Lillian Gish – A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine – By Pat Colander (Chicago Tribune 1973)

Chicago Tribune November 24 1973 Saturday Page 162

Lillian Gish

A charming 73, she is life’s genuine heroine

By Pat Colander

Can you do anything with this poor, tired face? inquired Lillian Gish from behind an impish grin. Of course the question is ridiculous. After 73 years of practicing her delightful brand of charm, she knows that anyone she meets is more than happy to do her bidding, even before she asks.

Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 - New York
Lillian Gish promoting her Dorothy and Lillian Gish book in 1973 – New York

From the top of her faded blonde head to the tips of her tiny feet, Lillian Gish is a cornball prototype of the real-life, genuine heroine. Her beaming countenance recalls all the good things named traditional, just in case anybody she meets has forgotten how good it is to be free and own a television set.

“I always think of movies as the big screen and television as the little screen,” she chirped. “Of course, both are forms of the greatest power that the world has ever seen.” Miss Gish equates the film industry with Shakespeare and the Bible.

BUT EVEN this movie proponent will admit that something’s rotten in Hollywood. “I wish we could bring back good taste and beauty,” she moaned. “I think we’ve lost it.” Lillian Gish shakes her head, there have been roles that she’s had to turn down. “I wouldn’t be a part of what the movie had to say. I believe in the influence of a film,” she added “and I don’t like the wicked man winning out over the good man.”

Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes
Lillian Gish and Anne Tennehill 1973 at Helen Hayes

The recent Supreme Court ruling on pornography isn’t the answer however. “Censorship isn’t the American way,” Miss Gish said. We ought to be able to control ourselves by not going to those movies that are bad. Don’t you agree?”

She dismisses modern political scandals with theatrical boredom. Her ideology has become hardened in the face of many social upheavals she’s watched pass by. “Those things have been going on all my life,” she smiled some more, “only we called it Democrat and Republican. Certainly our country’s never been better. More people have more things and are more prosperous.”

THE THING she does feel that she knows about is the college crowd, after lecturing on the nostalgia circuit during the last few years. She defends the Pepsi generation with the characteristic line, “We just don’t hear about affirmation and the really good people on the campuses.”

opening of uncle vanya june 4 1973 h hayes l gish
Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish at the opening of Uncle Vanya, 1973 edition. Thus a full cycle is complete, the first play Lillian Gish starred in was Uncle Vanya (1930) an her last, Mike Nichols’s production.

Personally, Lillian Gish had little use for higher or lower education. Her star-crossed career began at 4 when Lillian and her little sister Dorothy hit the Broadway footlights. “We always felt lucky that we didn’t have to stay in one town and go to school,” she chuckled. “We were educated as we went thru the country.”

“I used to have an inferiority complex,” she moaned, but justified her lack of formal schooling with the deeper curiosity that developed as a result. “The future of education lies in television. Some man or woman will come along and harness it.”

Lillian Gish isn’t happy with the current form of educational broadcasting. “You know, in England they don’t approve of Sesame Street.”

CHICAGO IS an indelibly etched chapter in Lillian Gish’s new memory book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish” [Charles Scribner’s Sons, $19.95], a picture album sketching her lenghty career. “Chicago has more civic pride than any other city,” she said. “They pushed the city back and built it around a lake.”

uncle vanya - 1973 mike nichols
Lillian Gish and Mike Nichols – Uncle Vanya – 1973

The Windy City topic opened a pandora’s box of anecdotes. “I had a favorite taxi driver here when playing the Blackstone Theater,” she remembered. “When there was someplace that I couldn’t take my little dog Malcolm, Mr. Marcus would take care of him. Actually, I think he liked Malcolm and put up with me.”

Altho this little bundle of ancient energy has just closed in Mike Nichol’s New York production of “Uncle Vanya,” and by mid-afternoon has been doing interviews since 6 a.m., she thinks it would be thrilling to go dancing in the evening. After all, the this-is-the-first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life philosophy by now comes out sounding like a Lillian Gish original.

