Picture Play Magazine – Vol. XXIII November 1925 No.3
Hollywood High Lights
Surveying the adventures, both intimate and incandescent, of the film folk.
By Edwin and Elza Schallert
She has remained in virtual isolation ever since she came to California
HOLLYWOOD has a new mystery, and it may surprise the world to learn that it surrounds Lillian Gish, Where does she go ? what does she do ?—are the questions that everybody has been asking.
She has remained in virtual isolation ever since she came to California, and this is not in accord with the newer rules of the colony. These prescribe that one be gregarious—we believe that is the word—or else utterly unusual. Lillian spends much of her time, as is her wont, reading and studying, and seldom goes to social affairs, except to those at which Doug and Mary preside.
Miss Gish has also upset other precedents. She rehearsed her production of “La Boheme” in its entirety in the accepted Griffith fashion. She was busy for weeks acting out her tragic role before the camera ground a single time. When there were no settings ready, she went through the action on a bare stage with a table and a chair for props, just as is done in the spoken drama.
Lillian has always worked on her pictures that way, but her method is practically unknown in the Western studios. It is the custom to rehearse each scene separately, and photograph it immediately. Some of the time the actors are lucky if they know what the story is about. More than a few have confessed to us that they never see the script on certain pictures in which they play, and that they have only a very hazy notion of the character they are supposed to interpret.
Miss Gish’s method, while it may be thought too expensive for universal adoption, is considered excellent, because it puts the player so thoroughly in the mood of the picture, before the filming itself begins, and doubtless goes far to explain the heights she has attained as an actress.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
It would be a surprise, wouldn’t it, if you asked for “Diana Ward” at a hotel desk and had Lillian Gish, in person, answer the summons? In one of those shy, retiring moods characteristic of her, Miss Gish came to New York incognito—under the above name—for a change of atmosphere just before she essayed the role of Pauli in the film version of Channing Pollock’s stirring stage play, “The Enemy.”
circa 1924: Lillian Diana Gish, originally Lillian de Guiche (1893 – 1993). She played a lot of waif type heroines during her silent film career but never quite made the successful transition to talking pictures.
Lillian Gish , The Enemy, 1927
Lillian Gish starring in “The Enemy” Promotional
Lillian Gish and Ralph Forbes in “The Enemy” (MGM, 1927)
A demure little figure in her black furs and conservative toque, she might have passed for any of a dozen inconspicuous Miss Wards had it not been for her large solemn eyes and delicately modeled hands. Miss Gish, the mature young woman of to-day, is a well-poised, well-balanced being, with a becoming dignity and reserve found only in combination with intelligence, sureness and a sense of the fitness of things.
In contrast with the earthy Jack Gilbert, Miss Gish tells you that her one aim in molding a characterization is But let her tell it in her own words.
Lillian Gish in Scarlet Letter – Vanity Fair Magazine August 1926
Hester Prynne – Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter
“When I am looking for material for myself, there is one desire uppermost. I want a story that has in it at least one or two moments of great beauty. I wanted ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ for example, because of that beautiful love scene played over the heads of the people.” The Reverend Dimmesdale, if you remember, and Hester Prynne, so exquisitely portrayed by Miss Gish, pour out their souls to each other on the scaffolding in the square before crowds of derisive Puritans.
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
The White Sister
“And ‘The White Sister’ appealed to me because of the spiritual beauty of the ceremonial when the young nun takes her vow. And in ‘La Boheme’ I hoped we would capture for a little the elusive beauty to be found in the Puccini opera.”
Lillian Gish Close Up – Mimi in La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Jeanne d’Arc is a character whom Miss Gish hopes some day to portray, when the time, the gods, and the powers that be are propitious. “But my Jeanne must be perfect,” she said. “I have read hundreds of books about her. I know her from the conceptions of dozens of different authors and commentators. To me she is a most delicate girl with amazing faith and perception. You know, she pleaded her own breach-of-promise suit, and that takes brains and stamina. And much as I love and admire Jeanne, I shall never play her until the picture can be made in France and a year can be spent in its preparation. Jeanne’s whole life was beautiful in its faith, and we must present it perfectly or leave it undone.”
