Of Course You Know Dorothy – By Helen Klumph (Picture Play Magazine – January 1922)

Picture Play Magazine – January 1922 Vol. XV No.5

Of Course You Know Dorothy

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

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

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.

Dorothy By Albin

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.

Dorothy Gish (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Dorothy Gish (Photo by © Corbis)

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.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 3
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Dorothy Gish seated with book on lap]; nitrate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth TX; P1990.47.3479

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

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.

Dorothy Gish - Orphans of the Storm

“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.

Dorothy Gish, James Rennie and Lillian Gish
Dorothy Gish, James Rennie and Lillian Gish

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.

Dorothy Gish - Picture-Play Magazine (Jan 1922)
Dorothy Gish – Picture-Play Magazine (Jan 1922)

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