The Life Story of Lillian the Ethereal and Dorothy the Joyous
Lillian and Dorothy Gish, famous him sisters, are just as dissimilar in real life as they are in the type of roles they portray for the screen. There is such an air of ethereal loveliness about Lillian that you feel as though a puff of wind would blow her away ; Dorothy, on the other hand, has an air of breeziness about her, and there is a frank boyish directness in her speech and manner. Although these girls are utterly unlike each other, they are the very best of pals. Ever since they were tiny tots they have been all in all to one another, and—a most unusual thing for sisters—they never quarrel!
“ We have never quarrelled,” says Lillian, “ because we respect each other. Not even when I directed Dorothy for a film. We knew that each was working for the other’s benefit, and Dorothy followed my directions just as she would those of any other director.” One of the greatest points of difference between the two sisters is that Dorothy loves to go about and mix with crowds of people, but Lillian doesn’t.
Mrs. Gish was little more than a girl herself when she was left a widow with her two small daughters. She found there was very little money with which to carry on, and that it would be essential for her to earn a living for herself and Lillian and Dorothy immediately. She had never been on the stage before, but when somebody suggested that she should try the acting profession, she made an application to a well-known stock company, and, much to her astonishment was given a job. It was not long after this that someone in the theatrical line saw Mrs. Gish’s pretty little daughters, and suggested that they, too, would be able to secure engagements on the stage. They were little more than babies when they made their first professional appearances. At a matter of fact, Lillian was about six years old when she first began to act. You may think that they had a very hard and unhappy childhood. Of course, to a certain extent the life was hard, but their mother, with tender love and care, watched over them and saw to it that their childhood should not be unhappy. If you have seen any of the photographs of Lillian and Dorothy as youngsters, you will realise that she succeeded, for you can see in their little faces that they were a couple of happy children. Soon after her first stage engagement Lillian became a pupil at a dancing school, and her next engagement was as one of the fairy dancers with Sarah Bernhardt, who was then making one of her American tours. She remained with Madame Bernhardt for two seasons, and then went to New York to finish her dancing lessons.
An Old Friend
Strangely enough, it was Mary Pickford who was instrumental in launching the Gish girls on their film careers. Lillian and Dorothy knew Mary when she was Gladys Smith, and they used to play with her and her brother and sister, Jack and Lottie. The Gish girls had been acting on the stage for about six years when one day a chance visit to a picture show revealed the face of their old playmate. Once they had acted with Mary in the same stage play, and when Mrs. Gish saw that her daughters’ old playmate had made good on the screen, she thought why couldn’t her girls do the same. She accordingly decided to go and see Mary, who was more than delighted to see her old friends once more. She promised to do all she could to get them a chance to play for the films, but just at the moment she herself was about to fulfil a stage engagement in a play called “ A Good Little Devil.” She offered, however, to try and get them parts in the same play for the time being. When the manager saw the two girls he turned to Dorothy and said : ” You don’t want to go on the stage, you are too young.” Of course, Dorothy, with great pride, told him that she had been on the stage“ ‘ of times.” Lillian was engaged for the small part of a fairy in Good Little Devil,” and played for the entire run the play with her old friend, Mary Pickford.
A Meeting with D. W. Griffith
True to her promise, when the play was finished, Mary asked Lillian and Dorothy to the old Biograph studio, to see what she could do for them in the way of film work. They were waiting with their mother in the reception room of the studio when a man passed them, who happened to be none other than D. W. Griffith. He knew at a glance that Lillian particularly was just the type for picture work ; Dorothy was a bit young, he thought. He sent for the little girls and their mother, and made Lillian and Dorothy an offer straight away of “ extra ” work.
There were many weeks of this kind of work before Griffith would entrust Lillian to play a small part. He wanted to be quite sure of his “ find,” and he also wanted her to have confidence in herself. Her first real part was in ” Oil and Water,” which was produced in 1912.
With the old Biograph company she played many parts, and one of her favourites was in “ An Unseen Enemy,” in which Dorothy also appeared. Films were at a ” serious ” stage when Lillian and Dorothy first played for them, and although Dorothy was only fourteen she played nuns, cast-off daughters, wronged sisters, and even mothers ! And she confesses now that she revelled in all the black, hopeless sorrow she could put into those roles.
“ It is strange that it took a picture of the war’s tragedy to show me that I wanted to play comedy, but it’s true. The part of the Little Disturber in “Hearts of the World” was the turning point with me, for I became so interested in her that I suddenly discovered that I loved comedy. It is such fun to make the world laugh ” she says.
The Gish girls were both born in Ohio, Lillian in Springfield, and Dorothy in Dayton. Lillian is the elder by two years, having been born on October 14th, ***1896, while Dorothy was born on March 11th, 1898.
They both have blue eyes, and both are fair, although we are apt to think of Dorothy as dark owing to the fact that she always wears a black wig for her picture work.
Lillian and Dorothy make a delightful combination in the same film, and all the photoplays in which they have played together have been a remarkable success. Among the best known are “Hearts of the World,” “The Birth of a Nation,” “Orphans of the Storm,” and “Romola.”
*** Lillian Gish’s birth year was actually 1893. Due to different reasons appears as 1896 in a lot of publications. Lillian even, used to give 1896 as her birth-year in many interviews.