True Heart Susie (1919)

Director: D.W. Griffith

Writer: Marian Fremont (story)

Released under Paramount Pictures’ prestigious Artcraft label.

In 1919 Adolph Zukor devised a three-tiered brand system – the Artcraft division for its high-end, A-list product (ones that could command higher roadshow admissions in major cities) and Realart on the opposite end. The middle tier, which comprised the bulk of the studio’s mainstream releases, was the Paramount banner. This quality classification existed for five years.


D.W. Griffith became cinema’s first Modernist by trying to continue the traditions of Victorian theater and literature; in attempting to perpetuate the 19th century, he invented the 20th. Nowhere is this paradoxical effect more evident than in TRUE HEART SUSIE, one of his greatest films. “Do men look for the true heart in women? Or are most of them caught by the net of paint, powder, and suggestive clothes?” Among the many Peary-listed films Lillian Gish made with D.W. Griffith — including The Birth of a Nation (1915), Hearts of the World (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1921) — True Heart Susie is the sweetest and least complicated. It tells the touching tale of a naive country girl (Gish) who genuinely believes that her ambitious yet sincere young neighbor (Harron) is meant to be her future husband, and gives up her beloved cow towards this good cause; Harron’s continued oblivion of Gish’s feelings — and Gish’s shifting reactions (from blind optimism to heartbroken acceptance) — form the emotional backbone of the film, which is ultimately little more than a love triangle involving a deceptive vamp. It’s Gish’s performance which really elevates the movie above its somewhat predictable material: watching her face as she learns about Harron’s engagement, one is reminded once again about her status as silent cinema’s most accomplished actress.

Photo: Griffith and Harron on set for “Birth of A Nation”

d.w. griffith and robert harron taking a lunch break during the filming of the birth of a nation

Note: The life-story of handsome Harron — who had earlier co-starred in the modern episode of Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) — is quite tragic and mysterious; he died from a gunshot wound the year after this film was released, under shadowy circumstances.

  • Lillian Gish … True Heart Susie
  • Robert Harron … William Jenkins
  • Wilbur Higby … William’s father
  • Loyola O’Connor … Susie’s aunt
  • George Fawcett … The Stranger
  • Clarine Seymour … Bettina Hopkins
  • Kate Bruce … Bettina’s aunt
  • Carol Dempster … Bettina’s friend
  • Raymond Cannon … Sporty Malone

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Hearts of the World (1918)

D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front
D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front



Photo: Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World promotional STAGG L.A.

The sweetest love story ever told A romance of the great war Battle scenes taken on the battle-fields of France (Under the auspices of the British and French War Offices) David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

“Hearts of the World” was shown for a tryout at Pomona, California, on Monday, March 11, 1918, and during the rest of the week at Clune’s Auditorium, Los Angeles.

Both Lillian and Dorothy had studied and worked very hard for this picture, and it had been obtained at the risk of their mother’s life and their own. It deserved success, and it had it. Lillian, as the heroine of the story, captured and mistreated, gave a beautiful and pathetic presentation of her part. Dorothy, “the Little Disturber,” a strolling singer, had a role suited to her gifts. A lute under her arm, she romped through the war scenes with a jaunty swagger, which, set to music, was irresistible.

Dorothy as "The Little Disturber"
Dorothy as “The Little Disturber”
Dorothy Gish as The Little Disturber in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish as The Little Disturber in The Hearts of The World

A London street-girl had provided the original. Lillian discovered her one day, and followed her about, to copy her artistic points. Bobby Harron was the hero-lover of the story—a very good story, on the whole—though it was the ravage and desolation of war that was the picture’s chief value.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - The Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

On April 4, “Hearts of the World” was presented at the 44th Street Theatre, before an invited audience. When, on the following evening, the theatre was opened to the public, seats sold by speculators brought as high as five and ten dollars. There were long runs everywhere. In Pittsburgh, the picture broke all records for any theatrical attraction in that city.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World
Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

The writer of these chapters saw the film at this time, and again, with Lillian, in 193 1. A good deal of it was remembered vividly enough. It had been the first World War picture, and it remained one of the best. The trench fighting was terribly realistic. There were scenes taken on the field that were war itself. Always, the action is swift. Toward the end of the picture, where Lillian and Bobby are defending themselves against a German assault, it becomes fairly breathless.

Hearts of The World Program
Hearts of The World Program

Throughout, the picture has a tender quality, in spite of its cruel setting. But there are  exceptions to this, one especially: Lillian in the hands of a German, whipped because she cannot handle a big basket of potatoes.

Lillian in the hands of a German
Lillian in the hands of a German …

“Did the beating hurt?” I asked.

“Terribly. I was padded, but not nearly enough. My back bore the marks for weeks. Mother was fearfully wrought up over it.”

Lillian in the hands of a German - Poster
Lillian in the hands of a German – Poster

She approved the picture, as a whole. Thought it better than many of those made today. She was not far wrong. There was more sincerity of intention—more earnest work. At one place, the heroine, through the shock and agony of war, becomes mentally unhinged. Lillian’s portrayal of the gradual approach of this broken condition was as fascinating as it was sorrowful. (Life and Lillian Gish – 1932)

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy)
Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy)


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November 11, 1918

Same Production as Shown ll Months New York, 5 Months Boston, 6 Months Chicago, 8 Months Los Angeles

No papier-mache scenery, no studio “props,” no supers, no artificialities of any kind figured in filming this wonderful new Griffith masterpiece.

The greatest achievement in Mr. Griffith’s entire career, even surpassing ‘The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance.

Hearts of The World - Adv2

“A story so sweet it turns the heart to tears; so strong and virile it fires the brain with an amazing fervor; so realistic and terrible that it strikes terror to the very marrow of the bones.”

DW Griffith in France 1917 D. W. Griffith, American film master
DW Griffith in France 1917


Armistice Day The first crowds gather at Buckingham palace in London for Armistice Day 11 November 1918
The first crowds gather at Buckingham palace in London for Armistice Day 11 November 1918 to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. While this official date to mark the end of the war reflects the ceasefire on the Western Front, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire…

(Leatrice Joy recalled a scene in one of the World War I films Lillian Gish made for D. W. Griffith in 1918 and how it influenced her years later in the 1920s.) Lillian was saying farewell to her sweetheart, who was Bobby Harron . . . She was in such pain saying farewell to this fellow she loved so dearly that her expression was almost heavenly. . . .she wobbled her lip a little bit. I’d never seen any expression like that. It was so–oh, it was so heartbreaking. I put it in my little memory and I said, “Someday, I’ll use that.”

  It must have been at least ten years later that I was in a similar scene saying farewell to my soldier sweetheart. When I got to the heartbreaking part, I wobbled my lip and Mr. DeMille yelled, “Cut! Lights! Cameras!” He walked over to me and said, “Miss Joy, will you please stop trying to be Lillian Gish?” I was so embarrassed I almost died. From then on, I thought the best thing I could do was to create my own technique.

  • From the interview with Leatrice Joy in “Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1989 (page 63):


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