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.
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!
“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!”
“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 ”
“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 !”
Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Mary Pickford
Mildred Harris, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Mary Robinson McConnell (Gish) and Dorothy Gish
Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris Chaplin, Mary, Dorothy, and Lillian Gish
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.
SHE SCARCELY RECOGNIZED HERSELF!
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess (Way Down East)
Lillian Gish on the ice floe – Way Down East
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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!
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!”‘
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.’
“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.
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.
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.
Going to see Lillian Gish isn’t just another interview with a popular star. It is a privilege and a rare pleasure. For she is the heart-breaking girl of Broken Blossoms—the screen’s greatest actress, in my opinion. She is a tragedienne with power to evoke beauty by means of tenderness, pity, and a quality of glamour that defies all analysis. Her genius, as understood and developed by Griffith, stands as our best assurance that motion pictures are a new art, not merely an industry. And in saying this, I do not overlook the contribution made by Charlie Chaplin. He is very great. But tragedy, inevitably, is more lofty than farce. He would be the first to admit it.
When I went up to Lillian Gish’s suite at the Ambassador, do you know what I found her doing? In a mood of wondering delight, she was playing with her first radio set, a portable contrivance finished to resemble a suitcase, which she had placed on a chair beside an open window. “Ah, Mr. Roberts ! Look at this, listen to it !” she cried. “Voices from the air. Sounds and music that have always been about us, but that we’ve only just learned how to hear. What a world we live in !”
She sat down then on a divan, her hands crossed in her lap, like an exquisite child, and we talked of the magic kingdom of art. One of the most admirable things about her is the complete sincerity with which she takes her work. She would never lend herself to the making of a picture that pretended to be what it was not.
The scene of Romola, for instance, is in Florence at the height of the Renaissance, and had it been asked of her she would have refused to do the film with sets fabricated in a Hollywood studio. “It’s possible to reproduce an old street, or to build a seemingly perfect copy of a palace where men and women have loved and died, and yet fail utterly to capture the spirit of the place,” she says. “The very stones of Florence have individuality. The sun shines there, and the rain falls, thru an atmosphere tinted otherwise than ours. The human throng moves to a different rhythm.” She told me she had dreamed for years of making The White Sister, for the sake of the scene in which she takes the veil as the bride of Christ. The initiation of a nun is literally a wedding, a mystic ceremony of great beauty.
As Miss Gish shows it, no detail is faked. She steeped herself in the ritual before she was willing to use it as an actress. And she declined to give the picture the conventional happy ending that would have meant having the nun escape from her vows and marry the lover who had lost her thru no fault of his own. It would have cheapened the whole conception, she says.
Miss Gish is now planning to do Charpentier’s opera Louise as a motion picture. Final arrangements have not been made, but if the project goes thru the public has an artistic treat in store for it. You see, Paris—the real Paris of poets arid artists—has never been portrayed on the screen except in the most faky manner. Louise is the masterpiece that furnishes the best pictorial opportunities, and with Lillian Gish as the heroine we may be sure that none of its poignancy will be lost. It will gain, in fact. She will add to it her own incomparable charm.
Meet D. W. Griffith’s Susie
Think of Lillian Gish, and immediately one thinks of D.W. Griffith, too. But it happens the story I have to tell about him this time does not relate to her, or to any of the stars he has made famous. Nor will it show him as the great producer. It has to do with Susie. Pretty soon now, Susie is going to be a public character. This is your first chance to meet her. I was talking to Mr. Griffith at his Mamaroneck studio, shortly after his return from Germany. He was allowing himself to be coaxed into giving me advance tips on the picture for which he made all the exteriors abroad last summer. Suddenly he turned, smiling to me. “How would you like to meet the only German actress I brought back?” he asked. There hadn’t been a word in the newspapers about his bringing back a German actress. “I’d like it very much,” I answered, astonished and pleased. “But she doesn’t speak English,” he warned me. With an odd gesture familiar to those who know him, he draped a plaid overcoat on his shoulders like a cape, put on his hat at any old angle, and started for the back yard. I really thought I was on my way to be introduced to some blonde Gertrude or Gretchen taking the air eccentrically in the midst of garden truck and hay. As we crossed the yard. Griffith gave me a quizzical side glance, chuckled at his little joke, and boomed:
“She’s a hen.”