Lillian Gish – Big on the big screen

1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times
1973 Press Photo Lillian Gish Nov 6 1973 Sun Times

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Lillian Gish’s Protest against Racism in US – Chicago Tribune, Apr. 28, 1940

Contralto Marian Anderson - Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939
Contralto Marian Anderson – Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an American singer of classical music and spirituals. Music critic Alan Blyth said: “Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto. Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States. On 9 April 1939, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. A crowd of 75,000 listened to her, and millions more tuned in on the radio. She sang where she did because she had been refused the use Constitution Hall by its owners. Marian was black, and the owners had a white-artists-only clause.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois)28 Apr 1940, SunPage 58 - New
Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 28 Apr 1940, Sun Page 58

Lillian Gish, of “Life With Father,” resigned from the D.A.R.. along with her mother and sister, when Marian Anderson, the great Negro contralto, was not permitted to appear in Constitution Hall, the D.A.R. auditorium in Washington, D.C. Miss Gish explains her resignation with a beautifully classic turn: “I don’t quite know what we were doing in the organization in the first place.”


This was the real Lillian Gish. An artist who starred in Birth of A Nation (as Elsie Stoneman – a nurse) when she was 22 years old. An actress who supported her mother and sister when their father left them, in a time when film was considered cheap amusement meant for entertaining a county fair crowd. Theatre actors were ashamed then to act in “flicker shows.”

This was the real Lillian Gish. An artist who fought against war (any war), to spare American lives and to protect American families from destruction.

Gish Film Theater Plaque

And THIS IS THE NAME – so called “Task Force” decided to remove from the Film Theater at Bowling Green University Ohio (BGSU). I sincerely wish that their “management” will read this article written by an European based 10.000 miles away from United States.

Kindly access the link below to read the whole Gish Film Theater saga. In the left column there is the whole story composed from selected articles written by David Dupont, and in the right column there are all the declarations, letters and desperate appeals made then by the brave few who tried to defend Lillian Gish’s memory. I wish to emphasize that all these declarations and letters to BGSU management were written long before James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese, Malcolm McDowell and Lauren Hutton’s protest against dishonoring Lillian Gish’s name.


Ditch The Gish (The sad story of Gish Film Theater)


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Friends Tried and True (Lillian, Dorothy, Mary and Mildred) By M. Lewis Russel

Picture Play Magazine – January 1920 Vol. XI No.5

Friends Tried and True

By M. Lewis Russel

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.

Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish
Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish

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!

Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish

“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!”

Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish

“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 ”

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford

“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 !”

Friends Tried and True - Picture-Play Magazine (Jan 1920)
Friends Tried and True – Picture-Play Magazine (January 1920)


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Tea with Lillian Gish (Picture – Play Magazine March 1921)

Picture – Play Magazine March 1921

A Girl’s Adventures in Movieland

The writer, a fan who knew the movies only through reading and through attending the seaters in her home town of Plainfield New Jersey, was selected from among the many persons who have written letters to this magazine – on account of her intense enthusiasm for motion pictures and her keen observation – to make a trip through the Eastern studios and to write her impressions to our readers.



“I was like the old lady in the Mother Goose rhyme—I couldn’t believe it was I! The person on the screen seemed familiar, and yet a stranger.

“Then my heart began to sink. Why had I grinned in that strange way? If I could only do it over again, how differently I would act.” That was the writer’s impression on first seeing herself on the screen.


Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square - Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square – Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)

Tea with Lillian Gish

That afternoon I had another quite different and wonderfully pleasant experience. I had tea at the Claridge. I had read many times, of course, of having lunch or tea at the Claridge—so many stars seem to be interviewed there. But what made this doubly exciting was the fact that I was to meet Lillian Gish. It was beginning to get dark as we went up Broadway toward Times Square, which is tine center of motion – picture life in New York City. Crowds of holiday people were pouring out of the theaters—for it was matinee day. The famous electric signs were just beginning to glow through the twilight, high in the air above us. Everything seemed so exciting and wonderful—I felt sort of prickly all over. We went up to the offices of the company which is starring her, and in the elevator with us there were two girls who were on their way to the same offices, to see about applying for a part in some picture. They powdered their noses before the mirror and rouged their lips, and talked about this picture they’d been in and that one—just extras, evidently.

