Lillian Gish Photo Gallery (VI)

Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish photo gallery volume VI

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Lillian Gish in St. Louis

Lillian Gish became a boarder in the Ursuline Academy at Saint Louis [in 1909-1910]. Here she found herself in surroundings altogether novel. At first she was unwilling to have either nuns or fellow boarders know that she had been on the stage. In fact, she was under the impression that the sisters would consider an actress, even a fifteen year old one, a very undesirable boarder and she had had all of the labels removed from her trunks before coming to the convent.

Ursuline Academy at Saint Louis


Lillian was not long in coming to love the convent and all it stood for. She reveled in the solitude, the shut-in-ness of the place. She became utterly devoted to the nuns, and was heard to say more than once that they were the most truly refined women she had ever met. Naturally spiritual, she was attracted by the convent routine, and more than once was heard to say that she would like to be a nun. Her teachers say she was always gracious and pleasant to her companions, but her natural reserve kept her from being ‘a good mixer.’ She once asked her favorite sister to point out any faults she might be guilty of, saying: ‘I want to eradicate any fault in me that might be an annoyance to others.’ The sister declares that, after watching Lillian carefully for weeks, she was unable to find any fault in her. She was a perfect boarder.
Years later, when Lillian Gish played in ‘The White Sister,’ it was remarked by the critics that she must at some time have been intimately connected with nuns to be able to depict a religious so perfectly. She was very desirous of dedicating this play to her old teachers, but the management objected.

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

“Lillian Gish is a very famous star, and as such she is naturally of great interest to us. In addition, she has an appealing personality that exerts its charm even over the radio, and her beauty is apparent even in newspaper pictures. But she has a stronger appeal than all this to us Ursuline girls, because she was at one time an Ursuline pupil, having been at school about a year with our sisters when the academy was on Twelfth and Russell Boulevard in Saint Louis.

St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)

Miss Gish Recalls –

St. Louis and Sodas at the Busy Bee

“My sister Dorothy and I loved to play in St. Louis because of the ice cream sodas. We hit St. Louis many times where we were children touring in Belasco’s productions. There was a place near the theater – I can’t remember the name of the play much less the theater – were we got the best ice cream sodas in the world. Chocolate. Not the sweet chocolate. Bitter chocolate. It was called the Busy Bee Ice Cream Parlor. Mary Pickford toured with us in a few shows (she was known as Gladys Smith then) and the three of us came to know St. Louis for its ice cream.”

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

But there were less happy days in the city. “Things got rough and my father left us. We had an aunt in St. Louis and my mother, my sister and I moved in with her. We opened a confectionery in the city and Dorothy and I went to school and worked in the store. (The Misses Gish attended Ur- suline Academy for a year. [1909-1910]) Somehow though we got back on our feet and back on the stage.”

streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s

Excerpts from Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Life and Lillian Gish” 1932

“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.

Lillian Gish in 1910

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-writ- ing was always her bane.” (Albert B. Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

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 punc- tuation, is dated from there: September 12, 1909:
“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)

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

… “ [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-be- lieve 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.”

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

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)

Lillian Gish Profile, cca 1910 – Everett

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KERA Interview With Lillian Gish – 1973

KERA Interview With Lillian Gish – 1973

Lillian Gish presents her latest book “Dorothy and Lillian Gish”. Miss Gish remembers the first steps of film, when the world was young.

KERA Interview With Lillian Gish – 1973
Dorothy And Lillian Gish by Lillian Gish (Scribners) Sleeve – Cover

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My Sister and I – By Lillian Gish (November 1927, ”Theatre Magazine”)

My Sister and I

Celebrity of the Screen Pays a Remarkable and Touching Tribute to Her Chum Relative – Dorothy

By Lillian Gish

November 1927, ”Theatre Magazine”

*** This story was included in Miss Gish’s autobiography ”The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me” with the mention ”During this period, Dorothy and I wrote character sketches of each other for Stage magazine. I wrote of her:”

She is a criticism of all the things I am not. When I look at her, I always miss in myself the qualities that I was born without and that, I daresay, I should have been much happier with. She is laughter, even on the cloudy days of life; nothing bothers her or saddens her or concerns her lastingly.

Trouble gives only an evanescent shadow to her eyes and is banished with a shrug of a shoulder. Work to her, however, is play. Had she been born a boy, she would, I feel certain, have smeared her face with brown butternut oil and gone ’round the world with a hurdy-gurdy, waking up sleepy old people behind closed windows. She takes nothing seriously but her mother, her meals and her dog.

