Every one knows the pert Miss Gish of comedy fame—but there is another side to Dorothy that you would like to know.
By Helen Klumph
LILLIAN GISH said it first; Dick Barthelmess said it to me a few days later ; every once in a while some one made the same remark to me—from Constance Talmadge to the little girl who writes fan letters to the stars.
“Of course you know Dorothy !”
And when I said that I didn’t the speaker would rave on about how ingratiating Dorothy Gish is. Frankly. I didn’t take it very seriously at first. I had an idea that you could get a fair sample of Dorothy’s repartee by going to any vaudeville show, and that she was about as charming as the young women in strip cartoons. I always went to her pictures, but I cherished the notion that her brain was of the jazz-record variety and that she iust couldn’t make her feet behave. I shared the popular idea that comedians were always comedians.
After a while, when all my pet idols continued to speak of her with something akin to awe, I began to feel blue whenever a remark was prefaced with, “Of course you know Dorothy.” I always seemed just to miss meeting her. Of course I did know Dorothy, in a way. I knew the saucy little comedienne I had seen on the screen ; I knew by sight the disdainful flapper who accompanied Constance Talmadge on shopping expeditions ‘ and trips to the hairdresser ; I knew, too, the little girl who shrank from the admiring scrutiny of the crowds at premieres of Lillian’s pictures, and I had often watched the charming irrepressible who never seemed to grow tired of dancing at fashionable hotels and midnight roof shows in New York.
But I didn’t really know Dorothy. And now that I’ve found out that all my preconceived ideas about her were wrong, I feel like taking up a megaphone and shouting to all the world what she really is like. You will get a hint of it when you see her as Louisa in ”The Two Orphans”—but there is more to Dorothy than any picture can tell you.
”Who is that tragic-looking girl over there ?” I asked her sister Lillian one day in the studio.
“Looks like some one I’ve seen somewhere.” It was Dorothy.
Now if you are a genial optimist who would enjoy having a date with Pollyanna, read no farther. For Dorothy Gish is one of the most complete dyed-in-the-wool and warranted-not-to-run pessimists I have ever met. And having given up the world as hopeless, she is irrepressibly funny about it, which makes me suspect that perhaps she’s partly pretending.
The last time I saw her she had just made her debut on the speaking stage ; not a nice, carefully planned debut, but a sort of pinch-hitter one.
The leading woman of “Pot Luck,” which was playing in a New York theater, had fainted at the end of the second act and was unable to go on with the performance, and Dorothy was rushed on to take her place. She knew the part because she had attended every performance—she likes to watch her husband act, and he, you see, was the leading man. She remembered all the business, never missed a cue, and went through the scenes like a veteran. The audience applauded her wildly. And was Dorothy all tremulous with joy, and did she step before the curtain flushing prettily and throw kisses to the tumultuous crowds in the balcony ? She did not ! She looked up the manager of the show and told him heatedly : “For Heaven’s sake get some understudies for the men in this show ; I don’t want to be pushed on the stage some night and find I’m the villain!”
Dorothy joked about it next day, gave a funny imitation of her performance for the benefit of the people at the studio, but she was a little bitter because she had long looked forward to her first appearance on the speaking stage and it was something of a disappointment to have it come off in this sudden way.
“Making comedies is the most terrible and depressing thing in the world,” Dorothy told me one~ afternoon recently. “You’re never satisfied, and you’re always frantically figuring out new business. And scenes like this” — and she looked over to where Lillian and Monte Blue were doing a dramatic scene — “just tear you to bits. What are you going to do?” There was a haunting tenderness in her voice, but she followed it a moment later with a chuckle.
“There’s a sad-looking picture of me from ‘The Two Orphans’ in a magazine with a caption that says something about ‘Dorothy is so used to suffering on the screen ‘ I can’t figure out whether my comedies were really that bad or whether the editor got me confused with Lillian. “I’m really taking an awful chance starting out as a dramatic actress in this part in ‘The Two Orphans.’ I’m a blind girl. You know that a screen actress’ best means of expression is her eyes. Well, they’ve taken those away from me, so I don’t know whether I’m getting anything over or not.” Dorothy seems constantly to be holding a long ruler up to herself and despairing because she doesn’t measure up to the very top of it.
As she grows, the ruler grows. Since she was married a year ago she has grown less pessimistic, for James Rennie, her husband, has the sunniest disposition imaginable, and he can always pull her out of the depths. The best tribute to the success of their marriage that I know of is the perfect epidemic of weddings that has taken place in the Griffith studio ever since they have been up there. But even about Jimmie, Dorothy is sometimes cynical, or do you suppose she was just pretending to be when she said: “We’re happy now, but how can we be sure of the future? Look how many other marriages have crashed. And what worries me is, where could I go if I should want to leave Jimmie? The family is so crazy about him they’d never give him up. Mother and Lillian say they couldn’t get along without him. Constance Talmadge says I could come and stay with her, but she’d probably reserve the right to let Jimmie come and see us once in a while. I don’t blame them, do you?” Dorothy claims that her turn of mind is due to too many Russian novels when she was only about twelve years old. She subsists on the more cheerful diet of George Bernard Shaw now, and can usually be found in a far corner of the studio marveling over his “Back to Methuselah.” She is the most curious combination of highbrow pessimist and impudent comedienne I have ever seen.
If you chew gum and talk slang and love the newest dances, you’ll find a lovable companion in Dorothy. If you try to hide your pessimism under feigned insouciance, you’d find her a good example to follow. And if you are interested in all that is finest in literature and the drama, Dorothy will lead you along undiscovered trails. Oh, well, you’d love Dorothy anyway, no matter who you are.
Picture Play Magazine – November 1921 Vol. XV No.3
Flashing Back to Romance
In which you are taken to see D.W. Griffith’s next huge production, a screen adaptation of “The Two Orphans,” now in the making; and to meet an actor, new to the screen, who is likely to be the sensation of the coming season.
By Malcolm H. Oettinger
TWO gleaming swords flashed in the golden sunlight as two nobles of the court of Louis XVI faced each other, the while courtiers and ladies clustered round in excitement. At the foot of the marble stairway they fenced, parrying and thrusting with fierce intensity, yet consummate grace. At one side a golden-haired country girl, beautiful as any of the towering belles of the court without a suggestion of their artificiality, watched the encounter with hope and anxiety staring from her wide eyes. “We shall see who receives the final rites, M’sieur’ Chevalier !” “Touche!”
