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Title: Life and Lillian Gish
Author: Paine, Albert Bigelow
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         LIFE AND LILLIAN GISH


                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                  NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO · DALLAS
                        ATLANTA · SAN FRANCISCO

                        MACMILLAN & CO., Limited
                       LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                           OF CANADA, Limited


[Illustration: “HELENA”]


                         LIFE AND LILLIAN GISH

                          ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE

                               _New York_
                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY


                            Copyright, 1932,
                       By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

     All rights reserved—no part of this book may be reproduced in
       any form without permission in writing from the publisher,
             except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief
              passages in connection with a review written
                for inclusion in magazine or newspaper.

              Set up and printed. Published October, 1932.

             _Printed, in the United States of America by_


“Tranquilly, Lillian Gish sits, dressed in white organdie, her ash blond
hair down her back, relaxed on the window seat, looking out for hours
into the depths of the California night.

“‘What are you looking at, Lillian?’ Mrs. Gish has asked for years.

“‘Nothing, Mother, just looking.’”

                                                          ALLENE TALMEY.

“She is an extraordinarily difficult person to know, and if I hadn’t
gone to live with her ... and been with her through some of the most
trying times of her life, I doubt whether our casual contacts at the
studio would have brought me any intimate knowledge of her. There seems
to be a wall of reserve between her and the outside world, and very few
people ever get through that wall.

“The little things of life simply don’t worry her at all. Gales of
temperament can rage around her—she remains undisturbed.... I have seen
her at a time when anyone else would have been distraught with anxiety,
come quietly in from the set, eat her luncheon calmly and collectedly
(for first of all, Lillian believes in keeping fit for her work), then
pick up some little book of philosophy and read it steadily until they
sent for her.

“She refuses to believe that there are people in the world who are
jealous of her and want to harm her. I remember someone once remarking
that a certain person was jealous of her and hated her, and I can still
see the look of utter surprise on Lillian’s face. But it never made any
difference in her treatment of that person. In fact, I doubt whether she
remembered it when she met her again.

“She is intensely loyal to those who have helped her along the path of
success. She likes to be alone. She has an inexhaustible fund of
patience, and a quiet sense of humor.”

                                         PHYLLIS MOIR
                                         (secretary to Lillian, 1925-27)



                                PART I

                  I. A Girl Child, Born with a Caul
                 II. Life and a Little Girl
                III. On Nat Goodwin’s Shoulder
                 IV. “Theatre People”
                  V. A Little Trouper
                 VI. Adventures of Dorothy
                VII. Mary Pickford in the Scene
               VIII. “Down the Line”
                 IX. “Her First False Step”
                  X. Dorothy’s Tree
                 XI. “Supporting Bernhardt”
                XII. Massillon Days
               XIII. Where the “Road” Ends. Nell
                XIV. A Convent School. Typhoid
                 XV. Shawnee
                XVI. It Sounds Like Heaven

                                PART II

                  I. “Mr. Biograph”
                 II. Griffith’s Group of Players
                III. Belasco Delivers a Verdict
                 IV. A Studio on Pico Street
                  V. The Path to Stardom
                 VI. “Home Sweet Home”
                VII. “The Birth of a Nation”
               VIII. “Intolerance”
                 IX. There Were No Love Affairs
                  X. The Nightmare of War
                 XI. Under Fire
                XII. France
               XIII. “Hearts of the World”
                XIV. “Broken Blossoms”
                 XV. “I Work Such Long Hours”
                XVI. Director Lillian
               XVII. “Way Down East”
              XVIII. Sad, Unprofitable Days
                XIX. Picturing the Reign of Terror

                               PART III

                  I. Italy
                 II. “The White Sister”
                III. “Romola”
                 IV. Also, the Intelligentsia
                  V. “La Bohême”
                 VI. “The Scarlet Letter”
                VII. “The First Lady of the Screen”
               VIII. “Wind”
                 IX. Good-bye California
                  X. Reinhardt
                 XI. The Shadow Speaks
                XII. On the Flying Carpet
               XIII. “One Romantic Night”

                                PART IV

                  I. “Uncle Vanya”
                 II. “Helena” in New York
                III. “The Penalty of Greatness”
                 IV. Working with Lillian
                  V. “Uncle Vanya” Takes the Road
                 VI. Reliving The Years
                VII. A Few Notes
               VIII. L’Envoi



                  A Scene from “Her First False Step”
                        Lillian and Dorothy Gish
                          David Wark Griffith
            Lillian and Dorothy, During the Griffith Period
         Lillian as Elsie Stoneman, in “The Birth of a Nation”
   Mrs. Gish and “Her Girls,” Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris, Dorothy
                              and Lillian
       Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms”
                              “Anna Moore”
                   The River Scene in “Way Down East”
                           “The White Sister”
                  Mimi at the Pawnshop ... “La Bohême”
          Miss Gish as Hester Prynne, in “The Scarlet Letter”
             “Wind.” Letty, Burying the Man She Had Killed
                     “The First Lady of the Screen”



(Scene: Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”—end of second act. Lillian Gish as

_First Woman in Front of Me_: “They say she’s been playing over
twenty-five years.”

_Second Woman in Front of Me_: “Goodness! How old is she?”

“The piece I read said about thirty or so....”

“Oh, began as a child; is Gish her real name?”

“I believe so; the piece said....”

“Do you like these Russian plays?”

“I like _her_, in anything. I _loved_ her in ‘Broken Blossoms,’ though
it nearly killed me.”

“I wonder why she left the movies.”

“Oh, lots of ’em do; the piece said....”

“Do you suppose that is all her own hair?”

“Oh, I think so; the piece said....”


                         LIFE AND LILLIAN GISH

                                PART ONE


                     A GIRL CHILD, BORN WITH A CAUL

When Lillian was six, she found herself with a company (one night
stands, mostly), “trouping” through the Middle West— ... the
golden-haired child actress who supplied the beauty and pathos in a
melodrama variously known as “The Red Schoolhouse” and “In Convict
Stripes.” All of which had come about reasonably enough—as reasonably as
anything is likely to happen, in a world where nothing seems at all
reasonable until we begin taking it to pieces.

                  *       *       *       *       *

On an evening in October—the 14th, to be exact, 1896—in a very modest
dwelling, in Springfield, Ohio, May Gish—Mary Robinson Gish (born
McConnell)—waited for her first child. She was barely twenty, and it was
hardly more than a year earlier that James Gish, a travelling
salesman—young, handsome, winning—had found her at Urbana, and after a
whirlwind wooing, had carried her off, a bride, to Springfield.

No one knew very much of Gish. From that mysterious “Dutch” region of
Pennsylvania, he had drifted into Springfield, made friends easily, and
found work there, with a wholesale grocery. He might be Dutch himself;
“Gish” could easily have been “Gisch”; or French—a legend has it that
the name had once been “Guise” or “de Guise” ... all rather indefinite,

On the other hand, everybody in Urbana knew about pretty May McConnell,
whose Grandfather Robinson had been in the State Senate; who had a
President, Zachary Taylor, and a poetess, Emily Ward, somewhere in her
family; whose father was a very respectable dealer in saddlery and
harness, with a spirited dapple-grey horse in his big show window.

Oh, well, it is all so “accidental” ... even though some of us do not
believe in accidents, and talk knowingly of a Great Law ... of a Weaver
who sits at the Loom of Circumstance....

Still, it was natural enough that now, within a year from her marriage,
pretty May Gish should be looking up from her window at the thronging
stars, wondering how a baby soul could find its way among them to her
tiny room.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A girl child, born with a caul ... supposed to mean good fortune, even
occult power. Mary Gish did not much concern herself with this
superstition; she had been rather strictly raised; when she gave her
daughter the name of Lillian, and added Diana—Lillian because she was so
fair, and Diana because a big moon looked into her window—she thought it
a happy combination and hoped well for it—no more than that.


                         LIFE AND A LITTLE GIRL

The little household did not remain in Springfield. At the time of his
marriage, or soon after, James Gish gave up his position as a salesman,
and opened a small confectionery. Candy-making may have been his trade;
at all events, he worked at it now, sometimes leaving “Maysie,” as he
called her, to tend shop while he went to nearby fairs and celebrations.
Had he persevered, he might have done well enough. As it was, when
Lillian was about a year old, he gave up Springfield for Dayton, to
which prosperous town Father McConnell had already taken his saddlery
and harness business, including the smart dapple-grey horse for the show
window. Dorothy Gish, who was born in Dayton, still remembers the
impressive horse in Grandfather’s window. Lillian, a fair, sedate little
lass, was delighted when Dorothy arrived—fat, rosy, red-haired—full of
fun and mischief, almost from the beginning.

So different, these two. Lillian had been a pensive baby—one to lie
quietly, looking at nothing, as one thinking long thoughts—possibly of a
pleasanter land, so recently left behind. Dorothy’s arms and legs were
perpetually in action ... impossible to keep the covers on her. When she
could creep about, then walk, it was necessary to grab quickly for one’s

Lillian had a doll, probably a tidy rag-doll, or a very small china one,
and a little rocker, which she sometimes sat in, holding her doll and
singing to it. She never really cared for dolls. Ruddy-haired Dorothy
was lovelier than any doll. When Lillian held her, as she did, often,
they made a dainty picture: one doll rocking another.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A tragic thing happened. Lillian sat in her chair alone, one day, when a
terrible object looked in the window. It was a workman, who had put on a
false face, to frighten her. He succeeded. The terrified child screamed
and went into spasms. Always, after that, she was subject to nightmares,
from which she awoke, screaming. In later years they came during periods
of prolonged rehearsal. Usually they took one of two forms: She was in a
wood, at evening ... the trees became sinister, drew their roots from
the ground and pursued her.... Or in a field, where there were many red
poppies ... large ones ... the California kind. They became very tall,
and threatening, like the trees.... They came up and slapped her in the

In summer time Mrs. Gish took her little girls to visit her sister
Emily, who had married and lived at Massillon, in the eastern part of
the state. It was a happy place for children. There was a green
dooryard, with chickens, a cat asleep on the porch, a dog—a kindly dog
who would not hurt a little girl and her baby sister.

And in the house was a wonderful cupboard, where a number of interesting
things were kept, including a bottle of Castoria. Lillian was not
meddlesome, but she had a complex for Castoria. She would even dose
herself with it surreptitiously. Her aunt put the bottle on an upper
shelf, but Lillian with a chair, a high-chair if necessary, would manage
to reach it. It became a kind of game. Her aunt took a Castoria bottle
and secretly half filled it with cod liver oil, which certainly was not
playing the game fairly. There it stood, in plain view; even a low chair
would reach it. A good swallow—saints above! What an explosion, what a
spitting, what a grabbing at the poor punished tongue! Lillian was
naturally very honest. Castoria had been the one temptation she could
not resist. Her character was now perfect.

But she did love baked beans. She could almost never get enough of them.
One day—this was in Dayton—her father took her for a walk. The
drinking-saloons of Dayton, like those everywhere, had swinging doors,
with free lunch inside, spread at the end of the high bar. Gish pushed
open a pair of these swinging doors, perched the little girl on the high
counter, close to a great platter of beans. A man wearing a white apron
handed her a plate and a spoon: “Help yourself,” he said. Lillian did
not know what became of her father, but by and by Grandfather McConnell
appeared, rather frantic, and shocked, and took her away.

One other thing she loved—ice cream—her taste for it amounted to a
passion. Her father did not sell it, but there was a place just down the
street that did. When in funds, Lillian haunted the ice-cream counter.
But one was so liable to be bankrupt. Reflecting on these things, she
had a startling idea. One did not need money to buy things! More than
once in her father’s shop she had seen a customer pick up a package, and
with the magic words, “Charge it, please,” walk out. Why, of course—she
could do that, too. Ten minutes later she was finishing her second dish
of vanilla and chocolate mixed.

“Charge it, please.”

The young man regarded the slender little vision, who had just stowed
away two saucers of his stock in trade.

“You’re Mr. Gish’s little girl, aren’t you?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Lillian, who was nothing if not polite.

“Oh, all right.”

Such a nice man, to know who she was.

On the way home, she noticed a little green cap in a window—just what
she had wanted.... She stood on tiptoe, to look over the counter, at the
grisly man who sold things.

“I want to buy that little green cap in the window—and charge it,

“Oh—why, you’re Jim Gish’s little girl, ain’t you?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He held her up to the glass, the tiny cap a green jewel on her crown of
gold. And presently at home she was explaining all the wonder of her
system to Mama, who also did some explaining, very gently, which put the
system in a new light. Lillian was then about three.


                       ON NAT GOODWIN’S SHOULDER

In the case and circumstance of James Gish, there is an element of
mystery. He had the gift of friendship, of popularity, even of
prosperity ... without material increase. It may be that the swinging
doors were too handy to his confectionery ... a spoiled child ... and
heredity is always to be reckoned with. It may be that he was not quite
a reality ... a good many of us are like that.... He closed his business
in Dayton and removed his family to Baltimore, where he arranged some
sort of partnership with a man named Meixner. Did he put up his
experience against Meixner’s capital? Grandfather McConnell probably

The firm of Gish and Meixner must have prospered, in the beginning. Mary
Gish allied herself with the church of her faith, the Episcopal, in
which both she and her children had been baptized. Gentle and lovely,
she made friends. The children, neatly dressed, went to Sunday School.
Mary Gish was one of God’s fine souls. She had a beautiful spirit, and
she had exquisite taste. Whatever her circumstances—and the time was
coming when they would be hard enough—she would manage, through some
sacrifice, to get a scrap of dainty material, a bit of real lace, for
her children’s clothing. Lillian and Dorothy were much noticed—she must
not fail them. In her husband’s shop, by day and often in the evening,
she nevertheless made every garment with her own hands—those tiny,
marvelous hands that could draw and embroider, could put up bonbons, and
gift packages, as no one else could do it—mended and laundered and
ironed when the others were long abed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The Gish children found their Sunday School an interesting place.
Sometimes there were entertainments, “exhibitions” they called them, and
there was an Empty Stocking Club that filled stockings for the less
fortunate, at Christmas time. Lillian’s first public appearance, at one
of the exhibitions, was not an entire success.

She had been chosen to speak a piece, some verses of welcome, which
daily she faithfully rehearsed at home, going over them time and again,
just as in later years she would prepare for her rôles. Little Dorothy,
playing about the room, apparently gave slight attention, perhaps not
realizing herself how the lines were being drilled into her brain.

The afternoon of the performance came, and Lillian, all white and gold,
rose and spoke the lines faultlessly. There was applause, of course—and
something more. Dorothy, shining like a jewel, jumped up and waved her
hand to the superintendent:

“May I speak a piece, please—may I speak a piece, too?”

“Why, of course, my dear, you may; come right along.”

And Dorothy, fair and undismayed, marched to the platform, and repeated
Lillian’s poem of welcome, word for word.

Poor Lillian! The audience, at first puzzled, broke into applause. Her
heart was broken. She thought she had failed—recited badly. She
struggled a little, and found relief in a welter of tears. Which meant
grief for Dorothy, who adored Lillian—set her up as a kind of queen.

The Empty Stocking distribution was quite another matter—a real event.
It was held at Ford’s Theatre, where Nat Goodwin and Maxine Elliot were
playing that week, on an afternoon when there was no matinée. The big
tree was set up in the center of the stage, and the stars were invited
to take part. Maxine Elliot offered to fill stockings; Nat Goodwin
agreed to be Santa Claus. When a particularly angelic child was needed,
to perch on Nat Goodwin’s shoulder and distribute the stockings, Lillian
Gish was chosen, and so made her first stage appearance—rode into the
drama—on the shoulder of one of the best-known actors of the day.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Dorothy and Lillian were near enough together to be playmates. Lillian
was not so good at play as Dorothy. Long afterwards she wrote:

“I envy this dear, darling Dorothy with all my heart, for she is the
side of me that God left out....

“All my life I have wanted to play happily, as she does, only to find
myself bad at playing. As a little girl, I was not much good at playing,
and I find that, try as I will, I don’t play very convincingly today.”

They were good little girls—Lillian especially so. They had been taught
to say their prayers, and would as soon have omitted their little
nightgowns as their prayers. If Dorothy made a scramble of hers, while
Lillian offered her petition to the last word and syllable, and
overborne by some ancient melancholy prayed regularly that she might
wake up in Heaven, it was only as Nature had intended them to be from
the beginning.

Different as they were, then and always, they had one great interest in
common: their mother. They thought her the best and most beautiful
person in the world. Dorothy loved to think that she looked like her,
and cried when told that Lillian “looked more like Mama” than she did.

From the beginning, almost, Lillian was inclined to be orderly, tidy.
Dorothy—well, Dorothy was different. Even in that early day, when
Lillian was no more than five, she carefully removed her clothes and
laid them neatly together. Dorothy did not remove hers. She dropped, or
flung, them off, and where they fell they remained. It was said—this was
much later—that you could at any time find Dorothy by following her

By day, Lillian was inclined to sit in her little chair and reflect,
while Dorothy tore about the house, escaping to the street if not
watched, and perpetually had her knees bruised and scratched, from
falls. She also liked to sample any food or liquids that were in handy
reach, and once went on a genuine debauch. Lillian had come down with an
attack of croup, her medicine being a tasty toddy, which, upon
experiment, Dorothy found that she liked. Lillian was dozing, and she
continued her experiment. Then she laid aside the spoon and picked up
the glass. Her mother found her, staggering down the hall, “making
whoopee.” Mary Gish got a whiff of her breath, and sent for the doctor.
Next day Dorothy went through the tortures that go with a bandaged head,
and usually come later in life.


                            “THEATRE PEOPLE”

The world was not kind to James Gish. Perhaps those wise ones who know
all about the world, and human nature, and the free-will to choose, will
say that he was not kind to himself. One must admire those people; they
know things with such a deadly certainty. I never in my life knew a
thing so certainly as a man who once told me that I could always do the
right thing, if I only wanted to. Apparently I didn’t want to.

Nor, as it seemed, did James Gish. When, after less than two years in
Baltimore, he sold out to Meixner, he had very little left. Part of that
little he gave to his wife; with the rest, he went to New York, where he
would find employment and send remittances.

For a time the remittances came; then they dwindled, skipped, ceased.
Mrs. Gish worked, but the money she earned was not enough for the little
family. Meixner lent her small sums, then advised her to join her
husband, advancing money for her fare and for immediate needs on
arrival. Meixner appears to have been a good soul.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In New York, Mary Gish took an apartment—small, but large enough to
accommodate two boarders. It faced West 39th Street, up one or two
flights of stairs. She needed more furniture and bought it on
installments. She also took a job—demonstrating, in a Brooklyn
department store. She was twenty-five, handsome, capable, determined to
make her way. Up at five, she set her house in order, got breakfast for
her family and the two boarders—theatrical women, who had their
luncheons outside. Leaving the children in the hands of a colored girl,
she was off for the day. Back at night, she got the supper; then worked
at the making and mending and laundering of the family clothing.

Gish was there, and may have been employed at times, but his help was
negligible. Less than that. As she saved from her modest pay, she gave
him sums, trusting soul, to pay on her furniture. But then, one day,
when she came home from her job in distant Brooklyn, more distant then
than now, the dealers who had sold it to her had come and taken it away.
Her husband appears to have vanished about the same time. Later, she
sought and obtained legal separation.

Kind-hearted, weak—James Gish was only one of thousands. That he loved
his family is certain. When a year or two later, Mary Gish and little
Dorothy were on a theatrical circuit, he was likely to turn up any time,
appearing mysteriously in distant places. Hungry for the sight of them,
he must have watched them enter and leave the theatre—perhaps went in to
see the play. Sometimes he confronted them on a street in a far-off
town. Always in Mary Gish’s heart was the dread that he would take one
or both of her children from her. She knew he was a Freemason, and in
her lack of knowledge, thought he might in some way invoke that secret
agency. He seems never to have attempted anything of the sort, and if he
secretly followed Lillian, she did not know it. Probably it was Mary
Gish herself that he most wanted to see. Those wise ones who know all
about the world will not fail to explain that he deserved his

Night and day the Loom of Circumstance weaves its inevitable pattern.
The filaments proceed from a million sources, stretching backward
through eternity. Incredibly they unite, and once united the gods
themselves cannot change the design.

Mary Gish’s fortunes were at low ebb. Her unfurnished room would
presently be on her hands. The two actresses, who owed her money, were
willing to bunk on the floor, but the theatrical season would open
shortly, and what then? Such jewelry as she owned was pawned, even to
the last piece—even to her wedding ring. The actresses had likewise
parted with their valuables. One of them, who called herself Dolores
Lorne, had taken a great fancy to little Dorothy. There came a momentous
afternoon. Mary Gish, arriving from Brooklyn, was met by a startling

“I can get a good part in Rebecca Warren’s ‘East Lynne’ Company,”
Dolores Lorne excitedly announced, “if I can get a child to play ‘Little
Willie.’ Dorothy would do it, exactly. They will pay her fifteen dollars
a week, and we’d have a week’s salary in advance. I could pay you; and I
know a woman who can get a part for Lillian, too. A lovely woman, Alice
Niles, in a ‘Convict Stripes’ Company.”

Mary Gish stared at her, dazed, staggered. She could not grasp it. Her
little girls ... going away ... motherless.... Poor little Dot, hardly
more than a baby ... and Lillian, barely six ... on the road with
theatre people ... what would the folks at home say?

Theatre people! She had not even dared to confess that she had them in
her house. Dolores was a good soul ... but little Dot ... and Alice
Niles—who _was_ Alice Niles? A stranger! And Lillian, so frail ... on
the road ... with a stranger!!! James Gish’s wife, who had borne up in
the face of everything, gave way, wept as if her heart would break.

Dolores Lorne comforted her ... later, Alice Niles. She believed them
good women, both of them. They promised to take a mother’s care of her
little girls. They painted life on the circuit as happy—just a long
pleasure trip. If they forgot the broken nights on wretched trains, the
scanty, stale food, the dragging weariness of delays ... oh, well, they
were human. Lillian and Dorothy became excited. They had never been to a
theatre, except to the Christmas-tree performance in Baltimore. That had
been beautiful. Especially Maxine Elliot. Now, they were going to be
beautiful, like Maxine. Tearfully Mary Gish began to assemble two little
wardrobes—scanty little wardrobes, of a size to go into two cheap little
telescope bags.

Also, there were the rehearsals. Mary Gish taught her children their
brief lines, which they rehearsed at the theatre. Lillian went at her
task in her obedient, thorough way, and became a favorite. Dorothy, who
perhaps had ideas of her own, was invited to repeat, and repeat, until
both Mr. William Dean, the kindly manager of her company, and herself,
were a trifle worn and critical. Finally, when Mr. Dean became really
quite fierce, and peremptory, Dorothy, aged four, whispered, her lips
trembling a little:

“Please, Mr. Dean, if you let me alone for a few minutes, I _know_ I’ll
be able to do it.”

Mrs. Gish, meantime, had a new and quite definite plan. She would
herself become an actress! Very likely her people would cast her out,
but never mind. Acting could not be worse than the long hours in
Brooklyn. She would equip herself to be with one or both of her
children. Alice Niles introduced her at a theatrical agency, and Mary
Gish—determined woman that she was—was rehearsing for a small part at
Proctor’s almost as soon as the two real actresses of the family had
said their heartbreaking good-byes.


                            A LITTLE TROUPER

Stage children of that day took whatever name was offered them, usually
the name of the woman in whose charge they traveled. Dorothy readily
learned to say “Aunt Dolores” and accepted the name of Lorne. Alice
Niles became “Aunt Alice” to Lillian, and she herself “Florence Niles.”

It is not certain where Dorothy’s company opened, but “In Convict
Stripes,” with “Little Florence Niles, the loveliest and most gifted
child actress on the American stage,” opened at Risingsun, Ohio, in a
barn. Barns and upstairs halls were often used by the one-night-stand
companies, though a larger town sometimes had an “opera house,” with
real seats, not just boards for benches.

Risingsun was accounted a very good town of the barn-and-board-seat
variety. It had a stage with side slips, and something in the nature of
scenic effects. After a long night ride on the train—a night when one
did not undress and go properly to bed, but slept part of the time on a
seat, part of the time leaning against Aunt Alice—a journey which was
not altogether a pleasure trip—the “Convict Stripes” Company arrived at
Risingsun in time for a rehearsal before the performance.

There was a stone quarry in the play, and some papier-maché rocks,
probably carried by the company. At the climax of the third act, the
villain—there was always a villain—places the child at the bottom of the
stone quarry, then lights a fuse to explode a charge of dynamite which
will hurl rocks, and the poor innocent child, into the air. Is the child
killed? Dear, no! In the nick of time, the hero swings out upon a rope,
swoops down into the pit, seizes the child and swings himself and his
precious charge to safety, just as the dynamite explodes.

Inasmuch as a delicate, real flesh-and-blood, child might not stand the
wear of being handled in that reckless way, a neatly made
dummy-duplicate of Lillian was placed in the pit for the hero to grab.
Lillian had been carefully taught to creep to safe hiding behind some of
the papier-mâché rocks before the explosion, and knew just how to do it.
They practiced now on the barn stage, and it went off perfectly. They
forgot one thing, however: They forgot to tell the “lovely and gifted
Florence Niles” that the explosion would make a sudden and very big
noise. In the rehearsals, somebody had merely said “BOOM,” which wasn’t
at all the same thing.

Evening came, and the big barn was filled with farmers and townspeople,
a breathless audience. Florence Niles, aged six, lay safely behind a
stout papier-mâché rock, waiting for somebody to say “Boom!” But then,
just at the instant when the villain or somebody _should_ have said
“Boom!” something else, something very terrific and awful, happened: a
real _BOOM_ in fact—one that fairly shook the barn, and made the
audience jump and say something. The gifted Florence Niles did not stop
to see what became of her double, but with a shriek, shot out from
behind the rock and across the stage as fast as her legs could carry
her, while the audience shouted for joy.

Never again would the climax go off as well as that. When the curtain
fell, and Lillian—that is to say, Florence Niles—on the hero’s shoulder,
passed in the procession before it, they received a great ovation.

And this was not so far from that modest house in Springfield, Ohio,
where just six years earlier Mary Gish had waited for her first-born.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I do not know what the next stop was, and it does not matter, any more.
The family likeness among one-night-stands was strong. The child actress
presently did not mind the explosion—not so much—she only stopped her
ears for it, and always she took the curtain call on the shoulder of the
big hero, who adored her, and would have swung, regardless of
explosions, into any quarry, any time, night or day, to save her.

How kind they were, all of them! Aunt Alice especially. She had a round,
smiling face, and a round, soft, motherly body. Just right for the
character part she played ... just right for a little girl to snuggle up
to, those nights on the train when there was no empty seat where one
could really stretch out and sleep. Any of the company would gladly have
given a shoulder to that golden head, and did, in turn, but no one
except Aunt Alice had such a nice, soft shoulder, with such a good
smell—no tobacco or anything—just Aunt Alice.

But the nights were quite hard, sometimes:—hard ... and strange. Even
when she got a seat all to herself and was covered by somebody’s coat,
and sound asleep, it did not last. At any station a crowd of noisy
people might come in, and a fat woman, or a thin woman with a baby, or
somebody, would need the seat; and struggling to get her eyes open, and
almost dead, Lillian would shrink back into her corner, and start at the
rest of the company, huddled into the unusual attitudes of sleep.

The train did queer things to people. Such remarkable people ... when
one was awake to notice. Men—women, too—with funny faces. Country-jakes
and their girls. Boys who stared at her, and if she turned on them
suddenly, acted so crazily ... babies—that mostly cried ... fat people
... thin people ... dirty people ... even clean and pretty ones.