Miss Gish feels that the outdoor sports of the day are bound to produce an unfavorable result for films. “For,” she. said, “how can the movies compete with the great out-of-doors, once people learn to appreciate and love the open air? It is all an evidence of the vitality of America that, throughout the country, every one is determined these days to get into knickerbockers and tweeds and romp about playing games. I am afraid the movie theaters will suffer terribly by comparison.” A few days, stolen from her mother’s bedside, were all Miss Gish could spare to spend in the great seething metropolis of the East. But Mrs. Gish, she reported, was recovering slowly from the stroke which had laid her low, and the Gish girls, who are devoted to their mother, feel they have every reason to rejoice. “Dorothy calls England ‘home’ now,” said Lillian, “but we intend to win her back.”
Picture Play Magazine – November 1920 Vol. XIII No.3
My Friend, Lillian Gish
The screen really tells you almost nothing about her
By Louise Williams
IT’S queer, the ideas you get about stars, isn’t it? Some of them fit right in with your daily life perfectly ; it’s easy to imagine yourself going to the movies with Constance Talmadge and strolling down to the corner drug store for a soda afterward, or being asked to a bridge party at Anita Stewart’s, or driving off somewhere for a picnic with Corinne Griffith. And then, again, there are others that haven’t any point of contact with your own affairs at all ; you see them on the screen, like them, and that’s about all there is to it. Lillian Gish used to be one of those people to me. I couldn’t imagine myself knowing her. I cried over her in “Hearts of the World” and “Broken Blossoms,” and privately considered her just about as human and knowable as the Dresden china figure on my mantelpiece. Then, one day, in a hotel lobby, Richard Barthelmess said quite suddenly :
“There’s Lillian Gish ; let’s go over and say hello to her.”
“No, I don’t want to,” I retorted, sinking farther down into my chair. “I’m afraid I might not like her.” A bombardment promptly began. Had I ever seen her off the screen ? No. Ever met any of her friends? No. Why didn’t I want to meet her? Well, she seemed so ethereal, so fragile, so out of the world, somehow. If he didn’t mind, I’d rather not even turn around and look at her. But he did mind—and two seconds later I was being introduced to a slender girl with a little black hat drawn close over her light hair, and a black tulle scarf drawn up close around her throat, and she was clasping my hand warmly and saying:
“I don’t see just why you should want to meet me—but I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” I had a guilty feeling at that; I’ve told her about it since. For you see, she’s one of my best friends now, though I don’t believe she knows it. Lillian Gish is one of those people whose personality makes for her a wide highway to your very heart. She’s frank and unassuming, except about her sister Dorothy, for whom she claims the world and the fullness thereof. You don’t feel like going around gushing fatuously about her—but you just like her so well that you feel as if you’d known her forever and ever. The people who compare her to lilies in the moonlight and violin music in a garden at dusk and all that sort of thing are perfectly right ; she does suggest things like that. She has great, deep-blue eyes, and a wistful mouth, capable of the most heart-breaking smile, as the fans know all too well. But she has a sense of humor that carries her through even when the cellar of her house is flooded, in midwinter, and the floor of the garage gives way and lets her car into the abyss beneath. And when there’s something practical to be attended to she’s no more the sweet, girly-girly type of person than is her own sister Dorothy.
For she’s one of the most practical people I know. The theory that if you have lots of money you must spend it like a South American millionaire, which governs so many actresses, has no part in her scheme of things. When I discovered that she planned the spending of her income as carefully as I do that of my allowance I was rather startled. One of the Talmadges had phoned her, and that led to a discussion of the gorgeous clothes which they wear. Mrs. Gish suggested that Lillian find out where Norma had bought the frock she’d worn the evening before.
“Oh, mother, I did—and I never could afford to go there !” Lillian exclaimed, aghast at the mere thought of such a thing. And since then I’ve learned that she never rushes out and just spends for the joy of spending; that she orders the use of her money just as wisely as she does that of everything else. The last time I saw her was just as she was beginning work at the head of her own company. She might have been a young man just going into business for himself, opening a garage or a plumbing hop or a lawyer’s office, from the way she talked. Her years in the motion-picture business have not been spent with her eyes shut; she knows just how a picture’s market value affects the production end, the things you’ve got to consider when you buy a scenario, and why not even an artistically unhappy ending is as successful as an out-and-out happy one.
“There’s no telling how this new venture of mine is going to turn out,” she told me that day. “Maybe I’ll be back in Mr. Griffith’s company at the end of my two-years’ contract with the Frohman Company, that’s starring me. Well, we all have to find out some time whether we’re the kind of people who can stand alone or the kind who must lean on someone else.
