Dorothy Gish, reveals how she happened – Los Angeles Herald 1919

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLV, Number 6, 8 November 1919

That tomboy of the films Dorothy Gish, reveals how she happened

Dorothy Gish Cca 1930 FSF

Toss of coin tells which sister to interview …

 But Dorothy Talks Much of Lillian and So Dear Reader You Have ‘Em Both

There never were two sisters in all the history of the world better known than the celebrated Gish girls. Featured by that master producer and director, David Wark Griffith, their fame has girdled the earth and extended from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Many believe that they are twins, but this is not true. Today we have from her own lips the story of how Dorothy, the younger of the sister stars, achieved to fame:

By RAY W. FROHMAN Copyright. 1919, by Evening Herald Publishing Company

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 4
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Portrait Dorothy Gish]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3480


In the name of Steve Rodie, give me a chance to explain how I ‘‘took a chance.” Which starry sister of the Gish constellation should we have in our series? That was the question. The vivacious Comedienne? Or the ethereal tragedienne—whom even her sister says is “so beautiful”? “BOTH!” say you? Ah yes. But— Separately, ‘twould make this somewhat of a family party, wouldn’t it?

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) - Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) – Hearts of The World

And together—”How happy would I be with either. Were t’other dear charmer away.” Torn between two such “winners” in the same story, who could do justice to either? SO— I borrowed a coin from the boss and Rambled with myself: “Tails”—Lillian. “Heads”—Dorothy.

Dorothy as "The Little Disturber"
Dorothy as “The Little Disturber”


You, dear readers, who may not approve of my consulting the fickle goddess, had a “sure thing”! Both the Gishes are young. both are talented, and both are beautiful. YOU couldn’t lose! “Heads” won — and so you have today the story of DOROTHY Gish, that rollicking tomboy of the screen. Lillian, at least a thousand pardons! It’s tough on both of us to miss you, but Dorothy “slipped in” a lot about you—and It’s “all in the family” anyway. And now that everybody’s happy, let’s go.


 It may not be too much to say that Dorothy Gish is attaining the highest art, for she is acting HERSELF. As the Little Disturber in Griffith’s “Hearts of the World” some two years ago—that queer, saucy creature with the flexible hips and the mannish swagger, now making a moue, now kicking up a wicked heel—the maker of stars, the general public, first really “discovered” Dorothy Gish.

Ever since, much to her regret, she has been doomed to wear that heavy black wig, in hot weather, beneath powerful lights in interiors; and, much more to her regret, she has been the girl clown, as she was in “I’ll Get Him Yet,” “Nobody Home” and her other starring vehicles,

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 49


How does she do It? How Is It that this dainty cameo, this normal, slender, blue-eyed girl with the “humorous mouth,” can play the harlequin so well? Here’s the answer: She’s a mistress of screen “business,” True to the best clown traditions, Dorothy doesn’t hesitate to make herself homely to be funny. But a “close-up” of Dorothy In person, during and after rehearsal at the Griffith studio in Hollywood, and the yarn of how she got her start and how she “arrived,” as told by herself In delightfully natural fashion, reveals that not merely “getting the most out of” stage business but putting HER OWN SELF on the screen is what makes “Dot” Gish what she is today. For she is chic; she is piquant: she is “cute”; and she is not only as “cunning” as she can be, but as pretty as she can be —another living refutation of the popular  fallacy that it is the photographer’s art to which screen stars owe their loveliness.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 10
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Dorothy Gish]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3547


You’ll find this natural comedienne —the sort of practical joker which your family and every family has in it – rehearsing before ever it comes under the camera her own interpretation of the good old “simple country maid coming to the city to go on the stage” motif, under the wing of her director, Elmer Clifton, with good-looking young Ralph Graves, very-y villainous Charley Gerard and a vamp or two as fellow conspirators. She is wearing a simple, one-piece blue dress white shoes and stockings, and her own light brown hair in a pair of curls over each shoulder, with hair-ribbons that don’t match. Even her bangs are impromptu.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 67

Drag her out into the sunshine, perch her on a lucky soapbox, have anuzzer yourself, and she will tell you of her blighted life as follows:

“I was chased out of Dayton, Ohio, a few months after I was born. Mother inflicted me on New York. “A friend of hers said that she (the friend) could play the maid in ‘East Lynn” if she could get a child to carry on, and applied for me. Mother didn’t like it but we were rather hard up then and she let me go.