Times Square New York 1921
Times Square New York 1921

And I could see that they felt awfully superior to me. But—you should have seen them when, while they sat on the bench just inside the office door and waited for some assistant to somebody to talk to them, Lillian Gish came out of an inside office and right over to us, and was as sweet and charming as if we’d been her oldest and dearest friends! Their eyes nearly dropped out of their heads. We started out for the Claridge then—quite a party of us, for Jerome Storm, the director who helped make Charlie Ray famous, and Herbert Howe, who writes for Picture-Play, went with us. What seemed queer to me was that, as we walked along the street, hardly any one recognized Miss Gish. I had supposed that a star as well known as she is couldn’t stir a step without having people crowd around her—judging by the mobs I’ve been part of when stars made personal appearances at theaters back home, I’d expected that the police would have to be called out to keep order.

Times Square 1921 center
Times Square 1921 center

And I must confess that I was rather sorry that people didn’t know her; I was so proud of being with her that I’d have liked to have all New York know about it. Probably her hat was largely responsible for people not recognizing her. It was a small black satin one, with a lace veil that reached to her nose, quite concealing her eyes. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t dressed at all as I’d supposed an actress would be for the street. The coat of her suit was sort of a French blue, with a border of gray fur, and buttoned right up to her throat, and her skirt was black. She wore black slippers with straps—not those very exaggerated French ones that so many girls wear now. She looked awfully well dressed, but nothing startling—I know lots of girls whose mothers would be perfectly happy if their daughters would dress as simply and sensibly as Lillian Gish did. It was just a few minutes walk to the Claridge, which is the hotel where theatrical people congregate.

Lilly From Ohio (1921) - Kenneth Alexander - Detail
Lilly From Ohio (1921) – Kenneth Alexander – Detail

I didn’t wonder that they like to stay there. Really, it is sumptuous. Thick, soft carpets, glittering chandeliers, an atmosphere that is quiet and luxurious, in spite of the fact that so many people are sauntering about. There were so many beautiful women, so many men, who might have fitted into a picture, that I almost expected to hear a camera clicking. It is a grand, pretentious sort of place, yet Mr. Storm, who lives there when he is in New York, said to the head waiter, “I want that little corner,” and immediately we were installed in such a cozy spot that I felt perfectly at home. Just outside the windows Broadway roared—the clang of street cars, the honking of automobile horns, the shouting of newsboys, with the traffic policeman’s shrill whistle piercing them all, makes a sound that you can never forget. Cushioned seats are built in around the sides of the dining room, which at first seems like sort of a funny thing—I mean, to be at a table and not have to sit up straight in a chair. I wish that they built dining rooms in homes that way—it is much more comfortable than stiff chairs. I felt just as if I were in a play — sort of lounging there in that great black-and-gold room, with music floating down from a balcony, and lovely Lillian Gish sitting there beside me. And she is lovely. That word was made for her. Her skin is very white, her eyes are a wonderful, deep blue, and her hair the same pure blond that you’d imagine it to be. She looks very fragile and delicate —almost too good to be true. Yet when she shakes hands with you she takes hold of your hand so firmly, and she speaks rather briskly, definitely, as if she knew exactly what she wanted to say and why she wanted to say it. There’s nothing hazy or dreamlike about her, though she’s so ethereal on the screen. I wish you could have heard her talk with Mr. Storm. He is directing her first starring picture, “World Shadows,” you know. He looks just like a successful business man ; I mean, not the way the fans usually think movie people do. He is awfully interesting, and I imagine is lots of fun to know. Mr. Howe called him “Jerry,” but Miss Gish called him “Mr. Storm,” and she spoke of “Mr. Griffith” and “Mr. Fairbanks”—no familiarity at all with people you’d expect her to talk about the way the fans do, who’ve never seen them. To hear her say “Mary and Mr. Fairbanks” sounded so funny. Then she and Mr. Storm started talking about directing pictures, and he gave her lots of advice that would help her if she ever directed another. My, the way they carelessly mentioned thousands for this and thousands for that just made my head spin. Even though the conversation was so interesting, I found time to watch two girls who sat at a neighboring table. They looked just as you’d expect the girls in a big metropolitan hotel to—very smartly dressed, with lots of make-up on, and smoking cigarettes with such a blasé, sophisticated air. I’d always imagined that motion-picture stars were like that, but, judging by those I’ve met, I’ve changed my mind. Miss Gish had with her a little round basket with a cover and a handle, which, she explained, was for all the papers and things she has to carry about with her.