Sometimes faces and people were there very uncertainly—perhaps not
really there at all—just a part of some dream. One dreamed and dreamed,
especially if one was not very well. Sometimes she woke with a dry,
feverish mouth, and staggered down the aisle for a drink. Sometimes she
was awakened by being bumped and jerked, this way and that, switching,
with engine bells that swept by with a watery sound.

Faces ... faces—one could even invent faces, especially just as one was
going to sleep ... or they just came of themselves ... like the train
boy, who brought a strong smell of oranges. Sometimes Aunt Alice would
let her buy one, and a lemon stick to push into it. That was heaven. One
could suck the lemon stick and dig into one’s corner and go to sleep. Or
press one’s cheek against the glass and watch the snow or rain or solid
dark go by, with sometimes a light ... far off, or perhaps quite near.
Somebody would be where the light was—somebody lived there. On clear
nights there were stars—even a moon that made the snow fields very
white, and traveled with the train, no matter how fast or far it went.

So much snow: fields of snow, hills of snow; villages with snow on the
roofs, and in the dooryards, looking white and deserted in the
moonlight. And tunnels—long, terrible, gasping tunnels; and big towns
where the train slowed down with a great clackety-clack of wheels, and
there was confusion—shouting, and rumbling baggage trucks, and where
probably one had to change and sit in a station, or work one’s way
through the iron arms that divided up the seats, so one could stretch
out, and really sleep a little, at last. Not long, of course, for the
other train would soon come shrieking in, and Aunt Alice or the hero, or
Corinne, the soubrette, or somebody, would drag her through the iron
divisions, and maybe carry her onto it, and if she didn’t remember that
she had gone to bed before, she was apt to say her “Now I lay me” over
again, and “God bless Mama and Dorothy, and keep them safe and well, and
please, God, let me wake up in Heaven,” which she always added. And
then, if there were no more changes that night, almost right away it was
morning, with coal-dust, and cinders, and gray outside at first ... with
perhaps a streaky sky ... or dull and drowned with rain ... or caught up
in a whirl of snow; and the train boy came through and sold her a
sandwich for breakfast; or maybe they had reached the next show-town,
and she went scurrying down the platform, holding Aunt Alice’s hand and
lugging the little telescope bag, to a lunch counter where there might
be something warm.... Not really a “pleasure excursion,” but long
afterwards she did not regret it—she even found something “rather
beautiful” in it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

They did not really “put up” at hotels. They merely “put in,” at a cheap
one, for the day. Aunt Alice would get a room for fifty cents, until
theatre time. Then the two soubrettes—good-hearted, even if rather
tough, girls—would come to “call,” to share the room, each paying ten or
fifteen cents. All stretched out on the bed, the sofa, anywhere, to
catch up with their sleep. They only got up to eat—something they
brought in, or at a restaurant, a cheap one (oh, worse in that day than
now!)—or for a matinée.

If they were awake and there was nothing else to do, Aunt Alice taught
her charge from a little book, and told her about a number of useful
things. For one thing, it was quite wrong. Aunt Alice said, to kill
animals, and not really healthy to eat their flesh. Vegetables, bread,
milk and eggs had in them all that was good for human beings. Aunt Alice
was a vegetarian, and advised Lillian to become one. Lillian liked the
sound and size of the word, and could not bear the thought of killing
anything—animals especially. Besides, at the places they ate, one could
get more vegetables than meat for one’s money. One could get quite a lot
of potatoes for a nickel, or a dime; other things, too—baked beans,
which she still loved, and rice. They were not always good—sometimes
greasy and tasteless, but they filled up. Often the butter was bad,
especially. Still, if one could have a piece of pie at the end ... or a
plate of ice cream—a five cent plate ... she became a vegetarian.

All the actors paid their own expenses, except train fares. Unlike
Dorothy, Lillian received only ten dollars a week, but by close economy
could send more than half of it to her mother. Perhaps the economy was
too close, the physical foundation she was laying too slender.

And there was more than the need of food and sleep. A child—the wistful,
heart-hungry child that she was—needed more than even the kind-hearted
care of Aunt Alice: ... Companions, play ... the comfort of a mother’s
arms.... Darkness gathering in a lonely hotel room—a little figure
crouching at the window, staring into the night.

“What are you looking at, dear?”

“Nothing, Aunt Alice—just looking.”

Always her reply would be the same—always the same heart-hunger behind
it. A dozen, twenty years later, a slender, white figure on a window
seat, staring into the depths of the California night.

“What are you looking at, Lillian?” her mother asks.

“Nothing, Mother; just looking.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes when the town was quite large and they played more than one
night, she got to sleep in a real bed, could take off her clothes and
have a bath—how splendid! Sometimes the paper in such a town had a piece
in it about the play, even once or twice with her picture. The others
thought this very fine, especially where their names were mentioned.
They bought a lot of the papers, and cut out the pieces. Lillian did not
value the notices very highly; what the paper said was not always true.
The picture was of the same sad-faced little girl she saw every morning
in the glass when Aunt Alice combed her hair. When one of the company
gave her a clipping for herself, she politely said “Thank you,” and put
it away in her little telescope, but she seldom looked at it.

One performance was like another; but then came one which brought her a
special and rather wide publicity. In the play was a prison scene, where
a guard, a lame guard, Cliff Dean, carried a rifle, loaded with a blank
cartridge. During the performance at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the
unfortunate guard dropped his gun, and it went off. Lillian, close by,
received the charge in her leg, and was badly powder-burned. No burn
hurts worse than that. She screamed and ran off the stage. The leading
man, the hero, was going down some steps that led to the dressing-rooms.
He picked her up and carried her down, soothing and comforting her.
Others not in the scene gathered to help. The wounded leg was bathed and
bandaged. The play upstairs did not stop. The audience may have thought
the incident just a part of it.

The next act was the last one, and Lillian’s share in it important. She
was suffering terribly, but she said she would go on, and did. Few, if
any, of the spectators knew what had happened. When, after the show, the
facts were known, they crowded the lobby of the hotel and watched the
doctor pick the powder grains out of the tender flesh. It was torture,
but Florence Niles, the child actress, refused to cry. Some of the
powder had to stay under the skin and remain there permanently, like

Alice Niles did not write to Mary Gish of the accident, but of course it
got into the Western papers. Grandfather McConnell, in Dayton, saw it,
and sent her a clipping. Certain of the family may have regarded it as a
kind of retribution for permitting one of her own to follow such a
calling. The biblical-minded can always identify punishment, even when
it falls on the innocent child, or flocks, of the transgressor. The fact
that her children and herself had become play-actors was for years not
mentioned by Mary Gish’s family to their friends—nor discussed among

The company did not perform on Sundays—nor always travel—but stayed in a
hotel room; shabby, but how luxurious! Aunt Alice mended their
clothes—washed them. Florence Niles, the child actress, helped. All the
others were doing the same. Sometimes they dropped in, to visit. Among
them they taught her to read. The patter of the stage and much general
information she picked up unconsciously. Nothing that was evil—certainly
nothing that she recognized as such—neither then nor ever. More than
twenty years later she wrote:

  Stage children are in most cases more sheltered than those who go
  to school. They constantly associate with older people who are, as
  a rule, most careful what they say in front of them.

In after years, she remembered that once a stage hand had knocked
another one down because he swore in front of her. Some of the company
may have been a bit dissipated, even dissolute; if so, it was outside of
her knowledge. There would come a day when she would realize that the
soubrettes probably had been as “tough” off as on the stage—that some of
the others were not saints. But to her, then, they were, and in her
memory would always remain, the best people in the world.

And talented; they said so themselves. All, including Lillian, looked
forward to playing New York. The others because it might mean a Broadway
engagement where their talents would be appreciated. Lillian, because
New York would mean her mother ... better meals ... a bed to sleep in at
night. Considerately, she did not mention these things, but looked out
of the window, thinking long thoughts. And this picture I am trying to
present is not only of that first year, but of the years that followed
it, one so nearly like another—except for the parts she took and the
rapidly increasing length of her slim legs—that in later years she found
it by no means easy to distinguish them.

Two events remembered from that first far-off engagement were
particularly tragic, both connected with running for trains. Always they
seemed to have been running for trains. Every night after the
performance there was the same scramble, even though they had to wait
for hours in a station that was too hot or too cold, with only those
divided benches to sleep on, or the telegraph desk, when the station
agent took pity on a tired little theatre-girl.

And often it seemed to be raining, or snowing, when they started for the
train, and there were single-board-crossings over the ditches, where you
could not hold to Aunt Alice’s hand and stay under her umbrella, and
where it was not easy for someone to pick you up, because all the
talented company carried their baggage, every fellow for himself.

So it happened that on one of those rainy nights, when she was running
behind Aunt Alice, across a narrow foot-bridge, lugging her little
telescope bag—there, right in the middle of the bridge—the treacherous
strap gave way, and all her possessions—her little nightgown, her
little extra stockings and underwears, her press-clippings,
everything—disappeared in the black, rushing torrent below. She did
not stop—no time for that, and no use, anyway—but raced on after Aunt
Alice, holding fast to the useless little strap of the telescope, and
crying—oh, crying. No money to send home that week—so many things to

The other event, scarcely less tragic, was also of the night and rain.
She was wearing the little white furs that once an uncle had bought for
her, and that she so dearly loved. All about were mud puddles, and by
some misstep she plunged into one, and the precious furs could never be
the same again. Rain! Rain! Once in the South, on the Seaboard Air Line,
it fairly poured, and the rickety old day-coach leaked. The whole
company had to sit holding umbrellas, to keep from getting soaked.
Lillian always remembered that, as something different.

Christmas that year she remembered, too. A little present had come from
Mother—very precious—but there was still more to this Christmas than
that—a good deal more. All day they were on a freight train, a train
that lumbered and bumped along, and stopped for what seemed hours in the
towns, and ran up and down, pulling and pushing all kinds of freight
cars, in and out and around, sometimes slamming them into your part of
the train, until it seemed your head must certainly come off. You had to
ride in the caboose, not at all a nice place—just long, dirty benches on
the side, and grimy train men coming in, leaving the doors open, to let
in the cold.

But then came a stop at quite a big town, where there was certain to be
a lot of switching and backing, which would take a good while. A good
many of the company “went ashore,” and when by and by they came back
they brought, of all things, a Christmas Tree! A little, green tree that
they set up right in the old, dingy caboose; and then they opened
packages and hung balls and candy canes on the little tree, and even
presents. And all the rest of that day, the gay little tree rode and
rode, and the old caboose wasn’t dingy any more, and one’s heart could
almost break with happiness over a thing like that. Surely in all the
world there was never such another Christmas Tree!


                         ADVENTURES OF DOROTHY

If Dorothy had a Tree that Christmas, there is no memory of it today. A
very remarkable one was on its way to her, a little farther down the
years, but “Little Willie of East Lynne” appears to have had other

Life in Rebecca Warren’s “East Lynne” Company was probably less
strenuous than in a “Convict Stripes” combination. They made larger
towns, had fewer one-night stands. Sleep and food could be more
regularly counted upon, and may easily have been of a better quality.
Besides, Dorothy—light of heart, plump, dimpled—was fairly worshiped by
Dolores Lorne, who lay awake nights planning how she might keep her
always, and asked nothing better than to hold her and carry her and
shield her from every possible trial of the road. She even planned to
steal her, and might have done so, had she not been a devout Catholic.

She was rather rigid in the matter of Dorothy’s conduct. She took her to
early Sunday morning Mass, and taught her to tell her beads, to pray
with a rosary. It was something new, and Dorothy rather liked it.
Especially as Aunt Dolores often had candy in her pockets. She was
willing to adopt any new and profitable faith. She became a “rice

Auntie Dolores could be severe. Dorothy had a queer habit of picking the
stitching out of the hem of her dress. Miss Lorne had tried all sorts of
ways to correct this, for it meant that she must sit down and restitch
the little garment, by hand. Finally, she said:

“You know, Dorothy, you don’t like to wear the little trousers that go
with your part.”

Dorothy didn’t. She hated them, and said so. She cried every night, when
she had to put them on. Aunt Dolores regarded her very solemnly.

“Very well,” she said, “the next time you pick out the seam of your
dress, you will have to wear the little trousers to the hotel.”

Dorothy didn’t believe her. A grown person couldn’t do a thing like that
to a child—especially Aunt Dolores, who loved her so.

She did, though. Dorothy picked out the hem again, and that night when
the play ended, the little trousers were not taken off. She wept, but it
was of no use. Auntie Dolores hardened her heart. Dorothy set out for
the hotel in the hated trousers. Her little coat nearly concealed them,
and she scrooched as much as possible, but the disgrace was there—she
could not forget it. It was a terrible punishment, but effective.
Dorothy did not pick out the seam again.

One more correction she remembered in after years. The Company had
reached Cleveland, where Miss Lorne had relatives. They stayed with
them, and somebody made a pudding—a wonderful pudding, with raisins on
the top. It was set out on the back porch, to cool. Dorothy, playing out
there, found it interesting. Then fascinating. Then she picked off a
raisin. Then all the raisins. Then Auntie Dolores came out and asked for
an explanation.

Dorothy shook her head: She had seen some blackbirds about the yard ...
perhaps they had picked off the raisins. “Perhaps,” agreed Aunt Dolores.
There was a raisin in the ruffle of Dorothy’s little dress. Perhaps the
blackbirds had left it there.

Aunt Dolores took Dorothy on her knee and explained in good, Catholic
fashion what happened to little girls who did such things, and then told
stories about it. Presently reduced to a freshet of tears, Dorothy
confessed. She was forgiven; but Auntie Dolores found it necessary to
wash out her mouth, with soap.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Dorothy as a “baby star” had been a success. It is true that her
attention sometimes wandered during a rather long speech, when she was
supposed to be listening, and Miss Warren devised a plan, something with
a jelly-bean in it, plainly visible to Dorothy, who knew if she looked
at it steadily, it would be slipped to her when the speech ended. Also,
there had been a night that she went to sleep, when she was supposed
only to be dead, and rolled off the narrow, improvised couch, nearly
breaking up the performance.

Dorothy’s first season closed rather late, when Lillian was already with
her mother, in New York. A telegram came that Dorothy, in care of the
Pullman conductor, was on her way to them. Mrs. Gish, anxious at the
thought of the little girl traveling alone, wild to see her, was at the
station long before train time. With Lillian she waited ... then at last
the train was there, and looking down the platform, they saw Dorothy—not
walking in charge of the conductor, but riding high on the shoulder of a
very large man, one of a delegation of Elks, who had been captured by
the child actress with sunlit, red-gold hair. They had heaped riches
upon her—her arms were full. A moment later, and her mother and Lillian
had her in their embrace.

“Oh, Dorothy,” said Lillian, “I’m a vegetarian!”

“That’s nothing,” said Dorothy, “I’m a Roman Catholic!”


                       MARY PICKFORD IN THE SCENE

At the apartment, Dorothy found her family considerably increased. A
very nice lady was there, also two girls, somewhat older than herself,
named Gladys and Lottie, and a boy about her own age, named Jack, who
fell in love with her at sight. Their names were Smith, some day to
become Pickford, which is a later story.

It had come about in this wise: Lillian’s Aunt Alice Niles had severed
her engagement with the “Convict Stripes” Company, and had written to
say that she would leave it at Buffalo, and come to New York. The season
was not ended, but Mrs. Gish, not wishing to leave Lillian with a
stranger, wired Miss Niles to bring her in. The manager of the company,
remembering that young Gladys Smith had played the part in Toronto,
where the play had been called “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” promptly
arranged to have Gladys join the company in Buffalo. Mrs. Smith decided
to bring all the children to Buffalo, and after getting Gladys
established, to keep on with the other two, to New York.

The meeting between the two little girls, destined to become world
stars, was neither formal nor memorable. More than twenty years later,
in an article in _Photoplay_, Mary Pickford wrote:

  Neither of us, I am sure, remembers our first meeting. We were too
  young to be impressed by the event. I do recall a fleeting glimpse
  of Lillian when I went to Buffalo from Toronto to take the part of
  little Mabel Payne that she had been playing in Hal Reid’s famous
  old melodrama, “The Little Red Schoolhouse.” Lillian was just
  leaving the theatre as I came in, and we waved. She could not stop
  to talk, because she was being whisked away to catch a train for
  New York.

Lillian and Mary! How little either of them guessed, that day, that
within no more than a dozen years, the names and faces of those little
yellow-haired, waving girls would be familiar, and beloved, in the
world’s far corners.

Alice Niles and Lillian rode with Mrs. Smith and Lottie and Jack to New
York. Lillian’s mother, at the train to meet her, took them all to her
apartment, established Mrs. Smith and her children there for as long as
they would stay—a kindness which Mrs. Smith, a stranger in New York,
never forgot. Mrs. Gish, by this time quite a professional, also
introduced her to theatrical agencies, with a view to future
engagements. In a word, they joined forces. And thus began an
association which was to last many years, and become historic in the
theatrical world.

Whether Lillian went out again that season may only be surmised. At some
time in the days of her beginning, she had a “Little Willie” part in
another “East Lynne” Company—Mabel Pennock’s, and long preserved the
little trousers she wore. It was a brief engagement, and she had no
clear picture of it, later. She seems to remember that, like Dorothy,
she went to sleep one night and rolled off the little bench during
Madame Vine’s long scene, but this is most likely a confusion. Lillian
would be too conscientious and well-trained to do a thing like that,
even in her sleep.

The end of the dramatic season found two mothers, four girls and a boy
in the Gish flat, a combination that at times could produce something
resembling a riot. They were a happy family. They went in for two
things: peace, and economy. Lillian’s influence had much to do with the
former—her unearthly beauty and gentleness. Mrs. Smith told her children
that she looked “like an angel dropped out of Heaven,” and with the old
Irish superstition that the good die young, they expected any moment to
see a long arm reach out of the sky and take her home. Gladys,
especially, refused to be left entirely alone with her, fearing it might
happen at such a time. Certainly she was not always melancholy. Life was
a serious matter—from the beginning, apparently, she had known that;
also, that Heaven was indeed a desirable place to go to—to wake up in,
some morning, quite soon. Yet she enjoyed the company of the others,
especially when they went on little excursions. Once at least, they all
went to the theatre. Mary, in her article, tells of this:

  What fun we youngsters had! Never will I forget the day we went to
  the American Theatre on Eighth Avenue near 42nd Street. At that
  time, the American was one of the important legitimate theatres.
  Now it is a picture house, I think. A Shakesperian play was on; I
  cannot recall its name, but it seems to me that it was “King
  Lear.” At any rate, it was very heavy and tragic, and we all sat
  in a row, looking very important and pretending to understand
  every word. I remember how I went up to the manager in a very
  sober and dignified manner, and presented my card, saying: “Do you
  recognize the profession?” There we were, five of us—Lillian,
  Dorothy, Lottie, Jack and I—and to the manager we must have looked
  very much like the family of the old Mother Goose lady who lived
  in the shoe. He smiled amusedly, and assured us that he most
  certainly did recognize the profession, adding: “Have you got ten
  cents apiece for the Actors’ Fund?”

  This threw us into a near panic, for a hasty survey of our
  resources disclosed that among all of us we had only eight pennies
  and one had a hole in it. The manager, however, finally relented
  and passed us in, telling us that we could give him the money for
  the Actors’ Fund some other time. What a task it was to pay that
  debt! For weeks and weeks, it seemed, we were running to that box
  office every time we had saved a few pennies.

The combined housekeeping made for economy, and here, too, Gladys Smith
was a leader and a force. Even the mothers listened to her advice. On
the kitchen table, at night, with a grubby little pencil and a scrap of
paper, she audited the accounts.

Those were very meagre, but really very happy, days. When Mrs. Smith was
called to Toronto by her mother’s failing health, Mary remained
undisputed head of the Smith family, and dealt out counsel, rewards,
even punishments, with a fair but firm hand.


                            “DOWN THE LINE”

With money saved from her own and the children’s earnings, Mary Gish
opened a candy and popcorn stand at the Fort George amusement grounds.
Her six or seven years of candy making and business experience came in
very handy, now. She hired an assistant—one strong enough to pull the
taffy she made—Don, a handsome, good-hearted boy, with whom Dorothy fell
desperately in love. It was a joy to Dorothy to stand on the counter or
on a chair and “ballyhoo” for Don’s taffy and popcorn. “This way for the
best taffy and popcorn in New York! This way, this way!” Lillian would
do it, too, but from a sense of duty, and much less riotously. Mary
Pickford recently said:

“I can still hear Lillian’s timid little voice saying: ‘Would you like
to buy some popcorn?!’”

To the Smith (Pickford) family, Mrs. Gish’s stand at Fort George was in
the nature of a diversion. Often in high season, they went up there, to
help. In the early morning, the two families rode up together on the
streetcar, the two younger ones discussing their rights to the “outside
seat.” Jack was dead in love with Dorothy, but there is a limit to
love’s sacrifice.

Arriving at Fort George, everybody helped. The corn had to be popped and
put in bags; the candy had to be wrapped in paraffined paper, a good
deal of a chore. Mrs. Gish let them eat what candy they wanted, and in
the beginning their by-word was “Wrap one and eat two.” Then presently
they were just wrapping, for the charm of a candy diet is fleeting.
There was a place “down the line” where one got marvelous
German-fried-potatoes, at a nickel a dish. About noon, armed with a
nickel apiece, they went down there. Those heavenly fried potatoes! If
one might only get a job with the potato man. Or the milk-shake man....

An interesting place, the “line”: Stands of several sorts; a variety of
shows, and a merry-go-round. The children found it fascinating. There
was a place where they had ponies, and the man there on slack days let
Lillian and Dorothy ride. They learned quickly, and went tearing up and
down, their astonishing hair flying out behind. They really rode like
mad—good training for those “picture” days ahead, when as Indians, or
cowboys, they would go racing among the hills behind Los Angeles. The
pony man declared that they rode like monkeys, and the lovely spectacle
they made undoubtedly brought him business.

Dorothy came to grief. One day her pony swerved, or stopped, or
something, and Dorothy didn’t. So she broke her arm, a thing so
terrifying to Lillian that she scrambled quickly from her horse and hid
behind the merry-go-round. The alarm reached the Gish taffy stand, and
Dorothy’s beloved Don came on a dead run and bore her in his arms to her
mother. Don, so noble and brave and beautiful—how heavenly—worth
breaking one’s arm for. Then there was the ride to the hospital in the
clanging ambulance, with everybody getting out of the way!

Nobody seems to have thought of Lillian; yet she needed comfort almost
as much as Dorothy. Often she fainted at the sight of suffering. If
anything was to be done that meant physical pain, like the drawing of a
tooth, she was promptly sent from the room. Even then, the knowledge of
the fact was almost too much for her.

She was more self-contained than Dorothy, who would do almost anything
on the spur of the moment. One day at the apartment, two girls came
along below the window, where Lillian and Dorothy looked out.

“Come down to us,” one of the girls called, holding out her arms—“Jump!”

And though the distance was several feet, Dorothy was ready to do
that—the girl who called was so beautiful. Her name was Evelyn Nesbit.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There was not much time for cooking in the Gish flat, and anyway the
weather was hot—too hot to bend over the kitchen stove after a day on
the “line.” The younger members, the five of them, would go out foraging
for cool things.

  We used to love to buy our dinner in the delicatessen shops [Mary
  Pickford writes]. The five of us would troop in and order pickles
  and turkey to take home.

One can imagine that little row of future stars ranged along the fat
delicatessen man’s showcase, coveting all the good things in it,
agreeing at last on a modest purchase of pickles and turkey. Any one of
them could have eaten every bit of it. Sometimes they extended
themselves on a bit of dessert—ice-cream, _always_—who does not love
ice-cream? They had an ice-cream complex. If they were in funds, they
bought a little dab to take home, and had their own dessert in
advance—ice-cream soda. The Greeks over there sold ice-cream soda for
five cents. When, one day, they raised it to ten, it was the end of the


                         “HER FIRST FALSE STEP”

None of these children can be said to have had any real childhood. Those
summers together (there appear to have been two of them) provided about
all they ever had in the way of playmates of their own age. The opening
of each amusement season found them back on the road, trouping, with
grown-up players as companions. Naturally, they did not go to school—not
during those earlier years—but picked up such rudiments of instruction
as it was possible to acquire in stuffy, badly-lighted, dressing rooms,
in jolting day coaches and in casual nooks and corners of the world’s
worst hotels. I cannot speak for the others, but I am sure that Lillian
and Dorothy had very little in the way of regular schooling until they
were in, or near, their ’teens. Had it been otherwise, they would have
been quite certain, I think, to remember.

It was during this period that the Gerry Society became their bogey man.
They did not know what it was, but only that it was something likely to
grab them in any strange city, in a dark hall or alley, as they entered
or left the theatre. It would take them out of the theatre, they were
told, so they would not be able to earn money any more, and maybe put
them into an “Institution,” which was a terrible sounding word. To Mary
Gish it was a very real menace, for she knew that she would have hard
work convincing the Gerry officers that her children were getting proper
care and education, playing six nights and two matinées a week, sleeping
and eating in that sketchy fashion of the road. They did not linger on
the street, they did not show themselves more than necessary, especially
in the larger towns. Lillian, many years later, wrote:

  Before I could understand what it was all about, I knew of
  subterfuges and evasions and tremendous plottings to keep myself
  and my sister acting, so that the very necessary money might be

Their safety lay in their obscurity. Had they been with important
companies, playing finer theatres, they would hardly have escaped.

The season of 1903-4 remains to Lillian and Dorothy the most
memorable—for a very good reason: they were together, and their mother
was with them. For the time, at least, Mary Gish’s dream had come true:
she had secured parts for her little girls and herself in the same
company. Her own part and Dorothy’s were small, but would more than pay
expenses. Dorothy was a news-girl, who sold “Evenin’ pipers!” Lillian’s
part was a very good one; their combined salaries were forty-five
dollars per week!

The play was “Her First False Step,” another fierce melodrama; only, in
this one, Lillian, instead of being nearly blown up was within an ace of
being devoured by savage African lions, being rescued by the brave hero,
barely in the nick of time!

There were two of the lions, and they were really savage, for later when
they were sold to a circus, one of them tore out a keeper’s arm. There
was a provision, however, against accidents: The lions were in a cage in
which there was a sliding division, so cunningly arranged that even
those who sat in the front rows could not see it. At the instant when
the noble hero leaps into the cage and drags out the little victim—child
of the woman he loves—while every eye is riveted on this deed of daring,
the invisible partition is drawn back from behind, the lions rush in,
roaring and leaping about, wild at being deprived of their prey, for at
that very instant, too, the cage door is slammed shut. It was truly a
terrible spectacle. Women in the audience sometimes fainted.

[Illustration: Small “dodger” scattered about the towns before a

Once, when the safety slide had not yet been slipped into place, one of
the lions took up a position at the wrong end of the cage, and refused
to budge. The villain, with Lillian in his arms, had twice vowed he
would fling her to the beasts, and was ready to vow again, when somebody
behind the scenes had an inspiration. Two men from the wings rushed upon
the villain, and while the fierce struggle for the child held the
audience, the stage-hands persuaded the lion to be reasonable.