A cry of approval goes up from the gayly costumed throng. A sea of white wigs nod in pantomimed conversation. The two nobles, proud in their gay, brocaded coats, their rich, silken breeches, their beribboned stockings, lunge at each other with quickened ardor. Blades clashing, eyes flashing, the men circle swiftly about, never looking anywhere but in each other’s eyes. Again they have started the wary circling, again—and the little Chevalier steps adroitly forward, feints, and with the speed of a tiger runs his glittering sword into his opponent’s breast. A shriek of horror, a general rush toward the swooning victim, a fantastical hubbub.
The slender, panting Chevalier has grasped the gentle blond girl’s hand, and together they dash up the marble steps. “All right, boys,” says a quiet, sonorities voice. “Let’s do it again. After you’ve stuck him, Mr. Schildkraut, I wish you’d remember to wait until he drops his sword before escaping with Miss Gish. He might be fooling you and stab you in the back.” With a soft chuckle D. W. Griffith resumed the camp chair, from which he had arisen to deliver his criticism. An energetic assistant herded the ladies and courtiers back to the side lines, whence they were to rush once the duel started again. The contestants leaned upon their swords and joked with one another. “Let me kill you this time,” suggested the unfortunate victim of fate and the scenario.
After the overwhelming success of ” ‘Way , Down East” it was not surprising that the master of the perpendicular platform should have turned to another tried and tested stage success for his next feature opus. And in turning, it was even less startling that he should have selected “The Two Orphans,” a universally popular romance of the days when knights were bold and women helpless, when feminism was as unheard of as Freudian complexes and Fordian Simplexes, when swords were sharper than words—Shaw had still to be born!—and when, in short, action was more to be desired than epigrams. A period obviously that writes itself dramatically. Of such colorful pattern is “The Two Orphans.” Sentiment, thrills, villainy, romance, and heroism, all are here, woven adeptly, slyly, into a splashy, effective entertainment, luscious meat, if ever there was any, for the movies. And clearly Grififith is relishing his task. In transposing the duel scene to the celluloid, he sat and rocked with chuckles of approbation, his sign, oddly enough, of complete satisfaction. During one of Miss Lillian Gish’s most tragic scenes, later in the day, he laughed happily throughout, a sympathetic laugh.
‘Tis a joy to do a thing that you are almost certain will be popular,” he said with a smile. “It was a joy, of course, to do ‘Blossoms,’ but then the joy faded. Not so with ‘ ‘Way Down East.’ And this, I think, is a story of equal power, and, in addition, considerably greater pictorial appeal.” He pointed silently to the slender, silvered trees with their crystal leaves, to the marble stairway gleaming in the sunlight, to the chaste statuary gracing the greensward here and there. A fountain tinkled softly behind us. Across its plashing surface the triumphant Chevalier was looking soul fully into the eyes of a red-lipped, alabaster- shouldered, blushing extra girl. She was smiling confusedly. “Le Chevalier stays in character,” I suggested. Lillian Gish, sitting beside the director, smiled. Her flowerlike hands fluttered amusedly. “The whole office force is wild about him,” she said. “Extra girls are just human, too. And the telephone operator—the first morning he came I met her dashing up to her office board with her eyes fairly shining. ‘Isn’t he simply—beautiful ?’ she gasped. And I agreed that he is.
I think him about the most beautiful man I have ever seen.” Now the tete-a-tete ” across the fountain seemed to sweep to an end with the Chevalier bending low over the slim hand he held. A kiss, a flourish, and he was rounding the fountain. Then I met the latest of Griffith’s discoveries, in this case a discovery only of the screen, already a footlighted luminary, Joseph Schildkraut. Tragic black eyes, lustrous black hair, a sensitive, aquiline nose, a quivering mouth, and a lithe, straight body of no great height. A firm handclasp, a slight accent, noticeable chiefly because of his carefully precise pronunciation, and an ingenious self-assurance. Ideals, dreams, faith, and a selfconscious trick of suddenly widening eyes to emphasive a point. Foreign to his finger tips; with a dash of Lou Tellegen, a suggestion of Charles the Fifth, a vestige of that auteur that was the youthful Napoleon’s, a tinge of out-and-out showmanship. “I had no idea of doing pictures before Mr. Griffith approached me,” he said, lighting a cigarette and inhaling slowly. “He saw me in ‘Liliom,’ however, and asked me to try camera work, with a view to doing the Chevalier. I knew that it was the director of the world who was speaking, and naturally I consented.
“Doing pictures is far more wearing than acting upon the stage. Consider a moment yourself.” An expressive hand pointed a slender finger toward the platform on which he had been fencing. “I do this fencing scene not once or twice, but perhaps twenty times. Then I do the close-ups. Then I do the retakes. And then I am finished—with this one scene ! On the stage I go to the theater at eight, I act until ten forty-five, and I am through. The waiting, the repetition, the enforced—you call it loafing—is killing to an artist.”
A passing brunette, carrying in her hand a four-foot wig of dazzling vdiite, smiled alluringly. Schildkraut looked at me quickly, then dropped his eyes. “You will pardon me for a moment?” and hurried—rather strode than hurried, for he is a romantic figure, none of whom ever hurry —over to the lingering damosel. I raised an admiring eyebrow as I watched the young man’s technique in approaching and putting—putting, I should add, his lips upon her hand. Then his luminous eyes clashed with hers. Here was no Hollywood tyro in the gentle art, here no hero by Nick Carter out of Universal City; this was Lothario in the studio. Mr. Griffith was directing Morgan Wallace, the villain of the duel, in a series of close-ups. Like Lowell Sherman, Wallace is a bad man with a sense of humor, a wicked lion among the ladies—screenically—with a wicked line among the ladies. Griffith leaned forward in his chair and taunted Wallace, while the camera clicked on.
“Ha, you a fencer ! Voila, a thrust—I will kill you ! And there is another. And another. Bah ! You are poor, friend, very poor.” And Wallace parried and countered at the air, eyes blazing evilly, lips curled sardonically, snarls of laughter crowding out the curses. Suddenly he ceased his gyrations and tossed his sword down.
“What’s the matter, Wallace?” The debonair villain looked surprised. “Didn’t you say ‘Lunch?'” Griffith laughed heartily. “No, sir. I said ‘Lunge !’ Now please lunge!” Fifteen minutes later the command telescoped into the more welcome order to sword work of a different nature, and, prying the romantic Liliom from a new and utterly bewitching creature, I started with him toward the cafeteria that is justly termed a feature of the Griffith entourage. Once seated, and dallying with a tender steak, we again took up the problems of the world, with, happily, no idea of attempting to solve them.
