EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final installment of the Gish girls story. This third and final instalment gives you more inside light on how various pictures in which the two girls starred, were made.
YOU have been chatting now with the Gish sisters for several hours. Night is falling. They have an engagement at the theatre. Jim Rennie is coming to call for Dorothy. You leave them, and promise to return to hear the rest of their fascinating tale on some other day. When you visit them again, you find that Dorothy has gone to Louisville to attend the premiere showing In that city of “Orphans of the Storm.” Lillian comes to greet you. She is in the midst of packing for the journey to join her sister. Her long, wavy hair hangs about her shoulders. “Please don’t mind my’ appearance:’ she apologizes, “but with so many girls wearing their hair bobbed these days, you’ll hardly notice the difference.” But you do notice, the difference, for Lillian’s hair is full gold, and the sun shines through it as she sits beside, the window.
“Now, let’s see.” she resumes. “I suppose I ought to take up the story from the days when we were making ‘Hearts of the World’ in England and France. We came back to America and we were all ready for a long vacation, but Mr. Griffith had bought the studio at Mamaroneck. He looked it over, found it in a mix-up, and decided to go south for a time. He told me I could start the first of Dorothy’s series of comedies for Famous Players there, so I undertook to direct Dorothy in the picture that was later known as ‘Remodeling a Husband.”’
Lillian laughed as she recalled her first efforts at directing. “I thought I knew a great deal about directing, the camera and acting,”but when I got on my first set and the cameraman, the electricians and the carpenters all came to me for instructions, I was hard up for ideas. The carpenters wanted to know how high the walls should be, how deep the moulding; the electricians wanted to know where each light should be placed. I didn’t know what to say, but I just plunged in. The first set was lighted badly because the back wall was too high, but otherwise I went through the job successfully. Of course I made mistakes and I suppose I hesitated and was slow, for the cameraman, who had just come back from France and who was very nervous used to pace about and make remarks about my way of directing a picture. The lights crew didn’t know me from Adam, and I had my hands full, but we managed to get the picture out in good shape, at any rate.
“Then began the production of a half dozen program pictures by Mr. Griffith. During this period Dorothy was busy with her comedies. Among the pictures Mr. Griffith made were two in which some of, the war scenes we took in France were used. and they also included ‘The Romance of Happy Valley,’ which Mr. Griffith has called his last vacation. He took his time with this film, filming many of the scenes over, just for the sake of making them. The characters were drawn from life from Mr. Griffith’s home town, and the picture, which was a pastoral story was beautiful, but was not particularly liked by the critics because it was not in Mr. Griffith’s spectacular vein.”
“Then came ‘Broken, Blossoms.’ The actual shooting of ‘Broken Blossoms’ took just eighteen days principally because Donald Crisp, Richard Barthelmess and myself, wlto played the three leading roles, knew by the time the actual taking began just what to do, and we went through the scenes with little correction. When Mr. Griffith Completed the picture, he knew he had something, but he was not certain exactly what it was. The picture fascinated him. He finally decided to give it a private showing in Los Angeles. Those who saw it were enthusiastic about it, but Mr. Griffith was not yet sure they were right, so he took it to New York and showed it privately. Again it was hailed as the perfect motion picture. He then decided to release it as a special and he put it into the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York.
“It was the means of establishing his fame in Europe. Joseph Conrad saw it and wrote to Joseph Hergesheimer: ‘Who is this man Griffith? Why is it I have never heard of him before?’
It was the most popular picture of the year in France, and in all of the other European countries it was very successful. The Dowager Queen of England wrote to Mr. Griffith congratulating him.
“The next episode was that of ‘Way Down East.’ We had been in the south when we heard that Mr. Griffith had paid $175,030 for the story alone. When he offered the leading role to me, he gave me the choice of accepting or declining it. I felt like declining it at first, for according to the story, the burden of the success of the film rested on me, and I felt at the time that the whole $175,000 was on my shoulders. And of course we did not know at that, time that we would be able to get the thrilling ice scenes.”
Lillian paused in recollection of the difficulties of taking that memorable film.