“I’m going to do some rather tragic roles, I think.” she went on. “Of course, it’s the people in the little country towns whom I must please ; they are the ones who are really responsible for the success of a picture. Having New York like us is flattering—but I’d rather be popular in Camden, Maine, than on Broadway.” Which, while its’ a wise choice, isn’t really a necessary one, in my opinion ; from what I know of Lillian I’d wager that both Broadway and Camden will be at her feet when she makes her stellar debut.
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
Picture Play Magazine – June, 1926 Volume XXIV No. 4
Hollywood High Lights
Lillian by the Sea
Lillian Gish has succumbed to the lure of the seaside. When she first came to California, she stopped at the Beverly Hills Hotel, but now she has rented Mrs. Charlotte Pickford’s house at Santa Monica.
“I am doing all the pleasurable and recreational things that I have wanted to do all my life,” she told us not long ago. “I am sleeping out underneath the stars on a sleeping porch, going in swimming every morning, and am taking up horseback riding. I am going to ride along the beach, too, right at the edge of the surf, and splash through it if I want.”
Incidentally, she has had a touch of loneliness lately, because of the fact that her sister Dorothy, who came to the Coast for a brief visit, is now in Europe, to be gone a whole year. Mary and Doug, too, with whom Lillian, usually spends much of her time, have also left.
La Tragique Lillian.
Another picture that we have looked at lately is “La Boheme,” with Lillian Gish and Jack Gilbert. King Vidor, who made “The Big Parade,” was the director. It looks as though he will make nothing but the bigger type of feature from now on.
“La Boheme” we liked, because of the acting of Miss Gish, particularly in the death scene, and because of its remarkable pictorial beauty. There are many scenes in this film that are so like paintings that they are delightful. It is incidentally the kind of picture that necessitates the borrowing of an extra large handkerchief from dad—the kind of picture, in fact, that makes for a fine, weepy afternoon or evening, and that may be rendered magical through the further emotion stirred up by a musical accompaniment arranged, from the opera.
It is not exactly the sort of film, however, that will appeal to the male contingent of the family, unless they happen to be of a very artistic frame of mind, and capable of appreciating beauty in the abstract. “La Boheme” cannot be said to possess sturdy entertainment values, but its high qualities of beauty make it a production well worth every fan’s time.
Gilbert’s portrayal is not one of his most striking, but he is, as always, a flashing personality, and some of his acting, as when during the celebration of his success he longs for the return of Mimi, is very effective. The story has been properly purified to pass the censors, but manages to follow with very fair loyalty the original opera. We meant to mention, in speaking of these two pictures, that George K. Arthur does a characterization of almost unrivaled sincerity as the celebrated modiste. Madame Lucy—yes, she’s a man—in “Irene,” and that Renee Adoree, in her very brief opportunity as Musetta in “La Boheme,” is truly fascinating. This girl has a great chance to be the one and only favorite in roles that are French-accented. Arthur, who was The Boy of the now historic, but not to be forgotten, five-thousand-dollar “Salvation Hunters.” is rapidlv coming to be one of the film’s most efficient young character players. He could have made a wretched burlesque of Madame Lucy in “Irene,” but he plays this role so much as if he believed in it that he does not run the least risk—and there was a danger of that—of giving offense to those who happen to be a little discriminating about the sort of types that they see in pictures.
The Bernhardt of the Screen.
I wish to say that I sat through—or rather wept through—”La Boheme,” and I call Lillian Gish’s interpretation of Mimi perfect ! And I think those critics who do not agree with me simply are not able to appreciate Miss Gish’s fragile beauty and pathos. I had not seen this great artist for ten years (since “The Birth of a Nation”) and it overawes me to think what heights of greatness she will have reached ten years from today. Yes, I fully believe Lillian Gish is to be “The Bernhardt of the Screen !” Boston, Massachusetts. A. L. S.
Picture Play Magazine Volume XXII July, 1925 No. 5
An Illustrious Sister Act
An appraisal of the art of Lillian Gish, who is about to begin a new phase of her long career, with a few words about her sister Dorothy.
By Malcolm H. Oettinger
IF you or some other curious person were to stop me some summer morning and ask point blank: “Who is the best actress unrolling her talents on celluloid?” I- should, -without quibbling, cast my two or three votes—for such is the system in Pennsylvania — in favor of Lillian Gish. When serious thinkers and cynical souls of all sexes begin to crown the baby art with wild raspberries it is always possible to exact a temporary reprieve for the films by mentioning Lillian Gish. Such reluctant optimists as George Jean Nathan and Joseph Hergesheimer have dedicated psalms to Lillian; aloof fellows, they have abandoned their usual frapped poise to compose veritable paeans of praise in her honor. No one can doubt the sincerity of these testimonials; no one can question the worthiness of the recipient.