“What do you think of American women?” I asked him. He frowned. “Who cares?” “The public,” I replied.
And,” I added defensively, “I am merely a servant of the press that serves, in turn, the ‘public.” He did not deign to reply. “What are your ideas on love and marriage?” Again he frowned. ‘T does not concern the public whether or not I am a married man or a Mormon, a celibate, or a rounder. It is not their business whether I am middle-aged or old, whether I am stupid or intelligent. I am a public specimen only as an actor, and it is as an actor only that you have a right to consider me. If I am an artist all right. If not, too bad. But what I eat? What I drink? How much I drink? On that I have nothing to say.”
He turned upon his steak savagely. “The public over here is too inquisitive.” This closed the subject, and a moment later found him discussing his European training with Max Reinhardt, with Lubitsch in pictures, and with Pola Negri. “I have worked in all of the best Continental drama,” he said. “Molnar, Wedekind, Shaw, Hauptmann, Wilde. Bahr, Schnitzler ” “You played Anatol?” I interrupted. “Of course. Many times. Schnitzler himself directed our rehearsals. A second Anatol, by the way. A dandy, a beau among the ladies, a philanderer. And who,” he suddenly added, “who that can be is not?” At that precise moment the waitress was gazing at him in undisguised adoration. “Huckleberry pie or apple. Mr. Schildkraut ?” she cooed languishingly.
“Cofifee, Marie,-‘ he replied, and she flew off toward the kitchen with starlit eyes. He had remembered her name!
orphans of the storm – lillian gish is henriette girard
Henrietta (Lillian Gish as Henriette Girard in Orphans of The Storm)
Alfred Cheney Johnston – Lillian Gish (Henriette Girard)
“No, I have no desire to star,” he admitted after a number of leading questions. “After coming over here from my European success, I did ‘Pagans,’ which, although a failure, brought me wonderful press notices. Belasco, Hopkins, and the Shuberts all offered immediately to star me, but it was the combination of having done ‘Liliom’ already in Vienna, and the Theater Guild —the most artistic producing group in America—that induced me to do ‘Liliom’ here. I have absolutely no wish to see my name in electrics. That means nothing to an artist.”
Since Schildkraut is to be so prominent in this next Griffith opus, I may tell you that he was born in Bucharest, Roumania, twenty-five years ago, and first appeared, at five, in Buenos Aires, in support of his father, Rudolph Schildkraut, famous actor of New York’s old Irving Place Theater. His father, incidentally, is his severest critic. Recently the old gentleman visited his son at Mamaroneck, and after watching him act proceeded to the main building on the old Flagler estate to see some “rushes” of the previous day’s work. Only father and son saw the projected film. They remained closeted in the projection room for a long hour. When they came out all traces of cockiness had fled from the youthful Joseph’s face. Traces of tears were apparent. “Papa says I’m rotten,” he murmured sadly. But in this case I would not “Ask dad.” The Griffith stamp of approval is reassuring.
While we lunched, I spied Morgan Wallace and the good-looking Creighton Hale at a near-by table, with two charming young things whom I later found were cousins of the Gish sisters, getting their first chance to be movie queens in this huge spectacle play. The one cousin, a striking pippin, with dark hair and chiseled profile, confided to me that extra-girling il: was hard on one’s brogans. “We stand about so much,” she said. “But I’m going to stick to Mr. Griffith any time he will give me the chance. And I’ll have to finish high school first, too. Tell the world it’s wonderful, but awfully hard work.” She looked like a Gainsborough painting come to life, the costume having been an inspiration of the encouraging, sympathetic Lillian’s. I asked Lillian herself what chances she thought the beginner had. She thought for a few moments, then spoke haltingly, gently.
“The beginner has a hard road to travel,” she said slowly. “I told the girls what a task it was to be an extra. I warned them. Now if they are anxious to stay in the pictures, I think they should turn out fairly well. They are eager to succeed surely. And that, coupled with beauty and grace, helps tremendously.” Recalling the flood of letters that I had seen in Picture-Play last month electing her one of the Eight Eye Fillers, I mentioned the fact to her.
Dropping her eyes, she smiled in embarrassment. “I never knew that I was a beauty. But it is wonderful to be appreciated. I don’t think any one realizes how I love the letters sent me. They mean so very much—especially now.” Her voice softened.
“Mother is in the hospital. Dorothy and I have been terribly worried about her, and these sweet letters and tokens of admiration have just kept me buoyed up sometimes when everything was bluest.” Sweet, ethereal, dainty, this emotional prima donna is lilylike, fragrant, slender, retiring, graceful—-a far cry from many of the screen heroines who become varnished disappointments off the screen. Her dreamy eyes, her tiny, round mouth, her clear white skin, all are symbolic of the girl herself—girl, I add, rather than woman, though in experience she is indeed no longer young. As we were chatting, Mr. Griffith strolled over to explain the action of the impending scene to the blond Duse.
“And I wish you would disarrange your hair, Miss Gish,” concluded the gelatin genius, after the details had been covered. With a smile, the Annie Moore of the unforgettable ” ‘Way Down East” left us.
“This is the thing that the whole world loves,” said the creator of “The Birth,” as he calls it. “Romance! Excitement, thrills, love, and climaxes—not one, but many. When I make a picture I am making it for the world, not for myself. If I were making pictures for myself there would be more ‘Blossoms’ and fewer ‘Dream Streets,’ but”—gradually a smile appeared—”my business sense, poor though it is, tells me that ‘Dream Street’ is adjacent to Easy Street.
“I must attune my work to the masses as well as the classes. The man in the street must be fascinated just as much as the Wall Street broker and the Greenwich Village highbrow, so-called. And in ‘The Orphans’ I believe I have the universal story, with its romance, its comedy, its thrills, its heart interest, and, do not forget, far more opportunity for spreading beautiful sets than ever I have had before. Do you think that I will fail to take advantage of the opportunity?”
Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish – departing to Paris – Orphans of the Storm
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in “Orphans of the Storm” (1921)
Twinkle, twinkle, little star : Lillian and Dorothy Gish (Orphans)
Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish – Orphans – Vanity Fair November 1921
Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish Henriette and Louise (Orphans of The Storm)
Dorothy Gish jumped from comedy to tragedy in this f eatvire, portraying the highly sympathetic character of the little blind girl. Creighton Hale will have the comedy moments, and, as we have already indicated, the fight for the final fade-out rests between Morgan Wallace and the talented, exotic Schildkraut. That reminds me that he told me Romeo will be his next role with the Theater Guild, opposite his present speaking-stage inamorata, Eva le Gallienne, an actress of no slight power. “What I want to do,” said Schildkraut, just before I entrained for the lights of Manhattan and a ringside seat at the Follies, “what I should love to do is Ibsen. He is the master mechanic, the complete playwright. He is so easy to do, you see, and yet one receives such extraordinary credit for doing him. Then there is always Schnitzler. And several of the English Maugham’s plays are masterly. It is my intention to stay here in America, dividing my time between the stage and screen—under the direction of the Guild in the one instance, and, of course, Mr. Griffith in the silent drama.”
Orphans of the Storm – Lillian Gish and Monte Blue
Orphans of the Storm – the trial
Orphans of the Storm
Orphans of the Storm – Jacques Forget Not and Henriette
Orphans of the Storm – Filming team on the set
On the way to the studio bus, Mr. Griffith showed me the village street in old France—Mamaroneck—complete in detail to the last cobblestone. Many of the mob scenes will be staged here, those spectacular mass effects that have placed D. W. second to none the world over. He told me that Lillian Gish was far and away the premiere actress of the silver sheet, that photography he considered second only to story, that “The Two Orphans” would take longer to make than anything he has ever done—with the possible exception of “Intolerance”—and, startling statement this, that any one can act who is not an “actor.” “Give me a plastic person who will let himself go, without thinking what he is going to look like on the screen, and I will make a real player of him. The hardest person to work with is the self-opinionated trouper with ‘ideas’ on everything from the death scene in ‘Camille’ to the off-stage shriek in ‘The Jest.’ One of the saddest losses the screen ever suffered was Clarine Seymour. Another was Bobbie Harron. Neither knew anything technical of stagecraft. They were simply born actors. And so few people are! “The born actor needs no stimulation—no music, for example. We use it very rarely. It serves only to confuse in most instances. In doing a romance like ‘The Orphans’ there’s something akin to a lyrical swing running through the whole thing—abroad, tender, appealing.” And if I were picking an artist to breathe reality into the romance of eighteenth-century France, I should not hesitate in my selection of this same David Wark Griffith. The man is as big as his ideals. There was an enthusiasm in his voice and manner that argued well, it seemed to me, for the success of the picture, and I was told, confidentially, by one of his aids that Griffith has appeared to be much happier in the making of this picture than he has for some time. All of which has made me eager and impatient to see the finished production—a feeling which I am sure that countless thousands of Griffith’s followers will soon be sharing.
Back to Romance – Picture-Play Magazine (Nov 1921)
Back to Romance – Picture-Play Magazine 2 (Nov 1921)
Back to Romance – Picture-Play Magazine 3 (Nov 1921)
Back to Romance – Picture-Play Magazine 4 (Nov 1921)
Back to Romance – Picture-Play Magazine 5 (Nov 1921)
It would be a surprise, wouldn’t it, if you asked for “Diana Ward” at a hotel desk and had Lillian Gish, in person, answer the summons? In one of those shy, retiring moods characteristic of her, Miss Gish came to New York incognito—under the above name—for a change of atmosphere just before she essayed the role of Pauli in the film version of Channing Pollock’s stirring stage play, “The Enemy.”
circa 1924: Lillian Diana Gish, originally Lillian de Guiche (1893 – 1993). She played a lot of waif type heroines during her silent film career but never quite made the successful transition to talking pictures.
Lillian Gish , The Enemy, 1927
Lillian Gish starring in “The Enemy” Promotional
Lillian Gish and Ralph Forbes in “The Enemy” (MGM, 1927)
A demure little figure in her black furs and conservative toque, she might have passed for any of a dozen inconspicuous Miss Wards had it not been for her large solemn eyes and delicately modeled hands. Miss Gish, the mature young woman of to-day, is a well-poised, well-balanced being, with a becoming dignity and reserve found only in combination with intelligence, sureness and a sense of the fitness of things.
In contrast with the earthy Jack Gilbert, Miss Gish tells you that her one aim in molding a characterization is But let her tell it in her own words.
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter – Vanity Fair Magazine August 1926
Hester Prynne – Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter
“When I am looking for material for myself, there is one desire uppermost. I want a story that has in it at least one or two moments of great beauty. I wanted ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ for example, because of that beautiful love scene played over the heads of the people.” The Reverend Dimmesdale, if you remember, and Hester Prynne, so exquisitely portrayed by Miss Gish, pour out their souls to each other on the scaffolding in the square before crowds of derisive Puritans.
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
“And ‘The White Sister’ appealed to me because of the spiritual beauty of the ceremonial when the young nun takes her vow. And in ‘La Boheme’ I hoped we would capture for a little the elusive beauty to be found in the Puccini opera.”
Lillian Gish Close Up – Mimi in La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Jeanne d’Arc is a character whom Miss Gish hopes some day to portray, when the time, the gods, and the powers that be are propitious. “But my Jeanne must be perfect,” she said. “I have read hundreds of books about her. I know her from the conceptions of dozens of different authors and commentators. To me she is a most delicate girl with amazing faith and perception. You know, she pleaded her own breach-of-promise suit, and that takes brains and stamina. And much as I love and admire Jeanne, I shall never play her until the picture can be made in France and a year can be spent in its preparation. Jeanne’s whole life was beautiful in its faith, and we must present it perfectly or leave it undone.”
Miss Gish feels that the outdoor sports of the day are bound to produce an unfavorable result for films. “For,” she. said, “how can the movies compete with the great out-of-doors, once people learn to appreciate and love the open air? It is all an evidence of the vitality of America that, throughout the country, every one is determined these days to get into knickerbockers and tweeds and romp about playing games. I am afraid the movie theaters will suffer terribly by comparison.” A few days, stolen from her mother’s bedside, were all Miss Gish could spare to spend in the great seething metropolis of the East. But Mrs. Gish, she reported, was recovering slowly from the stroke which had laid her low, and the Gish girls, who are devoted to their mother, feel they have every reason to rejoice. “Dorothy calls England ‘home’ now,” said Lillian, “but we intend to win her back.”
