Two-page interview from the July 7, 1913 edition of the “Massillon Evening Independent”–“A Massillon Girl, Movie Star, Risks Life for Pictures.”
“The earliest interview Lillian Gish and Dorothy as well ever gave”
“To the best of my present knowledge, this is the earliest interview Lillian Gish and Dorothy as well ever gave. Searching the collections of early motion picture trade publications and fan magazines as well as newspapers in general, I have not found any previous interviews with the Gish sisters.
Lillian gives a detailed account of one of her most hazardous experiences when she was rescued from a runaway wagon by Bobby Burns. She also relates this incident in her autobiography, “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me.” The title of the film was “During the Round-Up,” released on July 19, 1913, 12 days after this interview was published. Although some sources have credited Griffith as the director, most including Wikipedia and the IMDB say that this early Biograph Western was directed by Christy Cabanne with whom Lillian made a number of films during this period.
At the time Lillian and Dorothy gave this interview to a reporter in their home town, Massillon, which they visited en route from California to New York, Griffith’s fortunes and those of his company were in a state of flux. They had just been filming in California most of what was to be Griffith’s first full-length feature film, “Judith of Bethulia,” which Lillian refers to in the interview by its working title, “Judith and Holofernes.”
While the Biograph Company was busy filming in Southern California in the first half of 1913, the studio management had abandoned the celebrated brownstone mansion on 11 East 14th Street in Manhattan that had been their main production facility since 1906. The new Biograph studio, which Lillian discusses in the interview, was located at 807 East 175th Street in the Bronx. Aside from some interior scenes for “Judith of Bethulia” which Lillian recalled were shot at the new studio, Griffith would never do any filming at the Biograph Bronx studio.
I find Lillian’s mention that she had just learned to drive an automobile while in California in preparation for a film that was to be made in New York to be of particular interest. It would appear that Griffith still had plans for some further productions at Biograph at this time until it became clear that the company’s management was opposed to any more full-length features like “Judith of Bethulia.” He then entered into negotiations with other companies, communications that would soon lead to his beginning his long career as an independent producer of his own feature-length films as head of Reliance-Majestic releasing through Mutual. The planned film in which Lillian was to drive a car, very likely intended to be a thrilling action picture like Griffith’s remarkable “A Beast at Bay” (1912) in which Mary Pickford daringly drove a touring car at full speed, was apparently never made. Lillian would later have the opportunity to drive a car specially designed by pioneer race driver Barney Oldfield in “The Children Pay,” a 1916 Triangle feature supervised by Griffith and directed by Lloyd Ingraham.
It’s been preserved in an archive and I very much look forward to seeing it. It should be noted that silent film actresses like Lillian and Dorothy who learned to drive cars at a time when many people still looked on that as a masculine activity were very much in the forefront of feminine emancipation in the early 20th century.
As for Dorothy’s own comments, I am not at present certain of the identity of the film in which she had the exciting experiences on a ship that she describes. I have, however, confirmed one of the scenarios that she said she was writing for the screen. This was “The Suffragette Minstrels,” a comedy short for Biograph directed by Dell Henderson and with a cast that included Sylvia Ashton, Gertrude Bambrick, and Lionel Barrymore as well as Dorothy herself. It was released on August 18, 1913. The article mentions that Dorothy had written four scenarios for the screen that had been accepted, but I have no idea what happened to the other three. Perhaps plans to film them were dropped after the Griffith company, including Lillian and Dorothy, left Biograph.”
William M. Drew