Her work in “Broken Blossoms” alone is sufficient evidence. Those who refuse to consider one count as final are referred to “The White Sister,” in which the Gish sincerity made one forget the glucose sentimentality: “Way Down East,” in which her poignant characterization gleamed like a diamond in a popcorn ball; “The Birth of a Nation,” in which Griffith blended her gifts with a moving symphony of tremendous power.
Lillian Gish could wring my heart even if she played Little Eva or Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model; she has the steadily glowing spark of genius. Her great performances are not occasional, they are consistent. Nor is hers an art that must, like virtue, be, to some extent, its own reward. Unfortunate contractual agreements have handicapped her, but that her box-office value has remained intact was shown by the line-up of producers who, glowering at each other, stormed the lobby of her hotel upon the recent announcement that a Federal judge had declared her free from all claims of her late impresario, and open to new offers. As you probably know, she decided, after weighing all offers, to sign with Metro-Goldwyn.
Ordinarily it is simple to write of the ladies of the screen. They are bound to be beautiful, in varying degree ; they are likely to be engaging, if only as a concession to their great public ; occasionally they turn out to be clever. Writing of Lillian Gish is more difficult. Standing head and shoulders above her sister players, she is to be pointed out as the one artiste of the silver so-called sheet. Nazimova was mentioned in the same breath until she began to look upon picture making as a Ford owner looks upon a one-man top. Now it is Lillian Gish alone. (The Negri of “Passion” flashed across the horizon and disappeared, never, apparently, to return.
The rest of the ladies—Swanson, Pickford, Talmadge—hold no claim to greatness save as tremendously popular favorites.) There is no hocus pocus to encounter and overcome before gaining an audience with Lillian Gish. Granted a reasonably good phone connection, a taxi, and an elevator, and you stand at her door without further ado. And very likely she will open it.
She is delicately beautiful, with haunting eyes set far apart, dainty nose verging on the retrousse, and lips that a more pyrotechnical phrasemaker would term rosebud. They are small and curved and shy. But in describing her you are certain to come back to her eyes—soulful, wistful, fine eyes that seem to say, “I am a little disillusioned, a little weary, a trifle sad, but tomorrow may be brighter.” Her manner is reserved, almost timid. Her poise extends to the point of placidity. She is balanced and calm and thoughtful In her opinions. Her conversation further reveals her underlying tolerance regarding all things. When we discussed the theater—and she had seen everything from “The Miracle” to “Abie’s Irish Rose”—she was kindly in her judgments, speaking well of most plays and performers, maintaining a significant silence to indicate disapproval. “How fine it would be,” she remarked, “if the Theater Guild were to create a sister organization that would function through motion pictures ! The Guild has done so many splendid things. The screen could well afford such a group of artistic producers.” She spoke of the cruel necessity for condensing pictures to meet standard theater requirements. “After we’ve put months and months into the planning and making and careful cutting of a picture play,” she said, “it hurts terribly to see it slashed mercilessly until it is inside the two-hour limit. Jumps appear, continuity ceases … what have you? … I always feel a personal loss when a scene is hacked away, a scene that may have represented days of careful work. . . . Yet I realize the practical necessity for reducing a feature picture to regular running time.” She sighed, and a helpless little frown appeared. “That is. where we are so handicapped.
We must always bow to practical demands. The sculptor does not. The author does not. No one dictates to the poet or the sincere playwright. Yet the artist working in the medium of films is permanently hobbled by certain restrictions and fetishes and unwritten laws.” When she talks it is quietly, briefly. The quotations you are reading did not flow forth. They are a series of observations gathered, assorted, and bound together. I had seen Lillian Gish at Mamaroneck in 1921 when she was engaged in making “Orphans of the Storm.” Seeing her again reminded me how little she had changed. To my notion, the remarkable thing is her utter lack of affectation, her absolute sincerity, her genuine simplicity and naturalness. After all, when you pause to consider that here is the great actress of the screen, worthy of being ranked among the great stage figures of her time, the absence of pomp and importance is a bit amazing. She has nothing of that charming artificiality or artificial charm, if you will, characteristic of so many actresses. She has charm alone. Midway during my visit Dorothy Gish joined us. Were one to search the seven seas one could find no contrast more complete than the sisters Gish. Together they form the last word in opposite temperaments. Dorothy Gish is the modernist, fresh from shopping on Fifth Avenue, luncheon at Pierre’s, and Dorothy Gish is the the latest in shingles ; Lillian – is the classic-modernist, impetuos, observant, thoughtful, reserved. Dorothy is impetuous, fleeting, impulsive, flip; Lillian pensive, deliberate, calculating”, practical.