“We went to Vermont for the ice scenes and we spent eight weeks in that part of the country. We sleighed to farmers homes to acquaint ourselves with the types we were supposed to portray, and we found that everyone knew about ‘Way Down East’ but there were some who had never heard of Charlie Chaplin, and many, many who had never heard of us. It was a new sensation and a pleasant one, too, to be unknown for a time.”
The two scenes which caused the greatest comment in ‘Way Down East’ are first of all, the ice thrillers and secondly, Lillian’s remarkable acting in the episode during which Anna Moore, played by Lillian, loses her little baby. Lillian, however, didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about, so far as her acting was concerned.
“Those were real tears I shed in the scene during which I portray the grief of Anna Moore over her loss. Anyone who says that glycerine tears are as good as the real thing doesn’t know anything about it,” she said emphatically. “And it is equally untrue that you can act as forcefully and bring tears just as easily if you think about some sorrow of your own. The Camera catches the thoughts as well as the expression of those thoughts. You have to get under the skin and into the mind of the character you are playing in order to realize for the camera the emotion you are endeavoring to express. A western critic who was present when we were taking that scene with the baby said that it lost 75 percent in effectiveness on the screen because the voice was lost to screen audiences. He said that as he saw the scene in the studio it was the most realistic grief he had ever seen portrayed. That was due to the fact that I really felt that bad about Anna Moore’s loss.
“As for the weeks during which we shot the ice scenes they were among the most unusual of my ,career. All we did during those weeks was to get up in the morning, go out on the ice and wait for events. The machinery behind those events consisted of a charge of dynamite up the river which blew up the ice and released the floes downstream. We would go out on the ice, wait for the charge. I would lie down on one of the cakes, which were each day cut out in various shapes by ice-cutting machines, and downstream we would go, a half dozen cameramen chasing us’.
“One cameraman was especially active. His name was Allen, and we would see him jumping from cake to cake, always trying to get as close as possible to me, to show that no one was doubling for me. Once or twice he fell in, camera and all but he was safely fished out.
“Then I made a suggestion which has caused me considerable suffering since. I thought it would be more realistic if I dipped my hand in the icy water and let it die there, while the camera took a closeup and a long shot of my hand. If you have ever put your hand in ice water – well, don’t! Ice water feels just like a burning flame. When I took my hand out of the water, I found it was cramped and stiff, and ever since I have suffered from painful rheumatism in the palm of my hand and the fingers.”
As for “Orphans of the Storm,” the incidents of its production were few. Lillian Gish believes it is the greatest of Mr. Griffith’s productions, and in her trips about the country, during which she and Dorothy are appearing personally with the picture, she has found similar response on the part of the public. In the course of these trips she has been remarkably surprised at the spontaneous enthusiasm which their appearance has evoked, especially in these times when members of the film industry have been under fire.
As Dorothy said before she left for Louisville the attacks upon picture actors and actresses have affected her kneely: “When I walk down the street nowadays and someone recognizes me, I feel like turning my head so that I won’t hear them say: ‘Oh, there’s another one of those picture actresses. I wonder when her story will be told on the front pages of the newspapers.
“When we went to New Orleans,” Lillian related, “We were fairly swept off our feet by the greeting extended us. Our train stopped at some little station en route and we heard some voices outside. It was early in the morning and we did not want to rise but we received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from an old gentleman who had heard that the Gish sisters were on board and wished to send them a mark of his esteem.
“North of New Orleans an advance agent of the theatre in which we were to appear boarded the train. He looked a little shamefaced and we wondered what was the matter with him.
When we reached New Orleans we discovered the cause of his embarrassment. There was a mob at the station; a brass band to escort us to our hotel, the mayor greeted us and gave us the keys to the city, and whenever we went to the theatre we had to storm out our way through the crowds. We were dripping wet by the time we reached the hotel the first day, and Dorothy said , ‘Now I know how it feels to be President,’ for we were so busy standing up in the car so the people could see us and nodding greetings to them that we were worn out by the time we ended our stay in the south.”
This evidence of their popularity was deeply appreciated by both Lillian and Dorothy especially as it occurred during the very week when the Hollywood wired were busy bearing the reports of the Taylor mystery. They were both eager to assert that they believed the self-respecting members of the theatrical and motion picture profession ought to make some effort to reply to the scandalous attacks to which the newspapers have given so much publicity.