Lillian Gish 1921 - The Girl Back Home
Lillian Gish 1921 – The Girl Back Home

“Dorothy brought me this beautiful thing from Paris,” she said, showing me the prettiest bead purse I ever saw, “but it’s so small that it would never hold all these things.” And she showed me the important looking documents that were in her basket. Now, what impressed me was this : She could have bought a beautiful big leather case for those papers, or, if she wanted a basket, she could have had the prettiest one in New York. Instead of that, she had a basket that anyone could have had; nothing at all pretentious or expensive. That’s exactly like her, it seems to me—just to do the natural thing in the very simplest way, instead of spending a lot of money and trying to have everything she does effective. Lillian Gish simply worships Dorothy; to hear her talk you’d think she herself didn’t amount to anything much, and Dorothy was the most wonderful person in the world.

“She’s just gone back home to Ohio, to the town where we were brought up—Massillon,” she said. “Can’t you imagine her in all her Paris clothes in a town of less than twenty thousand inhabitants? Oh, but it’s such fun to go back there, where you know everyone you meet on the street!” “I see by the papers that Dorothy’s engaged,” laughed Mr. Storm. “Oh, wasn’t that terrible? I don’t see who circulates those rumors. Dorothy called me up awfully early this morning, simply wild, to know if I’d seen the report. ‘It’s in the morning papers, and it sounds so official—they’ll have me married by the time they get out the evening editions,’ ” she said, and she was just about crying. Lillian paused to laugh about it, too. “She seemed to think that if the papers said it, it would be true.” I asked her about “Way Down East,” especially the rescue scene on the ice, and she laughed. “I still get excited about that.” She said. “I often go to the theater, to see how the audiences take my work, but when it comes to that part I find that I forget all about the audience and just watch the screen.” “Afraid that some time Dick Barthelmess won’t get there in time and rescue you?” asked Mr. Storm, laughing.

“Just about,” she answered. “And oh, you should have seen my mother the first time she saw that part of the picture—she hadn’t known it was so exciting, and—well, next time I go on location she’ll probably insist on going right along !” Well, I certainly didn’t blame her mother for feeling that way. It was getting late by that time, and she had to go back to the office with Mr. Storm to see about some business matters, so we went out to the sidewalk and then said good-by. I felt like Cinderella leaving the ball. And yet, somehow, Lillian Gish had been so friendly that I felt that always, after this, when I see her on the screen I’ll feel as if we had had a visit together.

Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square - Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Tea with Lillian Gish in Times Square – Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1921)
Times Square 1921
Times Square 1921


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Dorothy and Lillian Gish 1951 – Look Magazine (Pictorial)

Museum of The City Of New York – Collection

Dorothy and Lillian Gish in their apartment in New York, photographed in 1951

John Vachon – Look Magazine – New York


Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine1
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 6
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy Gish in Lillian's apartment NY 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine
Dorothy Gish in Lillian’s apartment NY 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 2
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 - John Vachon - Look Magazine 4
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in NY apartment 1951 – John Vachon – Look Magazine


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Was Mrs. Belmont “up-stage” in Way Down East? (Photoplay September 1920)

Photoplay Vol. XVIII September 1920 No. 4

Society in the Films


A FRIEND called the residence of Mrs. Morgan Belmont, prominent member of that exclusive circle known as “the four hundred” in New York society. Mrs. Belmont’s butler informed the friend that Madame was out. “Madame is working today,” he said. “What?” gasped the friend at the other end of the wire, “working?”

“At the David Wark Griffith Film Studios,” came the urbane voice of the family servitor.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish

Was Mrs. Belmont “up-stage”? She was not. She made a friend of every member of the company from Lillian Gish – center – to Pete Props. Mrs. Belmont at the right.


There was something sounding like a muffled, well-bred shriek from the other party; a receiver clicked—that’s all. It was almost as bad as the scion of an aristocratic family going in for trade! Friends couldn’t believe it. Other people, not so fashionable but no less skeptical, branded the announcement from the Griffith offices that “Mrs. Morgan Belmont is appearing in ‘Way Down East’ ” as a press-story. But it proved to be true. Mrs. Belmont is working in “Way Down East,” playing the part of the Boston society woman: Mrs. Belmont is made-up every morning and on the set at eight o’clock and often works until midnight. What’s more. Mrs. Belmont loves pictures and says she intends to go in for them.