The little disturber is typical of the young American; Lillian, Old World, aristocratic. Dorothy spoke glowingly of the Duncan sisters, “The Firebrand,” Heifetz, Nurmi, Robert Edmond Jones, and the weather ; Lillian listened, smiling. (“I’ve seen ‘Rain’ nine times,” Dorothy exclaimed. “Whenever it comes near New York I see it over and over. Jeanne Eagles, grows better every time I see her. She’s marvelous, wonderful, superb!”) Dorothy is an opportunist, reckless perhaps, but gay, and ever on the go.
Lillian is the planner, cautious, even reluctant in taking decisive steps. Well she may be. From a purely commercial viewpoint hers has been a heart-breaking career. Time after time fortune has hovered above her head, only to fade into thin air before becoming a reality. Griffith never was able to pay huge salaries because of the reckless manner in which he mounts his pictures and the leisure with which he completes them. The Frohman Corporation signed her as a high-salaried star, then promptly dissolved. And latterly Inspiration Films had proven inspired only in so far as acting has been concerned. Both Dick Barthelmess and Henry King had legal difficulties over the trying matter of remuneration, and then Miss Gish was obliged to resort to courts for adjustment of her affairs with them. Her last picture with Inspiration was “Romola,” in which Dorothy shares honors.
“We spent six months in Italy on ‘Romola,’ ” said Lillian. “We were completely absorbed in it. A beautiful story. I had always had my heart set upon doing it. “We worked night and day. While light permitted we would And locations and take exteriors. At night at the hotel we would rewrite the script, adjusting it in many instances to local conditions.” The fact that Lillian Gish has directed pictures and is fully conversant with the technical side of the studio increased her cares tenfold. There were huge dynamos to he imported from Rome, trucks to be located, currents to be converted, licenses to be obtained.
“There were a hundred and one difficulties to overcome.” Her slender white hands fluttered in a descriptive gesture. “The places for backgrounds that were in reach of lighting equipment. Extras. Dependable technical assistants. The authorities were most kind, but there were so many obstacles.
“I loved Florence, though,” said Dorothy. “So did Ronald Colman and Henry King.” “We saw them in Hollywood recently,” Lillian interposed. “We went out for the opening of ‘Romola.’ They said they wanted more Florence and less Hollywood. . . . How that little town has changed. I hadn’t seen it for years and years. . . . Since ‘Intolerance.’ It was a nice little country town then. Make-shift. Delightful. Now it’s … it’s so grown-up !” Dorothy was reminded of Michael Aden,, a favorite of the moment. Lillian expressed her admiration for the new Burke autobiography, “The Wind and the Rain.” Both of the blond sisters had enjoyed Milne’s inimitable “When We Were Very Young.” They were curious regarding the Sinclair Lewis novel, “Arrowsmith.”
Although you would never learn such things from Lillian herself, it is true that she- has made tremendous sacrifices for her various successes. In “Way Down East” she played in a raging blizzard until she collapsed before the camera. Her hands were frozen. During the making of “Broken Blossoms” she lost thirteen pounds in ten days as a result of the high emotional tension under which she was laboring. For “The White Sister” she worked night and day all of the final week to complete it on time. Despite all this she looks youthful and fresh, twenty-five perhaps, pink and white, ethereal. There is nothing of the theater about her even though she has devoted something over fifteen years to stage and screen.
“The trying part of picture making,!’ she confessed gently, “is the combining art and business. You are expected to create just as one creates a painting or a symphony, yet you must submit to efficiency men, time clocks, schedules, and manufacturers’ methods. It strikes me as incongruous. . . . Yet I can see perfectly why it is so. But until things undergo a distinct change it will remain an herculean task to lift pictures above the machine-like standards of “program features.'” By the time these lines appear, Lillian Gish should he in Los Angeles, at work on “The Outsider.” But wherever her present—and I trust, more gratifying—contract may take her, Lillian Gish still will remain the great actress of the screen.
Lillian Gish – Vanity Fair April 1925 detail
Lillian Gish Master for Way Down East cover, here in ROMOLA (photo 1925) detail
Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola High Resolution Promotional
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.