The heroine in “Her First False Step” was a tall, handsome woman, Helen
Ray. Lillian and Dorothy played her two little girls. In one scene
Dorothy and her “mother” are out in the snow, as Lillian rushes in, to
find them. She has a lollypop for Dorothy, who claps her hands with joy
while Lillian kneels by Miss Ray, saying: “Oh, mother, what are you
doing out here in the cold snow?” Often it was cold enough, too. The
air, not the snow. The latter was swept up every night, to be used at
the next performance. Sometimes other things were swept up with it, and
were likely to hit them on the head—nails, bits of wood, a little dry

A real romance goes with the “False Step” season—one with a
“happy-ever-after” ending. In one of the larger towns, a young actor
from another company came to a matinée and was much struck by the beauty
of Helen Ray, whom he had never met. That night he managed to come
again, and next day at rehearsal time was lingering around the stage
entrance. Dorothy, with a beloved Teddybear, was playing just outside.
He struck up an acquaintance with her, and was invited in, to see her
other possessions. A very few minutes later he had met Helen Ray. When
the season had ended, they were married. At last accounts they were
still married—and happy—after more than twenty-five years.

Lillian and Dorothy, at the theatre before the others, had diversions of
their own. Both dearly loved lemon sticks, especially if oranges went
with them. To suck orange juice through a lemon stick was pure delight.
They would run across the dressing-room and jam their oranges against
the wall.

In a corner of the first-act-set, they would set up a play-house. They
did not play at “acting,” like other children. They would put on long
dresses, and play at “keeping house”—having a home. When it came time
for the performance, they hurried, not very eagerly, to change into the
costumes required for their parts. They were not unhappy. They did not
reflect much whether they liked what they were doing, or not. They just
did it. The parts they played were always sad—pathetic, but not more so
than their lives. They did not know that, but their mother did.

                  *       *       *       *       *

If one might have looked into Mary Gish’s heart at this time, just what
would one have found there? Chiefly, of course, devotion to her
children—thought of their immediate welfare and needs. After that? Was
it to equip them for the career of actresses—a life which, unless they
were at the top, was hardly to be called enviable, and even at its best
was one of impermanent triumphs and fitful rewards? She knew pretty well
that with their special kind of beauty, which each day she saw
develop—their flair for subtle phases of human portrayal—given health,
they could count on at least reasonable success. Did she greatly desire
that? I think not. I think she considered it, but that her real purpose
was to keep her children and herself on the stage only until by close,
the very closest, economy, she had saved enough to establish herself in
a permanent business which would give them a home, where they could go
to school and grow into normal, or what she regarded as normal,
womanhood. I think the old prejudice which she had shared with her
family as to the theatre, did not die easily, and that for years she
felt herself more or less “beyond the pale,” willing to stay there only
because it meant a livelihood, with the possibility of something better,
something with a home in it, not too far ahead. We shall see the effort
she made in this direction, by and by, and what came of it—how the web
of circumstance had its will with her, as with us all.


Whatever her plan, Mary Gish saw that she must educate her children.
Herself reared in a town that rather specializes in education, she had
known the advantage of excellent public schools. That her children
should have less than herself was a distressing thought. From little
books, at every spare moment, she taught them. In every town of
importance, she made it her business to learn what she could of its
history, its population, its industries, and of these she told them in
as interesting a form as she could invent. In the South, she told them
of the war; when it was possible, showed them landmarks, often taking
them on little excursions.

In one city she had a special interest: Chattanooga, where an uncle, a
Captain McConnell, had been killed in the battle above the clouds. When
she found they had time there, she took the children for a drive up
Lookout Mountain, telling them the story as they went along. And then a
remarkable thing happened: they came to a tablet by the roadside, and
paused to read the inscription. It was a tablet to Captain McConnell,
commemorating his bravery.

She did not hold them to schoolbooks. She read them story books, or
allowed an actor named Strickland—“Uncle High” in the play, because he
was so tall—to read to them—from “Black Beauty,” which was their
favorite, and Grimm’s and Andersen’s Fairy Tales. In a seat on the
train, when all were awake at once, or during a wait in a station—oh,
anywhere—Uncle High was faithful, and those little girls never ceased to
remember it.

Uncle High was really very tall—“six feet six, and skinny as a
blue-racer” according to one of the notices. In the play there was a
house-warming, at which he was one of the guests. When Uncle High
entered, Lillian, the “golden-haired grandchild,” was moved to examine
him. They stood just at the footlights, and very deliberately she looked
him up and down until the snickering audience was still. Then very
gravely: “Grandpa, what is he standing on?” a line, according to Uncle
High, that was “always a scream.”

“Uncle High” further remembers that “no matter what time of night
Lillian and Dorothy had to get out of a warm, comfortable bed to catch a
train, or how many times they had to be awakened to change cars, no one
ever heard a whimper or complaint from either, and I cannot recall one
instance where they ever found any fault with anything, and I never
heard their mother speak a cross word to either of them. Lillian was
just like a little mother to Dorothy, and looked after her all the time.
Her whole life seemed to be to watch that nothing happened to her little
sister. And Lillian _only eight years old_.” She was, in fact,
considerably less.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Gish’s skillful handicraft included drawing. She had received no
art instruction but her pen sketches were exquisite. She thought them
poor, and destroyed them. There remains only a water-color
interior—subtle in tone, atmospheric—of a quality that commands
immediate attention.

It seems curious that she should also have had a taste for mechanics.
Delicate mechanics. She enjoyed taking a clock apart and putting it
together again. A clock that did not go was her delight. Once that
winter, when they were all together, a clock in their room had gone out
of commission. Mary Gish examined it, then set to work. In a brief time
she had it on the operating table, the pieces here and there. Dorothy’s
deep interest may have had something to do with the fact that when she
came to assemble them, two insignificant bits seemed to be missing.
Never mind, the clock would go without them. It would go, but with a gay
indifference to time, and every little while made queer noises in its
inside. Lillian and Dorothy, in bed in that room, laughed themselves to
sleep, listening to its complaints.

They found amusement where they could—the situation was so often barren
enough. Once, remembering, Lillian said:

“Sometimes the theatre was very poor, and the dressing-rooms nearly
always bad (even to this day they could be better). Some were worse than
others. At a theatre in Chicago, a theatre of the second or third class,
a good way out, the dressing-rooms were in a kind of cellar. There was
water on the floor—we had to walk on boards. I remember the big, black
water-bugs. Mother had to shake out our dresses, before we put them on.

“The Gerry Society was very strict in Chicago. We hardly dared to show
ourselves outside the theatre and hotel. Four or five years later, when
I was perhaps twelve, and we were there again, Mother put me into long
skirts and high heels, so that I could look sixteen, and reduce the
risk. I felt very proud to be grown-up in that sudden way.”

But the winter travel was hardest. One town they were to play could be
reached only from a junction, six miles distant. That night a terrible
blizzard came up, and the company, quite a large one, had to be driven
cross-country in big farm sleighs, bedded with straw. It was terribly
cold, their feet became ice. And when they arrived, the train was five
hours late! The place was just a telegraph office; the little girls were
allowed to stretch out on the desks, which were sloping;—members of the
company took turns, holding them from rolling off.

The problem of food was a serious one, especially in the smaller towns
of the Middle West. Dorothy was robust, and seemed to thrive on
anything; Lillian needed better fare.

“Dorothy and I lived, when we could, on ice-cream and cake. Mother would
give us fifteen cents, and we would spend ten cents for ice-cream, half
vanilla and half chocolate. With the other five we bought lady-fingers.
We mixed the cream, stirred the two kinds together, and made ‘mashed
potatoes’; then we spread it on the lady-fingers.”

It does not seem very substantial, nor an over-plentiful allowance. They
were being very economical, trying to get a little money ahead. At one
wonderful restaurant—in some Western town—they were able to get a meal
for ten cents! Just one place like that: soup, meat, potatoes, and a
piece of pie! Perhaps it was not very good, but it seemed good, to them.

And two places in the South—good negro cooking:

“At Richmond and Norfolk, we went to boarding-houses, where we had
chicken and ham at _one meal_, and sweet potatoes, and gingerbread!
Nothing could be better than that. We were always happy when we were
going to those places; and there was a park in one of those towns where
there were squirrels. We bought peanuts, and they would hurry up to be

“There was another place—it was in New Haven—that Dorothy and I looked
forward to. In the hall next the dressing-rooms, was a small sliding
door, or window, and beyond it an ice-cream salon. We could knock on the
magic door and it would open, and a chocolate ice-cream soda be handed
through. You can’t imagine how wonderful that seemed to us ... like
something out of Fairyland. Then there was a place in Philadelphia—an
automat—the only one we had ever seen. It was the delight of our hearts.
We were willing to walk miles, to get to it.”

Philadelphia was remembered for another reason. A considerable number of
newsboys attended a matinée of “Her First False Step,” and hissed the
villain and cheered the brave hero and the two little heroines in good,
orthodox fashion. At the end of the play, the delegation hurried out and
assembled at the back. When Lillian and Dorothy, in velveteen hats and
coats and patent leather shoes, stepped from the stage door, they were
waited upon by a meek and almost speechless committee of two and
presented with two rare bottles of perfume, the best “five-and-ten” that
money could buy. The stars bowed and spoke their thanks. After which,
there was something resembling a cheer, and an almost uncanny
disappearance of their admirers.

A very serious thing happened: At Scranton, Dorothy awoke one morning
with what proved to be scarlet fever. It was not a severe case, but the
company, knowing the certainty of quarantine, fled at once, bag and
baggage, taking Lillian with them. The hotel faced the station platform,
a high one, almost on a level with the windows of Mrs. Gish’s room.
Lillian, waiting for the train that would take her away from them, could
see her mother and Dorothy at the window, waving a tearful good-bye. It
seemed as if her heart must break.

How long they were separated is not remembered—possibly not more than a
fortnight. Dorothy’s part was abandoned. Later, she was given the part
that had been played by Lillian. And this is curious: Lillian herself
had never been at all afraid when she was thrust into the lions’ cage,
but now that Dorothy had the part, it made her almost frantic when she
heard the lions roaring, and knew that her little sister was being put
in there.

The season appears to have closed in Boston, and for whatever
reason—possibly Dorothy was not yet over-strong—Mrs. Gish went by
day-coach to New York, putting Dorothy and Lillian into an upper berth,
in the sleeper. They had with them a small dog—a Boston bull puppy,
which the stage-hands had given them—and all night long, they took turns
sitting up with it. One slept while the other watched, with more or less
success. Then, next morning, they were in New York, tired but
triumphant. They were returning from a long season—forty weeks!—and on
the whole, a successful one. Two little actresses! They were beginning
to realize what their work meant.

It seems unnecessary to speak of the quality of their acting. We really
know nothing of it; we can only assume that, like the majority of
actors, old or young, they did just about what they were told, and
through repetition, and because they were intelligent, learned to do it


They had begun too early to be either awkward, or frightened, after the
first one or two performances. The people beyond the footlights did not
bother them at all. They scarcely knew they were there. Lillian, later:

“I had very little consciousness of the audience, in those days. When
they applauded or laughed, I hardly noticed it. I remember wondering
what they were laughing about. To become an actress, one cannot begin
too soon.”


                             DOROTHY’S TREE

Again that summer Mary Gish had a taffy and popcorn stand at Fort
George. Probably not after that, though each summer found her busy.
Alert, handsome, familiar with business, she never failed of employment.
Lillian remembers that there were summers when she took a clerkship, and
let the little girls go to their aunt, in Massillon, for the cleaner
life there, and for schooling—a summer term. A teacher in Massillon
recalls having Lillian in the Fourth Grade—year uncertain. Also, that
she “never had a lovelier or sweeter pupil; wonderful in art, but could
not get mathematics.” Poor Lillian! to her, as to another little girl a
hundred years earlier—little Marjorie Fleming—“seven times six was an
invention of the devil, and nine times eight more than human nature
could bear.”

That she could write quite as well as the average child of her age is
shown by a small pencilled note to Mell Faris, manager of the “False
Step” Company when the little family had been together. She had been out
a season “on her own” since then, and was with Dorothy, now, at Aunt
Emily’s “having a fine time, playing in the yard. I do wish we could get
into a ‘conpany’ with you next season.” But the spelling is for the most
part perfect.

Another teacher remembers having her in the Seventh Grade, in 1907, so
it appears that in spite of recurring theatrical seasons, she made
progress. In the summer of 1907 she was not yet eleven years old. I do
not know whether that is the right age in Massillon for the Seventh
Grade, or not. The wonder is that she was able to maintain any grade,
under the circumstances.

Dorothy was better off. Lillian had her mother but the one time;
Dorothy, during five straight seasons: the one just ended; another
“False Step” season, and three seasons with Fisk O’Hara, the Irish
singing comedian, a happy soul, who gave her a broken heart, among other
things, for she forgot the heroic Don, and fell in love with him. He
promised to wait for her, and then, one day, in an absent-minded moment,
married his leading lady.

Mrs. Gish kept her part during the second season of the “False Step”
Company, and had something in each of the Fisk O’Hara plays. The company
was a very good one, made good towns and played in good theatres. The
papers paid a good deal of attention to Dorothy. Her dimpled face looked
out from dramatic columns; the little scrapbook which her mother kept
for her contains notices of the “dainty child actress, who risks her
life nightly in a lions’ den,” or “ably supported Fisk O’Hara in ‘Dion
O’Dare.’” False Fisk O’Hara! We hope he has been properly punished for
not waiting for her.

It was during the second season in “Her First False Step” that Dorothy
had her Christmas Tree. In the last act of the play, there was a
Christmas scene—no tree, but Dorothy, looking into the wings, had to
pretend to see one. In his book, “To Youth,” John V. A. Weaver,[1] gives
this incident in verse better than anyone could hope to do it in prose.
Here is the latter half of it:

        Of course, we never carried a Christmas tree,
        But she was supposed to act like it was there.
        Well, then, we get to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin,
        And, bein’ it’s really Christmas, the rest of the troupe

        They get a bright idea. They’re goin’ to give
        The kid a celebration, to make her happy.
        So then, Dorothy’s goin’ along, as usual,
        Doin’ her stuff real good. And the third act,
        She starts to gallop on in her big scene—

        And there’s a real tree standin’ on the stage,
        Lit up with candles, and hung with all the fixin’s!

        She takes three steps—and her eyes start to pop.
        She stops dead in her tracks, tries to go on
        Sayin’ her words—and gives a couple of gulps,
        And busts out cryin’. And she cries, and cries,
        Watchin’ the tree. And the audience all laughin’,

        And me dried up, with lumps stuck in my throat....

        Finally, they have to ring the curtain down.
        I tell you, it ain’t fair to have a little
        Yellow-haired kid puttin’ things in your head,—
        Things you gave up many’s the year ago.

It was a season or two later, when they were with the Fisk O’Hara
Company, that Dorothy woke one night in a hotel in Toledo, to find her
mother very ill indeed, with high fever and delirium. The day before,
she had complained of a cold, and Dorothy had bought her a bottle of
some mixture, chiefly persuaded by the picture on the label. Apparently
it had not helped. The frightened child crept down the hall to summon

Mrs. Gish had intermittent fever, and Dorothy next day had to leave her
and go on with the company. There was nobody to take her part. She was
only too kindly treated, but during the days before her mother joined
them, she was a sadly worried little girl.

Once—and this has to do with another Christmas—the Fisk O’Hara Company
laid off in New Orleans, and went one night to see “The Lion and the
Mouse,” at the theatre they would occupy the following week. On the way
out, Dorothy noticed a purse in one of the back rows. She took it to the
box office, to the manager, who knew them. He said: “If nobody calls for
it, it will be yours.”

Nobody did call for it, and the next week he gave it to her. It
contained $21.00, a sum which they could have used very handily, but
instead they went out and spent it on a gold watch to send to Lillian,
for Christmas.


Footnote 1:

  Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.


                         “SUPPORTING BERNHARDT”

There is some difficulty as to the sequence of Lillian’s story. As we
have seen, she did not go out with her mother and Dorothy that second
season of “Her First False Step.” She had a part in another play—“The
Child Wife,” or “At Duty’s Call,” it is not quite certain which came
first. The little trouper did not know that she was making history—did
not consider a time when it all might need to be arranged. She did not
keep a scrapbook, and had no one to keep it for her. She probably did
not think of a diary, and in any case would have been too tired to set
down what, to her, was the humdrum routine of trains and towns and waits
and scanty meals. Later, it was all a good deal of a blur. A few things
stood out, because they were unusual, but even these did not always fall
into their proper setting, as to time. There are spaces not easy to
bridge, pieces difficult to fit into the picture-puzzle of the years.
She remembers the tragedy of finding at the beginning of one season that
she could no longer squeeze herself through the iron divisions of the
station seats. She remembers that for a time she took lessons in
dancing—stage dancing. Both she and her mother had realized the value of
this: one able to dance could often get a better part. Sarah Bernhardt
came to New York that winter, and seeking a child dancer to brighten
some scene in one of her plays, went to a dancing teacher, and from his
class selected Lillian.

Bernhardt was over sixty at this time, but was still the “divine Sarah,
with the voice of gold.” Her engagement at the Lyric Theatre began with
a very grand opening, December 15, 1905. Plenty of attractions along
Broadway, just then. At Wallack’s, William Faversham, in “The Squaw
Man”; David Warfield at the Bijou, in “The Music Master”; Maude Adams at
the Empire, in “Peter Pan.” The little Gish girl had distinguished
company in all directions for her first Broadway appearance. Perhaps
that was a good omen.

Lillian’s recollection of that engagement is chiefly a mental picture of
a tall and beautiful woman—Sarah—who each night in the wings, as they
waited to go on, laid her hand on her head and said, tenderly, something
in French—“Le petit ange aux beaux cheveux d’or,” if one may hazard a
guess. Then, with another little girl, she danced. She was deeply
impressed by the fact that the stage was covered with canvas, for the
actors to walk on. The stages she had known were not like that—oh, not
at all. And did somebody appear and carry her off, quite suddenly—kidnap
her? She has that impression, but cannot be certain.

Long afterwards, when she herself had become famous, Madame Bernhardt
sent her affectionate messages.

Lillian’s memory was never very good as to events and surroundings. She
memorized her parts easily enough, and her lessons, because she worked
very hard at any task. At the beginning of each season came a period of
rehearsing—with many new “sides” (pages) to be learned, if the play was
a new one. Absorbing things, these. Other matters—the daily round, the
people she met, the details of an environment—interfered little with the
cadences of her thoughts, left but a drifting impression on that fairy
mind of hers. While still a child, she had seen too much, and too
many—of everything. And it had all been just a pursuit of sleep and
desirable food, and a longing for the shelter of a mother’s arms. That
last, especially—when one was not well ... nights ... days, too ... oh,
yes, and the ache of homesickness ... is it any wonder that more and
more her face took on that wistful look that one day would be regarded
almost as its chief charm?

There were happier things—even another Christmas Tree, quite a big one!
In Detroit, the stage entrance of the theatre where “At Duty’s Call” was
playing, opened on an alley, and just across was a store where
automobile parts were sold. The men who owned it went to the play, and
took enough interest in the “child star” to go to the manager and offer
to have a tree for her, in their back room. All the company was invited,
and came. Such a beautiful tree, with so many nice things on it! A
grateful little girl was quite overcome; especially by a handsome sled
which the company had bought for her. Everybody said that it must go
with her, on the road. And they saw to it that it did. Always, after
that, when there was snow—even if only just a little snow—they pulled
her to the station on it, after the performance.


                             MASSILLON DAYS

Seasons changed ... the years went on. From the train window, Lillian
saw the snow come, then go, leaving only lines along the hedgerows, or
white tracks across the watery meadows to show which way winter had
passed. Then flowers, bits of blue and white and yellow ... after that,
summer, and New York, or maybe Massillon.

Lillian realized that she was growing tall ... too tall, almost, for the
parts she was playing. She supposed that presently she would have to
give up the stage, and go to school regularly, or at least until she was
old enough for the more grown-up parts. Perhaps that would be in New
York ... more likely in Massillon. She hoped it would be Massillon. She
liked it there, at Aunt Emily’s place, which they called “the farm,”
(though it was not really that,) especially when Dorothy was there, too.
They helped Aunt Emily with her housekeeping, and when that was done,
they could run in the fields, not far away. Buster, the dog, ran with
them, and insisted on following Dorothy, like Mary’s lamb, to a little
school she went to, and nearly broke up the classes. The teacher was
like Mary’s, too. She turned Buster out, and when he “lingered near,”
threatened to do terrible things to him.

There was an old bicycle at Massillon, a rusty old thing without tires,
but it would go. It was too big, of course, but Lillian had got it out
of the woodshed and lowered the seat, and had been able to get on it,
and fall, and get on and fall again, and by and by to get on and stay
there. She had really learned to ride it—that was something.

Almost anything was likely to happen at “the farm”—mostly pleasant
things, but not always. There was an insane asylum in Massillon, and
when one of the inmates escaped, which happened every little while, the
asylum whistle blew, and timid people locked their doors. Aunt Emily at
such times sent her nieces to the attic, or cellar. They did not like
those places, and were not afraid, anyhow. They were more afraid of a
cow that had chased them from a back field.

Lillian reflected that once she had been really quite wicked: A black
thundercloud was rising in the west, just as she was starting to see her
friend, Marion Benedict, down the street. Lillian never minded
lightning, but her aunt was terribly afraid of it and begged her not to
go and leave her.

“But I told Marion I would come!”

“But you can go later—afterwards.”

“But I want to go now.”

“Oh, dear, I believe you love Marion Benedict better than you do me.”

“Yes, I do.”

How awful to have said such a thing to dear Aunt Emily, who was so
shocked that never in the world would she forget it! Perhaps it had been
the lightning in the air.

Once, a cousin had come to see them—a second cousin, named Leonard Hall,
about her own age. Their mother was there, and had dressed them up for
the occasion—white dresses, their hair loose, with big pink bows; they
had been almost as nice as dolls. She had thought her boy cousin quite
nice, too, for a boy—and boy cousins were so scarce. She had hoped he
would play with them ... but he would hardly even look at them—edged
away, and then ran, almost as if something were after him ... and didn’t
come back any more. She wondered why. They had on all their prettiest
things, and Dorothy at least had been a perfect picture.

Lillian reflected on these matters as she rode along, or looked from a
hotel window. If she went to Massillon this summer, would she see her
cousin again? And Buster, and Marion Benedict? Would she stay there,
now, and go to school, or go back to the road for another season? She
thought dreamily of these and other things. She did not trouble much,
about the future, or the past—then, or later. She followed a kind of
magic path, that opened before, and closed behind her as she passed

                  *       *       *       *       *

There came a season when the theatrical business was poor. The road
companies, especially, suffered. Their profits became more than ever
precarious. Motion picture shows were cutting into their business.
One-night-stand theatres were being converted into “picture palaces,”
and “nickelodeons,” that offered pretty good entertainment at
ridiculously low prices, and had very light “overhead.” The
combinations, the smaller ones, with their salaries and railroad fares,
could not compete. Lillian went out with quite a pretentious company,
and a play which was “sure to get to New York and make a hit on
Broadway.” It did not get much further than Washington, where it opened.
At Baltimore, or Richmond, it came to grief. The company had trouble
getting home. At a later time, Lillian wrote: “When we were ambitious
and went into better productions, the plays seemed to fail.” But this
was due rather to the new conditions in the amusement world, than
because of the plays themselves. The “movies” had filed a claim on the
melodrama. One could scorn them, as many did in the beginning, but the
handwriting was on the wall.

Mary Gish wondered what was best to do next. She had saved some money,
but with nothing coming in, how quickly it would go.

For one thing, she must have a new dress. The children said so, quite
insistently, and she knew they were right.

“We begged her to buy a new one. Finally, one day, she bought some
Alice-blue material and made herself a gown. She always made all the
clothes, herself. Then we begged her to get a new hat. So she went to
the five-and-ten-cent store, and bought a frame for a little toque, and
covered it with little five-and-ten roses. She looked so pretty in her
new things—and we were all so happy. We thought everything so beautiful.
She was not to wear them until Easter.

“We lived in furnished rooms over by Eighth Avenue, away up I don’t know
how many flights, next the roof. Mother put her dress on a hanger, and
hung it in a closet, with the hat over it. We all gathered to admire it.
It was such an event for mother to have a new dress.

“That night there came up a terrible rain, and the roof over the closet
leaked. The water came through in streams, and ran down over mother’s
new hat, and the color came out of the lovely five-and-ten roses and
dripped all over the new Alice-blue dress. It was ruined. We all cried
over it; it was a real tragedy.”


                      WHERE THE “ROAD” ENDS. NELL

News came to Mrs. Gish that a brother in St. Louis had died, leaving a
widow. She took the children to Massillon, went to St. Louis, and with
her sister-in-law, opened a confectionery and ice-cream parlor, in East
St. Louis, a rather drab railroad town across the river.

The business started off very well. Railroad men were good wage-earners,
and East St. Louis was full of them. In a way, it was what Mary Gish had
been looking forward to: her children would no longer be wanderers; they
would go to school.

Lillian and Dorothy, in Massillon, probably did not suspect that their
day as child actors was definitely over. Nor that they were among the
last of their race. Their little world had come to an end—“A curious,
romantic, gypsy world,” Lillian called it later, “and rather beautiful,
I think.”

But this was long after. They did not think of it as beautiful, then,
and would have concealed their connection with it, if they could. The
children in the Massillon school shouted “Play-actor! Play-actor!” at
Dorothy, and “Do what you used to do on the stage!” They did not harry
Lillian in this way: she was older, and taller, and there was something
about her face ... they stood in awe of her. Someone named her the
“chameleon girl,” because she seemed to change the “coloring of her
personality (her mood) in the flash of an eye.”

Lillian does not remember where she first met “Nell”—Nellie Becker, a
sweet-faced, happy-hearted girl, somewhat older than herself. Lillian
was tall for her years, and serious-minded—the difference did not count.
What did count was their instant attraction to each other. Beginning in
what school-girls know as a “crush,” it presently ripened into something
less fleeting, something that was to stand the wear of years. Each was
the other’s ideal—the companion of which she had dreamed. They shared
their hearts’ secrets, read books together. A fine young fellow, named
Tom, was going to marry Nell one of these days; a boy called “Alb,” for
short—a very proper boy, particular about his umbrella and
overshoes—appears to have been wishfully interested in Lillian, who,
being of a sober turn and not yet thirteen, was not too violently
disturbed by his attentions. Whatever romantic love she had, she gave to
Nell. When, at the end of the summer, she joined her mother in East St.
Louis, she wrote frequent letters, though letter-writing was always her

Not many girls of her age would have set out on a long railroad trip,
with changes, but rail travel had few terrors for the child actress, who
for six or seven years had known little else. She stopped over in
Dayton, to see her Grandfather, and her first letter, with its very
plain, school-girl writing, some uncertainty as to spelling, and a large
indifference to punctuation, is dated from there: September 12, 1909:

  Well dear I am away from Massillon once again, but feel as if I
  had left something behind this time that I never left before.

  I arrived here at 4:05 yesterday afternoon and have been on one
  continual trot ever since then, and I leave here tonight at 11:25,
  and when I wake up I’ll be in St. Louis, as this is an awfully
  fast train....

[An all-night ride in a day coach, but what was that to her?]

  Poor Dorothy what did she do when I left? I could hardly keep the
  tears back, and I couldn’t say a word for the lump in my
  throat.... I do hope she won’t be homesick. You know that

“_You know that feeling_”—who knew it better than herself? The letter
ends, “Your loving make-believe sister.” It bears her East St. Louis
address: 246 Collinsville Ave.

A week later she wrote, “How is my little fat sister? Does she seem to
be satisfied? Bless her old fat heart, she is bad but I love her.”