What do you think of that?

DW Griffith shooting a scene from The Great Love 1918
DW Griffith shooting a scene from The Great Love 1918

A queen was Griffith’s star and innumerable Countesses and Duchesses and Ladies have posed for his camera in England. But American royalty never capitulated to the lure of the camera until Mrs. Belmont set the style. Now it would not surprise us to hear that Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Astor are to co-star in a domestic drama written especially for them: that Clarence Mackaye is going to do a race-horse story, or that the entire Vanderbilt connection is appearing in a serial written by Mercedes D’Acosta, direction of George Gould, with artistic effects by Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney. Society’s first contribution to films was Margaret Andrews, daughter of Paul Andrews, distinguished millionaire of New York and Newport, before she married Morgan Belmont, son of August Belmont. She has an enviable position in that upper strata so-called “society:” she has wealth: she could spend her time in London as the house-guest of half the nobility if she had a mind to: she can live in Manhattan or she can pack up her jewels and take one of her many motor-cars to her luxurious “country” place on Long Island. But Mrs. Belmont says she is having a better time working in pictures than she ever had in her life before, although the hours are long and the rehearsals hard.

"Way Down East" - Lillian Gish
“Way Down East” – Lillian Gish and the eccentric aunt

A great admirer of Mr. Griffith, she proved herself a particularly apt pupil under his guidance, acting with the greatest ease and naturalness. The assembled company watched her with ill-concealed curiosity. What would she be like? Would she be “up-stage?” Would she hold herself aloof from the regular thespian strugglers or ignore them completely? She would not!

She met them all. She became a friend of Lillian Gish, playing Anna Moore, the little country girl who comes to the Boston lady’s house. Mrs. Belmont learned that Lillian possessed as much dignity and charm as any New York or Newport debutante, and infinitely more brains than some. She liked to talk to her: asked her many questions about her work. Once when they were enjoying a between scenes chat in the studio, Mrs. Belmont produced from her bag a gold-and-jeweled lipstick with which to freshen her make-up. Lillian exclaimed with delight at the pretty trinket.

way down east - lobby card 3

“Please accept it,”‘ said Mrs. Belmont eagerly. Lillian demurred, but was finally persuaded to possess the stick, which is a real treasure. Mr. Andrews made a trip to Mamaroneck to find out what was so interesting to his daughter. He became an interested spectator, and soon decided he would like to be in pictures, too. As a result, you will see a real “millionaire clubman” instead of an actor made up to look like one. Mr. Andrews invited several friends to see him work and it wasn’t long before they were in it, too!

Way Down East Cast and Director
Way Down East Cast and Director

It is really one of the property men who can give you the best “line”‘ on- the actors from society. An ex-sailor who has a “game leg” that bothers him in bad weather was trudging along the road to the studios one stormy day. A motor stopped and a voice called, “Hop in.”” Pete Props hopped. His benefactors were a pretty woman who sympathized with his affliction, and a genial man. When Pete got back he told somebody about it. “Why, that was Mrs. Morgan Belmont, that society dame, and her dad,”” he was informed. Pete Props was stunned. “I’ll be— !” he remarked. “Well, they’re regular guys, anyway!”‘

Photoplay (Sep 1920) Mrs Belmont Way Down East
Photoplay (Sep 1920) Mrs. Belmont in Way Down East

Was Mrs. Belmont “up-stage”? She was not. She made a friend of every member of the company from Lillian Gish – right– to Pete Props. Mrs. Belmont at the left.

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Dorothy at Home, and Others at Large – By W. Adolphe Roberts (Motion Picture Magazine – June, 1925)

Motion Picture Magazine – June, 1925

Confidences Off-Screen

By W. Adolphe Roberts

Dorothy at Home, and Others at Large

My ideal for these interviews is to make the fans feel they’ve seen the person I saw. I’m out to be a realist, in drawing brief pen-portraits, in trying” for a sense of the atmosphere inseparable from each star. The fact that my subjects are extremely romantic does not debar realism in describing them. Oh, far from it! There are difficulties, nevertheless.