Picture Play Magazine – November 1920 Vol. XIII No.3
My Friend, Lillian Gish
The screen really tells you almost nothing about her
By Louise Williams
IT’S queer, the ideas you get about stars, isn’t it? Some of them fit right in with your daily life perfectly ; it’s easy to imagine yourself going to the movies with Constance Talmadge and strolling down to the corner drug store for a soda afterward, or being asked to a bridge party at Anita Stewart’s, or driving off somewhere for a picnic with Corinne Griffith. And then, again, there are others that haven’t any point of contact with your own affairs at all ; you see them on the screen, like them, and that’s about all there is to it. Lillian Gish used to be one of those people to me. I couldn’t imagine myself knowing her. I cried over her in “Hearts of the World” and “Broken Blossoms,” and privately considered her just about as human and knowable as the Dresden china figure on my mantelpiece. Then, one day, in a hotel lobby, Richard Barthelmess said quite suddenly :
“There’s Lillian Gish ; let’s go over and say hello to her.”
“No, I don’t want to,” I retorted, sinking farther down into my chair. “I’m afraid I might not like her.” A bombardment promptly began. Had I ever seen her off the screen ? No. Ever met any of her friends? No. Why didn’t I want to meet her? Well, she seemed so ethereal, so fragile, so out of the world, somehow. If he didn’t mind, I’d rather not even turn around and look at her. But he did mind—and two seconds later I was being introduced to a slender girl with a little black hat drawn close over her light hair, and a black tulle scarf drawn up close around her throat, and she was clasping my hand warmly and saying:
“I don’t see just why you should want to meet me—but I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” I had a guilty feeling at that; I’ve told her about it since. For you see, she’s one of my best friends now, though I don’t believe she knows it. Lillian Gish is one of those people whose personality makes for her a wide highway to your very heart. She’s frank and unassuming, except about her sister Dorothy, for whom she claims the world and the fullness thereof. You don’t feel like going around gushing fatuously about her—but you just like her so well that you feel as if you’d known her forever and ever. The people who compare her to lilies in the moonlight and violin music in a garden at dusk and all that sort of thing are perfectly right ; she does suggest things like that. She has great, deep-blue eyes, and a wistful mouth, capable of the most heart-breaking smile, as the fans know all too well. But she has a sense of humor that carries her through even when the cellar of her house is flooded, in midwinter, and the floor of the garage gives way and lets her car into the abyss beneath. And when there’s something practical to be attended to she’s no more the sweet, girly-girly type of person than is her own sister Dorothy.
For she’s one of the most practical people I know. The theory that if you have lots of money you must spend it like a South American millionaire, which governs so many actresses, has no part in her scheme of things. When I discovered that she planned the spending of her income as carefully as I do that of my allowance I was rather startled. One of the Talmadges had phoned her, and that led to a discussion of the gorgeous clothes which they wear. Mrs. Gish suggested that Lillian find out where Norma had bought the frock she’d worn the evening before.
“Oh, mother, I did—and I never could afford to go there !” Lillian exclaimed, aghast at the mere thought of such a thing. And since then I’ve learned that she never rushes out and just spends for the joy of spending; that she orders the use of her money just as wisely as she does that of everything else. The last time I saw her was just as she was beginning work at the head of her own company. She might have been a young man just going into business for himself, opening a garage or a plumbing hop or a lawyer’s office, from the way she talked. Her years in the motion-picture business have not been spent with her eyes shut; she knows just how a picture’s market value affects the production end, the things you’ve got to consider when you buy a scenario, and why not even an artistically unhappy ending is as successful as an out-and-out happy one.
“There’s no telling how this new venture of mine is going to turn out,” she told me that day. “Maybe I’ll be back in Mr. Griffith’s company at the end of my two-years’ contract with the Frohman Company, that’s starring me. Well, we all have to find out some time whether we’re the kind of people who can stand alone or the kind who must lean on someone else.
“I’m going to do some rather tragic roles, I think.” she went on. “Of course, it’s the people in the little country towns whom I must please ; they are the ones who are really responsible for the success of a picture. Having New York like us is flattering—but I’d rather be popular in Camden, Maine, than on Broadway.” Which, while its’ a wise choice, isn’t really a necessary one, in my opinion ; from what I know of Lillian I’d wager that both Broadway and Camden will be at her feet when she makes her stellar debut.
THEY’VE been pals “forever and ever,” according to Dorothy Gish—she and Lillian and Mary Pickford and Mildred Harris Chaplin. And the day before Lillian left Los Angeles for the East there was a tea party on the Gish lawn, a sort of love feast.
Years ago, when they were all just little girls, Lillian Gish had to give up a part with a road company because her mother could not go along. That part fell to Mary Pickford, whose mother could go. And before the company started off, Lillian and Dorothy and Mary had become friends. They kept in close touch with each other from that time on.
After awhile Mary Pickford joined the Griffith forces in pictures at the old Biograph Studio in New York. One day Lillian and Dorothy returned from a trip. “Oh, girls !” said Mary, “I am working in pictures. You have never seen moving pictures made, so come on over to the studio with me, and watch them work.” Off they went!
“Hello, Mary,” said D. W. G. “Who’s this with you?”
“Oh, they’re just Lillian and Dorothy—they never saw pictures made, so I brought them along !”
“Well—do they want to work in pictures ?”
“Sure they do !”
“All right—tell them to begin next week !”
And they started in at the fabulous sum of ten dollars a week!
“Do you remember, Lillian,” said Mary over the teacups, “those little twins next door, who used to slip up and poke you with their fingers, to see if you were alive? They always thought you were a doll!”
“Yes—and do you remember when Mildred first came to the studio here how little she seemed, and how we used to take care of her, Dorothy?”
“Oh, yes, Lillian”—it was Mildred Harris talking—”you know I always did just worship you! I used totag around after you and watch every thing you did!”
“Well, we had great times saving our pennies for birthday gifts !” Dorothy exclaimed. “Do you remember when we were little things, Mary—once your mother said Lillian was just too lovely to live ! She said she was afraid an angel would come and take her up to Heaven ”
“Oh, my!” laughed Mary Pickford, “and then they noticed that whenever Lillian and I were left alone I always got away from her as fast as I could ! I was afraid the angel would come for her when I was there, and take me, too!”
“Mildred has an anniversary next week! Why, what a shame I’ll be gone,” sighed Lillian. “But I’ll be thinking about you, anyway. Aren’t we the lucky girls, all of us—all four of us. It seems most too good to be true—after all the years and years we worked together !”