She tells of a day’s trip to a small town in Illinois, and how, when she
got back to the store, they were “awfully rushed, so of course I had to
help.” In another letter, we hear of a girl named Mertice, who is going
to give a party for her, “at a big Hall.”

  They have ordered an automobile, seven passenger—45 horsepower,
  but it won’t be here until March. Oh, I wish you would hear her
  talk about all the trips we are going to take. She knows all about
  you, Nell. She couldn’t help but know if she is around me very


                       A CONVENT SCHOOL. TYPHOID

Lillian never got to ride in Mert’s 45 horsepower car. Almost
immediately she found herself shut safely in a convent school across the
river—The Ursuline Academy—not for anything she had done, or was likely
to do, but because this plan seemed to offer special advantages. Her
mother lived in a tiny room, near the store. It was in no sense a home,
and working as she did, twelve or fourteen hours a day, she could give a
daughter very little care. A public school would mean that Lillian’s
free hours would have to be spent in the store, on the street, or with
her aunt across the river. No place for play, no place for study. The
Ursuline Academy provided board and tuition for twenty dollars a month,
and was thought to be very good.

Lillian was not at first greatly interested in the convent idea,
especially when she learned she could leave it but once a month. It was
just another kind of those dreaded “Institutions.”

She changed her mind about all that, later. It seemed to her that at
last she had reached a place of peace and rest. No troubles, no dangers,
any more. She was a natural _religieuse_, and found a vast and nameless
comfort behind the high walls and closed windows. The place might have
been in the midst of the Sahara, for all that could be seen of the outer

The convent régime was not especially severe. Only the early rising was
hard. They rose at 5:30, and had breakfast by candlelight—mild coffee
and thick slices of bread. At ten came a between-luncheon, bread and
jam; a hearty luncheon at noon, with bread and jam again at four; then
supper, so they really ate five times a day. There was plenty of work:
lessons, piano practice, French ... but one could walk in the little
garden, and there was a tennis court, and trees. And something more: to
Nell she wrote:

  We are going to have a play and an opera, and what do you think,
  they wanted me to play Kate’s father in “The Taming of the Shrew.”
  Can you imagine me taking that part and singing in a real low
  voice? But I told them I could not, and so they are going to give
  me a part in the play.

They knew nothing of her stage life—an episode always carefully
suppressed. Baggage labels were scraped off when they left New York. The
stage door was slammed to. But she could not disguise her technical
knowledge—not altogether. They gave her Bianca in the opera, and a
leading part in the play, as soon as they saw her rehearse.

Lillian confessed later that her ambition at this time was to be either
an actress or a nun—or a librarian. She had a passion for reading, and
thought as a librarian she could gratify it. To Nell, she wrote: “I am
not going out for a month and will have to write all my letters on the
sligh,”—which was a sin, though spelling it in that way seems to modify
it a good deal—“and carry them in my stocking until mother comes and
mails them.” Oh, dear, and in a convent, where she thought she would
like to remain forever, and become a sister, like Mother Evaristo, whom
she loved very much indeed! To another sister, teacher of elocution and
dramatics, she confided her wish to take the veil, and was advised
against it—_advised to go_ _on the stage_—which led to penance, on the
part of the sister, a dear soul.

Each Sunday her mother came to see her, with news of the outside world,
and once a month, with the others, she was allowed to pass the gates—a
privilege she valued less and less. She might so easily have become a
nun; and in the tragic “White Sister,” made fourteen years later, we
have seen just what sort of a nun she would have become. That picture
was really a pendant of her earlier experience, which she never
remembered but with a peculiar affection, and a sense of peace. During
the eight or nine months she was with them, the sisters made no attempt
to influence her religious views, but they were always tenderly kind to
her, and always later felt that she belonged to them.

                  *       *       *       *       *

School ended ... Dorothy came from Massillon. They lived with their St.
Louis aunt, boarders, going each day across the river, to help. A narrow
hall ran along one side of the shop, dividing it from a “Biograph”
moving-picture place. They did not know the word Biograph. They thought
it the name of a man—probably a rather kindly man, for his doorkeeper
let them cross the hall and enter by a side door, free. They did it
often, when trade was dull, and found the pictures good fun, though of
course they would never _act_ in anything like that—no real actresses
would. When they grew up, they might go back on the stage, but never
into the movies. And the Weaver who sits at the Loom of Circumstance
smiled faintly, it may be, observing from his pattern that in exactly
two years these young scorners were to be making pictures for that same
“Mr. Biograph.”

There came a day when Lillian felt barely able to creep out of bed in
the morning; when at the shop she could hardly hold up her head, or lift
her feet. She had to drive herself to keep going. She knew that she was
ill—but said nothing; her mother was too busy to bother with a sick
child. Finally, one day when she crept home with Dorothy, to her aunt’s,
she could go no further. She fell across the bed, unable to undress,
even to take off her shoes. A doctor came. It was typhoid fever.

Disordered days ... black, fantastic nights, a fire of unquenchable
thirst ... a river at which one lay down and drank and drank ... and
then the river ran dry ... she was burning up, but this was torture ...
not a river but a tub—a bathtub of cool water. Oh, quiet and sleep ...
an awakening to a possession of terrible hunger—a feeble pleading for
food ... just a little....

Dorothy, unable to resist, brought her something from her own luncheon
... but, then the fever again ... relapse ... semi-recovery ... relapse
again. Surely she could never live through this.

Somehow the frail constitution stood the test. Dorothy, permitted one
day to enter the room, found Lillian with a wish-bone in her hand.
Struck with terror, Dorothy started toward her, to take it away. But the
patient, a staring little ghost, all eyes, put it to her lips. If
Dorothy came closer, she would eat something, and surely die. Each time
Dorothy started toward the bed, the bone went to Lillian’s lips. She
hurried out to tell the others about it—and was told that Lillian was
better—much better, this time—the wish-bone was just a bone—nothing on
it, not a thing.

The convalescent noticed that her mother was with her a great deal, and
vaguely wondered how she could be away from the store. One day they told
her. The store was not there any more. Fire from the Biograph place had
destroyed the building. There had been no insurance. Mary Gish was once
more starting at the bottom. Worse. She had not enough to pay all the
expense of Lillian’s illness. Somehow she was able to get the children
to Massillon. Through connections she secured a place as manager of a
confectionery-and-catering establishment—in Springfield, where she had
begun; good enough salary,—long, long hours. The children were to remain
at Massillon, with Aunt Emily, and go to school. Blessed Aunt Emily!



But now from Shawnee, Oklahoma, came a letter from an uncle, Grant Gish,
saying that his brother, James Gish, was in a sanitarium, in broken
health. Lillian decided to go to him. This was near the end of October,
1910, when she had just turned fourteen. She went quite alone. To Nell,
on arrival, she wrote:

  _My dear little sister_:

  I arrived safe yesterday morning and went to the hotel and slept
  until about ten o’clock & then I came right out here, and they are
  awfully nice to me, but Oh! dear how I wish I were home with you
  and we were reading “John Halifax”! I hope we will soon be able to
  finish that together....

  I didn’t want to come, dear, but I thought it was my duty. It’s
  awfully hard to do your duty sometimes, and you know that I met
  with opposition on all sides but I have done what I think was
  right and I am glad that I did it....

                                                 With love love love
                                                 from LILLIAN.

  201 N. Park St.
  Shawnee, Okla.

How lightly she treats her arrival in Shawnee—not to distress Nell, or
those who would inquire. It was really very different. Shawnee, twenty
years ago, was rather unlike the thriving town it became later. It was
two in the morning when Lillian got off on a desolate platform, and
found nobody to welcome her. A light from across the street showed a
lone cowboy, in chaps, and “ten-gallon hat,” curiously regarding her. It
was exactly such a scene and situation as the pictures have used, time
and again. She had never seen a cowboy before, and regretted that she
saw this one. She does not remember whether she asked the way to the
hotel, or whether it stood right there, facing the tracks. She does
remember that it was an indifferent hotel, compared even with the hotels
she had known on the road.

The room they showed her was probably as good as any they had, which is
the best that could be said for it. She was disheartened—frightened. She
wished she had listened to those persons who had told her not to come.
Old trouper that she was, she had never seen so poor a room, and she had
never slept, in any room, alone. She was distinctly scared. She put a
chair against the door, and did not take off her clothes. Then she heard
a scampering or scratching, or something—rats, no doubt. Or somebody
breaking in.

A single light hung by a string from the ceiling. She did not turn it
out, and she did not get into bed. She got _on_ it, on her knees, and
said her prayers—several times—improving them, and inventing new ones.
It was only when daylight came that she decided to risk a little sleep.
It is easy to believe that she slept then till ten o’clock, as she wrote

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian thinks that her father was not in Shawnee itself (the town in
that day could hardly have had a sanitarium), but that he was in
Oklahoma City, some thirty-five miles distant. She did not go to see
him; he came to see her—not more than once or twice. She has a mental
picture of him in her uncle’s dooryard, talking to her as she sat on a
horse. “Be careful, pet,” he said to her; “Don’t let that pony go too
fast.” Pet had been his old name for her.

There must have been more than that, but that tricksy memory of hers let
the rest go, and what it kept is perhaps sufficient. She had not seen
him for years, but he looked as she had expected to find him.
Apparently, his physical health was good enough; his trouble had become
mental. He did not die until the following year, when she had returned
to Ohio.

Lillian’s aunt and uncle persuaded her to stay in Shawnee and go to
school. She could help her aunt with the housekeeping, for her board,
and be company for her. Her uncle, a locomotive engineer, was away a
good deal of the time.

Lillian thought well of the idea. She rather liked Shawnee, once she got
used to it, especially the riding. Soon she got to know an Indian girl,
who rode with her and had plenty of ponies. A wonderful girl—she rode as
if she were a part of the horse. There were Indians, of course,
everywhere—“civilized Indians,” whatever we may mean by that; also,
cowboys and other romantic features. Then she found she could get a
place in a doctor’s office—work after school and on holidays—answering
the telephone and marking down appointments. For this she was to receive
two dollars and a half a week—all clear.

The school part was the hardest. She had made a mistake in the
beginning: When she was asked about her grade, some imp prompted her to
promote herself. She was accepted at her own valuation, but keeping up
to it nearly killed her. She could do it all but the mathematics.
Advanced arithmetic was just a jungle of terrors, algebra an uncharted
sea from which daily she must be rescued as she was going down for the
third time. What with one thing and another, her punishment seemed
almost more than she could bear....

Her face took on an added wistfulness; she became more than ever like a
spirit. Gladys Fariss, her schoolmate, watching her come down the
evening hillside, the sunset in her hair, could think only of Saint

Lillian, her memory blurred by her mental struggle, had no clear picture
of Shawnee in later years. Fortunately, Gladys has preserved it for us.

  Lillian Gish! How often have I dreamed of her—heard her musical
  voice from out the purple distances. What a joy to recall her in
  my classes of Shawnee High.

  We were in the English class together. She especially enjoyed
  literature.... I sat and watched the door each day for Lillian’s
  coming from her previous class. Classmates, the teacher, the class
  work, have long since passed into oblivion, but photographed in my
  memory is the picture, framed by the doorway.

  She had recently recovered from typhoid fever. Her hair was a
  golden halo, alive with newness, about her oval face. It was worn
  caught loosely back and with a black ribbon bow. At the
  Junior-Senior dance we sophomores were invited guests ... Lillian
  dressed in filmy white was dancing ... classically, romantically,
  as with enchanted feet, an ivory statuette, in a world of chiffon
  and moonlight.

  She sang in the choir of the Episcopal Church. She was spiritual
  and philosophic, a dreamer, quiet and far-seeing. She was a
  listener, never outspoken. She was somewhat retiring, yet not
  abashed. She talked very little of her life. I never remember her
  mentioning the stage.

  She loved the out-of-doors—the sunshine, which seemed to be a part
  of her.... Upon returning a borrowed book, I shall never forget
  her graciousness of manner and kindliness of words....

                  *       *       *       *       *

  In the English class one day, we exchanged themes for a
  remembrance. This theme of hers has always been my most prized
  possession. It is a graphic and beautiful description of her
  mother, and incidentally somewhat of herself.

                   “_The Face Most Familiar to Me._

  During the thirty-five winters that have passed over her dear
  head, she has learned to know life’s vicissitudes. Instead of
  hardening her, they have made her a patient, sympathetic,
  God-fearing woman, who seems to make the burdens of life easier
  for those around her. She is settled and reserved in manner, and
  she is to be distinguished by her low, soft voice which seems to
  go with her dignity of motherhood. She is of medium height and
  size. Her hair is of a golden brown, streaked with gray, and her
  large, steel-gray eyes seem to see into the depths of everything.
  Her nose and chin are slightly pointed and her lips are closed in
  a way that suggests a smile. Her short, quick, decisive step shows
  the magnanimity of her nature. It is my most sincere wish that I
  may grow to be a counterpart of her.

                                                      Lillian Gish.”

  March 27, 1911

                  *       *       *       *       *

  I entered a picture-show one afternoon, some years later, and
  while watching the film “The Mothering Heart,” Lillian appeared on
  the screen. I instantly recognized her. Waiting for the return of
  the first reel, with the listing of the cast, I was not
  mistaken—her name was there.

  Instilled into Lillian’s soul were some of the finest of human
  qualities: loyalty, moral courage, patience. Hers was beauty of
  spirit, beauty of thought, beauty of perfection, Christ-like
  beauty of innocence, of sinlessness; she was unspoiled, unselfish,

  She was never too busy to help, never too sad to smile, never too
  weighed down with care to glimpse a higher vision. When I think of
  her, it is like stepping through darkness into the light, for I
  have never known a more patient, gentle and lovable character, nor
  a more highly intellectual girl. Someone has said of her: “Hers is
  the charm of a vanishing strain of music, the haunting lyric that
  will neither satisfy, nor let you be—the fragrance of the flowers
  that perfume dreams.”

In word portraiture, it would be hard to find a more exquisite picture
than this school-girl memory of Lillian at fourteen.

One other bit of evidence remains out of that Shawnee school life:
Lillian’s “Botany Notebook”—a thick little book, and probably one of the
neatest school-girl documents in existence. Every other page of it is
covered with her small, meticulous writing, descriptive of plant growth,
and facing each, a page of very careful pen-drawings of the
“parts”—leaves, petals, rootlets, many of them delicately, daintily
tinted. She took pride in her botany book, a pride not altogether
out-grown to this day. Botany had been an antidote for that poisonous
arithmetic and algebra.


                         IT SOUNDS LIKE HEAVEN

Lillian’s school-days were over. Just when she left Shawnee is not
certain. She thinks she did not wait for the end of the term. She had
finished the last page of her Botany Book, and believed she could
struggle along without any more mathematics. Her mother in Springfield
was working very hard—she could help.

And so the days of childhood had slipped by, and were gone. If we have
taken a good many pages to tell of them, it is because most of the
romance of life lies in its beginnings.

Mrs. Gish was truly working hard, but happily. Her employer, his health
damaged by over-work, had turned over his comfortable home for her use
and left Springfield for an indefinite period. Lillian remembers that
her mother had taken up the rugs and laid down papers for them to walk
on. To Nell:

  ... A porch with a large swing (big enough for four), also a barn,
  and a touring car. They said we could use it if we could get
  someone to drive it, but Mother said we would do fifty dollars
  worth of damage to it the first time out.

  If you were here I believe I could make you get fat, because
  Mother sends out a quart of cream every day and all the ice-cream
  we can eat!

Is she really writing about Springfield? It sounds like heaven. Nothing
like that had ever happened to Lillian and Dorothy before. Ten cents’
worth of ice-cream, two kinds, chocolate and vanilla, to stir into
“mashed potatoes” and spread on lady-fingers! Their entire luncheon! Had
they really ever been as frugal as that?

The glory of having all the ice-cream one could eat dimmed a little.
Lillian went into the store and the hours were long. To Nell she wrote:

  I started this, this morning, but had to stop. You see dear I have
  to be here from seven in the morning until nine at night, and
  eleven on Saturday night....

  Yes, I pray for you every night before I go to bed, and for Tom

And then, at the end of autumn, Nell and Tom were married. In December,
Lillian wrote:

  Dear Brother and Sister: I am so glad you are so happy. How
  beautiful to have your heart’s desire, and to know that you will
  always have it.... My hours are shorter, now, from nine to six.
  Then I take long walks and talk to myself. Sometimes I pretend
  that you, Nell, are with me, and we have our heart talks once
  more; then I wake up.... I am lonesome, or homesick.

She was not very well, not equal to the long hours. That terrible ravage
of typhoid had told on her. By the first of the year she was in
Massillon again, always a haven in any stress. She busied herself with
the housekeeping—added to her knowledge of cookery. “I must get dressed
now, and make my bread down.”

Saint Cecilia making bread! And neat! Even for a saint; to her aunt it
seemed that she spent most of her spare time pressing her clothes.

Also, there were parties:

  I had the club Wednesday eve—the girls seemed to enjoy themselves
  and stayed until 10:30.

Which was verging on dissipation. There were dances, too. Especially the
Masons’ Washington’s Birthday Ball, an incident of which is still
remembered in Massillon. Aunt Emily writes:

  Among the guests was a man, David Atwater by name. He must have
  been seventy-five, at least. During the evening, somebody
  suggested that he dance the minuet. He said he would be glad to do
  it, if they could find a partner for him. No one seemed to be able
  to dance it but Lillian.

  We often speak of it. It was a lovely sight to see this old man,
  courtly and handsome, with gray hair, and the slender, beautiful
  young girl, with golden hair, perfect manner and bright, youthful
  apparel, dancing the stately minuet. We called it “Winter and

Dorothy was at a girls’ boarding-school, in Alderson, West Virginia.
Lillian to Nell, in May: “I expect to leave here the 20th for
Springfield and then Mother and I will go to Alderson, then the three of
us will proceed to Baltimore—thence to New York—then it depends upon the

“Upon the wind!” Again the Weaver who sits at the Loom of Circumstance
may have been slightly amused—may have reflected that this being the
year 1912, a tall, large-nosed man, in a moving-picture studio on
Fourteenth Street, New York, would have something to say in the
matter—apparently—would seem to direct, not only pictures, but numerous
human destinies.


                                PART TWO


                             “MR. BIOGRAPH”

They brought Dorothy from Alderson to Baltimore, and visited their old
friends, the Meixners. One day they dropped into a “movie.” The picture
was “Lena and the Geese,” a Biograph film, and when Lena walked out on
the screen, behold it was Gladys Smith! So Gladys had fallen. At first
it was a shock, but later in the day they considered the idea of
falling, too. Especially Dorothy. Gladys was probably getting well paid
for her surrender.

They went to New York, presently, took rooms and set out to find a
theatrical engagement. Their hearts were set on Belasco. They knew that
William J. Dean—the same who, ten years earlier, had rehearsed little
Dot so strenuously—was associated with Belasco. Dean was their white
hope. They found him at the Belasco Theatre. He remembered them ... who

He took them into Mr. Belasco’s private office—a weird place, full of
statuary, all in white summer dress—introduced them, and left them

Lillian and Dorothy were distinctly frightened. Each tried to propel the
other in the direction of the great man. Belasco himself used to tell
how each in turn got behind, to push the other forward, until they had
backed halfway across the room.

When the interview finally began, he told them he was putting on a fairy
play, called “The Good Little Devil,” and that Mary Pickford and Ernest
Truex were engaged for the leading rôles. Neither name was familiar to
them. Gladys Smith had become “Mary Pickford” the winter before, but
they had lost sight of all the Smith family. Belasco said further that
he needed one more fairy, and that he would engage Lillian for the part.
It was a small part, but the best he had.

Lillian was delighted, Dorothy disappointed but not discouraged. They
visited other managers, and some agencies. They decided to look up
Gladys Smith, to see what could be done in that direction. Sure enough,
the telephone book had it: “Biograph Co., 11 E. 14th St.”

“Hello, hello! Is this the Biograph Company?”

“That’s right. What’s wanted?”

“We’d like to speak to one of your actresses, Gladys Smith.”

“Sorry—no such person here.”

“But we saw her in a picture of yours, in Baltimore.”

“What picture?”

“‘Lena and the Geese.’”

“Oh, that was Mary Pickford.”

“Oh—oh, all right—can she come to the telephone?”

So that was who she was—Gladys ... so much the better. Gladys, who was
now Mary, came to the telephone, and after a brief period of wild
greetings and inquiries, arranged to have them come to the studio.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian and Dorothy, at the top of the outer step at 11 East 14th
Street, found themselves in a wide hall, confronting a great circular
heaven-climbing stairway that ascended to the unknown. A tall man with a
large hooked nose was walking up and down, humming to himself. A boy
took in their names, and presently Mary, brighter and prettier than ever
under her new name, appeared and flung herself into their arms. The tall
man continued walking up and down, and now added some words to the tune
he was humming: “She’ll never bring them in—she’ll never bring them
in,”—a suggestion to Mary, who declined to take any such hint.

“Mr. Griffith,” she said, “these are my friends, Lillian and Dorothy
Gish. They were on the stage for years, in child parts, just as I was; I
know you’ll have something for them, here.”

David Wark Griffith, director of the Biograph Company, stopped singing,
shook hands and looked at them.

“Won’t you come in?” he said.

They found themselves in quite a large room, in a violet glare of
Cooper-Hewitt lights—weird, ghastly lights, that made living persons
look as if they were dead—had been dead for some time. At one end of the
room a group of people had assembled.

“You can begin right away,” Mr. Griffith said, “as extras. We are
arranging an ‘audience.’ You can be part of the audience.”

And so in that casual way, their motion picture career began.

They “sat in the audience,” and then sat in it again, and again and
again, for it seemed that Mr. Biograph Griffith was not satisfied with
just doing a thing once, and made you do it over and over until he was
sure it could not be any better, even if he had to keep you at it most
of the night.

Lillian and Dorothy got five dollars each, for that day, and felt very
proud of it. Dorothy especially. She had a grown-up feeling. Five
dollars a day—a real job. But, alas, early next morning Lillian took her
to a department store, and when the saleslady appeared, said:

“Have you a suit that would fit this little girl?”

But of course Lillian _was_ a good deal taller, and then she was “going
on sixteen.”

That day they had their first parts as regulars. At the studio, Griffith
said he would rehearse them a little. He took them upstairs, and chased
them here and there about a room, firing off a revolver. It seemed
unusual, but did not alarm them. They had been through too much
rehearsing, for that. Griffith wanted to see how they reacted under
fire. “All right,” he said when they came down, “but they don’t know
what it’s all about.” The picture he was making was “The Unseen Enemy.”
At the climax, two sisters are trying to telephone for the police, while
burglars in the next room are firing at them through a stove-pipe hole.

Lillian and Dorothy must have given a good account of themselves, for
they were at the studio daily, after that, absorbing a new technique.
They had no parts to learn. Mr. Griffith stood by the camera man and
told them what to do. Just what to do. Every minute. That was altogether
a novelty. On the stage you had to learn your part before you began. If
you forgot your lines, a prompter helped you out, but he didn’t tell you
what to do ... never shouted at you, like Mr. Griffith, who on the whole
was kindly ... even amusing. He tied red and blue hair-ribbons on them,
to tell them apart, though the resemblance was not striking ... a
fleeting thing ... momentary. Lillian was “blue,” Dorothy “red,” because
he said she was the spunky one ... would talk back. Anyway, it was
easier to call out directions to “Blue” and “Red.” They got in three
days on their first picture, and an extra night. Eighteen dollars
apiece. That was riches. They lived in furnished rooms, at 424 Central
Park, West.



                      GRIFFITH’S GROUP OF PLAYERS

The “silent drama” had gone a good way by 1912, but had still a good way
to go. There was not much yet in the way of “sets,” elaborate
construction of scenic effects. Griffith had invented, or perfected, the
“fade-out,” the “cut-back” and other devices still in common use, but he
had built no castles or walled cities, no Bethulias or Babylons, had
marshaled no battling armies. The Fourteenth Street studio was just a
room, where one rigged up, as simply and inexpensively as possible, the
hastily knocked together properties required at the moment. The costume
wardrobe was notable for its scantiness—a collection to be picked over
hopefully, and “made to do,” or supplemented from a costumer’s. Griffith
had a curious old collector-man, always on the look-out for “good
things,” which were not always convincing. Too often the players had the
appearance of being “dressed up” in whatever they happened to have,
which was precisely the fact. It did not matter. Neither the public nor
the producers took the “movies” very seriously, as yet ... nor would
they, for a year or so to come. They were still a cheap form of
entertainment; something to be seen for ten or fifteen cents—even in the
nickelodeons. The French were doing it better, then. Some of their
films, their farces especially, were very good—light, chic—they were
miles ahead of us in costume, scenario, settings, everything, until it
became a question of money ... ah, there we had them. And then the War

But I digress—an ancient sin. This is not a history of the motion
picture, but only the story of a little girl, who grew up in a kind of
dream ... a land of make-believe ... who wandered at last into a still
more shadowy realm, became a picture player ... by and by a _grande
artiste_, with the world at her feet ... who one day, in the fabric of
her life, found me waiting to tell about it, and said:

“Oh, very well, if you think it worth while”; and I did, and do, think
it worth while, and will let it go at that.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes Griffith took them out “on location,” and those were joyous
days, for it meant green fields and running brooks, and wooded
hillsides, though sometimes the work was strenuous, even wet, when one
had to fall into the cold water and be rescued, especially when it had
to be repeated a dozen times or so, to get it just right. On the whole,
those were good days—picnic days.

Griffith’s group of players was a notable one. Besides Mary, Lillian and
Dorothy, he had Blanche Sweet, “the Biograph blonde,” a real star,
melting, luscious; Miriam Cooper, Mary Alden, Robert Harron, Henry
Walthall, Lionel Barrymore—most of them young twenty years ago—_had_ to
be, to play anything like youthful parts, for all the indoor lightings
were from overhead, the shadows were harsh and black—every line and
wrinkle showed. There could be no retouching of the tiny film faces—the
screen presented them not only as they were, but worse than they were,
their defects magnified. Young girls like Mary and Lillian, even
Dorothy, took grown-up parts:—the fairer and smoother their skin, the
better the general result.

Slender youth had its disadvantages. Lillian was one day cast for the
part of a vigorous young woman. The later, popular “boy form” was not
yet appreciated. The public demanded a certain opulence in its heroines,
especially in what was irreverently known as their “upper works.”
Griffith regarded Lillian thoughtfully.

“I’m afraid you’re too young,” he commented; “not filled out quite

It was just luncheon time. The girls said nothing, but presently dashed
out, and down Fourteenth Street, to a place where, in a show-window,
they had noticed the desired contours for sale, substantial ones, firm
and ample, of buckram.

A bite to eat, a trip to the dressing-room, and they were ready.
Griffith, considering his cast, took another look at Lillian, rubbed his
eyes, decided that after all she would do.

Thus was wrought the miracle of Fourteenth Street.


                       BELASCO DELIVERS A VERDICT

Nell wrote that she was to become a mother. Lillian, awe-struck,

  I can’t talk to anyone about it, not now. I want it all to myself
  for just a little while....

  I am with the Biograph, but none of my pictures have been released
  as yet; will let you know the names of them. I have signed with
  David Belasco for next season, and we open here in New York on
  Christmas Eve at Belasco Theatre. Although it is a good company, I
  have a very small part. I am going to do pictures on the side, so
  that is some help.... Well, I must get supper.