Dorothy Gish Postcard SD

“When I start to write about Dorothy Gish and my visit to her, I feel impatient with the words I have to use, because words don’t seem to be gay and vivid enough to picture her charming personality. I’d like to find colored words.

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

She lives in a studio apartment, a block away from Gramercy Park, New York. It is furnished in Italian Renaissance, with lovely antique cabinets, high-backed chairs and “a long refectory table—all in dark, carved woods. One is reminded instantly of Romola. But Dorothy, standing by the fireplace and smiling her greeting, is not at all the black-haired peasant girl, Tessa, of the picture she made with Lillian in Italy last year.

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

Off-screen, Dorothy Gish is a blonde of the blondes. She has wonderful, big gray eyes, golden hair shading to red, a cream-colored skin. Her delicate hands were never made to choke ferocious villains in melodramas, nor do they attempt the role. Her manner is all vivacity. Heaps of things interest her, and she comments on them in sally after witty sally. But her voice warms to a rich ardor when it is a question of something that both touches her emotionally and earns her respect.

She cares infinitely for her own art of motion pictures. Every critic of importance agrees that D. W. Griffith’s “Isn’t Life Wonderful” is a notable creation. I look upon it myself as one of the greatest ever filmed. But there was a special thrill in hearing Dorothy say earnestly:

“I cried with joy at its fineness. Only Mr. Griffith could have made it. Beauty is first with him.”

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); Dorothy Gish; ca. 1930’s; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Texas; Bequest of Nell Dorr; P1990.45.239

After motion pictures, I gathered that books and etchings were twin passions with her. She admires the novels of Joseph Hergesheimer, and calls him the best stylist in America. The work of half a dozen artists was mentioned with enthusiasm. Tea was brought in. The conversation strayed to many new topics. But I’m going to resist the temptation of quoting her. She has a way of saying brilliant, unconventional things about the venerable totems of society which, in her opinion, would not look well in print. I promised her to keep my note-book to myself, and a promise is a promise. However, I can reveal that the most miserable hour in Dorothy Gish’s life was when she smoked a cigar in The Bright Shawl. The part demanded it, and she made good at the price of a prolonged spell of tobacco-nausea. The confidence came out when I noticed that she handed me a cigarette without taking one herself. She has no prejudice against the habit but simply has never been able to learn to like cigarettes. An enforced cigar, which few smoking women could stand, was consequently for her a doubly terrible experience.

Motion Picture Magazine - June, 1925 - Dorothy at Home
Motion Picture Magazine – June, 1925 – Dorothy at Home

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Dot Gish, Studio Star & Home Tomboy – by Edna Wright (Motion Picture Magazine – June, 1917)

Motion Picture Magazine – June, 1917

Dot Gish, Studio Star & Home Tomboy

by Edna Wright

Have you ever tried to interview a popular Motion Picture star? If so, you can appreciate the remark when I say that for some time I had been trying to “catch” Dorothy Gish. I wanted to coax this heroine of many filmplays to reveal her past history to me, but I didn’t seem to be able to find her idle for a spare moment. At the studio she was always so rushed that I found it useless to try further, after I had attempted it several times ; so one evening, as a final resort, I started out to “catch” her at home. Whether it was good luck or good management on my part I cant say, but, on the very first attempt, I was fortunate in finding both Dorothy and her sister, Lillian, in their apartment.

On entering I found the idol of movie fans looking very “Gishy” in the cunningest little apartment you can imagine. The drawing-room was richly furnished without being overdone, and was just the right sort of dove-cote for the beautiful Gish sisters. Sister Lillian was struggling with a pianola and was being well rewarded for her efforts, as the music sounded anything but “canned,” while Dorothy was reading, stretched out comfortably on a large divan. I did not want to spoil the cozy picture that the famous sisters were unconsciously making; but hadn’t the maid told me to step right in? So step in I did.