“That’s all right, don’t forget that you worked and you didn’t get more than you deserved—you and Mary, anyway,” Dorothy laughed, and caught Mildred gaily by the hand. “Come on, let’s see if there isn’t some chocolate ice cream !”
Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Mary Pickford
Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish
Like all creative artists who venture away from the beaten tracks, D. W. Griffith is impelled and guided by a big force—a force which he himself, perhaps, does not understand.
By Louise Williams
INCENSE floated out from the stage, while the notes of a balalaika orchestra threaded a plaintive melody back and forth through the fabric that was being woven in the mind of the audience. Far back in a corner of one of the upper boxes sat D. W. Griffith, hat drawn down over his eyes, chin sunk deep in his overcoat collar, watching unobtrusively to see how New York would take “Broken Blossoms,” the result of his last straying from the beaten paths of picture making, and the first picture of his repertoire series. “I wonder,” thought I as I watched him, “whether you really knew, when you began this picture, what you were going to achieve—or whether you’re a marionette ?” For the big, creative geniuses, you know, are often like marionettes, obeying the guiding hands of invisible puppeteers, which pull the strings that make them perform. Ibsen, for example, said that his great allegory, “Peer Gynt,” was written in response to a mighty impulse, and that not until the work had been completed for several months did he understand and appreciate w hat he had done.
That Griffith was, after this manner, a marionette,” mysteriously impelled, I learned to my intense satisfaction a few morning’s later, when he invited a small group to attend a special showing of the new picture. The party was composed of Nevinson, the official British War artist, who was in the States for two weeks, and who had illustrated Burke’s “Limehouse Nights,” an art critic, a musician and dramatic critic, and myself.
“We didn’t have any idea that this picture would take hold in the way it has,” Griffith remarked with the most unassuming frankness as we stood, discussing the picture, after the showing was over. “It was originally intended to be just a regular picture, so far as presentation was concerned. But something impelled ne—the story, in the first place. I believed in it. Personally, I think that Thomas Burke is about the only writer doing anything original nowadays, and his ‘Chink and the Child,’ from which we made this picture, has a big message, which ought to do much toward internationalizing human sympathy. Of course, we broke all the rules when we did this story ; it has a yellow man for a hero, instead of a white one ; it’s tragedy throughout ; there are no quick, snappy bits ; the story moves very slowly. But I believe that it shows convincingly that we’re wrong when we labor under the delusions that Americans are superior to those they call ‘foreigners.’ No nation can-do that—just as no nation can afford to think that it represents all the beauty and heroism and ideals in the world.” As he talked on I began to see how the strings that moved him have been pulled in other cases. Take “The Birth of a Nation,” for instance ; the idea of making an enormous, spectacular production held him there.
“Intolerance” was the most vivid sort of pageantry, with a besetting sin of all nations linking the ages together. “Hearts of the World” was inspired by the idea of making a war picture on the battlefields. “True Heart Susie” dares to be commonplace, despite the fact that to see dramatic possibilities in everyday life is a difficult thing for most of us. Yet Griffith does not look like the sort of man whose life is swayed by big ideas, or, perhaps, not like we’d expect such a man to look. He is as little of a poseur as any hardware merchant. Genuinely interested in making motion pictures that will more nearly approach the highest standards than those which we now have, he is ever ready to accept suggestions, perfectly straightforward in acknowledging his own shortcomings, and quite willing to laugh at himself. Rather English in appearance, and very friendly in manner, he seemed to me to be just the material that something tremendous worked with—just a marionette.
“I don’t know exactly what to say,” he remonstrated when asked how he succeeded in teaching an actor to “put over” a character as vividly as those in “Broken Blossoms” are portrayed. “Of course I know Chinamen and have lived among them; I tried to put what I know of them into that picture. “But you must remember that the camera can’t lie; it seems to bore through superficial features and pull the character to the surface. So an actor must have in him some of the essentials of the character he’s portraying, and my part in helping an actor to play a role is just to give him the idea of it. Then he works out the part as he sees it, and I talk it over with him and help him to get his idea expressed—to crystallize it, you might say. Of course we build up a picture—this was especially true of ‘Broken Blossoms’—not word by word, but emotion by emotion.
And an actor must have faith in his ability to build up a role in this way, and in his director’s ability to help him, if we’re going to make really good pictures.” He said nothing of the faith which it takes to produce a picture that fairly tempts Fate in its defiance of the usual standards or to put through a brand-new idea, such as that of the repertoire theater for motion pictures. “Broken Blossoms” last May began Mr. Griffith’s repertoire season at the Cohan Theater in New York; followed by the Babylonian episode from “Intolerance,” it includes “The Mother of the Law,” a drama of simple home life, which might be classed with “True Heart Susie,” and revivals of some other former Griffith successes. That was the program at this writing. It marks a new departure in motion pictures, though only after the season is over can one say whether it will be a successful one or not, but those who read as they run declare that its existence is just another of the signboards which Mr. Griffith follows when he turns aside from the beaten path. Curiosity as to how he helped those who work with him to create a role in this way led me straight to Lillian Gish; I wanted to see if she, too, caught the big ideas that govern her director.
“Why, I don’t know; ‘Broken Blossoms’ was such an easy picture to do,” she said in answer to my question, after we’d visited a bit. “Mr. Griffith always talks over a character with you, of course, and then when you are making the scene he stands by and sort of fills it in; tells you what’s going on. For instance, in that scene where I was locked in the closet and my father was trying to break down the door and kill me—it wouldn’t have done for me to remember that Mr. Crisp, who played the part of my father, had finished his scenes and gone fishing, would it?” She stopped to laugh a moment, and I wished the screen could show how blue her eyes are and how yellow her hair is. “So Mr. Griffith stood there by the camera, and said: ‘He’s going to kill you ; he’ll surely break down the door; now he’s got an ax, and he’ll break in and you can’t escape—and he’ll kill you with that whip he’s beaten you with——’ Not exactly those words, of course, but things like that that would fill in the mental picture for me.”
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms – The Closet Scene
And looking at that slim, pretty girl, with her childish mouth that shows a hint of the roguishness that makes her sister Dorothy such a charming comedienne, I wondered more than ever how she had been able to portray Lucy’s dull little mind and the great, tearing fear that fairly leaped out from the screen and caught the audience in its grasp.
