, Lottie and Jack in New York. It was during one of these tours that Dorothy fell ill, the engagement was cancelled, and the family came north. When they reached New York, they found that Mary Pickford was playing in the movies.
” ‘What’ on eatth can she see in the movies?’ we asked each other,” said Dorothy. “We went to the studio to see her and to find out what it was all about. She was playing in one of the Biograph productions with D. W. Griffith and she introduced us to him. He asked us to play an extra role in one of his productions, and that was the way we began.”
“”We were rather late in joining the Biograph company.” Lillian explained. “Biograph was reaching the end of its career and we played in a few of the productions there. Then Mary was engaged by Belasco to play opposite Ernest Truex in ‘The Good Little Devil,’ and I was engaged to play one of the fairies. I stayed with Mary until the spring, when I found the climate did not agree with me and we decided to go to the Coast to play in Mr. Griffith’s Triangle stock company.
“But before I go on with that part of the story, I must tell you that neither Doug nor Mary have grown up a bit since those days. When Mary’s picturization of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ opened in New York recently Doug was along, of course. We all went over to the theatre together before the performance to look things over,” Lillian narrated.
“Doug always acts like a twelve-year-old boy, and he got impatient with waiting, so he went down in the orchestra and amused himself by vaulting over the orchestra seats. Doug is the typical American, enthusiastic, boyish, and happy at all times: His greatest amusement is a circus parade and I think his idea of heaven is to ride on an elephant with the brass band just behind him.”
Soon after Lillian’s trip west, all paths led to the first of the spectacular productions which Mr. Griffith has made, the famous “Birth of a Nation.” But Lillian had another long path to tread before she attained even this success, a success, which, by the way, she depreciates.
“It was too big part for me,” she said. “I didn’t know enough about acting. Of more importance to me was my work with Triangle. I photographed well and was fairly sure of myself as an actress, so whenever a new director broke in I was given to him. I played in the first productions of such well-known directors as Del Henderson, Eddie Dillon. William Christy Cabanne, and others I can’t even remember at this moment. But this was splendid experience for me. These directors were anxious to make a good impression with their first picture. They didn’t care a bit about me; and I was left to make the most of myself. Then Triangle began to lose its hold and when ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was started, Mr. Griffith gave me a part in it. When, I look at it now, I am always ashamed of my acting. I just didn’t know any better. None of us girls, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper or myself, knew much about picture acting at that time, and whatever we did was the result of Mr. Griffith’s direction.”
“Do you know, you never realize how you become an actress,” Dorothy remarked.
“That’s just what I said when I spoke Sunday at the church in Washington Heights,” said Lillian.
“Lillian spoke beautifully,” Mrs. Klatch commented, her face beaming with pride. ‘
“Yes, Lillian is getting to be a wonderful speaker,” Dorothy added.
“The minister asked me to speak. He told me that he was having difficulty in getting the young people to come to church and thought that perhaps I could help him a little. Wherever we have been, mamma always sent us to Sunday School and church when she could. So I told the congregation what part the church had played in my life. I couldn’t very well tell them they ought to go to Sunday School and church for no doubt most of them do, but I could tell them about my own church associations.
“And that reminds me of what happened when we tried out ‘Orphans of the Storm’ in Hartford before the New York opening. It was just about the time of the Taylor murder and while the newspapers were telling these horrible stories about movie people, we were being escorted through a crowd by a big minister who went between us, one of us on each side of him.
“Then I received a letter not long ago from our old pastor from home. He is now in a New England town and he asked us if we wouldn’t appear personally at a church benefit. It seems they needed the money badly, and we would have gone in person, if it had not been for another engagement which we could not break. So I sent him instead a print of ‘Way Down East,’ and the church raised that night as much money as it had during the entire year, doubling in otner words, its collections.
“But, returning to why we became actresses, j list as I told those church folk the other night, we grew up and when we grew up we found we knew how to do nothing except acting and so we became actresses. People always speak of the glamor of the stage and all that, but I fail to see any glamor about it. And I suppose people also wonder why anyone should choose such a strange career as that of an actress. As a matter of fact, we never chose to become actresses. It just happened to us,”
“I wish I could speak as well as you can,” Dorothy told her sister. “I am studying voice now, and hope some day to go on the stage, but although my present teacher has succeeded in putting me at ease when I read lines before him. I still can’t get up on my feet the way Lillian does and make a connected speech. That night down in Pittsburgh …”
“Oh,” Lillian laughed modestly. as a matter of fact, I was frightened out of my wits that night. You know, the Westinghouse company invited me to speak over the radiophone when we were attending the opening of ‘Orphans of the Storm’ in Pittsburgh. First I was told that we would be speaking to people all over the country, that there would be a hundred thousand in the audience. That would be enough to scare anyone, but they made me wait while some politicians got up and read from manuscripts. Then they took me into a little room, where the temperature was about 95, and made me speak into the transmitter. I had no idea what I was going to say.”