And that was the plain truth. Susie is a Plymouth-Rock hen from a village near Berlin. Fate brought her into some shots made of a humble homestead, and it was clear from the beginning that she was no ordinary fowl. She was friendly and intelligent, would stay put on location, could even be made to act. At the slightest encouragement, she threw up her head and sang lustily. It wasn’t just cackling with her. Her merry voice rang tunefully all day. She was that rare bird, a “crowing hen,” as British and New England country folk say. But Griffith prefers to call her a singing hen. He used her in a number of scenes, and then decided he would need her on this side of the ocean. He offered to buy her for a sum that seemed huge in German marks. Her owners almost wept. They were sadly tempted, yet would not agree to sell. Everyone in the family was absolutely devoted to Susie. So this is the charming compromise that Griffith made: He hired Susie at a monthly salary, and promised that as soon as the picture was finished he would ship her back to Germany in state, in the same coop that had been built for her westward voyage. I met her after nightfall, and like all chickens she was bewildered at being hailed from her roost into artificial light. But when her director, “D. W.” himself, bent down and spoke to her, she put her head knowingly on one side and sang.
A snapshot of Griffith and a time-exposure of the Gish Girls
By Martha Groves McKelvie
She knew and appreciated the stage and its silent and spoken art. I invited her to go with me, and her heart was quite full at the prospect of being present at the first showing, under such delightful circumstances. Griffith and his art had always been one of her idols.
We were both quite in the seventh heaven when we reached the theater and passed along the flower-lined lobby. Just inside the door, who should we meet but the great Griffith himself? After an exchange of greetings and a word of appreciation for the invitation to attend his “first night,” I asked if I might introduce the little Australian.
Lillian in the hands of a German … (Hearts of The World)
Hearts of The World
Mind you, dozens of personal friends of this great man were standing in line waiting for a chance to speak to him. Did he hurry? He did not! He smiled down at the bewildered little girl before him, just as if she were the guest of honor, and said, “I’m mighty glad to meet you, little lady from a far-away land!” As she followed me to our seats, her eyes were moist with tears of plain appreciation. A very great, busy and popular man had taken time to greet a lonely little girl in a big, strange country. I won’t go into the triumph of the performance. You all have heard of it here now. Tho the reporters may have neglected to say that Griffith just brushed away the tears when the house went mad after the final curtain and demanded his appearance. You may appreciate that this was the climax of fourteen months’ hard work. And—Griffith was not ashamed of his tears.
I watched the Gish girls leave the theater with their mother. They held their heads down bashfully and modestly, and looking like sweet girl graduates, entered their car. The following day I went to the Gish home for luncheon. The big Persian cat greeted me at the door, and Lillian had to admit the cat and the writer at the same time. The Gish girls have been trying to keep cats and birds together successfully for some time, and when I saw them last, the cat was still alive and they had two love-birds, a few canaries and a cockatoo to keep tabby interested in living.
Lillian savs the cockatoo is “just human.” He’ answers the telephone for them anyway. If I had a bird with that talent I’d teach him a few words that are taboo in my own vocabulary. Mrs. Gish came forward to greet me, and a sweeter-faced little lady I have seldom met. Lillian curled up on a divan, mother chose a comfy rocker, and I took the biggest chair in the room. They told me of the many months spent in war-stricken Europe—of the air raids in London, and how, with good reason, they spent most of their time wishing they were back in the old U. S. A. Lillian is a great reader—thinks deeply and reads good things. Among the experiences most treasured on the trip abroad to make “Hearts of the World” was the meeting of two of her idols, J. M. Barrie and G. B. Shaw.
Quite in contrast to her sister Dorothy, Lillian is very quiet and serious. Just as Dorothy respects and looks up to her sister, so “does Lillian enjoy the little sister’s fun and romps. When Dorothy came dashing downstairs, bubbling over with the joy of living, I was introduced to the romp of the family.
“Lillian liked London !” she exclaimed. “She liked everything English—the quaint old vine-covered houses and the quiet country places. Not for me ! I liked Paris best! Just think—there was only one place in all London where we could get an ice-cream soda!”