I envy this dear darling Dorothy with all my heart, for she is the side of me that God left out. Her funny stories, her delight in sitting on men’s hats, her ability to interest herself in a hundred and one people in whom she has not the slightest interest, her talent for quick and warm friendships, her philosophy of silver linings—why was I denied these?

I surely take no pleasure in being the rather melancholy person I am. I, too, would like to believe in all the lovely rainbows in which Dorothy believes. I, too, would surely be happy to find some day that hard work was not hard work at all but just a charming pastime. Unfortunately for me, however, a Klieg light is just a Klieg light and not the English moon.

All my life I have wanted to play happily as she does, only to find myself bad at playing. As a little girl, I wasn’t much good at playing and I find that, try as I will, I don’t play very convincingly today.

When Dorothy goes in swimming, she splashes the ocean into a beautifully gala muss; I just go in swimming. When she dances, there is no tomorrow ; when I dance the trombone always stubbornly reminds me of a director in a bad mood. When she goes to a party, the party becomes a party; when I go to one, I’m afraid it very often stops being a party. And I don’t like it. I want to be like she is.

I am not unhappy. I simply am not gay. It must have rained on the evening I was born, and it seems arbitrarily to have kept on raining in my heart ever since. She, as I once heard a girl described in a play, is like “a bright flag flying in the breeze.”

The world to her is a big picnic with a great merry-goround and lots of popcorn and wonderful balloons. All music, even the worst, seems so beautiful to her. All people amuse her. She even has fun getting her feet wet. I have fun too, but it is only the joy I get out of apparently never-ending work—and what kind of fun, I’d like to ask, is that?

November 1927, ”Theatre Magazine” Lillian Gish in ”The Wind”

And Dorothy wrote equally frankly of me:

The tradition which has grown up around Lillian seems to be that she is a shy helpless bit of fragility, drifting around in a sweet gentle daze. If she’s really like that, “maybe I’m wrong” as the Two Blackbirds are fond of saying.

It’s perfectly possible that I am wrong. I have a growing suspicion that two people can live for years in close proximity and never understand each other. I must confess that Lillian’s idea of me, revealed every now and then, certainly differs startlingly from my own idea of myself. Perhaps we’re both wrong—and right. As in the Pirandello play, “Right you are

—if you think you are.”

At any rate, the popular conception of Lillian as soft and dreamy makes me think a little of the “gag” used too often in the comic strips. A hat lies upon the sidewalk; some person kicks it enthusiastically and finds to his astonishment and pain that there is hidden inside it a brick or a flatiron.

Anyone who has tried kicking Lillian has discovered the solidity of that resistance. Life has stubbed its toe, often and often, trying to disorganize her stability. She remains steadfast, unshaken, imperturbable. How I envy her the singleness of purpose, the indefatigability,

the unabating seriousness which have taken her straight to the heights she has reached and will carry her on and on! Nothing really matters to her except her work and her career. She has little time or patience for anything or anybody unrelated to her work. Her eyes are fixed on her goal; her ears are attuned only to the voice of her duty. If she misses some of the beautiful shyer souls that require a patient search, of which the reward is only a flash, perhaps, of beauty—why, that is the sacrifice she must make and she makes it willingly, almost scornfully. That is why she is where she is today.

She is blessed with a constitution that can respond to any demand. Long after I am ready to be hauled off on a shutter, she, apparently so frail, can go on tirelessly, unruffled, cool and calm. That exquisite complexion of hers, that lovely lineless face—these she owes to her serenity, her unfailing poise. What a priceless combination for an artist! Unswerving ambition, deep seriousness of purpose, and not a nerve in her body!

I wish with all my heart that I could see my life so clearly, so wholly, so free from confusion and march with such firm vigor toward achievement. Mother and I tease her at times about her remorseless activity. One of our pet names for her is The Iron Horse. A favorite family joke of ours is to theeffect that “we hope neither of us dies while Lillian is doing a picture.” We laugh—but we admire.

Don’t think she has no lighter moments. There are a number of persons whose minds or personalities she respects, and she finds great happiness in their company. In literature and the theater, she demands the best, and gets it. She will not spare a moment for a book or a play until she has made sure it is worthy, and thus she eliminates all waste motion. She is to me a never-ending source of astonishment and admiration. And I never cease to wonder at my luck in having for my sister the woman who, more than any other woman in America, possesses all the qualities of true greatness.