“But it was a -wonderful little speech,” Dorothy enthusiastically explained. “Lillian told about how pictures are made and she built up her little talk to a thrilling climax. I certainly wish I could talk like that,
“Well, I don’t want to get the reputation of being a speech-making woman,” Lillian laughed. “I had an opportunity last year-of speaking before in Chautauqua in New York State, where there were to be eighteen thousand in the audience, and Harvard University has asked me to deliver a lecture on how motion pictures are made. But I think Mr. Griffith is the man who knows more about that than anyone else, so I am going to suggest that he makes the lecture instead of me. Besides, I want to stay at home part of the time, anyhow, and am trying to avoid as many trips out of town as possible.
“But to get back to the old days. I stayed out on the Coast making pictures, while Mr. Griffith got the idea of producing ‘Intolerance.’ He had the germ of the modern story first, and, the rest just grew. Do you know that he made the modern story of ‘Intolerance’ the part that later was cut up and released as ‘The Mother and the Law,’ four times? He used the same cast in each version. He wasn’t satisfied with the first and second attempts. and then he got the idea of the Babylonian episode and started to work on that. It took two years in all, and by the time he had completed the Babylonian episode, he found more faults with the modern story and made it once more. Finally, when he had finished re-takes, he decided that the photography of the modem story was too old-fashioned, so he made it for a fourth time. He had no script, everything was in his own head. It is simply wonderful when you think of one man retaining in his own brain all the ideas and details of such a tremendous production as ‘Intolerance.’
“My part in ‘Intolerance’ was too slight to be noticed. The cradle-rocking scene in which I appeared was made in two hours one day: The others worked two years on the picture. The Los Angeles reviewers liked that shot, however, and told Mr.Griffith so, with the result that he used it, although I did not want to receive screen credit for that little bit. Dorothy was just on the fringe of that picture.
“Then came an experience which I shall never forget and which was worth more to me than any other in my life. Mr. Griffith wanted to make a war picture and the British and the French Governments were perfectly willing to assist him, for they were in the midst of a recruiting campain and needed propaganda.
“Mr. Griffith came to me and asked me if I would be willing to play the leading role. I didn’t know whether I could carry it, for, as you know, the other pictures were all group stories. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ dealt with the Cameron family; ‘Intolerance’ dealt with four different groups, but ‘Hearts of the World’ was about a girl.
We talked over the proposition with mamma and decided to go to Europe with Mr. Griffith. We were over there six months, part of the time in London and part of the time in France behind the lines, around Compiegne. The worst part of our experience was in London. Our hotel was next door to another hotel in which Air Defense was located. The adjacent building was the center of London’s protection against Zeppelins and other German aeroplane assailants, and whenever the Germans came flying over London the anti-aicraft guns would go off and rock our building as well.
“Moreover, it was during the blackest part of the war that we stayed in London. The streets were filled with horribly wounded men and it was nerve racking, especially to mamma, even to walk down the streets and to see poor, mutilated soldiers. Air raids were frequent. Bombs fell very near to us, and we were in a continual condition of suspense.
“But we were able to learn how to portray such emotions as we shall never again have the opportunity to observe. Theretofore we had been acting with repression, doing scenes quietly, but we learned over there that in real life people are not accustomed to repressing the great emotions that surge over them. When a German bomb struck the schoolhouse in Whitechapel, killing nearly a hundred children, we were on the scene half an hour after the explosion. We saw the poor mothers searching for their children, their hysteria and terrible grief, and we learned what mother love really is at that time.
“Then we went to France.”
“The best part of our experience was that we saw the war closeup. That experience hurt mamma most of all. She has never been well since that time and her present illness is more or less due to shell shock from the concussion of the guns in the building next to our London hotel. If it weren’t for her illness, I would say that my experience over there was worth fifty years of life, and that if I should live to be a hundred in this country I should never acquire what I acquired during those months in England and France. I learned what modern war is like, and realized the spirit behind it.”
“We made eighty-six reels of negative in France, and returned to the United States to make interiors. We had enough film for ‘Hearts of the World,’ and for two other program features which Mr. Griffith made subsequently. ‘Hearts of the World’ was, of course a tremendous success, because it was the first picture in which the actual war and not a studio make-believe was used in the background.
It gave Dorothy her first genuine opportunity in a big role and was the first picture in which I tried to carry the theme of the story myself.
It also assisted in giving Dorothy her reputation as a comedienne although we both think she is far better suited to dramatic roles and that her work in comedy has been solely due to the fact that, that is the medium in which she has most often appeared.