But she could not carry the Biograph work with her rehearsing. In
November she wrote:

  I was worked to death my last days at the Biograph, and then I was
  so excited when I started to rehearse in this new play that I
  couldn’t even eat. The name of the play is “The Good Little
  Devil.” It is a fairy play, and we open December 10, in Phila. and
  Xmas night in N. Y. I play Morgane, a fairy....

Lillian enjoyed rehearsing when it did not last too long. There were
some half-a-dozen of the fairies, and they flew—flew wonderfully,
suspended on wires, pulled from somewhere below by eighteen strong
Germans. She loved the flying sensation—so much that she would go before
rehearsal-time and rehearse a little on her own account. She tried all
the wires, and the big Germans delighted in sending her soaring into the
air. In the play, she was the “Gold Fairy,” that flew highest. And there
was one scene where she rested on a wall. Belasco, watching the
rehearsals one day, was asked by a reporter what he thought of her
looks. Belasco sent a glance at the slender figure on the wall, at the
unearthly face surrounded by a tumbling mass of gold.

“Most beautiful blonde in the world,” he said, and next day that label
found its way into print and general circulation.

Not long ago—a month or two before he died—Belasco qualified—a little:
He had not then, he said, seen _all_ the beautiful blondes in the world.
Perhaps he should have said: “_One_ of the most beautiful.” But as
Belasco had seen a very great number of beautiful blondes—probably the
pick of them—the verdict will be allowed to stand as reported,
especially as it was never questioned. Lillian’s beauty was not then
what it became later:—as revealed in “The White Sister,” for instance,
in “Romola,” in “La Bohême,” and more recently in “Uncle Vanya.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“The Good Little Devil” did not follow any of the announced dates. It
opened successfully in Washington, or Philadelphia, and was in Baltimore
for Christmas. They gave two performances that day, during the second of
which there was an accident—serious enough, though it might have been

In the act where she landed on the wall, she left it with a step-down of
six feet. The wire, of course, lifted her down, but in this performance
something was wrong, and she literally stepped into space. The
sickening, helpless feeling of expecting support and finding none! The
fall made her quite ill; her understudy had to finish the play.

“I cried all night,” she wrote Nell, “I was so lonely and

She was apparently not injured, but terribly shaken; and then, the
audience had laughed. Mr. Belasco hurried to her dressing-room to
comfort her. The audience was not laughing at her, he said, but at the
incident. She must not mind that; everything was going to be all right.
It was, but the shock had weakened her.

Back in New York, with another hard siege of rehearsing, before the
opening there. Griffith, as was his custom each winter, had taken his
company to Los Angeles, Dorothy with them. Lillian, to save money, lived
in a tiny room at the Marlton Hotel, in 8th Street, and with a Sterno
lamp, cooked her food, which consisted of tinned things and tea.
Weakened as she undoubtedly was by her fall, this was but poor
nourishment on which to meet Belasco’s strenuous rehearsals. January 8
(1913), she wrote:

  It is now 3:30 in the morning of Wednesday, and I have just
  returned from a dress rehearsal. We open tonight, and everything
  has to be just so; we rehearsed until 4:30 yesterday morning.

  Nell, I don’t know how to thank you for what you have offered me.
  You both can’t know how wonderful it is to have someone offer me a
  home, and how I would love to follow the desire of my heart and
  come to you. But I can’t. I can’t, because I have to make my way
  in this world from now on. Mother has worked all her life; surely,
  it’s my turn, now....

  The picture you painted for me in your letter made me cry, because
  I was reading it in my dressing-room, and I happened to glance up
  at a mirror, and there I sat, all false, with paint and cosmetics
  covering my face, and it came to me what a distance it was from my
  life to yours.

Mary was getting a good salary, and had bought her mother a car. Lillian
said to her, one day: “How happy you must be, Mary, to be able to give
your mother so much.” Her own weekly twenty-five dollars went such a
little way. The room—one had to have a decent address—took so much of it
... and clothes—one must make a decent appearance—and the extras! A new
coat ... a mistake ... it looked well, but was not warm enough.

She was far from well, and knew it. Mrs. Pickford and Mary insisted on
her seeing a doctor, who told them that she was threatened with
pernicious anemia, and would die if she did not change her mode of
living. They spoke about it to Belasco, who offered to send her to
Florida at his own expense. When he learned that Griffith had offered
her work on the coast, at double her present salary, he at once agreed
to pay her fare to Los Angeles.

She hung on until the end of January—postponed until she was warned that
unless she went at once, it would be too late. They did not tell her,
but they were by no means certain that it was not too late already. So
she surrendered. Belasco bought her ticket to Los Angeles; her mother
was already on the way out there. Dorothy wrote of glorious California
sunshine. It made her better to think of it.

And then, at the end, a tragedy: The eighteen strong Germans who pulled
the wires, and adored her, went to the train with their own little brass
band, to say good-bye. Ah, me, she had somehow told them the wrong
station ... a heartbreak ... one that could not be mended.

She traveled by the Los Angeles Limited, and for the first time in her
life, knew the full luxury of a Pullman. On the way, she wrote:

  I am going on and on, with miles upon miles separating us, it
  seems, but it is not so, dear, as we are just as near to one
  another now as we were in the old days, when we used to take “John
  Halifax” and go to your room, and read. Can you ever forget those
  days, and will they ever come back again?

  ... I am going to work hard out there, and next summer or fall, I
  am going back to Mr. Belasco.

But she would never go back—either to Nell, or Belasco. Four days later,
she was in Los Angeles, earning a salary of fifty dollars weekly. The
hard days were over.


                        A STUDIO ON PICO STREET

California sunshine, California Zinfandel—doctor’s orders, fifty cents a
gallon—open air and exercise—worked their miracle. The pictures were
made out-of-doors—even the interior sets were on an outside stage, with
daylight illumination—and there were many “Westerns,” with riding.

In no time, Lillian, like Dorothy and the others, went racing over the
hills behind Los Angeles—an Indian, a cowboy, a settler, a pursued
heroine—sometimes all of those things in one day; for there was no star
aristocracy in Griffith’s troupe. One might be a star one hour, and an
extra the next, and nobody cared, and everybody was happy, and Lillian
grew well, and physically hardened to the demands of picture making—by
no means light.

Her riding practice with the Indian girl at Shawnee came in handy now. A
horse, even a wild one, had no terrors for her. In one of the early
pictures, Lillian, with two men, Raoul Walsh and George Siegman, were
chosen for some special riding. The horses were range ponies—one of them
looked dangerous. The men regarded him doubtfully. Lillian said, “I’ll
take him.” He seemed to her no worse than those she had ridden in

They swept by the camera beautifully, but they were supposed to turn and
do it again. The others turned, but Lillian’s horse went on. His nose
was toward the ranch. There were some trees and bushes, and he tore
through them, to get her off his back.

Now, it happened that an Indian, a real Indian, named “Eagle Eye” lay
asleep among the bushes, and the pounding hoofs awakened him. A real
Indian knows what to do under such circumstances. He leaped straight
from his nap, caught the mad pony’s bridle, and the heroine was saved.

In another picture, she had to jump from a buckboard, behind a runaway
team, to a cowboy’s arms. Christy Cabanné was the director, and Bobby
Burns, of the Burns Brothers who did most of the dangerous riding, was
the cowboy rescuer. Lillian had no fear of the jump—her faith in Bobby
was perfect—but the pony he was riding sank beneath the suddenly added
weight, and nearly went down. “Closest and most dangerous thing I ever
did,” Bobby said when it was over.

Lillian loved California, and why not? It had given her a new freedom,
and with it, her health. News came of the arrival of Nell’s baby.
Incredible to think of Nell with a baby! “Oh, Nell, does it really
belong to you?” And a few lines further along, “This is a wonderful
country! How I wish you could be here; it would do you so much good. It
is just like summer, and they have wonderful mocking-birds and beautiful

                  *       *       *       *       *

I do not know the name of Lillian’s first California picture, nor the
sequence of those that followed. Nobody today seems to remember these
things, and they are not very important. There was a good deal of
sameness about the Westerns, and most of them were that. “A
Misunderstood Boy” was among the titles, “Just Gold,” and “The Lady and
the Mouse”; but as Griffith was turning out pictures at the rate of one,
or two and even three, a week—short films, in those days—these titles
suggest no more than brief stages of preparation for the day a year or
two later when he would begin to write the Greater Picture story across
the screens of the world.

But they did something for Lillian and Dorothy: They taught them the
technique and mechanics of film photography, in and out of doors, and
their alert minds absorbed it as by instinct. It was only a little while
until Griffith discussed his pictures with them, asked their
suggestions. And something more: The public recognized their faces from
the pictures of the previous summer, and began to inquire who they were.

One day Lillian was interviewed. Surely this was “coming on.” The
reporter had heard of Belasco’s verdict; it had run ahead of her, and
was known and repeated in California almost as soon as she arrived. The
reporter wrote about Belasco, and then on his own account called her
“Lillian, the adorable.”

It was pleasant, of course, to be written of like that, but she wished
he had said more about her pictures. She led the next reporter around to
them, explaining that her work was the important thing. He asked her
what one must do to be a screen actress, and quoted her as saying:

“To play for the pictures is mostly a matter of the face, and the
inside. You have to learn to think, inside.”

Being a young reporter, he was willing to believe that it was a matter
of the face—_her_ face: “A tea rose” he called it, “reflected in a
moonlit mirror.” Also he spoke of ivory, and pale jade, and of other
things not closely related to acting.

There was no Hollywood in that halcyon day, no picture Hollywood. That
“particularly irrational” corner of the universe had as yet neither name
nor fame. The Biograph studio was in Los Angeles, on Pico Street, a
building thought to be rather large, being one hundred or
one-hundred-and-fifty feet long—a narrow shack, used chiefly as a
carpentry shop, and for dressing-rooms—one each, for men and women.

As before mentioned, the photography was done on a stage set up outside,
by daylight. There were sliding curtains above, like those in a
photograph gallery, which is about all it was. The curtains controlled
the sun, but the wind blew in and candles flickered, tablecloths waved
ghostily, and occasionally something blew off the shelf, even in a
“perfectly still” room. When it rained, they went into the carpentry
shop and rehearsed. Often, the younger ones rehearsed while the older
ones watched them. Always they rehearsed on rainy days. They spoke
whatever words came into their heads, except during “silent rehearsals,”
when they were supposed to convey the meaning in pantomime.

Griffith wrote most of his own plays—scenarios—a good many more than he
needed. He could not afford to have them tried out by expensive people,
so he used helpers—extras, stage-hands, anybody—for preliminary
rehearsals. Sometimes it happened that a very humble servitor put
astonishing life and conviction into what he, or she, was doing, and
Griffith was just the person to recognize it. Bobby Harron, a property
boy, had been like that. And there would be many others, including
Constance Talmadge, Wallace Reid, and Valentino. It was Dorothy who
suggested giving a part to Valentino. Griffith demurred, on the ground
that he didn’t believe he would be popular with women—too
“foreign-looking.” Amazing conclusion! But “Rudy” was cruder, then.
Perhaps Mencken’s “catnip to women” would not have been so neat a turn.

They were a busy crowd in the Pico Street studio. Griffith had a vacant
lot out back, and those not in the scenes were sent there to limber
up—to practice running and walking, arm movements, a variety of
gymnastic work, all in the direction of a better expression of emotions.

Long hours. For many of the pictures, they had to get up in the dark, to
be “on location” by sunrise. Hard days in the field, home late, hot,
hungry and ready for bed. And always, those not in action were
rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, or prancing up and down that deadly
lot, making muscle for the next job.

They ate how and when they could. Something was taken along by those who
went to the field. The others grabbed a sandwich or a plate of soup, or
pie and milk, from the White Kitchen, a tiny nearby shack. Abbreviated
luncheons were sometimes brought to the set—“studio food”—that is,
something not messy, nor especially appetizing. Experimental
luncheon-places were tried in the studio, but not very successfully.

There was nothing resembling dissipation among the Biograph group. On
the contrary, there was an atmosphere of earnest study and thought.
Stimulated by Griffith, himself a voluminous and inclusive reader, the
young women, especially, rather put on airs in their devotion to
research and philosophy: Nietzsche, Strindberg, Schopenhauer,
Spinoza—these were their favorites. What time they found to read them,
it is difficult to see, now—nights and Sundays, perhaps. At all events,
they did read them, or read at them, and discussed them feverishly
during any spare moments. Blanche Sweet, Mae Marsh, Lillian and Dorothy,
Miriam Cooper, Anita Loos—these chiefly were the students. Anita Loos
was in the scenario department, and very keen, one of the best-posted.
Anita discussed so much, and so capably, that Griffith called her
“Madame Spinoza.”

When it happened that they made a picture that touched upon anything
historic or geographic, they tried to “read up” for color, costume,
background. Lillian reveled in such research; swiftly, eagerly, she
added to her knowledge of the past, of life in general. The others were
like that, too, more or less.

“Did those girls have sweethearts?” I asked Griffith, a little while

“I don’t know; I don’t remember any. I don’t see where they would have
found time for them. Today, stars and others make one big production,
and have long waits between. We had nothing like that. We were producing
every day. The demand was good, and not many companies. It was a
different world.”

Such a little while ago ... less than twenty years ... just yesterday!
But thinking of it now, and of all that has come, and gone, since then,
it seems, somehow, a Golden Age.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I like to think of Lillian in that truly lovely environment, that
“garden between dawn and sunrise,” among those wholesome, beautiful
girls and those strong, handsome young men, all busy at a work which,
however crude and inconsequential it may seem today, brought cheer and
comfort to the millions, then. I like to think of her and Dorothy
dashing along the hillsides, on range ponies, as painted Indians, or
whooping cowboys; I like to think of them with their mother, in their
apartment at the Brentwood, digging into the books which now for the
first time they could afford to buy—making up, as far as might be, for
the insufficient years.

How starved they were for books! They would drop into a book shop for
one, and come out with an armful. Before they knew it, they were
acquiring a library. Life was becoming worth while. Lillian to Nell:
“The world unfolds itself to me more and more every day, and sometimes
it seems so bright; then it changes ...”

For the most part she thought herself very well off—in a world where no
one is more than passably happy—and increasingly devoted herself to her

She began to train her facial muscles to obey her, to reflect her
thoughts. “You must think inside,” she had told the reporter, by which
she meant, I suppose, that one must do one’s own thinking, rather than
merely reflect the thought of the director, must persuade one’s
muscles—all of one’s muscles and members—unconsciously to obey the
inward thought. “Think inside and your trained body will take care of
itself,” might have been her creed. Not all players could adopt it. Some
could hardly be said to think at all. Thought, the director’s thought,
filtered through them. Griffith found her always willing—eager—to
listen—but not pliable.... More and more he left her alone. Lately he
said—to the writer:

“Dorothy was more apt at getting the director’s idea than Lillian,
quicker to follow it, more easily satisfied with the result. Lillian
conceived an ideal, and patiently sought to realize it. Genius is like
that: the ideal becomes real to it.”

From his lofty hotel window, David Wark Griffith looked out across the
tops of Babylon. Reflectively, he added:

“She is the best actress in New York—the best I know. She has the most
brains. Joseph Medill Patterson once said to me: ‘Lillian Gish has the
best mind of any woman I ever met.’ But I knew that, already.”


                          THE PATH TO STARDOM

Lillian to Nell:

  I want you to see “A Mothering Heart” ... I cried and lost so much
  sleep over that picture, that I am sure you would like it.

When the picture was an important one, she rehearsed the whole night,
sometimes, alone in her room, going over the scenes again and again. She
never required “glycerine tears”—she lived the part too vividly. A good
many years later, she wrote:

“The first important picture in which I appeared was ‘The Mothering
Heart.’ This was noteworthy, not only because it was in two reels, but
because the vast sum of eighteen hundred dollars had been spent in the

“A Mothering Heart” received gratifying notices: “Her best picture, thus
far”; “Her lack of so-called acting is the secret of her success”; “Mr.
Belasco said very little when he called her ‘the most beautiful blonde
in the world’”; “The hit of her career.” All of which would indicate
that those nights and days of rehearsal had not been wasted; also, that
a picture “career” bore no very close relation to elapsed time.

There was some reason in this: fame of a sort had come to her with
astonishing suddenness—the fame that comes to a striking face and
personality, interestingly presented in a thousand towns and cities. It
was like magic. She had really done nothing of importance, yet she had a
“career”—her name and face were widely familiar.

There began to be a sifting-in of “fan” letters—rather a new thing in
the picture world. Admirers did not always know where to write. And
there was something remote, something baffling, in the idea of writing
to a picture; something suggestive of the bibulous young man, waiting at
the back door of a movie-house “to take Mary Pickford home.”

Then, more and more, the notices and the magazines gave addresses; the
name of the producing company appeared on the title flash of the film
itself, though it generally vanished and was forgotten before one had a
chance to fall in love with the star. Still, the letters came, and the
sift became a drift that in time would become an avalanche. Some were
from children.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian to Nell:

  Tomorrow we start on our last picture out here, “Judith and
  Holofernes,” from the Bible story, a wonderful theme.

“Judith of Bethulia,” as they finally called it, was Griffith’s most
pretentious undertaking up to “The Birth of a Nation,” of which it was
the forerunner. He took his players up to Chatsworth Park, a desert
place in the hills, and set up an ancient walled city, engaged an army
of extras, men, women, children, even babies. Also, expert riders and
trained horses, and went into strenuous daily rehearsal. The “Park” was
a place of sand and rock and cactus, a good way from Los Angeles. They
went by street car, then train, finishing the trip by hay-wagon. They
got up at four or five o’clock, in order to be on the ground, dressed
and made-up when the sun rose. Bottles of snake-bite antidote were
issued to the players, for rattlers were very common there. An actress
saw a coil of rubber tubing on a stump, and started to get it. It
behaved curiously, and she lost interest—lost it at the rate of several
miles an hour, until she was safely with the others.

It was June—the weather was blazing hot. They worked all day in the sun
and dust, sweltering in Oriental garments, through the longest days of
the year. When they got back to Los Angeles, it was dark, and they were
hardly in bed before they had to get up again. As soon as the desert
scenes were finished, Griffith packed up his players and set out for New
York to finish the studio scenes there. In this picture, Blanche Sweet
had the part of Judith, Henry Walthall was Holofernes. Lillian had a
small part, a little Mother in Israel.

Only a little while ago, with Lillian, in a small New York
projection-room, I saw “Judith and Holofernes” on the screen. I was
amazed, and I think she was, at how good it was. The photography was
excellent, would pass as such today: soft, brown in tone, with little of
the jerkiness that came of the slow camera. Furthermore, the story was
beautifully conveyed.

It was terribly dry, hot and dusty there, which took nothing away from
the realism. The clouds of dust that rose from a battle scene gave a
magnificence and mystery to the effect—a reality that was stirring, even
today. It is easy to believe that an audience which had not yet seen
“The Birth of a Nation,” was awed by the spectacle.

There was a great deal of fine horsemanship. Horses trained to fall,
their riders flung far and wide, were not then so common. Blanche Sweet
made a perfect Judith. Lillian’s part, though small, was quite lovely.
She was a little mother, running about, seeking water for the baby held
always close to her breast. There were other babies in the picture.
Babies were easy to get, then. There was no enforced law about it, and
one could pick them up by the dozen, in Los Angeles, or anywhere—Mexican
babies—with a little girl to look after them when not in use.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The studio scenes of “Judith” were not made in the old Fourteenth Street
place. During the winter, the Biograph Company had built a vast, new
studio uptown, at 175th Street, great floor space, and dressing-rooms
for all. They had thought their crowded dressing-rooms in California
inconvenient—just one for women and another for men, rather scrambly and
messy ... long tables, with mirrors back to back, in the center ... one
side for the regulars, the other for the extras. Everybody thought the
new place was going to be fine, but it wasn’t. All the fun, the cozy,
intimate comradeship, was gone.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Griffith was restless. Primarily, he wanted to get out of picture
making, and write. He had written his way into pictures, now he dreamed
of writing his way out of them. He was a poet at heart. He had a poem
and a play to his credit, besides dozens of scenarios. All the time he
wanted to settle down to writing.

It was no use. He couldn’t settle down, even if they would let him, and
they wouldn’t let him. He was too good a director for that—the best—much
the best in the field. Settle down! Preposterous! But he quit the
Biograph Company. They were niggardly about expenses; sometimes (often,
in fact), he used his own money—and they had an economy complex in the
matter of salaries. The Reliance-Majestic, a more recent organization,
offered him a free hand. He went to them in October. With him went the
Biograph players, almost in a body. A few were tied by contract, but the
others went, Lillian and Dorothy among them.

Those young people had faith in Griffith, and loved him. Loved him when
he raised their wages, loved him and were still faithful even when the
day came, as presently it did come, when he was wading so deeply in the
tide of battle and Reconstruction that attended “The Birth of a Nation,”
that he could not find enough to go around. They knew he would pay to
the last penny when it was possible, and he always did. With or without
wages, they would stand by.

The Reliance-Majestic Company had a studio on the Clara Morris estate,
Yonkers; another at Sixteenth Street and Union Square, West. It is said
that in less than an hour after Griffith had closed the Biograph door
behind him, he was directing on Union Square a scene for a new five-reel
picture, which he made in six days and nights, working constantly—all
day and night. Perhaps he wanted to make a showing to the new company.
Perhaps there was a need of quick money—usually there was.

In this new picture, “The Battle of the Sexes,” Lillian was cast for the
leading part: a daughter who suffers, and brings an erring father to
repentance. In the beginning, it was called “The Single Standard,” and
in that pre-war moment, was thought to be rather risqué. Today, it would
be a Sunday-school picture, dramatically and morally suited to Third
Avenue, New York’s remaining stronghold of respectability.

The cast included, besides Lillian, Mary Alden, Donald Crisp, Bobby
Harron, Fay Tincher, and Owen Moore. In one scene, the climax, Lillian
has a sixshooter ready for Fay Tincher, the vamp who has broken up the
family. Her finger, however, refuses to pull the trigger. Her father,
entering, finding her in this dubious association, asks: “You, my
daughter, what are you doing here?” And the devastating reply: “You, my
father, what are _you_ doing here?” gives him something to think about.
A notice says: “The sets were lavish, but above all, they were true to
the higher social sphere.” Third Avenue would adore it. “The Battle of
the Sexes” was Griffith’s first release for the Reliance-Majestic. There
was a prologue and four reels; longer than “Judith of Bethulia.”


                           “HOME, SWEET HOME”

Griffith had far greater battles in his mind. In January he severed
regular connection with the Reliance-Majestic, but arranged, under their
auspices, to produce a Civil War picture, based on Thomas Dixon’s book,
“The Clansman.” Then, early in February, he took his entire group of
players to the Coast, and began, not that picture, but pictures that
would earn money for the undertaking. No one, not even Griffith himself,
guessed the size of that undertaking, but better than the others,
Griffith knew that it would require an overhead which would cause, among
his backers, an outbreak of apoplexy, if they got even a hint of it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Griffith had a bent for melodrama. Also, he knew there was money in it,
and money was very necessary just now, in view of the big project ahead.
It occurred to him that John Howard Payne’s “Home, Sweet Home” had a
more universal appeal than any similar composition in the nation’s
history. A story of the author’s life, followed by a set of scenes using
that old heart-throb as a call to the erring wanderer or comfort to the
heavy-laden, would be irresistible. Walthall would be cast as Payne,
Lillian as his sweetheart; at the end, a spiritual transition, as in
“Uncle Tom.”

At the Reliance-Majestic, or Fine Arts studio, on Sunset and Hollywood
Boulevards, the work was pushed forward rapidly, to have the picture
ready for Spring release. In a full-page announcement of the big, new
feature, we read:

“Twenty-five famous screen stars will participate in the play, which
will be a very ‘portentous’ one.”

Whether the printer meant to set “pretentious” or “portentous,” is of
small consequence. It was both. Griffith meant to make it the former.
Payne, had he been consulted, would have voted for the latter, for in
the picture, he dies and goes to Hell. That a poet, author of an
immortal song, could have been sent to Hell, even temporarily, as late
as the Spring of 1914, shows how far we have traveled since then. A
newspaper symposium had abolished Hell a good while before that time,
but perhaps Griffith hadn’t heard of it yet. Griffith made Payne abandon
his sweetheart, so doubtless it was proper that he should have a taste
of Hell, even in 1914.

Then follow the “episodes”: A young Easterner is about to forsake Mae
Marsh (“Apple-pie Mary”), when the strains of “Home, Sweet Home” on an
accordion, win him back to her “calico-covered arms.” A business man’s
wife is about to “step out,” when a “great musician” in the flat below
strikes up “Home, Sweet Home,” and a wife’s honor is safe. The fact that
great musicians so seldom play “Home, Sweet Home” as a pastime, did not
trouble Griffith. His did.

The picture ended in a manner no longer to be taken seriously. Payne
(Walthall), dying in sin, goes promptly to an impressive Hell, a chasm
in the mountains, where, arrayed in an astonishing costume, considering
the climate, he is given a disagreeable time by certain devils wearing
the falsest of false faces. His sweetheart (Lillian), dying a saint, had
gone straight to Heaven—a sort of grown-up Little Eva. Must Payne remain
in Hell? Not above a week, at the longest. “Little Eva,” suspended on
wires, as when she had been the Gold Fairy of Belasco, descends in a
white robe, and her poor renegade lover, seizing the folds of that
immaculate garment, is borne upward and outward to Paradise, backing
away from the audience, so that their faces may never be lost. Probably
only the beauty of Walthall and Lillian saved such a scene, even in that
remote time, from the shouts of joy which would surely greet it today.

Seventeen years later, in the little projection room on Seventh Avenue,
I watched, with Lillian, an unreeling of this ancient film. It seemed to
me, as, I think, to her, pretty crude:—in places, childish. The costumes
had been selected from an assortment something more limited than the old
Biograph wardrobe, and were either amusing or pathetic, as you happened
to think. The acting was not much better. I don’t quite know what was
the matter with it, but it conveyed the impression of being amateurish,
though all the actors were, in effect, stars. Lillian’s half-hysterical
“Wasn’t I terrible?” expressed one’s general feeling as to all of them.
Mae Marsh in a comedy part, was the best of the lot. The photography was
on a par with the rest of it. Yet it followed “Judith of Bethulia” by
several months. What _was_ the matter?

And since we have been speaking of “Little Eva,” perhaps this is as good
a place as any to state that Lillian had never, at any time, played that
part. She might have done so, had there been any “Uncle Tom”
combinations when she was a child trouper. “Uncle Tom” had died
permanently, by that time. Interviewers, however, when they looked at
her, could not believe, when she told them that she had played “Little
Willie” in “East Lynne,” that she was not saying “Little Eva in ‘Uncle
Tom,’” and they so often printed this statement that in time she almost
believed it herself. I am making a special paragraph of this denial to
set the matter straight—for all of us.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Busy days, these. Under one director and another, Griffith kept Lillian
and Dorothy going, usually in different pictures, though sometimes, as
in “The Sisters,” together. They made an attractive pair, but Griffith
could not afford to waste them on small pictures—“program”
pictures—besides, it was not easy to get stories—picture stories—to fit.

Dorothy became a star on her own account, with Walthall in “The Mountain
Rat,” a Western; and in “The Mysterious Shot,” with Jack Pickford, who
had joined the movie forces. Jack, apparently, had conquered his old
infatuation, for we hear nothing further of it. “The Rat” was Dorothy’s
first star part, and a very good one of its kind, being that of a
red-light girl, considered then rather a daring portrayal for a girl of
sixteen. All these were pot-boilers, while preparations for the great
Civil War spectacle went forward.