“You see,” she went on after a moment’s thought, “it’s getting the idea of a part that helps most—if you have that well in your head it moves everything you do. I knew Lucy so well after reading Burke’s story that it didn’t seem as if I myself did anything at all. Mr. Griffith gave me the main ideas for my work, and then—well, I just went ahead.” So apparently his idea had been pulling the strings that moved Lillian Gish as well. And Richard Barthelmess, who plays the Chinaman, quite frankly admitted that something—he didn’t exactly know what—had governed his playing of Cheng Huan.
“I didn’t really know whether I was being Chinese or just being different,” he told me with a worried look in his brown eyes. “You see, somebody else had been rehearsing that part, and then one day Mr. Griffith said he’d like to see me do it, so I did, and he cast me for it. But I’d just been doing light-comedy roles with Dorothy Gish, you know, and of course this was so different that—but then Mr. Griffith emphasizes character a lot, you know, more than anything else. And he gave me the idea of that role so clearly that it wasn’t at all hard to do.”
There you are again. Mr. Griffith gave him the idea, and it was the idea behind the work of Griffith himself that made the picture. So that last little talk seemed to complete the circle of marionettes—with the big conception of new things for the screen, which always, in one form or another, sways Griffith as the power that sets them all in motion.
Picture Play Magazine Volume XXII July, 1925 No. 5
An Illustrious Sister Act
An appraisal of the art of Lillian Gish, who is about to begin a new phase of her long career, with a few words about her sister Dorothy.
By Malcolm H. Oettinger
IF you or some other curious person were to stop me some summer morning and ask point blank: “Who is the best actress unrolling her talents on celluloid?” I- should, -without quibbling, cast my two or three votes—for such is the system in Pennsylvania — in favor of Lillian Gish. When serious thinkers and cynical souls of all sexes begin to crown the baby art with wild raspberries it is always possible to exact a temporary reprieve for the films by mentioning Lillian Gish. Such reluctant optimists as George Jean Nathan and Joseph Hergesheimer have dedicated psalms to Lillian; aloof fellows, they have abandoned their usual frapped poise to compose veritable paeans of praise in her honor. No one can doubt the sincerity of these testimonials; no one can question the worthiness of the recipient.
Her work in “Broken Blossoms” alone is sufficient evidence. Those who refuse to consider one count as final are referred to “The White Sister,” in which the Gish sincerity made one forget the glucose sentimentality: “Way Down East,” in which her poignant characterization gleamed like a diamond in a popcorn ball; “The Birth of a Nation,” in which Griffith blended her gifts with a moving symphony of tremendous power.
Lillian Gish could wring my heart even if she played Little Eva or Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model; she has the steadily glowing spark of genius. Her great performances are not occasional, they are consistent. Nor is hers an art that must, like virtue, be, to some extent, its own reward. Unfortunate contractual agreements have handicapped her, but that her box-office value has remained intact was shown by the line-up of producers who, glowering at each other, stormed the lobby of her hotel upon the recent announcement that a Federal judge had declared her free from all claims of her late impresario, and open to new offers. As you probably know, she decided, after weighing all offers, to sign with Metro-Goldwyn.
Ordinarily it is simple to write of the ladies of the screen. They are bound to be beautiful, in varying degree ; they are likely to be engaging, if only as a concession to their great public ; occasionally they turn out to be clever. Writing of Lillian Gish is more difficult. Standing head and shoulders above her sister players, she is to be pointed out as the one artiste of the silver so-called sheet. Nazimova was mentioned in the same breath until she began to look upon picture making as a Ford owner looks upon a one-man top. Now it is Lillian Gish alone. (The Negri of “Passion” flashed across the horizon and disappeared, never, apparently, to return.
The rest of the ladies—Swanson, Pickford, Talmadge—hold no claim to greatness save as tremendously popular favorites.) There is no hocus pocus to encounter and overcome before gaining an audience with Lillian Gish. Granted a reasonably good phone connection, a taxi, and an elevator, and you stand at her door without further ado. And very likely she will open it.
She is delicately beautiful, with haunting eyes set far apart, dainty nose verging on the retrousse, and lips that a more pyrotechnical phrasemaker would term rosebud. They are small and curved and shy. But in describing her you are certain to come back to her eyes—soulful, wistful, fine eyes that seem to say, “I am a little disillusioned, a little weary, a trifle sad, but tomorrow may be brighter.” Her manner is reserved, almost timid. Her poise extends to the point of placidity. She is balanced and calm and thoughtful In her opinions. Her conversation further reveals her underlying tolerance regarding all things. When we discussed the theater—and she had seen everything from “The Miracle” to “Abie’s Irish Rose”—she was kindly in her judgments, speaking well of most plays and performers, maintaining a significant silence to indicate disapproval. “How fine it would be,” she remarked, “if the Theater Guild were to create a sister organization that would function through motion pictures ! The Guild has done so many splendid things. The screen could well afford such a group of artistic producers.” She spoke of the cruel necessity for condensing pictures to meet standard theater requirements. “After we’ve put months and months into the planning and making and careful cutting of a picture play,” she said, “it hurts terribly to see it slashed mercilessly until it is inside the two-hour limit. Jumps appear, continuity ceases … what have you? … I always feel a personal loss when a scene is hacked away, a scene that may have represented days of careful work. . . . Yet I realize the practical necessity for reducing a feature picture to regular running time.” She sighed, and a helpless little frown appeared. “That is. where we are so handicapped.
We must always bow to practical demands. The sculptor does not. The author does not. No one dictates to the poet or the sincere playwright. Yet the artist working in the medium of films is permanently hobbled by certain restrictions and fetishes and unwritten laws.” When she talks it is quietly, briefly. The quotations you are reading did not flow forth. They are a series of observations gathered, assorted, and bound together. I had seen Lillian Gish at Mamaroneck in 1921 when she was engaged in making “Orphans of the Storm.” Seeing her again reminded me how little she had changed. To my notion, the remarkable thing is her utter lack of affectation, her absolute sincerity, her genuine simplicity and naturalness. After all, when you pause to consider that here is the great actress of the screen, worthy of being ranked among the great stage figures of her time, the absence of pomp and importance is a bit amazing. She has nothing of that charming artificiality or artificial charm, if you will, characteristic of so many actresses. She has charm alone. Midway during my visit Dorothy Gish joined us. Were one to search the seven seas one could find no contrast more complete than the sisters Gish. Together they form the last word in opposite temperaments. Dorothy Gish is the modernist, fresh from shopping on Fifth Avenue, luncheon at Pierre’s, and Dorothy Gish is the the latest in shingles ; Lillian – is the classic-modernist, impetuos, observant, thoughtful, reserved. Dorothy is impetuous, fleeting, impulsive, flip; Lillian pensive, deliberate, calculating”, practical.
