Dorothy Gish, Actress, Is Dead
In Theater and Films 50 Years
Starred With Sister, Lillian, in Griffith Silent Classics — Many Broadway Roles
The New York Times – June 6, 1968
RAPALLO. Italy, June 5 (AP)
-Dorothy Gish, one of the two sisters. who entertained motion picture audiences and theatergoers for more than a half-century, died here last night. She was 70 years old. Her sister, Lillian, who has been making a movie in Rome, was at her bedside. Dorothy had been in a clinic here for nearly two years. She died of bronchial pneumonia. The United States consulate in Genoa said that Miss Gish’s body would be cremated and that the ashes would be returned to the United States.
Extra in Films in 1912
Although Dorothy and Lillian often worked together and had careers that were in many ways parallel, they were not a team. In the highly competitive world of acting, they remained a harmonious pair of sisters who admired each other.
The Gish sisters reached the peak of popularity during the silent screen days, but Dorothy was only 4 and Lillian 6 when they went on stage professionally.
They started in movies in 1912 under the wing of D.W. Griffith, the grandmaster of silent-screen films. They got their job through Mary Pickford, a friend whom they only knew by her real name, Gladys Smith, when they sought her out at Griffith’s Biograph Company at 11 East 14th Street in New York. They had seen Gladys in a movie and thought they would like to try the new medium.
Griffith started them as extras. In order to ten them apart at first, he had Lillian wear a blue ribbon and Dorothy, then 14, a red one. He was so impressed with their talents that he took them to California, for his customary West Coast fall season at $50 a week, a sound wage for those silent days.
‘Familiar With Tempo’
“Mr. Griffith spent months in rehearsing his players and plots before a camera turned,” Dorothy recalled years later.
“By the time a photoplay went into actual production, an actor was thoroughly familiar with his own part as well as the tempo, approach and reactions of other members of the cast.
“Most of Mr. Griffith’s films were shot without scripts and were improvised in the manner of the commedia dell’arte,” she continued. “Individual scenes were staged and re-staged until a maximum effect was realized and footage was closely checked with a stop watch. This saved large sums in raw film and time and kept production cost from soaring.”
During her years in films, Miss Gish appeared in “An Unseen Enemy,” “Hearts of the World,” “ The Orphans of the Storm,” “Tip-Toes,” ”London,” “Nell Gwynn,” “Romola,” and “Madame Pompadour.” Of all her screen roles, Miss Gish preferred playing the Little Disturber in “Hearts of the World,” which Griffith made in England and France during World War I.
In 1918, she worked for a while in New York with Paramount Pictures, making “Battling Jane,” “I’ll Get Him Yet” and “Remodeling Her Husband.” The last had Richard Barthelmess (***Not James Rennie?) as her leading man and her sister as director.
After 1928 and the advent of talkies, she made only three films, “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” (1944) “Centennial Summer” (1946) and “The Whistle at Eaton Falls” (1951).
As much as she was gratified by her film career, Miss Gish’s first love, as with many performers was the stage. Her string of credits through 1956, was long and respectable.
They included Fay Hilary in “Young Love,” (1928); Maria in “The Inspector General” (1930), Emily Dickinson in “Brittle Heaven” (1934), Fanny in “Autumn Crocus” (1932), Fanny Dixwell Holmes in “The Magnificent Yankee” (1946), and Mrs. Gillis in “The Man” (1950), her last Broadway role.
She succeeded Dorothy Stickney for almost a year in the starring role of Vinnie, the patient mother, in the Broadway hit “Life With Father.” In 1956,she starred in “The Chalk Garden,” at The Spa in Saratoga N.Y.
Dorothy Gish was born March 11, 1898. She once told how she came to her stage career:
“Mother came up from Massillon, Ohio, where we were born, partly to look for our father, who had left us, and partly to try to earn a living for all three of us. We were practically destitute. She rented one of the old-fashioned railroad apartments, and advertised for ‘genteel lady roomers.’
One of the genteel ladies who rented a room was an actress, and after she had been with us a few weeks, she had an offer for a part in a road company production of ‘East Lynne,’ provided she could find a small child … to play the part of Little Willie.”
Mrs. Gish found someone – Dorothy. Four years later, in 1906, she made her debut at the Lincoln Square Theater with Fiske O’Hara in “Dion O’ Dare.”
She played juvenile parts until 1912 when she and Lillian went into the movies.
Miss Gish was once described, much later in life, by a writer who called her ”a deep-voiced woman … with an unabated zest for life, a faintly ribald sense of humor and an uncompromising faculty for self-appraisal.”
In 1951, when she was making “The Whistle at Eaton Falls,” she said that she particularly enjoyed making the film because it “reminded me so much of the way we made pictures in the old days of Mr. Griffith.” She explained further: “To me, there’s too much spit’n’ polish about today’s film technique. When Lillian and I were in silent films, we did every thing for ourselves – mother made our costumes, we did our own hair, put on our own make-up.
“Nowadays, you have a couple of people getting you into costume, another couple fussing around on your hair, others with your face. You feel, somehow, like Marie Antoinette-even with the best will in the world, rather aloof and removed.”
Miss Gish loved to travel and she stipulated that her career should not interfere with her wanderings. She lived for months in England, Italy, Yugoslavia and Africa. She also had a home at Wilson Point, near Newport, Conn.
In 1920, she and James Rennie, a New York actor, eloped to Greenwich, Conn. The marriage ended in divorce 15 years later.
*** Admin. Note: Dorothy Gish had James Rennie as her leading man in “Remodeling Her Husband,” not Richard Barthelmess.