They also kept the names and faces of Griffith’s stars before the
public—an important matter, for the field was getting full of
producers—stars were being created almost overnight. Nor did Griffith
let them get into a rut by working always under one director. Lillian,
alternately under Christy Cabanné and Jack O’Brien, was receiving
liberal training.

“Which would you rather work under?” a reporter asked.

“Both. Their methods are entirely different; I learn a great deal from

Interviews were very frequent, now, the reporters kind. They referred to
Lillian and Dorothy as the “darlings of the screen,” and they rarely
failed to remember Belasco’s verdict, which found its way even to
WORLD” made a three-column headline, with a picture of Lillian to prove
it; as if everybody in Massillon hadn’t known that, long ago.


                        “THE BIRTH OF A NATION”

David Wark Griffith was the son of a soldier, and had been brought up on
war tales. He believed the time had come when the talk that had been so
vivid to his childhood, should be given form and motion—that the bitter
struggle of four years, with its rankling sequences, should be presented
on the screen.

From Thomas Dixon’s “The Leopard’s Spots” and “The Clansman,” he
outlined his scenario, and began work. The latter title was to be the
name of the picture. The new, and far greater, title, “The Birth of a
Nation,” was not used until the film had been actually finished and
shown. The story of this achievement—the first, and still, in many
respects, the greatest, of war pictures—has many times been told. One or
two paragraphs, however, from Robert Edgar Long’s biography of Griffith,
may not be out of place:

  Six weeks of constant rehearsals preceded the taking of the first
  scene, and throughout the next six months required to complete the
  spectacle, so many things happened it would require an entire
  volume to enumerate them.

  Among the most notable scenes in the finished production were the
  battle of Petersburg, fought by eighteen thousand men on a field
  five miles across; the march of Sherman to the sea, culminating in
  the burning of Atlanta; the assassination of President Lincoln in
  the crowded Ford’s Theatre in Washington; the wild rides of the Ku
  Klux Klan, and the session of the South Carolina Legislature under
  the negro carpet-bagger régime.

Had Griffith guessed that the World War was coming, he would hardly have
had the courage to begin. He had to assemble a vast horde of extras,
horses, thousands of uniforms and Ku Klux gowns; arms; he had to
construct breastworks, trenches—all the front of war; he had to do all
this when a real war was sweeping Europe, and all prices, especially of
the things he needed, soaring to the sky. Horses were the hardest. I do
not yet see where he got them, when European agents were everywhere in
search of just the horses he wanted.

And then the money: The treasurer of the Reliance-Majestic company must
have believed that Griffith thought him the treasurer of the United
States, the way he drew on him. Of course, there was an end to that:
Griffith had to go outside for money and credit. One may imagine him
buying all the white cotton in Los Angeles to make those Ku Klux gowns,
most of it on credit. Long says:

  It became a battle for dollars, and it is told that the determined
  Griffith himself actually went begging among the merchants of Los
  Angeles to get the final one thousand dollars with which to
  complete his work.

Most of Griffith’s players went into the cast, as the rôles seemed to
fit them. Of the female parts, Mae Marsh was supposed to have the best.
Blanche Sweet was still held to be Griffith’s chief star and as the part
of Elsie Stoneman, the Northern girl who becomes the sweetheart of the
Southern Colonel (Walthall), did not seem quite big enough for her,
Griffith gave it to Lillian. At least, that is the way it is remembered,
now. I think there were other reasons: In the first place, Walthall was
of small stature, which accounts for his being dubbed the “little
Colonel” in the play. Blanche was of ample proportions; the two were not
a good match. For another thing, Griffith knew that Lillian’s frail
loveliness set against the big mulatto features of the villain of the
piece, the man bound to possess her, would move the audience as would
the face of no other member of his company. It is also just possible
that Griffith, in the beginning, did not realize how big the part of
Elsie Stoneman was to be. He had a fashion of making his play as he went
along. Fifteen years later, he only said:

“When I gave Lillian a part in ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ I merely thought
she could play it, without considering how well, or at least without
thinking she would make anything special out of it, though of course, by
that time, I knew she would do it in her own way.”


The field work of the “Birth” was done at the Universal Ranch, a place
of diversified scenery outside Los Angeles. The play itself was made at
the Fine Arts studio, which consisted of an exterior stage like that on
Pico Street—only, instead of a large building, a lot of little shacks
served as temporary, very temporary, dressing-rooms. Any player so
inclined could build one for his or her own use, and trim it and
decorate it according to fancy. The roof was merely a piece of canvas,
held in place—also according to fancy. It rarely rained.

At one side of the lot, was constructed the “street” on which fronted
the Cameron Southern home, about which most of the play centered. There
was not much in the way of scenic designing. A stage carpenter, Huck
Wortman, one of the old-fashioned kind who chewed tobacco and cocked up
his eye, was equal to most things. If Griffith wanted a village street,
with a vine-covered cottage; or a Southern mansion; or a hospital; Huck
cocked an eye, shifted his quid, and said, “Aw right,” and it was so.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As a Civil War spectacle, “The Birth of a Nation” will probably never be
outdone. The battle-field, with its miles of hand-to-hand fighting; the
assembling of the Klan—hundreds of them in white robes,
mounted;—Lincoln’s assassination—these things were more impressive than
even the reality could have been, for no one of them was ever viewed in
its entirety, or with deliberation, and it seems impossible that they
should ever have been more real. Stirring, appropriate music, fitted by
Griffith to the scenes, added a final thrill.

The negro aspects of the picture were not entirely fortunate ... within
the facts, but hardly within the proprieties. It attached no blame to
the negro for the abuses of Reconstruction, but presented him in an
unfavorable light. Negro political domination in the South was an evil
growing out of the war—a war and an evil for which the negro was the
last person to be held responsible, the last person to be reminded of

“The Clansman,” as if was first called, was shown publicly at Clune’s
Auditorium, Los Angeles, on the evening of February 8, 1915, all the
film colony of Los Angeles being present. Reports had been spread that
there would be negro rioting, and the police were out in force. There
was no trouble. The theatre was jammed. Here and there in the audience
were negroes.

Following this presentation, a print of the picture was hurried to
Washington, and shown to President Wilson, members of the Cabinet, and
their families. A few days later, February 20, this print was run in New
York, for the censors, and others concerned. Thomas Dixon, author of the
story, was present, and declared excitedly, to Griffith: “‘The Clansman’
is too tame a title for what you have done. Let’s call it ‘The Birth of
a Nation,’” which became its title, then and there.

On March 3, the picture was shown at the Liberty Theatre, New York City,
at two dollars a seat, the first time a motion picture ever became a
full-sized theatre attraction. Even so, it was in for a record run.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian’s success as Elsie Stoneman was a complete surprise to her, for
she had not liked the part, and then it had dragged on so long. But when
the notices poured in, she must have begun to wonder if anybody but
herself and Walthall were in the picture. Their faces together, or hers
alone, looked out from every page. From New York, Thomas Dixon wrote:

  _My dear Miss Gish_:

  I don’t care to tell you all the beautiful things I’d like to say
  about you and your exquisite work in our picture....

  Between the acts, last week, a distinguished young man of
  letters—editor of a great magazine—found me in the lobby, dragged
  me one side and whispered “For God’s sake, tell me quick, who is
  the glorious little girl playing Elsie?” I answered, “Miss Lillian
  Gish.” “I want to meet her right away! Where is she?” he gasped.

  He’s only one of many hundreds. How can I ever thank you for such
  work? Believe me it belongs to the big things in life for which
  money never pays. I am your debtor for services, for which I not
  only could never pay but don’t know how to thank you....

                                                       THOMAS DIXON.

Dorothy fortunately had no part in “The Birth of a Nation”—fortunately,
because she was overtaken by an accident when the picture was well under
way. Of course, it was just a coincidence that a fortune-teller, only a
little while before, had warned her against an automobile accident.
Anybody could do that. Nevertheless, he _had_ warned her—and she _would_
walk across the street where automobiles were passing. On that
particular day—it was Thanksgiving—she had been lunching with Griffith
and Mae Marsh and Miriam Cooper, and coming out of the restaurant, held
to Griffith’s coat, demanding that he buy her something.

“Oh, Mr. Griffith, please buy me some candy, Mr. Griffith. Please buy me
some chewing gum. Oh, Mr. Griffith—please——”

They were crossing a street just then, the Boulevard, crowded with
cars—the others a little way in advance of Dorothy. She never knew quite
what happened, but in the wink of an eye, she was down on the ground on
her face; a car that had struck her in a variety of places—was standing
with its front wheel between her feet, one of which it had crushed.

Dorothy’s disaster was not all sorrow. Lillian was with her most of the
time. Friends were willing to entertain her steadily. Griffith had a
miniature screen installed, with a projection machine, and gave her a
private view of so much of “The Birth of a Nation” as was then complete.
No damaged young queen had ever been so royally entertained. In a
reasonably brief space, she was on her feet—limping for a time, but
otherwise as well as ever.



The Griffith lot was at 4500 Sunset Boulevard, on the edge of Hollywood,
then a residential suburb, named for one of the earliest homes there.
Hollywood residents observed with curiosity, but with no special alarm,
the interesting picture-making plants that were appearing here and there
in their neighborhood. California has a taste for publicity:

“Ladies and gentlemen, since there seems to be nothing further to be
said for the Dear Departed, I should be glad to make a few remarks about

That Griffith, on the very edge of Hollywood, had made the great picture
then sweeping the country, was something on which to “make a few
remarks,” though it is unlikely that even the most sanguine residents
guessed that within a comparatively brief time, their little suburb
would become the center of one of the world’s richest industries; a
collection of amazing architectural construction; a strange, irrational
region, in and about whose environs frail cities and quaint villages,
fair palaces and weird ships and oceans, would appear and vanish, beyond
the dreams of all the fairylands of time and change; that with these
things would assemble an exhibit of feminine loveliness and masculine
perfection, of human freaks and human vanities, such as probably no
other planet could show.

The change began quickly enough, now. There was money to be made in
Hollywood—not only by producers, but by actors. On Broadway, men and
women with lean parts, or no parts at all, turned their eyes westward.
The exodus set in. The word “Hollywood” began to be passed about like
some magic bauble, a talisman. Once more, California held out to men and
women a lure of gold.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The little group of players on Sunset Boulevard hardly knew what to make
of the first incursion of “real actors” that swept in upon them. They
had two ideas about it: they wondered if they would be able to keep
their jobs, and if so, would they learn how to act. They realized,
presently, that it made very little difference to them. They did keep
their jobs, and they did not learn how to act—not in the stage way. It
was the newcomers who had to learn—if they stayed.

Most of them did stay—adapted themselves. Producers with new, big
undertakings, were all about. Griffith himself, returning from first
showings of the “Birth,” began on what promised to be a still more
important, more expensive, picture.

It started as rather a small venture, with Mae Marsh and Bobby Harron in
the leading parts. It was to be called “The Mother and the Law,” based
upon a famous murder case, wherein an innocent man, through
intolerance—man’s inhumanity to man—was brought to the foot of the

Lillian was not to have a part in this new play. For one thing, she was
working in another picture—as Annie, in “Enoch Arden”—one of the best of
her early films—and in Richard Harding Davis’ story of “Captain
Macklin.” And then, Griffith perhaps did not think it wise to push her
forward too fast.

But one night, after a day of hard rehearsal, he picked up a copy of
Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and his eye caught:

                     ... endlessly rocks the cradle,
                   Uniter of Here and Hereafter.

He saw a picture: a girl—Lillian—endlessly rocking the cradle of
humanity, binding the ages together—ages of human intolerance.

Feverishly, he mapped out a new scenario, far-reaching, comprehensive,
covering the great episodes of intolerance: back through the religious
wars, with the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, through the Crucifixion,
back to the days of Belshazzar, tyrant of Babylon. Beginning with the
modern story, he would lead it through episodes of tyranny and
bloodshed, down to the blind cruelty and intolerance of today. And
always, between, that young mother, endlessly rocking the cradle of the
child who, in every age, must pay the price.

The preparations for “Intolerance,” as the new production was now
called, were architecturally far more pretentious and costly than those
for “The Birth of a Nation,” or for any spectacle play up to that time.
Gigantic plaster elephants rose a hundred feet above the street level;
the towering buildings of Babylon stretched, a profile of ancient Asia,
across the sky. Nubian lions roared; a motley assemblage of Persians,
Egyptians, Babylonians, priests, dancing-girls, charioteers, and
fifty-seven other varieties, gathered for rehearsal. Says Griffith’s

  The luncheon hour “on location” composed one of the most
  picturesque sights ever witnessed by human eyes. At times there
  were as many as fifteen thousand men, women and children scattered
  about the various lots during the noon hour. Thousands of horses
  and sheep grazed along the green enclosures, their shaking heads
  mingling with the flashing swords and helmets of the fighting-men.

  When the great mob scenes were being photographed, it seemed as
  though the entire population of Los Angeles had come out to
  Griffith’s place, to take part in the various pageants and mighty
  rushing armies. Actors from other studios—many of them prominent
  stars—joined in the scenes.

The writer assures us that in spite of the fierce conflicts waged on the
parapets and walls and towers, only sixty-seven players were injured,
and these but slightly; also that a modern field hospital, with
surgeons, nurses and ambulances, was maintained.

Actors whose names were well known, or have since become so, first
appeared on the screen in “Intolerance”: Count Erich von Stroheim, Frank
Bennett, Tully Marshall, Constance Talmadge. Constance was an extra,
used at first for rehearsal, but presently—in the “Mountain Girl who
worshipped Belshazzar from afar”—Griffith could see only Constance, so
gave her the part.

Griffith had money to work with, now, and spent it like Belshazzar
himself. “Intolerance” required a year and a half to make, and an
expenditure of nearly two million dollars.

Some of the items are impressive: A jeweled costume for the “Princess
Beloved” cost seven thousand dollars; the dancing-girls at the feast of
Belshazzar, twenty-thousand—a good deal more than they ever cost that
early Belshazzar, even in his palmiest days, but of course these were
war prices.

“Intolerance” was shown for the first time at the Liberty Theatre, New
York, September 6, 1916. Its magnificence impressed the public. What
wouldn’t Griffith do next? On the night of April 6, 1917, Griffith
personally presented “Intolerance,” at the Drury Lane Theatre, London.

On that day, the United States entered the World War.


                       THERE WERE NO LOVE AFFAIRS

Lillian did not consider that she was really in the new picture. To Nell
she wrote: “I am not in it in person, but my heart runs all through
it—and it seems more to belong to me than all my other work together.”
As of course it did—the mother who, through the ages, rocked humanity’s

She had made a number of smaller pictures, meantime—very good pictures,
if we consult the notices, which even sometimes forgot to remember that
she was the “most beautiful blonde in the world.” How tired she had
become of that phrase! “If they want an angel on a wire, they send for
me,” she told one reporter, who managed to omit Belasco, though he did
call her “a young goddess” and a “daffodil.” You couldn’t stop them.

The pictures she made at this time were important only as they were
steps of development—program pictures, little remembered today. “Diane
of the Follies,” in which she played a kind of vamp and wore remarkable
costumes, was more memorable.

“But Diane was very easy to play,” she said afterwards. “Anybody can
play a character of that sort—it plays itself. It is the part of a good
woman, whose colorless life has to be made interesting, that is hard.”

Her own life could hardly be said to be exciting. There were no love
affairs. Plenty of opportunities, but she was always too busy for such
things, or for the social life, of which there was now a good deal. “I
was not gay enough for the parties; Dorothy was sought, for those. They
didn’t care much about me.” And once she wrote:

“When Dorothy goes to a party, the party becomes a party: When I go to a
party, I’m afraid it very often stops being a party.... She, as I once
heard a girl described in a play, is like a bright flag flying in the

“All music, even the worst, seems so beautiful to her. All people amuse
her.... I have fun, too, but it is only the fun I get out of apparently
never-ending work.”

It was true, though: Work was her “fun”—work and study—always a book
under her arm: often a French one.

And being kind to those about her—that was fun, too. She never failed to
acknowledge the smallest service—from the electricians, the stage-hands,
the humblest property-boy. A friend of those days writes me:

“It was not only that Lillian was courteous to the electricians and the
rest; many actors are that ... she was just another workman. She
happened to be before the camera, that was all.”

The little Gish family had never lived in a house, always in an
apartment: in the Brentwood Apartments, and in the La Belle. But in the
autumn of 1915, they leased Denishawn, home of the dancer, Ruth St.
Denis, fitted for a school, plainly furnished, with dancing-floor,
horizontal bar and other equipment, all of which strongly appealed to
Lillian, who had been studying with Miss St. Denis, and could continue
her work there.

The owner had left the beginnings of a menagerie, which they completed.
At Christmas time that year, most of Lillian’s friends gave her live
things. A partial census shows an owl—one-eyed, gray—eight Japanese
finches, two parakeets, love-birds, two or three canaries, one little
poll-parrot; another, “John” (who, in 1932, still survives); also,
squirrels, a pair of golden pheasants, and a pair of peacocks that Miss
St. Denis had left.

They did not remain in Denishawn; the next paragraph explains why.
Lillian to Nell:

  We have moved from that huge house I told you about. We were there
  eight months, and during the last four, we had four burglars. One
  was so bold as to come in through the dining-room window, all the
  way upstairs into Mother’s room, at the improper hour of 2:30 in
  the morning.

  Being an old house with many squeaks, Mother knew all about him
  before he made his appearance, and greeted him with two bullets,
  the first of which hit the ceiling (she would have been terrified
  if she had hit _him_), and the second went through the railing in
  the hall. However, the man ran away, and the police never did
  catch him. All this time I was out on the sleeping-porch,
  petrified—could not utter a sound or move an inch. Oh, I am very
  brave. Imagine, Nell, being awakened from a sound sleep by your
  Mother tearing through the house, shooting a gun.

So they went back to apartments, permanently, as they believed.

Mrs. Gish was not very well, and wanted only to have peace. She was
something of a financier; her business experience partly accounted for
that, though she was a natural economist.

“Your salaries,” she told Lillian and Dorothy, “are not income, but
merely an exchange in money for your natural capital of youth and
health. Salaries are capital, and all above actual needs should be
invested as such. The returns you get from investment are income.”


Lillian and Dorothy were making very good salaries. The day of
spectacular earnings had not yet arrived, but two hundred and fifty or
three hundred dollars a week left a margin for banking. The little
troupers who had received ten to fifteen dollars a week, and lived on
less than half of it, began to feel themselves capitalists. This friend
and that suggested wonderful “buys,” and exhibited dividend slips. Then
the “olive grove” epidemic broke out. Everybody was investing in olive
groves, certain that every ten dollar share of stock would be worth
hundreds within a few years. Lillian considered this prospect, with
prayer and palpitations. The beautiful gray-green olive groves were
certainly very nice. She had a balance of three hundred dollars, and one
day hesitantly subscribed for that amount of stock. The palpitations
grew worse. Olive groves! Why, it would take ages, and there would be so
many olives, nobody would buy them. Besides, Lillian found she needed
the money. She went to the office of the olive growers, and stated her
case. A stout, good-natured man there listened quietly, regarded her
thoughtfully, and returned her investment. What an escape—the others did
not get their money back, and to date, dividends are shy.

By and by, when the three hundred had grown to as many thousand, another
epidemic was in the air. Oil! Everybody caught it, including Bobby
Harron, who was terribly in love with Dorothy and anxious to make the
whole Gish family rich. Mrs. Gish shook her head. There was a tract of
land which she thought promising. Lillian took a look at it, and was
unfavorably impressed. It was just dirt—unbeautiful with weeds, and
depressing tin cans. Bobby’s oil stock looked valuable, and had an
attractive name, something patriotic, like “Uncle Sam,” or “Union Jack.”
There is a superstition that any such name is a hoodoo, but Lillian and
Bobby did not know this—not then. When Bobby pulled out his next
dividend, Lillian fell.

That was about all: dividends hesitated after that, finally forgot to
arrive. The stock that she had bought around 60, was quoted around 3.
Bobby said it would “stage a grand come-back,” but to date it has not
done so. Bobby was a sweet soul, and they thought none the less of him.
“John,” the Gish parrot, to whom they had vainly tried to teach some
proper things to say, acquired for himself the disconsolate wail: “Oh,
dear! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”

“_Why_ do you suppose he does that?” Lillian asked Harry Carr, a Los
Angeles newspaper man, of whom we are likely to hear again.

“That’s easy,” said Carr, “he is discussing oil stock.”

And the land? The dirt? Well, a lot of foolish people began to buy it
and to cover up the weeds and things with houses, which made a lot of
other foolish people want it, until its price increased ten, twenty,


                          THE NIGHTMARE OF WAR

Griffith, in England, wrote that he had wanted to enlist, but was being
urged by English officials, Lloyd George and others, to do a war picture
as propaganda. He might send for Lillian, soon.

“Intolerance” had made a stir in London, and the war situation had made
a stir in Griffith. Like his ancestors, he wanted to carry a gun—to go
into the trenches and pull a trigger. Lord Beaverbrook said to him:

“That is nonsense. You can do a thousand times more for the cause by
making a picture that will show the need of American intervention on the
largest possible scale.”

Griffith already had a story in mind—one he had planned on a night when
he had been reading of the German desolation of Belgium and the French

“We will help you,” Lloyd George and other high officials told him. “We
will give you the use of our soldiers and training camps; we will put
you on the front lines in France.”

Griffith was ever a wary person. Never one to close a door behind him
... to make an irrevocable decision, to fire until charged and primed.
He wrote Lillian that he was looking for a location in Paris, guardedly
adding that he would not begin work until the war ended. On the strength
of which, Lillian, by this time in New York, paid a brief, happy visit
to Nell, then living on the “Blue Dog Houseboat,” at Miami.

Two weeks later, with her mother, she was on her way across the
Atlantic. In eight days they were in Liverpool where they sat down to
wait for Dorothy. It was not decided when they sailed that Dorothy was
to have a part in the new picture.

Dorothy sailed May 28. With her was Bobby Harron; also, Griffith’s
faithful camera man, Gottlieb Wilhelm Bitzer, a terrible name to carry
into England and France. The ship was the _Baltic_—General Pershing and
staff aboard.

“Tell me,” Pershing said to Dorothy, “how one can learn to face calmly a
moving-picture camera.” Everyone is afraid of something.

The _Baltic_ zigzagged across the ocean in thirteen days. Lillian and
her mother became frantic, waiting. Dorothy, arriving, was shocked at
her mother’s appearance. Her face was haggard with anxiety. Then,
presently, they were on their way to London.

It was the first time any of them had been abroad. England in June: the
tiny fields, the trim hedges, the stately trees, the thatched
villages—picture-book land. At London they went directly to the Savoy
Hotel, and were given a room on the Embankment, overlooking the Thames.
Little did they guess what they were to see from those windows. All
seemed quiet enough. They did some sight-seeing.

A few days later, they had a call from a post-office official,
concerning a package from America. A courteous man, they asked him about
the raids, on London. There would be no more, he said. The Zeppelins had
proved easy targets, the Germans would not send them again. And he
added: “Don’t mind if you should hear gun-fire at eleven o’clock; that
will be our anti-aircraft gun practice.”

[Illustration: MRS. GISH AND “HER GIRLS” Mary Pickford, Mildred Harris,
Mrs. Gish, Dorothy and Lillian]

Barely were the words out of his mouth, when there came a far-off boom
from the eastward. He looked at his watch. “Very extr’ord’nary,” he
said, “they are beginning the practice half-an-hour ahead of time.” A
moment later, he was gone.

The firing kept up. Lillian and Dorothy ran down the corridor, to a
balcony. A waiter, passing, told them that the East End was being
raided. He let them look through his binoculars. High in the air, to the
eastward, one could make out a small, black speck—eighteen thousand feet
up, he said.

They hurried down and got into a taxi, to see the raid. On the way to
Whitechapel, they came to a post-office which had been struck. A corner
of it was blown off—a number of persons killed. A great crowd had
collected. They were told that much greater damage had been done in
Whitechapel. They found there a schoolhouse, where ninety-six children
had been killed. Crazed mothers swarmed about, looking for fragments of
their dead.

Other bombs had fallen in the neighborhood. People were insane from
grief. A schoolmaster carried out his own child. A woman standing near
had just discovered that her boy was among the victims. Her face was
distorted—it was as if someone had pulled it out of shape.


                               UNDER FIRE

With the one thought of getting out of London, Mary Gish and her
daughters went to Cambridge. But Cambridge, too, had been raided. At
night, streets and houses were pitch dark. No anti-aircraft guns. No
protection of any sort.

Two nights satisfied them. They returned to London, where for ten days
it was quiet enough. Then, one morning, Mrs. Gish, Lillian and Dorothy,
were awakened from sound sleep by a terrific explosion. They ran to the
windows. Coming up the Thames, in perfect formation, were twenty German
planes, flying in what seemed a slow and majestic manner, dropping bombs
as they came. They were so low that one could distinguish the crosses on
the under side of their wings. Mrs. Gish and her daughters watched them,

Were they afraid? Undoubtedly they were: with death hovering in the air,
likely to come plunging down at any moment, not many of the race—a race
blessed, or cursed, with imagination—could be wholly indifferent. The
rest of the party—Griffith, Bobby Harron and Gottlieb Wilhelm
Bitzer—came crashing in.

They supposed the planes would drop bombs on Waterloo Station, and
especially on the Hotel Cecil, headquarters of the English Flying Corps,
its roof covered with anti-aircraft guns. The Cecil was near them—next
door. Nothing of the kind happened. The German planes, undisturbed by
the shells fired at them, circled slowly around the Houses of
Parliament, without dropping a bomb; then, turning, left London. This
was on Saturday, July 8, 1917. The papers next morning reported
thirty-seven dead, one hundred and forty-one wounded—numbers probably
minimized. The Griffith party was shaken, dazed. It seemed incredible
that in a world supposedly civilized such things could happen.

There was no longer any rest. Raids came at night, and in relays. One
followed another—two and three in one night. They were meant to break
the English morale.

The first night raid was by glorious moonlight. Mrs. Gish, Lillian and
Dorothy, sitting in their apartment about ten, heard a distant booming,
then a far-off voice calling: “Take cover—take cover!” They merely sat
there, while the bombing came closer and closer, with aircraft guns
going. By and by it was over. Next morning, they heard that less damage
had been done than before, but enough.

About two nights later, as the girls stood in front of a dressing-table,
in their nightgowns—Mrs. Gish already in bed—there came from just under
their windows such an explosion as could not be described in words. The
electric lights in the bathroom went out—windows were shattered. They
rushed into the hall. All on that floor were there, in wild confusion.
They called to one another that the hotel had been struck. Then, from
outside, came a man’s scream. They had never realized how terrible a
man’s scream could be. Cries and groans followed. They stared their
inquiry into one another’s faces.

The bomb, they learned, had struck just by Cleopatra’s Needle, a few
yards distant. It had hit a tram and killed eleven persons, wounding
many others. The conductor had had his legs blown off. It was he who had
screamed, no doubt. Other bombs had fallen nearby. One on the little
Theatre on Adelphi Terrace; another at the Piccadilly Circus; still
another by Charing Cross Hospital. They had heard none of these, because
of the concussion in their ears from the one that had fallen beneath
their windows.

Lillian and Dorothy crept into one bed, shaking, unable to sleep. At
four they got up, dressed, saw the dawn breaking over London—workmen
going to their jobs. On the street, they found that many windows had
been blown from shops, the glass so finely shattered that it was like
snow. The girls said little, but listened to the comments of the working
people—comments not pleasant to hear.