The little disturber is typical of the young American; Lillian, Old World, aristocratic. Dorothy spoke glowingly of the Duncan sisters, “The Firebrand,” Heifetz, Nurmi, Robert Edmond Jones, and the weather ; Lillian listened, smiling. (“I’ve seen ‘Rain’ nine times,” Dorothy exclaimed. “Whenever it comes near New York I see it over and over. Jeanne Eagles, grows better every time I see her. She’s marvelous, wonderful, superb!”) Dorothy is an opportunist, reckless perhaps, but gay, and ever on the go.
Lillian is the planner, cautious, even reluctant in taking decisive steps. Well she may be. From a purely commercial viewpoint hers has been a heart-breaking career. Time after time fortune has hovered above her head, only to fade into thin air before becoming a reality. Griffith never was able to pay huge salaries because of the reckless manner in which he mounts his pictures and the leisure with which he completes them. The Frohman Corporation signed her as a high-salaried star, then promptly dissolved. And latterly Inspiration Films had proven inspired only in so far as acting has been concerned. Both Dick Barthelmess and Henry King had legal difficulties over the trying matter of remuneration, and then Miss Gish was obliged to resort to courts for adjustment of her affairs with them. Her last picture with Inspiration was “Romola,” in which Dorothy shares honors.
“We spent six months in Italy on ‘Romola,’ ” said Lillian. “We were completely absorbed in it. A beautiful story. I had always had my heart set upon doing it. “We worked night and day. While light permitted we would And locations and take exteriors. At night at the hotel we would rewrite the script, adjusting it in many instances to local conditions.” The fact that Lillian Gish has directed pictures and is fully conversant with the technical side of the studio increased her cares tenfold. There were huge dynamos to he imported from Rome, trucks to be located, currents to be converted, licenses to be obtained.
“There were a hundred and one difficulties to overcome.” Her slender white hands fluttered in a descriptive gesture. “The places for backgrounds that were in reach of lighting equipment. Extras. Dependable technical assistants. The authorities were most kind, but there were so many obstacles.
“I loved Florence, though,” said Dorothy. “So did Ronald Colman and Henry King.” “We saw them in Hollywood recently,” Lillian interposed. “We went out for the opening of ‘Romola.’ They said they wanted more Florence and less Hollywood. . . . How that little town has changed. I hadn’t seen it for years and years. . . . Since ‘Intolerance.’ It was a nice little country town then. Make-shift. Delightful. Now it’s … it’s so grown-up !” Dorothy was reminded of Michael Aden,, a favorite of the moment. Lillian expressed her admiration for the new Burke autobiography, “The Wind and the Rain.” Both of the blond sisters had enjoyed Milne’s inimitable “When We Were Very Young.” They were curious regarding the Sinclair Lewis novel, “Arrowsmith.”
Although you would never learn such things from Lillian herself, it is true that she- has made tremendous sacrifices for her various successes. In “Way Down East” she played in a raging blizzard until she collapsed before the camera. Her hands were frozen. During the making of “Broken Blossoms” she lost thirteen pounds in ten days as a result of the high emotional tension under which she was laboring. For “The White Sister” she worked night and day all of the final week to complete it on time. Despite all this she looks youthful and fresh, twenty-five perhaps, pink and white, ethereal. There is nothing of the theater about her even though she has devoted something over fifteen years to stage and screen.
“The trying part of picture making,!’ she confessed gently, “is the combining art and business. You are expected to create just as one creates a painting or a symphony, yet you must submit to efficiency men, time clocks, schedules, and manufacturers’ methods. It strikes me as incongruous. . . . Yet I can see perfectly why it is so. But until things undergo a distinct change it will remain an herculean task to lift pictures above the machine-like standards of “program features.'” By the time these lines appear, Lillian Gish should he in Los Angeles, at work on “The Outsider.” But wherever her present—and I trust, more gratifying—contract may take her, Lillian Gish still will remain the great actress of the screen.
Lillian Gish – Vanity Fair April 1925 detail
Lillian Gish Master for Way Down East cover, here in ROMOLA (photo 1925) detail
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotional
“Romola” came to New York about the same time that “Greed” opened. It is Lillian Gish’s latest picture but it is Miss Gish’s picture in name only. The movies are a foolish business and “Romola” proves it. Here we have a girl who is rightly considered one of the greatest actresses on the screen. Instead of choosing a story that gives her an opportunity for all of us to enjoy her great gifts, her advisers drag out a slice of insomnia by George Eliot which gives Miss Gish nothing to do but dress in a fifteenth century Florentine gown and lug great big heavy books around a handsome set. It seems plain foolishness to me and all the more incredible because it must have been consummated with the consent of Miss Gish herself.
As George Jean Nathan has told the world, Miss Gish is hot stuff at suggesting emotions rather than acting them out. The trouble with “Romola” is that she has no emotions to suggest. She has a few scenes of great acting but most of these scenes are done without the aid of any close-ups. It is great art but it is awfully rough on literal-minded audiences. They feel cheated, baffled, and enraged. “Romola” is the story of a girl of a noble Florentine house who is married by her father to a handsome young adventurer who has wormed his way into the blind man’s affections. The father dies and the husband becomes involved in Florentine politics, which were as shady then as they are now. The girl is neglected and the husband sets up a left-hand household with a pretty little half-wit.
The little half-wit is played by Dorothy Gish, who gives a performance that is sometimes excellent and occasionally perfectly trite. The main glory of the acting goes to William Powell, who has the only real part in the picture. Mr. Powell plays the role of the unscrupulous scoundrel but he plays it so lightly, so easily, and so zestfully that he runs away with all your interest and most of your sympathy. Ronald Colman is the hero who has nothing to do but sit in a corner and wait for Fate to kill off the villain. Mr. Colman grew a lovely head of bobbed hair for the part, while Mr. Powell wears a very obvious wig.
Nevertheless, Mr. Colman doesn’t even ‘get a chance to wave his hair in the breezes, so Mr. Powell romps off with the glory, wig or no wig. The direction by Henry King has moments of being great but the story is clumsily told and the characters rather muddled. However, much of this can be blamed on the difficulties of making pictures in Italy and on the hash that was wrought in this country when the right place.