November 1927, ”Theatre Magazine”

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Stars of the Twenties – Observed by James Abbe (Introduction by Lillian Gish) 1975

  • Stars of the Twenties – Observed by James Abbe
  • Introduction by Lillian Gish
  • Thames and Hudson – London 1975

In the early 1920s James Abbe had a highly successful studio in Tin Pan Alley, where his personal photographs of prominent people brought him a large clientele. Tin Pan Alley referred to the New York City block on 47th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues occupied by musicians, music publishers, instrument dealers, and others in the music profession. We met for the first time when he asked me to come to his studio to pose for him after the opening of ‘Broken Blossoms’ at the George M. Cohan Theatre. D.W. Griffith had moved his company East after buying the old Flagler estate on Orienta Point, a peninsula jutting out into Long Island Sound at Mamaroneck, New York.

When I went to see Mr. Abbe, I found him to be a charming Southern gentleman who shared my interest in photography. Abbe also believed that photographers, instead of using oils or watercolors to paint faces, could get the same effects by painting the face with lights. The hard work of manipulating and focusing his lighting equipment gave his photographs beauty and life. He was such a little man – he couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and ten pounds – and he looked so undernourished that one’s first instinct was to take him out and buy him a substantial dinner. Instead, I almost drowned him.

After the completion  of the new studio, Mr. Griffith’s first picture there was ‘Way Down East.’ Abbe came out to shoot some of the still photographs. One day, during lunch hour, I was teaching myself how to swim. When I swallowed salt water I was inclined to panic, so I put a clothespin on my nose to make me breathe through my mouth. When Abbe swam around the far side of the pier and discovered this odd sight, he burst into sudden laughter, swallowed lots of salt water, and almost drowned.

My beloved sister Dorothy and I both posed for him at his New York studio while we were making what was to be our last picture for Mr. Griffith, ‘Orphans of the Storm.’ Dorothy then went to Cuba to film ‘The Bright Shawl’ with Richard Barthelmess and I, along with Henry King and twenty-two others, sailed for Europe to make the first American film in Italy, ‘The White Sister.’ To our great surprise Abbe accepted our offer at probably one-tenth of what he was earning to go with us. An addition to our company was Polly Shorrock, on an assignment from the Ladies’ Home Journal to write an article on the filming of this first modern religious story.

The fully equipped studio we were promised in Rome turned out to be an empty building unused since World War I, containing two little klieg lights, the only two in whole Italy. We put our electrician on the next night train to Berlin to get equipment. Abbe was amused by the fact that he was cast to play the small part of Lieutenant Rossini, but this did not keep him and his camera from taking full advantage of the overwhelming beauty of our new surroundings. We also shared the excitement of discovering with our cameraman, Roy Overbaugh, that the actinic rays of the sun in Italy were different from any that we had worked in, which led to new, subtle and amazing differences in our treatment of film. This began our experiments with panchromatic stock. Abbe built his darkroom in the corner of the studio, and out of it poured hundreds of arresting photographs that helped ‘The White Sister’ make millions of dollars around the world.

During this period, a romance blossomed between Abbe and Polly Shorrock. Instead of returning when he finished, she mailed her article back to New York and remained in Europe. After their marriage they joined Dorothy in England, where she was making films for Herbert Wilcox. Abbe’s pictures of her in Tip Toes with Will Rogers and Nelson Keys and of her in London are among the loveliest.

In the 1930s both Dorothy and I returned to the theater, while Abbe remained abroad. Our paths were not to cross until 1972, when a friend of mine who works for American Heritage sent me a copy of their magazine with an article on Abbe. One photograph labeled “Dorothy Gish” happened to be of me. When I pointed this out, shortly thereafter came an endearing letter from Abbe: “As I loved the Gishes equally, I could never tell them apart.”

In the fall of 1973 I was in San Francisco on a tour to help sell our book, Dorothy and Lillian Gish. I called Abbe, hoping we could lunch together, only to hear his voice, full of energy, complaining that he was confined to his bed, of which he did not approve. He promised that nothing would stand in his way for our meeting the next time I came West. He left us a few days later. We are grateful that the world seems a little better for his having lived in it, and now we have this book – his legacy of character and beauty.

Lillian Gish, New York City, 1974