The raids now came regularly. The nights became hideous nightmares.
Lillian and her mother seemed to get their nerve back. When the raids
came, they would take their pillows and go into their little foyer, to
try to get away from the noise. Dorothy took her pillow, too, but she
did not sit on it—she hugged it. Finally, it was September. They had
been there three months!

“... You cannot imagine, Nell, what terrible things those big things in
the sky are, dropping death wherever they go. If this war would only
end.... I am still here, and will live to see you and Tom and the babies
again, in spite of it. So don’t worry.”

Lillian went out a good deal, and, as was her habit, made a study of the
people ... to see how they acted under the stress and agony of war. She
went to the Waterloo Station, to watch them saying good-bye. Always she
was watching ... on the street ... everywhere.



Days ... nights ... they seemed to have passed out of any world they had
ever known, into a sinister, topsy-turvy world, where murder and
destruction ruled.

Griffith down on the Salisbury plain, where there were great camps, was
already making portions of the picture. Returning, at last, to London he
escorted his little party down to Southampton, to take boat for France.
It was a transport, crowded with soldiers. Mrs. Gish and the girls were
in one tiny room, two in one bunk. Twice they started, and were sent
back because of floating mines. Finally they were at Havre, and next
evening at Paris, at the Grand Hotel.

Paris was dark—a place where almost anything could happen—but Griffith
and the girls somehow managed to grope their way about, to the river and
elsewhere. By daylight they did some shopping.

Griffith got the papers that would permit them to go to the fighting
area; then, one morning, with Mrs. Gish, Lillian and Dorothy, and Bobby
Harron, set out in an automobile, passed through the gates of Paris. In
an article for a home paper, Lillian described their journey:

  Paris still has gates, just as you read about in the romantic
  novels. There is a particular gate that leads to the war zone and
  not a single, solitary human being can go through it unless he is
  a soldier, or one who has business in the zone.

  Can you imagine how important you feel when you go through that
  gate? You find it very hard to believe that you are not just
  acting in a “movie,” in a Los Angeles background that Mr. Huck,
  the man who builds the moving-picture sets, has built—the road and

  And how you do go! By tall poplar trees, by long fields of France.
  France! Why, the very name is a poem and a romantic novel, all by
  itself. Lombardy poplars! It sounds like an old-fashioned song.

  Through the fields are the long lines of barbed wire. That is
  where the trenches are. The very trenches that used to defend
  Paris. Then, after fifteen minutes’ ride, you are where the French
  stood in defense of Paris.... This is where the Germans were. They
  came this far. This very road ... these very trenches are where
  the men were.

  But now you see the first town that the Germans bombed. You come
  to the same kind of houses, blown all to pieces, wreck and ruin
  everywhere. In one second-story, there was part of a bedstead
  still left, and pieces of bed-clothes, that no one had taken the
  trouble to pick up, after the French had come back. I can write
  about it, and I can talk about it, and you can read about it,
  until you are old and gray and sit in a rocking-chair, but you
  could not understand it unless you saw it. Just streets, muddy and
  deserted, and little graveyards of houses, hundreds of them.

  You may not know it, but if you have been in one raid, or one
  bombardment, where you hear the explosions coming closer and
  closer, and you shake and shake and tremble and get sick at your
  stomach, and dizzy, and lose your mind with fear, every moment,
  you can imagine what it was to these people who had to endure it
  for hours and days, and finally had their whole places blown away.

  Were they running down the road we have been on, when this
  happened? Sometimes they would not leave, because they did not
  know where else to go. They could not believe it was true, anyhow,
  and they stayed and stayed on.

The farther they went, the greater the desolation. They worked in
Compiègne and Senlis, and anyone who visited that neighborhood, even as
late as 1921, can form a dim idea of what it must have been in 1917.
Ruin everywhere, broken homes; furniture in fragments, and scattered.
Pieces of everything; clothing, little playthings, bits of lace, scraps
of another existence.

To the eastward, the guns were always going. All that part of France was
still subject to bombing raids. There were days when it was necessary to
take refuge with a little French family, in a bomb cellar. Lillian

  I have been in cellars myself, with a lot of other people around,
  frightened to death, sitting close to Mama and Dorothy, who had
  the shakes and whimpered as she used to when she was a baby,
  because it was so terrible.

They learned a number of things: they learned to tell enemy planes, to
know shrapnel by its gray drift of smoke. They did not remain long in
that sector—only long enough to get the required pictures. Griffith went
to the front line, and made trench scenes—in the line itself. Then
directly they were all back in London, in the raids again. Apparently
they had not stopped ... they would never stop.

One night when the planes had been over three times, the noise was so
terrific that Dorothy suggested they go down into one of the ballrooms.
They found English officers and ladies strolling about, calm in their
English way, apparently not greatly concerned by the raid which was
still going on. Dorothy, nervously watching, saw a lovely girl about her
own age, come in. They looked at each other, at first without speaking.
Then the girl said:

“You are an American, aren’t you?”


“So am I,” and they fell into each other’s arms.

They spoke of the horrors of the raids—of the one then going on.
Finally, Dorothy said:

“One thing I’m thankful for, I’m soon going back home, and will get away
from all this.”

The girl’s eyes grew big. She said:

“You are going back! And you are not afraid?”

“Afraid? After all this? At least, if one is hit by a torpedo, it’s
direct, and sure, and soon ended. In a raid like this, you never know.”

But the girl said:

“I can never imagine crossing the water again.”


“I was on the _Lusitania_, coming to England with a chaperon, to meet my
fiancé. I clung to a deck-chair for four hours. My chaperon was drowned
right beside me.”

Dorothy, telling of it afterwards, said:

“I did not know her name—I do not know it now. She never knew mine. She
had a look in her eyes she will carry the rest of her days.”


                         “HEARTS OF THE WORLD”

October found them safely home. After all their wish to get there,
America seemed a poor place: uninteresting, flat, tepid, futile—its
people had little idea of what was going on, “over there.” No wonder the
returning soldiers could not settle down to a humdrum life of work. It
was a thing next to impossible.

Mary Gish and her daughters found their nerves on a tension. Blasting in
the street made them jump. The strain had been terrible. Mrs. Gish had
lost thirty-five pounds—she would never be quite the same again.
Dorothy, by her own statement, had lost ten pounds. “Lillian is brave;
besides, she couldn’t afford to lose. She gained a whole pound.” Lillian
had no desire to go back, yet was sorry it was all over. Sometimes,
looking back, it seemed to her that she had been dreaming.

“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 rôle 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. 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.

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.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The writer of these chapters saw the film at this time, and again, with
Lillian, in 1931. 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.

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

“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.”

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.


                           “BROKEN BLOSSOMS”

Lillian was entering a period of super-effort and success. Effort,
especially—at first. The indefatigable and relentless Griffith kept them
going, night and day. Hardly had he launched one war picture till he
made another. He had much war film left, and he built another story
around it. Two, in fact, though the second came somewhat later. While in
England, Queen Alexandra and a number of titled women had lent
themselves to the cause, by posing in arranged groups before the
Griffith cameras. In “The Great Love,” these films were used. “The
Romance of a Happy Valley,” and “True Heart Suzie” followed, idyllic
countryside pictures, with Lillian in tender comedy parts.

Griffith no longer directed her—not really. “I gave her an outline of
what I hoped to accomplish, and let her work it out her own way. When
she got it, she had something of her own. Of course, she was imitated. A
dozen actresses would copy whatever she did. They even got themselves up
to look like her. She had to change her methods.”

What a joy to work for Griffith! At night, in bed, you thought out your
part, and mentally rehearsed it—over and over. Then, next day, you tried
it, and when at last it was “shot,” you eagerly looked, a day or two
later, for the “rushes,” to see what you had done. Sometimes it was
pretty bad—not at all what you had expected. Never mind, that was the
advantage of playing for the pictures: you could see yourself, and
correct your mistakes. You could do it over and over—Griffith was never
stingy with film. He nearly always made twenty times what he used. He
would let you try, and keep trying, until both you and he were
satisfied. He knew that you had studied the lights, and angles, and
groupings—that you had something definite in mind. Often, he consulted
you—sometimes let you direct a scene.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was during the summer of 1912 that Lillian had begun work with
Griffith, at the old Biograph studio on Fourteenth Street. Now, almost
exactly seven years later, she arrived at what may be called the crest
of her film career. Not suddenly: she had been climbing steadily,
working like a road-builder, almost from the first day. Now she had
reached the top, that was all.

In an article for the _Ladies’ Home Journal_ (Sept., 1925) she said:

  When anyone asks me to pick out from the many I have been in, the
  picture I like best, I answer without much hesitation, and without
  much thought, “Broken Blossoms.” I say this not because the
  picture was an artistic picture, which it was. I say this not
  because it was a compelling or tragic story with no clearing-away,
  no laying of tracks, no getting ready for the tragedy—it was
  exactly all this; but because the picture was quickly and smoothly
  accomplished. It took only eighteen days to film.

She does not say that it was her most notable characterization, and in
the broader sense, it may not rank with some of her later work: with
Mimi, for instance, in “La Bohême”; with Hester Prynne, in “The Scarlet
Letter.” Nevertheless, it is the film rôle for which she will be longest
remembered, the part that for artistic conception and delineation and
sheer beauty has not been surpassed, either by herself, or by any other.
To this day, the magazines reproduce flashes from the now immortal
closet scene of “Broken Blossoms,” as the “highest example of screen

“Broken Blossoms,” a poetic tragedy of the Chinese slums of London, was
a film adaptation of “The Chink and the Child,” from Thomas Burke’s
collection entitled “Limehouse Nights.” Griffith and Lillian recognized
its possibilities, and what she could make of the part of the “Child.”
She at first thought the part too young for her, but agreed to try it.

The story is that of a brutal father, a pugilist, who beats and
browbeats his twelve-year-old daughter until she has become a terrified,
trembling little creature, a stunted human semblance, with a
pathetically lovely face. A young Chinese, drift of the quarter, out of
pity and adoration for her loveliness, one day gives her shelter, when,
after a beating, she staggers into his poor shop. The ending involves
the tragic death of all of them, the final scene being one of exquisite
art. This is Griffith’s version, but the character of Lucy Burrows is
the same in both. This bit is from Burke’s story:

  ... always in her step and in her look was expectation of dread
  things; ... yet for all the starved face and transfixed air, there
  was a lurking beauty about her, a something that called you in the
  soft curve of her cheek, that cried for kisses and was fed with
  blows, and in the splendid mournfulness that grew in eyes and

In the world of drama, there are rôles which the competent artist
“creates”—well, or less well—and makes his own; there are rôles—oh,
rarely enough—which are his from the beginning, created _for_ him:
“Disraeli,” for George Arliss—“The Music Master,” for David Warfield. I
have told my story very badly if the reader does not recognize that for
Lillian Gish, the character of Lucy Burrows offered such a part: a part
such as would not come to her during more than another ten years, and
then, not for the screen.

                  *       *       *       *       *

To a young man named Richard Barthelmess, lately a graduate of Columbia
College, Griffith gave the part of the “Chinaman,” because he was rather
small, very good-looking, with a face that could make up “Chinese.” To
Donald Crisp, an Englishman (he had been General Grant in “The Birth of
a Nation”), he gave the part of Battling Burrows. Crisp was a realistic
person, and had a face that in full war-paint was a thing to put fear
into the stoutest heart.

Lillian was just over the influenza—not equal to the strenuous Griffith
rehearsing. Carol Dempster, who had been a dancer in “Intolerance,”
rehearsed the part under his direction. Lillian rehearsed with
Barthelmess, earning his gratitude.

“It was my first important picture,” Barthelmess said recently, “and I
was anxious to do it well. Lillian had had six or seven years’
experience, and she was the soul of patience.” Reflectively, he added:
“Lillian, Dorothy, and Mary Pickford are the three finest technicians of
the screen. I learned more from Lillian than from any other person,
except Griffith.”

The labor of production began. Lillian had been promised that she could
work short hours, with nine hours each night for sleep. But of course,
Griffith could not stick to that. He could not keep away from the
studio; nor could the others.

It was during this strenuous period that Lillian evolved what Griffith
calls “the one original bit of business that has been introduced into
the art of screen acting.” In his ghastly preparation for beating Lucy,
Battling Burrows pauses, and commands her to smile. Griffith and Lillian
had discussed how this could be done most effectively. Then, in the
midst of the scene, Lillian had an inspiration: Lifting her hand, she
spread her fingers and pushed up the corners of her mouth. The effect
was tremendous. “Do that again!” shouted Griffith, and they repeated the
scene until they got that heart-wringing bit of technique to suit them.
Griffith couldn’t get over it.

Another classic bit is where the cringing Lucy, to arrest her father’s
hand, looks up in an agony of pleading terror:

“Daddy, your shoes are dusty!” And flings herself forward to clean them.

The closet scene was the climax—the terrible moment where Lucy’s father
is breaking in, to kill her. Nobody could rehearse that for her. For
three days and nights, she rehearsed it almost without sleep. Small
wonder, then, that the hysterical terror of the child’s face was
scarcely acting at all, but reality. It is said that when the scene was
“shot,” there was an assemblage of silent, listening people outside the
studio, awe-struck by Lillian’s screams. Griffith, throughout the scene,
sat staring, saying not a word. Her face, during the final assault and
struggle, became a veritable whirling medley of terror, its flashing
glimpses of agony beyond anything ever shown before or since on the
screen. When it was ended, Griffith was as white as paper.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that?” he asked, shakily.


“What impressed us all,” writes Harry Carr (he had become Griffith’s
assistant), “was that all her reactions were those of a child. Her wild
terror in the closet scene—the finest example of emotional hysteria in
the history of the screen—was the terror of a child.” Carr further
remembers that she had been to several hospitals, to study hysteria, and
to inquire how one would be likely to die, from beating.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Griffith was not quite sure what to do with “Broken Blossoms.” He
believed it a great artistic success, but it was unusual, tragic: It
might win great and instant approval; it might be an utter failure.
Harry Carr and Arthur Ryal, the latter a well-known press agent, urged
him to take it to New York. Griffith agreed, and took everybody with
him. Morris Gest, who saw it at a private showing, “went quite mad” over
it: “Greatest picture the world has ever seen—charge what you please for
it. You can pack the house at any cost.” They agreed that two and three
dollars would be the proper figure.


                        “I WORK SUCH LONG HOURS”

“Broken Blossoms” was first shown as the initial offering of Griffith’s
“repertory season” at the George M. Cohan Theatre, New York, May 13,
1919, before as distinguished an audience as had ever assembled in a
Broadway theatre. There was not a hitch anywhere. The film was
mechanically perfect; it was accompanied by special haunting music. The
Chinese scenes showed an effect of pale blue lighting. Griffith, Lillian
and Barthelmess were present. When the picture ended, its success
assured, Morris Gest darted back stage, kicked over chairs, waved his
arms, wept and laughed hysterically. The Sun, next evening, called it
the “most artistic photoplay yet produced.” The Tribune said: “_It is
the most beautiful_ motion picture we have ever seen, or ever expect to
see. When it was over, we wanted to rush up to everyone we met and cry:
‘Oh, don’t miss it, don’t miss it!’” There was a great deal more in the
same strain, echoed by every critic. The elder Schildkraut said of it:
“I have seen every actress of Europe and America during the last half
century. Lillian Gish’s scene in the closet, where she is hiding in
terror from her brutal father, is the finest work I have ever

                  *       *       *       *       *

And Lillian: if she had been no more than widely popular before, she was
indubitably famous now. All day long, reporters and photographers waited
outside her rooms at the Commodore. Invitations piled on her table. What
a commotion!

“Life,” she wrote Nell, “is just one long photograph and interview.” Was
she all they said? “Queen of the Silent Drama”? “Duse and Bernhardt of
the Screen”? How could anyone be both? And why must she be anybody but
herself? Still, it was rather fun to have them say those things;
gratifying, too. Was she the little girl who such a brief while ago had
lost her little telescope bag, running for a train, and slept on the
station benches—tired, so tired?

She was tired, now. And there seemed no resting place. Almost
immediately back in Los Angeles, she was writing Nell:

“I work such long hours. Sometimes I don’t even see Mother for days. Can
you imagine us living in the same house and hardly seeing one another?

“I must go to the studio, now, to have what I hope will be my last
interview for years. I certainly was not made to be famous, it is
beginning to get on my nerves.”

Somewhat later, she wrote:

  Nell, we don’t belong to that set where they think they buy
  happiness with dollars. I think that is why I didn’t like New
  York, this time—though of course I shouldn’t say that, as they
  were wonderful to me, both the press and the people....

  The studio gave a party for Mr. Griffith, Saturday night; all the
  stage-hands, electricians and working men, their wives and
  families, and of course the actors, and such. It reminded me of
  Massillon—was just such a party as we would have there—bright
  studio, all decorated with lanterns, and music playing, dancing,
  sandwiches, _baked beans_, ice-cream.... Madam (the colored lady
  who cleans the place) sang and danced. Dick, Dorothy and Bobby
  acted the fool—it was just a foolish party.

Her taste was for her friends, her work—the simple, daily round. Did she
sometimes stop to look back over the way she had come, and along a royal
road that stretched before? I think not often. She was not a dreamer in
that sense. When fan letters praised her to the skies, when the
newspapers labeled her “The World’s Darling,” she was pleased, no doubt,
but kept her balance; and sometimes, about three in the morning, she
found it no trouble to remember that “the world’s darling” was just a
frail, little figure, huddled in the dark, trying to get to sleep.


                            DIRECTOR LILLIAN

Griffith now took an important step. He removed himself and his players
from California to New York, really to Mamaroneck, on Long Island Sound,
where he had leased the old Flagler mansion and grounds, and contracted
for a studio, soon to be completed. The mansion itself would serve for
the executive offices, possibly for occasional scenes of grandeur.
Lillian and her mother made the transcontinental journey with Harry
Carr, now Griffith’s right-hand man. Their train passed through
Massillon, but at lightning speed. Carr remembers that all the way
across the country, Lillian looked forward to this splendid moment, and
though very late, refused to go to bed until it had passed.

  She was greatly excited, and kept trying to point out things to
  me, though you couldn’t see anything but the ticket office. I was
  impressed by how much of the child she had.

Lillian, with her mother and Dorothy, established themselves at the
Hotel Commodore, to be handy to the Grand Central Station, and thus
within thirty minutes of Mamaroneck. It was costly, and sometimes they
planned to have a farm near the studio: “five acres, with pigs, cows,
chickens, horses.” At least, it was something to dream about, for

Griffith, having got his new studio about ready, conceived the notion of
making two pictures in Florida, neither of them with a part for
Lillian—a great disappointment, for Nell still lived on the Blue Dog
houseboat, at Miami.

However, there were compensations: Griffith wanted a picture made in his
absence, and agreed to let Lillian direct it. To direct had been her

“I have changed my career,” she wrote Nell, “—am a director; yes, am
directing Dorothy’s next picture; will start Friday—have the story all
rehearsed, and will start taking, then.”

They had done the story themselves, she and Dorothy. It had been partly
inspired by a piece of “business” that Dorothy had found in a comic
magazine: A husband had complained to his wife that she wore such dowdy
clothes, no one would notice her on the street. When they went out
again, the wife walked a few steps ahead and made faces at every man she
met, with the result that all looked at her, much interested.

“We decided to make a picture around that situation”—Lillian telling the
story—“and call it ‘She Made Him Behave.’ We were always looking for
picture possibilities—particularly for leading men. James Rennie was at
the moment in New York, disengaged, and was very glad to get the
part—his first picture. When I first proposed directing a picture for
Dorothy, Griffith said: ‘Why do you want to break up your happy home?’
meaning that Dorothy and I would fall out over it. We took the chance,
and he went away and left us.”

“He went away and left us!” She was barely twenty-three. However
well-versed she was in the technique of picture-making, she had never
directed an entire picture. She was taking over a new and untried
studio; she was assuming the responsibility of spending what was at
least a modest fortune. Moreover, Griffith had never seen the script of
the picture, for with Harry Carr to help, they made many incidents and
scenes as they went along. The fact that Griffith was content to go away
and leave the venture in her hands, implies two things: First, that his
confidence in Lillian was large; second, that the motion-picture
business is conducted on less rigid lines than other important
enterprises. Both conclusions are warranted: Griffith did know Lillian,
and the motion-picture industry is conducted like no other business on

To begin with, it is not really a business at all—not merchandising. You
are not buying something which you are to sell again. You are creating
something—painting a canvas, doing it with human beings. Your
accessories are mechanical, but even here, the personal element is a
chief factor—the enthusiasm and good-will of the photographers, the
electricians, the stage-hands. Griffith believed that Lillian could
shape these to her taste. On the set, they were her friends. She called
them by their intimate studio names: “Slim,” “Whitey,” “Joe,” and so on,
and never left a set that she did not go to each one, and in her grave,
dignified little way, thank him for the help he had been to her.

But let Lillian continue:

“I believed that no director had brought out Dorothy’s sweetness,
especially her comic sense. I believed I could do it. Of course, I had
been in pictures a number of years, and knew something about directing,
but nothing at all of practical mechanics. I knew nothing of the
measurements for a set, and was afraid the company would lose respect
for me if they found it out. I went home and paced the floor of my room,
measuring the number of feet, to try to get some idea of what I wanted
to talk about when I got back to the studio. As a result, I ordered a
room that was too big for the height of it. The camera couldn’t get far
enough away, without shooting over the back wall. The camera-man, who
had come from the war with a case of shell-shock, would walk up and down
and throw his hat on the floor, and declare he couldn’t stand it. But he
was really very kind, and we learned something every day.

“But then the worst developed. Mr. Griffith had bought an engine to
transform alternating to direct current, and when we were ready to shoot
the picture, we didn’t have enough ‘juice’ for the lights. We had to put
a wire all the way from Mamaroneck, on poles, a costly job. Still it
wouldn’t do. We were promised the power, but we didn’t get it. Sunday
was my big day. Our picture had a wedding party, and I could get extras
from Mamaroneck, thirty or forty of them, at two dollars a day; then,
when we were ready, our lights failed us. It would be six o’clock in the
evening before we could do anything. Perhaps not even then.”

Desperate as was the situation, she appears never to have lost her
nerve. In a letter from Harry Carr, always present, we gather that her
mechanical assistants were most concerned.

  The kindness she had shown to the rough-necks came ripe. They
  almost worked themselves to the bone for her. When anything went
  wrong, they looked ready to faint in a body. Lillian would sit
  hour after hour, alongside the camera, waiting for the lights to
  come on. One day she sat there uncomplainingly, from nine o’clock
  in the morning until eleven at night, without a flicker of light.

Uncomplainingly, but what must have been going on inside. There was a
small studio in New Rochelle, the Fischer studio. It was a poor thing,
but at least there were lights. The Mamaroneck electric people promised
that if she would work there a few days, everything would be all right
when she got back. So they carted themselves and their sets to New
Rochelle, and began again.

“It was certainly a poor place,” Lillian remembered; “Damp, the cellar
full of water, no heat, and being late November and into December, it
was very cold. Often, the actors had to hold their breath so it wouldn’t
photograph. The next Sunday we all moved back to Mamaroneck. The lights,
they told us, were all right, but that was a mistake. Back we went to
the Fischer studio. In all, we moved back and forth three times. I very
nearly lost my mind.

“Of course, I was responsible, and spending money—oh, by the thousands.
Mr. Epping, our business manager, every night brought me the items of
what we had spent that day. I am not much at figures, but I could read
the total, which was not cheerful. But everybody stood by me, the
‘boys,’ as we then called the electricians and property men, especially.
The actors, too—everybody.

“The last day’s work had to be done on Fifth Avenue, New York. It
happened to come on the day before Christmas, and I didn’t want to
postpone it. We engaged a bus, from which Dorothy had to look down and
see her ‘husband’ ride by in a cab with another woman. To work on the
street without a permit laid us open to arrest and fine, with a good
chance of spending Christmas in jail. To get a permit would take time,
which we could not afford. ‘Will you take a chance?’ I asked those who
were going to do the scene. They agreed that they would, but things had
a dubious look.

“Nevertheless, we got our bus and our taxicab, and started. I was on the
bus with the camera-man—George Hill, now a famous director—Dorothy at
the other end, the taxi just below. We had not gone a block when an
enormous policeman started over, to see what it was all about. Then he
took a good look at me and stopped, placed his fingers at the corners of
his mouth and ‘put up’ a smile.

“You remember the scene in ‘Broken Blossoms,’ where the brutal father
commands his terrified daughter to smile. I knew right away the big
policeman had seen it. He really smiled, then, and so did I. ‘Oh, it’s
you, is it?’ he said. ‘Yes, and this is my sister, Dorothy, and we’re
trying to finish a picture before Christmas.’ ‘Go right on,’ he said.
Farther up the Avenue, another policeman called out: ‘What do you think
you’re doing up there?’ I put up the smile myself, that time, hoping he
had seen the picture. Evidently he had, for he laughed and waved us
along. I thought it safer not to break any new ground, so we turned and
made the circuit. We made it several times, and were not troubled again,
but helped.

“That night we knew we were done, and everybody was so happy, and so
sorry, weeping on one another’s shoulders. By the time Mr. Griffith came
home, our picture was nearly all cut, and ready. When he saw and
approved of it, I was very happy, but it had nearly killed me.”

Lillian decided that directing was not for women. “Remodeling a
Husband,” as the picture was finally called, turned out a financial
success. She had spent fifty-eight thousand dollars, and twenty-eight
days, making it, but it netted a profit of a hundred and sixty thousand
dollars, and doubled Dorothy’s picture value. She was proud of all that,
but did not care to try it again. A little while ago David Wark Griffith

“Lillian directed Dorothy in the best picture Dorothy ever made. I knew
she could do it, for whenever we were making a picture I realized that
she knew as much about it as I did—gave me valuable ideas about lights,
angles, color, and a hundred things. She had brains, and used them, and
she did not lose her head. You see what confidence I had in her to go
off to Florida and leave her to direct a picture in a new studio, with
all the problems of lights and sets, and a thousand other things a
director has to contend with. I know how her lights failed on her, and
all the complications that came up, and how she handled them, and how,
out of it, she got that fine picture. One of the best. She didn’t tell
me, but Carr did.”


                            “WAY DOWN EAST”

Griffith now began work on his greatest melodrama. “Way Down East” had
been successful as a book and a play, and was precisely the sort of
thing he could do best. From William A. Brady, for a large sum, he
secured the picture rights, and plunged into production. There were to
be two great outdoor scenes: a blizzard, in which the heroine, who has
been inveigled into a mock marriage—and is, therefore, under the New
England code, fallen and outcast—is lost; and the frozen river, which,
blinded and desperate, she reaches, to be carried to the falls on a cake
of ice. There was very little that was artificial about such scenes, in
that day: the blizzard had to be a real one, the ice, real ice—most of
it, at any rate. Griffith began rehearsing some scenes at Claridge’s
Hotel, in New York, continuing steadily for eight weeks; but all the
time there was an order that in case of a blizzard, night or day, all
hands were to report at the Mamaroneck studio. Lillian had taken
Stanford White’s house on Orienta Point. Reading the play, she knew it
was going to be an endurance test, and went into training for it. Cold
baths, walks in the cold against the wind, exercises ... she had faith
in her body being equal to any emergency, if prepared for it. In a
magazine article, a few years later, she wrote:

  The memorable day of March 6th arrived, and with it a snow-storm
  and a ninety-mile-an-hour gale. As I was living at Mamaroneck,
  near the studio, I quickly reported, and was made up as Anna
  Moore, ready but not eager for the work to be done. The scene to
  be taken was the one just after the irate Squire Bartlett turns
  Anna out of the house into the storm. Dazed and all but frozen,
  she wanders about through the snow, and finally to the river.

