By the Editors of TIME-LIFE BOOKS Alexandria, Virginia
America is in a period of clamor, of bewilderment, of an almost tremulous unrest. We are hastily reviewing all our social conceptions. We are profoundly disenchanted. – The New Democracy by Walter Weyl, 1912
The Movie Queens
LILLIAN AND DOROTHY GISH, two sisters who exuded a rarefied aura of crushed lavender and moonbeams (opposite), were among the first representatives of a new phenomenon in America—the movie queen. They belonged to a celebrated handful of film actresses, some demure ingenues, some femmes fatales, who had come to symbolize through their movie roles the romantic ideals of the nation. An adoring public showered them with fan letters, and girls all over America tried to emulate their clothes, their hair styles and their ways with men.
But like many silent film queens, the Gish sisters in real life were not quite what they seemed on the screen. Neither innocent nor fragile, they had already knocked about the theatrical world for almost a decade, playing children’s parts in road companies. They joined the movies in 1912, when Lillian (at left in the photograph) was 16 and Dorothy 14, after discovering that a friend, another child actress named Gladys Smith (below), was earning $175 a week at Biograph and riding around in a limousine.
The Gishes were unruffled by Biograph’s unorthodox screen test, an unnerving 10 minutes during which the director, D. W. Griffith, chased them around the studio with a revolver, shooting off blanks. They signed up at five dollars a day and plunged into an arduous dawn-to-dusk work schedule that included frequent hardship and even danger. In one movie, Way Down East, Lillian was sent floating down Connecticut’s Farmington River on an ice pack, clad in a thin dress, her arm trailing in the frigid water, for more than 100 takes. Her prescription for surviving such ordeals was a regimen of spartan self-discipline: “Don’t eat much, take calisthenics every morning, sleep out of doors, take plenty of cold baths.”
Both sisters won kudos for acting; but Lillian achieved the greater acclaim for her outstanding work in The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance and Hearts of the World. After her performance as a slum waif in Broken Blossoms, the theater critic George Jean Nathan rhapsodized, “The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness trembling on the bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl are the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his waltzes.”
Portrait of Lillian Gish and Mother 1920 Nell Dorr Errata: Amon Carter Museum description "Lillian Gish and an elderly woman in lace"; The Movies, Mr.Griffith and Me description of this photo session - "with Mother"
Mayor of NY with Connie Towers and Lillian Gish – backstage in the opening night of “Anya” Mayor of NY with Connie Towers and Lillian Gish – backstage in the opening night of “Anya” (December 1965) Anya star Connie Towers is pictured backstage with Lillian Gish and Mayor of the New York City John Lindsey. In private life, Connie is Mrs. Eugene McGrath who often visits Miami. Her husband’s mother. Mrs. Harry Scheibla, lives in Miami. The McGraths have two small children, a son and a daughter. Photo Friedman Abeles 351W 54St. N.Y.C. 19 Judson 6-3260 Constance Towers, Lillian Gish and John Lindsey (Mayor of NY) – Photo Anya Dec 5 1965 Constance Towers, Lillian Gish and John Lindsey (Mayor of NY) – Anya Dec 5 1965 Back to Lillian Gish Home page
An Illustrious Sister Act – The art of Lillian Gish -By Malcolm H. Oettinger (Picture Play Magazine 1925) Lillian Gish Inspiration Pictures Romola – Promotional 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, the