I spoke of Dorothy’s good work the night before in the play. “That character of Dorothy’s just suited her,” said Lillian. “Funny as it may seem, when you see us together, we do not look so much alike, but we do photograph very much alike.
“So we planned and planned to find a good make-up that would give Dorothy a chance to be different. One day, walking down a main street in Paris, we saw the character we wanted—a typical girl of the Paris streets, a tough little tomboy, a sassy Tarn set at a jaunty angle on one side of her head, a boyish little suit and a shirt opened low at the throat. “We followed her for blocks, watching her every move. Dorothy tried to imitate her walk as we went—and you saw the result, the sassy swagger in ‘Hearts of the World.’ ” “She was the sassiest thing,” laughed Dorothy. “She met a soldier on the street and, walking up to him, put her elbow on his shoulder and leaned over on him as if he were a post.”
When luncheon was announced we went into the charming mahogany-furnished dining-room, Dorothy chattering all the while, telling me that she and her chum, Constance Talmadge, had both agreed to quit eating candy, that it was spoiling their complexions. With the appreciation and enjoyment you would expect a girl graduate to show, Lillian pointed out the flowers in the room that friends had sent them the night before.
“Wasn’t it lovely of them!” she exclaimed. “I do so love flowers.” When the door-bell rang and the maid came to the dining-room to say that some one wanted to see the “lady of the house,” Lillian exclaimed, “Now, mother, we don’t want to buy any lace or baby garments, or have any washing-machines demonstrated.” “Mother,” she explained, as Mrs. Gish left the room, “just can’t say ‘No’ to anyone. Last week she bought a whole trunkful of lace from a peddler—stuff that we can’t possibly use.”
dorothy gish – as photographed for – dorothy and lillian gish – by lillian gish
After luncheon, when we went upstairs to don our wraps for a drive, Mother Gish showed me her babies’ pictures. “My girls have never given me a moment’s worry!” she said with pride.
In the sewing-room, where the lovebirds and the cockatoo hold forth, dainty rainbow garments were in the making, bits of chiffon in lavenders, pinks and blues, latticed with dainty Val lace. The whole home atmosphere is just the same that you find in any lovely home.
Love is there—perfect understanding. Nothing up-stage about these two stars, no envy of each other’s success!
As we left the house I took an inventory, as a woman will, of Lillian’s costume. She wore a white skirt and waist with a short black jacket having white cuffs and collar. A soft white hat framed her face. Her lips are thin, beautifully formed, like a rosebud; her skin is unusually white ; her hair a soft, natural blonde and her eyes a lovely blue-gray. She uses no rouge. She is all that is refined. A patrician from her head to her heels.
Dorothy wore the same kind of waist and skirt, with a green jacket, and went shopping for a white Tarn to finish the costume.
“Oh, Lil,” Dorothy said, as we drove along, “the last time I wore this dress was in Paris. Do. you remember?”
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Lillian, “and —the last time I wore this dress was in Paris.”
“What was the greatest, most interesting thing you saw on your trip?” I asked. “The Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor,” said Lillian, with reverence. “The trip across to make ‘Hearts of the World’ was a great experience,” said Dorothy. “I wouldn’t take worlds for it, and I wouldn’t do it again for worlds. If the winning of this war depended on me, I don’t know what democracy would do. I’m the greatest little coward in the world. Wouldn’t cross the ocean again for anything. Just the same, the trip gave me a greater appreciation of the brave fellows who are going.”
Several days later I talked to Miss Gish on the ‘phone. “We’re in such a mess !” she wailed. “The chauffeur got hurt, the cook’s in a hospital, and the maid was taken to an asylum—all in one day ! Mother’s the cook, Dorothy’s the chauffeur, and ‘ I’m the maid.” And—I’ll warrant they all filled their jobs well.
Lillian Gish is a serious-honest-earnest little worker. She wants only the applause she earns and will work untiringly for all that she gets. She is very modest, unassuming, and nothing is too much trouble that she can do to please any one. To the joy of all her friends, Miss Gish is to be starred in five-reel features, instead of giving so much of her time to the making of one. This will give her public an opportunity to see her oftener, and, since she will continue under Griffith’s direction, her work will be of the same value that she has already given us in “The Birth of a Nation” and her latest success, “Hearts of the World.”