Today marks the birthday of Dorothy Gish, silent film star of the 1920s. Born on March 11, 1898, many people are familiar with her famous sister, Lillian Gish. But Dorothy was also a talented actress in her own right, known for her skill at pantomime and her comedic roles. She had the more outgoing, vivacious personality of the two. In 1927 her sister wrote of her-
“She is laughter, even on the cloudy days of life. Nothing bothers her or saddens her or concerns her lastingly.”
Dorothy Gish was only 4 years old when she began her acting career with her sister. Her mother, also an actress, introduced her daughters to the stage at a young age to help with household expenses. Their father had abandoned the family and Dorothy and Lillian’s mom needed them to work to help pay the bills.
Dorothy and Lillian Gish publicity photo- Orphans of the Storm (1921)
They eventually were befriended by Mary Pickford, another silver screen legend, who later introduced the girls to renowned director D.W. Griffith, who immediately cast them in roles for several movies. One of his most notable films, and one of the last the sisters starred in together was Orphans of the Storm(1921), a movie about two orphaned girls during the French Revolution. In one scene Dorothy was filmed with rats crawling all over her. The director later had to cut the scene because it was considered too horrifying for the general public. From a 1963 article in the Harvard Crimson, Dorothy was quoted as saying-
“Mr. Griffith was excited with the possibilities of a horde of rats, and photographed them covering me. But I guess the effect was too strong for a ‘twenties’ audience…”
Imagine? A scene like that would be considered tame by today’s standards!
After her last film appearance with her sister in Romola (1924), she was offered a part as mistress of the King of England in the British film Nell Gwyn (1926). This was the first time she would star in a film without Lillian and she was really able to shine. The director, Herbert Wilcox, said “She radiated with the joy of life. It was humor out of the top drawer and sex appeal to boot!”
Dorothy Gish in Nell Gwyn (1926)
Dorothy appeared in over 100 films, her first “talkie” being Wolves (1930), a British crime movie. The “talkies” did not appeal to Dorothy , so she returned to the stage for most of the 1930s and 40s. She acted in only three more films after that, the last being Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963). She suffered from ill health the last years of her life and died of pneumonia in 1968, with her sister by her side.
Have a glamorous day!