Dorothy By Albin

With Dorothy and Lillian Gish cordiality does not stop at the front door, nor, for that matter, end when it closes again. Theirs is true Southern hospitality. I was soon so at home that I wondered if I had not by chance known them all my life, and, while we were laughing and chatting, it suddenly occurred to me that I had better remember the cause of my intrusion. The Gish girls are possessed of that frank whole-heartedness that is so often missing and yet desired by all. It was while I was having my glass filled with ginger-ale for the third time that I began firing the questions at Dottie (pardon the nickname, but you would intrude likewise if you knew her), and I found her a very approachable subject.

Dorothy is the younger of the two sisters, having been born in Dayton, Ohio, March 11, 1898. She made her debut on the stage at the age of three, playing with Rebecca Warren in “East Lynne,” and Robert T. Haines in “Fisk O’Hara.” The footlights claimed Dorothy for five years; however, six years ago the lights changed, and since that time it has been the “overheads.” She entered the film world under the Biograph Company, playing with them until David W. Griffith, forming his Reliance Company, latterly the Fine Arts, offered her a position with him, which she accepted. At the time of her entrance into the silent drama she held the title of “The Youngest Leading Lady in Pictures,” as she played nothing but leads from the start. But since the field is now full of younger players, she has had to forfeit that title. “What are your favorite plays of all that you have seen?” I asked. It did not take Miss Dorothy long to answer: “The Birth of a Nation,’ ‘Intolerance,’ ‘Judith of Bethulia,’ ‘Home, Sweet Home’ and ‘Tess of the Storm Country.’

Dorothy Gish in Battling Jane 1918
Dorothy Gish in Battling Jane 1918

“Dont you adore Mary Pickford?” she went on? “Mary is such a darling; she certainly deserves all the love and admiration bestowed upon her. There will never be any other Mary Pickford.”

This introduced a new phase of Dorothy’s character—that she is not jealous of others’ success, but instead takes a huge delight when laurels come their way.

“Oh, yes; what parts do I like to play best? I prefer comedy-drama, and always have liked the pictures better than the stage. I love my work, for it is always interesting and exciting.

I gathered, from outside information, that around the studio Dorothy is noted for her wonderful courage, and a director has yet to find a time when she has not willingly performed any kind of daring feat, proving that she does love her work. It’s spontaneous with her, too. When the little stalls “worked up, ” at home or a field, she’s considerable of a minx-tomboy, maybe, and many’s the harmless prank she has perpetrated on her friends and director.

Dorothy Gish Cca 1920 CS

Just recently, in a Griffith release, she jumped from a porch onto the back of a prancing horse, upon which was seated a man. It was a risky high stunt, as the jump was a high one and the animal very highspirited.

“You must have a hobby,” I inquired; “all actresses have, you know, so what is it?”

“Well, as for a hobby,” she said, as her eyes sparkled, “why, they keep me too busy at the studio for one, or even to think of one, but Lillian says it is teasing her.”

Here we all laughed, but I think Sister Lillian appreciated the joke least of all.

Not yet out of her teens, and possessing an unfair share of goodlooks, it is no wonder that movie fans all over the world have learnt to love Dorothy. But good-looks are not her entire stock-in-trade by any means. She is artless but experienced in her art, an enthusiastic and tireless worker, versatile to a degree, and possesses the confidence and friendship of all the studio heads.

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

In complexion Dorothy is a decided blonde, has a plentiful supply of sparkling curls, ivory-white teeth, and a pair of huge, blue eyes that make one desirous of jumping into them and splashing around a bit. She is what they call a “cozy creature” around the studio—playful, yet full of her roles; joyous, yet ready for instant pathos or perils in the parts assumed. I learnt that she has an eminently practical side that ofttimes expresses itself in all kinds of outward deeds. One of them was the decorating of her studio dressing-room. Armed with a paint-brush and pail, and armored in painter’s overalls. “Dot” accomplished the unusual task of painting her dressing-room with radiant blue—an artistic job that called forth expressions of wonderment from the studio painting staff. Dorothy could not understand why I was bothering with her history, for like many popular stars, she thought the public was not interested. When I explained that they were, she only laughed. Which proves that she is as unassuming as she is modest. But it was an infectious laugh—pure tomboy—and I’ll wager she doesn’t know at all why she’s charming, on and off the screen.

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Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish
Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish
Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish 2
Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish
Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish 3
Motion Picture Magazine (June 1917) Dot Gish

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