“So, at the age of 4, I got my start on the stage on the road as Little Willie in ‘East Lynn’ with Rebecca Warren. We opened somewhere in Pennsylvania

“I was in road shows till I was 10, playing child parts. (One season it was “Her First False Step” with  Lillian in it, too. Several years I was with Fiske O’Hara, the Irish tenor, and my last stage appearance was with him in “Deacon O’Dare.” Then the adorable Dorothy attended grammar school for three years at Massilon, Ohio, where she lived with her aunt, and one year at Allegheny Collegiate Institute, Alderson, W. Va., where the climate did such things to her that her mother and sister stopped and burst into tears at their next meeting. Reunited, the Gish trio went to Baltimore on a promised trip to New York for the girls, Lillian wanted to go on the stage again and Dorothy dittoing with all her might as she “had been on the stage so long.”

Fiske O'Hara, The Irish Tenor
Fiske O’Hara, The Irish Tenor


Whom should they discover on the screen in Baltimore, in a Biograph film “Lena and The Geese.” But Gladys Smith? The girlish Gishes had been in plays with the “three Picks” – Gladys, Lottie and Jack. Dorothy tells the rest of the story thusly:

“I called at the Biograph studio on Fourteenth street to see Gladys Smith. ‘I guess you must mean Mary Pickford,’ they said. Mr. Griffith said Gladys could bring her friends in – we were in the lobby, as you weren’t allowed to go in – and I was introduced to him.

“I thought he was Mr. Biograph, as he seemed to have the ‘say so,’ and I didn’t  catch the name. I thought there was a Mr. Vitagraph, too, as there was a Mr. Edison.

“Lillian and I were both engaged as extras.”

This was in 1912, when Dorothy was 14.

Mary Pickford - Cca 1905
Mary Pickford – Cca 1905

“Mary (Gladys) was leaving there for Mr. Belasco’s ‘A good Little Devil.’ Belasco’s manager, Mr. Dean had been the manager of Rebecca Warren’s ‘East Lynn’ company when I was in it, and introduced me to Mr. Belasco.

“Among us then, ‘Belasco’ was a name to tremble at, a god! I was so fluttered and fussed! He told me later it was the funnies thing he ever saw – Lillian and I kept trying to get back of each other.

“’You don’t want to go on the stage, do you?’ he said to me. ‘You want to go back to school.’ I wanted to choke him – I thought I was so old. Lillian became a fairy in that show on the road. He ‘didn’t have any part young enough for me.’”


When Lillian left this company to go to the Pacific Coast to go into pictures, Dorothy, paying her own way, and their mother had preceded her. Lillian received a regular salary playing parts with the Biograph stock company. Dorothy led a busy life as an extra: in the morning an Indian (a blue-eyed indian) squaw, in the afternoon an Indian man registering a puff of smoke from his trusty rifle, later in the day a white lady in a sunbonnet.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 12

Then , at 15, she went back to New York, succeeded in convincing Griffith that she was worth $40 a week and first began to play ingénues.

dorothy gish - as photographed for - dorothy and lillian gish - by lillian gish 11

“My age was always against me – it was the worst thing I had to put up with,” explained the veteran of 21 summers from her throne on the soap box. “They’d always say: ‘You’re too young – you can’t act till you’re 35.’

“I wanted to be a tragedienne. I only wanted sad parts. When mother read the press notices when I was on the road, saying I was a ‘comedienne,’ the tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought comedians had to have black on their faces, or red beards, and weren’t nice.”

Dorothy had followed the Griffith banner ever since her Biograph days – into the Reliance and Majestic company, then into Triangle plays, where Lillian and Dorothy – still wanting to be a tragedienne – were “starred” in ingenue parts – and then out when he left.


Then Lillian, who had a contract with him, went to Europe with her mother. Later Dorothy was sent for. The result was “Hearts of the World.”

“I had starred before, and I’d had quite a few comic parts, but I wasn’t interested in them” said Dorothy – o’ – the – soapbox, discussing this turning point in her and her sister’s careers.

After this, including her present Paramount starring vehicles being supervised by Griffith, it was always comedienne and black wig for Dorothy – the latter, perhaps, to help differentiate her on the screen from Lillian.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

“I used to ‘kid’ around at home,” continued Dorothy, “and everybody would say: ‘Why don’t you play YOURSELF?’

“’If you’d be yourself, instead of putting on all that heavy acting – ‘ Mr. Griffith said to me.

“It’s hard to do! I don’t know myself. I’m so young and self-conscious-though I’ve got over most of that. In all these seven Paramount pictures I HAVE been freer. I’d like to make people who see me in comic pantomime on the screen feel the way Mark Twain makes the readers feel.

“BUT” – and at this point the Mark Twain “fan” who goes to the other extreme and likes Victor Hugo; too, swallowed a couple of dashes – “they make me play myself, and I wanted to be an ACTRESS!”

By RAY W. FROHMAN – 1919

William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola
William Powell and Dorothy Gish Romola


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One thought on “Dorothy Gish, reveals how she happened – Los Angeles Herald 1919

  1. I enjoyed reading this very much!-Thank you so much for showing all of this detailed information.-It was very interesting!-The photos are excellent, too!

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