In their long career both of the Gish girls have made many friends among the members of their profession. They have moved in the more social-minded group of film player of the cast. In addition to their friendship with the Pickfords born of the early days of the film industry, they count the Talmadges among their old friends. There is spontaneity, a freshness and youthfulness about them which is rare among those devoted to the drama. They are unaffected, genuine persons, with simple tastes. Real girls as to many of their friends testify.
The kid company “Oh Jo!” was so happy a vacation to Mamaroneck way as any party of young folk could conceive. “Oh Jo!” was one of Dorothy Gish’s comedies. It was taken on Long Island Sound, in the Mamaroneck studio. The members of the company, Dorothy, Mildred, Marsh, sister of Mae, Glenn Hunter, Tom Douglas and others were all youngsters and they enacted the film with the vigorous enthusiasm of youngsters. Playing in pictures, playing on the beaches, tea-time dances, it was a glorious vacation combined with glorious interesting work. And Dorothy’s infectious laughter, her gay spirits, dominated this business of playing. Only Dorothy Gish could maintain such a spirit and keenly enjoy picture playing in this manner, this sane, clean and peppy way of working.
So it is with the other aspects of Dorothy’s work. She enjoys working as much as she enjoys living, and that is a very great deal. Her husband, an actor of note himself, returned recently from the coast, to engage in a play on Broadway. She lives with him on East 19th Street, New York, and theirs is a happy ménage indeed. When she has spare time, she spends it with her beloved sister and her beloved mother.
Perhaps the shadow of this mother’s illness saddens the girls somewhat at this time. She has been seriously ill for many months now. A trained nurse is with her constantly, and it is pleasant to record that she is gaining appreciably in health, although she is still too ill to greet her many friends. Mrs. Gish is a frail woman; she has spent a difficult life. Those who are acquainted with her are eager to express their hope that she will live a long time to enjoy the fruits of her efforts and of those of her daughters.
Lillian Gish has had the more extensive experience of the two sisters. Her peculiar wistfulness of expression, her ability to portray the simple girl struggling against the manifold difficulties of life and her remarkable dramatic power have elevated her to an enviable position as an actress. She has that sort of intelligence which is based upon the assimilation of experience by a capable mind. She has attained power through herself, and is thus the more sure of expressing that power to others. She is an eager reader; on her library table are to be found many standard works, numerous of the better class of recent novels, and other evidences of her interest in the intellectual life.
She surprises you most by her combination of knowledge and youthfulness. As you look at her now, she is just a girl like many other girls you have met. She might be plodding her way home from market in some little Middle Western town; she might be sitting with you in the parlor of her home, the daughter of a prosperous business man. But when she speaks to you, you readily note her superiority, her somewhat precocious wisdom.
She startles you from time to time with her knowledge of pictures and picture making. She has taken her work seriously, she can direct mob scenes. And she has similarly taken life seriously; she maintains an active interest in public affairs. She has been watching with interest the struggle between the friends and the enemies of bonus legislation, She wonders whether the bonus bill, if passed, will not affect business unfavorably. She notes the difficulties of the present winter for the average actor. She tells of her observations of business conditions about the country, of soup lines in Sandusky, of how Pittsburgh was the last city to feel the business depression. She is, you note, keenly observant.
Then with her regard to her personal life, you find she possesses warm friendships. She remarks that Jerome Storm, who directed her for a time in her sole individual effort, has written that he is the happy father of a “bouncing baby,” and laughs with pleasure at Jerry’s good luck. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for Mr. Griffith. He is the king of directors to her; she marvels at his ability, his versatility and breadth.
Best of all, she loves her mother and her sister. There is perfect harmony between these two girls; that you know at once. Only such harmony could have created to delightful scenes of the departure of the two orphans from their village home, the vivid pantomime of their first encounter with the world on the road to Paris. An Lillian’s mother, and Dorothy’s mother, is a rock upon which both of their lives are founded.
“Come again, very soon,” she calls, as you bid her good-bye.
You know you’ll come, as you close the door, and hear her call: “By-By”
–LEWIS F. LEVINSON –