The Griffith studio was on a point or arm well out in Long Island Sound.
The wind swept this narrow strip with great fury. The cameras had their
backs to the gale. She had to face it.

She had been out only a short time when her face became caked with snow.
Around her eyes this would melt—her lashes became small icicles.
Griffith wanted this, and brought the cameras up close. Her lids were so
heavy she could scarcely keep them open.

No need of spectacular “falls.” The difficulty was to keep her feet. She
was beaten back, flung about like a toy. Her face became drawn and
twisted, almost out of human semblance. When she could stand no more,
and was half-unconscious, they would pull her back to the studio on a
little sled and give her hot tea. A brief rest and back to the gale.
Griffith had invested a large sum in the picture, and she must make
good. One could not count on another blizzard that season. Harry Carr

  That blizzard scene in “Way Down East” was real. It was taken in
  the most God-awful blizzard I ever saw. Three men lay flat to hold
  the legs of each camera. I went out four times, in order to be a
  hero, but sneaked back suffocated and half dead. Lillian stuck out
  there in front of the cameras. D. W. would ask her if she could
  stand it, and she would nod. The icicles hung from her lashes, and
  her face was blue. When the last shot was made, they had to
  _carry_ her to the studio.

A week or two later, they were at White River Junction. Vermont, for the
ice scenes. Griffith took a good many of his company, and they put up at
an old-fashioned hotel, a place of hospitality and good food.

White River Junction is at the confluence of the White and the
Connecticut rivers. There is no fall there, but the current moves at the
rate of six miles an hour, and the water is deep. The ice was from
twelve to sixteen inches thick, and a good-sized piece of it made a
fairly safe craft, but it was wet and slippery, and _very cold_. It was
frozen solid when they arrived; had to be sawed and dynamited, to get
pieces for the floating scene. Lillian conceived the idea of letting her
hand and hair drag in the water. It was effective, but her hand became
frosted; the chances of pneumonia increased. To the writer, recently,
Richard Barthelmess, who had the star part opposite Lillian, said:

“Not once, but twenty times a day, for two weeks, Lillian floated down
on a cake of ice, and I made my way to her, stepping from one cake to
another, to rescue her. I had on a heavy fur coat, and if I had slipped,
or if one of the cakes had cracked and let me through, my chances would
not have been good. As for Lillian, why she did not get pneumonia, I
still can’t understand. She has a wonderful constitution. Before we
started, Griffith had us insured against accident, and sickness.
Lillian, frail as she looked, was the only one of the company who passed
one hundred percent perfect—condition and health.

“No accidents happened: The story that I missed a signal and did not
reach Lillian in time, and that she came near going over the falls,
would indicate that she made the float on the ice-cake but once. As I
say, she made it numberless times, and there were _no falls_. Lillian
was never nervous, and never afraid. I don’t think either of us thought
of anything serious happening, though when I was carrying her, stepping
from one ice-cake to another, we might easily have slipped in. I would
not make that picture again for any money that a producer would be
willing to pay for it.”

[Illustration: “ANNA MOORE”]

At the end of the ice scene, there is an instant when the cake, at the
brink of a fall, seems to start over, just as Barthelmess, carrying
Lillian, steps from it to another, and another, half slipping in before
he reaches the bank.

The critical moment at the brink of the fall was made in summer-time, at
Winchell Smith’s farm, near Farmington, Connecticut. The ice-cakes here
were painted blocks of wood, or boxes, and were attached to piano wire.
There was a real fall of fifteen feet at this place, and once, a
carpenter went over and was considerably damaged. In the picture, as
shown, Niagara was blended into this fall, with startling effect.

Barthelmess remembers that Lillian kept mostly to herself. She took her
work very seriously—too much so, in the opinion of her associates. But
once there was a barn-dance at the hotel, in which she joined; and once
she and Barthelmess drove over to Dartmouth College, not far distant,
with Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Clifton, to a dinner given them by Barthelmess’s
fraternity. After dinner, they heard a great tramp, tramp, and someone
said to Lillian: “It’s the college boys, coming to kidnap you.” They
sometimes did such things, for a lark.

But they only wanted to pay their respects. They gathered outside the
window, which Mr. Clifton opened, and both Lillian and Barthelmess spoke
to them through it.

The summer scenes of “Way Down East” were made at Farmington and at the
Mamaroneck studio. Griffith had selected a fine cast, among them Lowell
Sherman, the villain; Burr McIntosh, as Squire Bartlett; Kate Bruce, his
wife; Mary Hay, their niece; and Vivia Ogden, the village gossip. The
scene where Squire Bartlett drives Anna Moore from his home, was
realistic in its harshness, and poor Burr McIntosh, a sweet soul who
long before had played Taffy in “Trilby,” and who loved Lillian dearly,
could never get over having been obliged to turn her out into the storm.
Often, in after years, he begged her to forgive him.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A few minor incidents, connected with the making of “Way Down East,” may
be recalled: Griffith had spent a great sum of money for the
rights—$275,000, it is said—and was spending a great many more thousands
producing it. He was naturally on a good deal of a tension. All were
working to the limit of their strength, but they could not hold the
pitch indefinitely. When Barthelmess, who is short, had to stand on a
two-inch piece of board, to cope on terms of equality with Lowell
Sherman, Sherman, who was a trained actor of the stage, could, and did,
make invisible side remarks which made Barthelmess laugh. Whereupon,
Griffith raged at the waste of time and film, and everybody was sorry,
the villain penitent. “Stop that laughing! Turn around and face the
camera,” were sharp admonitions perpetuated by a right-about-face in the
picture to this day.

It was harsh in form, rather than by intention. They did not resent
these scoldings. They believed in Griffith, knew something of his
problems, wanted him to make good.

There was one scene during which Griffith had no word to offer—the scene
in which Anna Moore (Lillian) baptizes her dying child. Harry Carr

  The only time I ever saw a stage-hand cry was in the baptism scene
  in “Way Down East.” It was made in a boxed-off corner, with only
  D. W., Lillian, the camera-man, a stage-hand and myself there.
  Everybody cried. It never made the same impression on the screen,
  because it was necessary to interrupt the action with the
  sub-titles. You saw her dripping the water on the baby’s head;
  then a sub-title flashed on, saying: “In the Name of the Father,
  etc.,” and the spell was broken.

Carr, Lillian and Griffith would sit far into the night, watching rushes
from the scenes made the day before. It was a drowsy occupation—so many
of the same thing—and after a day in the open, it was not surprising
that Carr should nod. Across a misty plain of sleep, Griffith’s voice
would come to him: “Which shot do you like best, Carr?”

It is noticeable in the baptism scene, that Lillian sits relaxed, her
knees apart; that when she leaves the house, she walks with a dragging
step, as one who had recently experienced the struggle and agonies of
child-birth. It has been suggested that she had visited a maternity
hospital for these details. When asked, she said:

“No, I did not do that. There was an old woman connected with the
studio, who had borne a number of children. She told me all that I
needed to know. I learned something, too, from pictures of the Madonna,
by old masters. I noticed in all of them that the Madonna sat with her
knees apart. I felt that there must be a good reason for painting her in
that way.”

She had studied out every detail of the scenes she was to play. Many
actors, even among the best, work by another method. They absorb the
feeling of the plot, fling themselves into a scene, depending upon an
angel to kindle the divine fire. This method never was Lillian’s. To
her, the bush never of itself became a burning bush. She lit the fire
and tended it. She knew the effect she wanted to produce, and found no
research too tedious, no rehearsal too long—no effort too great, to
achieve her end.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Way Down East” was shown in October. Griffith, with Lillian and
Barthelmess, were present in person, in the larger cities. It was like a
triumphal tour. To present the “world’s darling” in scenes of actual
danger, on the screen, and then have her appear in person, was to invite
something in the nature of a riot. Reporters indulged in the most
extravagant language. And there was a freshet of poetry, and of
letters—love-letters, many of them, but letters, also, from persons
distinctly worthwhile. David Belasco, whose “most beautiful blonde”
verdict had long since gone into the discard, démodé, wrote:

  _Dear Lillian Gish_,

  It was a revelation to see the little girl who was with me only a
  few years ago, moving through the pictured version of “Way Down
  East” with such perfect acting. In this play, you reach the very
  highest point in action, charm and delightful expression. It made
  me happy, too, to see how you and your name appeal to the public.

  Congratulations on a splendid piece of work, and good wishes for
  your continued success.

                                                       DAVID BELASCO

John Barrymore went even further, when he wrote:

  _My dear Mr. Griffith_:

  I have for the second time seen your picture of “Way Down East.”
  Any personal praise of yourself or your genius regarding the
  picture I would naturally consider redundant and a little like
  carrying coals to Newcastle....

  I have not the honor of knowing Miss Gish personally and I am
  afraid that any expression of feeling addressed to her she might
  consider impertinent. I merely wish to tell you that her
  performance seems to me to be the most superlatively exquisite and
  poignantly enchaining thing that I have ever seen in my life.

  I remember seeing Duse in this country many years ago, when I
  imagine she must have been at the height of her powers—also Madame
  Bernhardt—and for sheer technical brilliancy and great emotional
  projection, done with an almost uncanny simplicity and sincerity
  of method, it is great fun and a great stimulant to see an
  American artist equal, if not surpass, the finest traditions of
  the theatre.

  I wonder if you would be good enough to thank Miss Gish from all
  of us who are trying to do the best we know how in the theatre.

  Believe me,

                                               Yours very sincerely,
                                               JOHN BARRYMORE

Mrs. Gish, who was not a motion-picture enthusiast, made a single

“Well, young lady,” she said, “you’ve set quite a high mark for
yourself. How are you going to live up to it?”


“Way Down East” was one of the most popular and profitable pictures ever
made. Net returns from it ran into the millions. It has had several
revivals, and at the present writing (Winter, 1931), is being shown at
the Cameo Theatre, New York, “with sound.” Its day, however, is over.
Taste has changed—has become what an older generation might regard as
unduly sophisticated, depraved. This, with mechanical advancement—the
talking feature, for instance—tells the story. A picture of even ten
years ago—five years ago—is without a public.

“Way Down East” is a melodrama, but one that at moments rises to
considerable heights. Putting aside the spectacular features of the
picture—the blizzard and the ice-drift, where melodrama is raised to the
nth degree—the scene where the villain reveals to his victim that their
marriage was a mockery, the scene where Anna Moore, about to be turned
out into the storm, denounces her betrayer, and the baptismal scene,
already mentioned, are drama, and, as Lillian Gish gave them, worthy.

And, after all, what is, and is not, melodrama—and cheap. Cheap—because
it is human. That is why we have invented for ourselves a hereafter—a
place away from it all—of rest by green fields and running brooks. Very
well, let us agree that the play was cheap, especially the comedy, which
was low comedy and about the record in that direction. But if Lillian’s
acting was cheap, and poor, then there is very little to be said for any
acting, which, God knows, may be true enough, after all!


                         SAD, UNPROFITABLE DAYS

Lillian to Nell, June 30, 1920:

  Do you know that I am leaving Mr. Griffith? “Way Down East” that
  we are on, will be my last. I go with the Frohman Amusement
  Company, between the 1st and 15th of August. I am to make five
  pictures a year, for two years. If I make successful pictures, I
  shall make a lot of money. If I don’t, well, kismet—it’s all a
  gamble, anyway.

It was more of a “gamble” than she knew. Strictly speaking, there was no
such thing as the “Frohman Amusement Company.” No Frohman—no _amusement_
Frohman—had anything to do with it. That was just a part of the gamble.
Griffith, apparently, thought it all right, and so did his brother, for
it was the latter who made the connection. Had Lillian made inquiries on
her own account, her eyes might have been opened sooner, and less

Griffith and Lillian parted on the friendliest terms. Griffith said to

“You know the business as well as I do. You should be making more money
than you can make with me.” He did not say: “Stay with me and share in
the prosperity which you have brought, and will bring me. No one can be
more successful than we two together.” To a simple-minded literary
person, this would seem to have been the wisest course. Lillian thinks
he had perhaps grown tired of seeing her around.

She did not make five pictures for the Frohman company, or even one. She
did begin one, “World’s Shadows,” by Madame de Grésac, who claims here a
word of introduction:

Somewhat earlier, Lillian had met this gifted French lady, god-daughter
of Victorien Sardou, wife of the singer, Victor Maurel, herself a
dramatist who had written French, English and Italian plays for Réjane,
Duse, Marie Tempest, and others of distinction. Familiar with the best
literary and art circles of Paris, considerably older than Lillian,
small, red-haired, quick of speech—French, in the best meaning of the
term—she was a revelation to the younger woman, who in spite of her
years on the stage and screen, was a good deal of a primitive as to
world knowledge, and art in its less obvious forms. The two were
mutually fascinated: Madame de Grésac, dazed and delighted by Lillian’s
gifts and innocence; Lillian, stirred and awakened, and sometimes
shocked, by the French-woman’s brilliant mentality, her knowledge of
life, her freedom of expression. In a brief time, they were devoted
friends, confidantes.

When the so-called Frohman company wanted a picture for Lillian, Madame
de Grésac agreed to prepare one. She did so, but about the time
rehearsal was under way, Lillian’s first (and only) salary cheque from
the company was returned from the bank, unpaid—“No funds.” They
explained to her that certain backers had disappointed them. It may be
so. At all events, there was a hitch somewhere, in this particular
gamble. Lillian carried on, as a number of players had come with her
from the Griffith staff, and as they seemed to be getting their money,
she could not leave them in the lurch. But, of course, the end came.
Their pay, also, stopped. The thing that had never really existed,
ceased to function. It was all a fiasco—a tragedy ... so many tragedies
in the show business.

“World Shadows” was discarded. It made no difference between the two
friends. If anything, they were closer than before. The day was coming,
not so many years ahead, when they would combine in another play—a

Madame’s husband, Victor Maurel, besides being a singer, had a passion
for painting, and persuaded Lillian to pose for him. Lillian, with a
view of sometime going back to the stage, greatly desired voice culture.
They agreed that in exchange for half an hour’s posing, he would devote
half an hour to training her voice. She had then finished “Way Down
East,” which Maurel seemed to love. He watched it, time and again; then
he had her go into a separate room, a dark room, and convey the feeling
of it—paint the picture, as it were, with her voice. This was priceless
training. It gave her voice a quality and value it had not possessed
before. “From Maurel,” she said afterwards, “I got my consonants.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Except for the triumph of “Way Down East,” a triumph not easy to
understand in this more crowded, more inattentive day, that year of 1920
was hardly a cheerful one. For one thing, Mrs. Gish was in poor health.
Dorothy had taken her to Italy, which might have been well enough but
for the circumstances of their return.

It was the tragedy of Bobby Harron that brought them back. On September
first, alone in his hotel room, Bobby shot himself. For years, he had
been as one of the family. From the days of the Biograph company, he had
taken part in pictures with both Lillian and Dorothy; he had shared the
hardships and dangers of those days and nights of bomb and shrapnel, in
London and France. He had been a brother to them—to Dorothy, for a time,
at least, something more. Now, he was dead.

Exactly what happened will always be a mystery. Lillian, in
Philadelphia, where they were opening “Way Down East,” wrote Nell:

  These have been terrible days—the worst I have ever known. You
  have heard about it by this time, I imagine—about Bob: He was in
  his room, unpacking an old trunk, when a pistol fell out and
  exploded, the ball going through his lung. That was Sept, 1st, at
  10:30 in the morning. He was taken to Bellevue, where he seemed to
  improve—we all held such high hopes—until Sunday morning, at 7:55,
  he breathed his last. Mother and Dorothy were some place in
  Italy—could get no word to them until Wednesday. They are taking
  the first boat home, which leaves today.

Bobby had been a Catholic, and when his mother and sister arrived, not
knowing that he was dead, it fell to Lillian, with a priest, to meet
them and break the news. Later, she took them home and looked after them
for several weeks.


                     PICTURING THE REIGN OF TERROR

Lillian was in a position to make a new start. She made it with
Griffith, who was having troubles of his own getting a group of players
together for a production suited to his Mamaroneck studio. He wanted to
do “Faust,” but Lillian prevailed upon him to do “The Two Orphans,”
which would give Dorothy a good part, as Louise, the blind sister.
Griffith agreed, and rehearsing for the new picture was soon under way.
Lillian’s salary was now a thousand dollars a week. The bark of the
wolf, which had become noticeable, died away.

“Orphans of the Storm,” as it was finally called, began as a rather
close picture version of Kate Klaxton’s old play. Two sisters set out
for Paris by stage-coach, to obtain cure for the blind Louise. One of
them, beautiful Henriette, is kidnapped on arrival, by a dissolute roué,
the other is picked up by the terrible Madame Frouchard and compelled to
beg in the streets. In the picture, the rescue and reunion of the
sisters is brought about through a handsome young aristocrat who, under
revolutionary ban, is sentenced to death on the guillotine. Henriette
(Lillian) herself is involved, and narrowly escapes—being on the
scaffold with her head under the knife at the moment of rescue. The
revolutionary feature was a Griffith addition to the original play.

Griffith spent great sums on the settings of this picture. He was never
one to be sparing in such matters while his money held out, with the
result that he was likely to be brought up with a round turn, at the
end. For the guillotine scene, he required a great number of extras, and
he could not afford to assemble them more than once. One morning he
called up all the weather bureaus, and even an old man who had the
rheumatism, to find out if it was going to rain. All said that it would
not, and he got out the big crowd for the guillotine episode, as big as
he could afford. And it didn’t rain, but it was cloudy. Never mind, he
would make the picture anyway. He could not assemble that crowd again.

Interesting things happened during the making of the picture. Harry Carr
recalls that a certain actor, fresh from Broadway, with the tricks not
unfamiliar there, had the habit of easing back from the camera in his
scenes with Lillian, so that she would have to turn her face to speak to
him. She did not complain, but “Whitey,” head electrician, came to Carr,
pale with anger:

“You tell that kike,” he said, “that the next time he does that, us boys
will drop a dome light on his bean. Lots of accidents happen in studios,
and one is about to happen now.”

Carr passed along the information, with the result that the offender
made no more mistakes—was almost afraid to leave his dressing-room.
According to Carr, Frances Marion, the distinguished scenario writer,
once said: “There is plenty of real chivalry in motion picture studios,
but it’s all to be found among the juice-gangs.” Carr adds:

  Griffith had a way of rehearsing plays until everybody wished
  himself dead—chairs for horses—tables for thrones, etc. He
  rehearsed with anybody who happened to be around. Kate Bruce was
  rehearsed weeks on end, for a part that she very much wanted, but
  which Griffith, with his dread of the irrevocable, had never
  really assured her she could play. Lillian at last cornered him,
  just before the picture actually began. He reluctantly said that
  he supposed “Brucie” would get the part. “Then please let me tell
  her,” pleaded Lillian. “All right,” assented D. W., and Lillian
  ran to her like a little girl. Brucie was sitting in a chair on
  the set. Lillian almost picked up her frail little body. I don’t
  know what they said, but they stood there, crying in each other’s
  arms. They both realized that it would probably be Brucie’s last
  big part.

  When Lillian got a new part, she flung herself into it completely.
  She wanted to know what such a girl would eat; what she would do
  on her holidays; what colors she would like. Making “Orphans of
  the Storm,” Lillian turned herself into French. She read French
  books, and did everything to avoid talking, even to us, who might
  drag her out of the picture.

“Orphans of the Storm” was finished in time to open in Boston about the
end of the year 1921. Lillian and Dorothy accompanied Griffith to the
first showing; also, to other first showings in the larger cities—as far
South as New Orleans, as far West as Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Everywhere they were fêted and entertained; in New Orleans the railway
station was crowded when they arrived; the news correspondent says that
a procession with a “real, honest-to-goodness brass band led the way to
the City Hall, where the Mayor of New Orleans gave Lillian and Dorothy
Gish a warm welcome and the freedom of the city.”

Perhaps there were not brass bands everywhere, but always a crowd,
always entertainment, always a reception on the stage after the picture,
with demands for a speech, which Lillian had to make. In Washington,
they were given a special luncheon by President and Mrs. Harding, with
great boxes of flowers which, with Griffith standing between them,
Lillian and Dorothy were obliged to hold while they were being
photographed. The papers spoke of the “democracy of these two
celebrities, who were so cheerfully willing to meet in a ‘closeup,’ in
the lobbies, after their appearance on the stage, proving the bigness of
their characters.” True enough, but there was another side to it:
Lillian to Nell:

  We have been going around the country on the “Orphans” tour. It is
  all so nerve-racking. I would rather do anything else, but if it
  helps Mr. Griffith, of course I could not refuse, and I suppose it
  is a good experience. You can’t be a hermit all your life, though
  I do not enjoy crawling out of my shell.... I was never made for
  this life—if they would only let me go by unnoticed.

She could not hope for that. They had her back in Boston, to ornament
the hundredth showing, and the celebration was greater than ever. Miss
Crabtree, once the adorable “Lotta,” was there. Lillian went into a
stage box to see her. The little old lady, darling of a former
generation, kissed her affectionately, and taking her hands, sat
stroking them. Presently she said, softly: “Take care of your beauty,
dearest—it goes so soon—so very, very soon.”

In an interview, Lillian expressed a belief that colleges might give
moving-picture courses, thereby improving the standards of both acting
and morals in productions of the future. This was seized upon by the
Harvard Dramatic Club, and she was urged to speak at the Harvard Union.
She had spoken briefly at a number of churches, during her travels, and
presently we find her addressing an audience of several thousand, at the
Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church, in 178th Street, New York. The
burden of her purpose, as to the pictures, she conveyed in these words:

“The industry needs the development that the people of the church and
the educators can give it. We players are doing our very best to get rid
of all objectionable elements, but we want outside help.

“The time is coming when educational pictures will fill library shelves,
exactly as books do now, and the universities should anticipate library
educational advance. This is a great reason why cinema courses should be
given in colleges.”

She did not write her speeches. She carried in her head a few main
points, and spoke extemporaneously. Her clear, trained voice, reached
every part of the great edifice—a treat for those who heard her. One of
them, a woman, wrote:

  If I were a poet, I suppose I might make a lovely poem about you;
  or I might, were I a painter, try to put on my canvas something so
  glorious that it would speak to everyone of what an inspiration
  and delight you are; but I am nobody at all—nobody except your
  sincere admirer.

And it was another woman who wrote of “Orphans of the Storm”:

  I cannot get over your acting: I never feel the reality of a
  character so keenly as when you portray it. And there is no
  raving. Why, I have watched you play emotional scenes in which you
  scarcely moved a finger, and still, as someone said: “Your silence
  is as golden as the voice of Bernhardt.”

Which brings us back to the picture itself.

It was a beautiful and successful production. Some of the sets were
especially fine: The garden picture, for instance, with its setting of
palace and fountain and richly costumed guests, its magnificent outer

The court scene, the sinister tribunal of the Revolution, was terribly
realistic; the ghastly guillotine climax was quite as horrible as it was
intended to be, with only the usual fault of such picture episodes, that
the suspense was too prolonged—prolonged to a point where the horror

The finest scene in the picture is where Dorothy, as the blind Louise,
is singing in the street, while Lillian, in a room above, absorbed in
the narration of Louise’s mother, hears and gradually recognizes her
sister’s voice, and then is unable to reach her. The awakening
recognition, gradual, tender, startled, in Lillian’s face, compares with
the best of her screen work.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The old stage-coach in which Lillian and Dorothy drove to Paris ...
whatever became of it? It was too good to go the way of old properties.
“Orphans of the Storm” was worthy of Griffith and of Lillian. It seems
fitting that their long association should finally end in this
distinguished and happy way.


                               PART THREE



Life, always a serious matter to Lillian, became more so. Mrs. Gish
underwent a major operation—was in grave danger. Lillian, at work on the
set in Mamaroneck, was likely at any moment to be summoned to the
Presbyterian Hospital in New York. When the patient was able to be
moved, they brought her by ambulance to a house they had taken in New
Rochelle. Later to an apartment on Park Avenue—three moves within a
year, seeking comfort for the sufferer.

Spring was saddened by the death of Victor Maurel, who had done so much
for her voice. His funeral services were held in New York. Lillian
attended with his widow, Madame de Grésac, and there met Madame Calvé,
who had been his pupil. In the carriage on the way to the grave, Madame
Calvé told the others how she had been in Boston, knowing nothing of his
danger. Suddenly she had felt that something was wrong with him. The
feeling was so strong that she had taken the train for New York. He was
dead when she arrived.

A few weeks after the funeral, Calvé asked Madame de Grésac and Lillian
to come to her apartment, a beautiful place in the Hôtel des Artistes,
on Central Park. She sang for them. Her voice was so enormous that it
seemed as if it might burst the walls. She said that Victor Maurel’s
training had made it what it was. She danced for them—the peasant
dances—until the people downstairs sent up word that their chandeliers
were about to come down. She was so eager to divert the little widow.
Too eager for her own good: she danced so hard, that night, and so long,
that next day she could not start on her tour.

Lillian was unsettled as to what she should do. Again, Griffith agreed
with her that she should be making more money, and perhaps it did not
seem to either of them that any picture they could do together would
make enough for both. He was an extravagant producer, and her financial
obligations had become very heavy. In March she wrote:

“My next picture, if all goes well, will be made by myself, so if it
makes money I may get some of it.”

She had been negotiating with the Tiffany Company, considering an offer
of $3,500.00 a week, to make four or five pictures a year, when her
representative, Frederick Newman, was approached by the president of a
new producing company, a meeting which marked the beginning of an
episode wholly different from anything she had known.

Her old fellow-player, “Dick” Barthelmess, was already with the new
company, and had produced “Tol’able David,” directed by Henry King, a
success of which all his friends were proud. Lillian had not been much
impressed by the Tiffany offer, mainly for the reason that they seemed
to be doing circus pictures, and she did not fancy the idea of being
cast for something with a slack-wire, or a trapeze, in it. She agreed
with Newman to meet the chief official of the new company, and a few
days later, lunching at the Ritz, the three discussed picture
possibilities and terms. The new producer was a convincing talker.
Lillian was favorably impressed, especially as he agreed to take
Dorothy, who would play with Barthelmess in two pictures, with Lillian
in two pictures, after which she would be given a contract of her own.

Lillian’s contract, which she signed that summer (1922), gave her
$1,250.00 a week, and an added 15% after a certain amount had been
earned. She thought this a highly satisfactory arrangement, as it made
her returns depend largely upon the quality and success of the pictures.
Recently, she said:

“All that summer I was looking for material for my first picture. We had
two women read all the heap of things submitted. Whenever they found
something they thought Dick or I might use, we read it. I nearly read my
eyes out. One of the women, Lily Hayward, one day brought me Marion
Crawford’s ‘White Sister.’ It struck me immediately as good picture

“Ever since my winter at the Ursuline School in St. Louis, I had thought
of the nuns as earnest women, hard-working and kindly. My memory of them
was an affectionate one—romantic. There had been a time when I fancied I
might have a vocation for the veil. The cloister has appealed to so many
who later became actresses. I have regretted, sometimes, that I did not
follow that early inclination.

“There was another special reason why the book appealed to me as picture
material: I saw a chance to get in a scene showing the ceremony of
taking the veil—a scene not really in the book at all.”

She met with plenty of opposition. Everybody, it seemed, objected to the
story, on the ground that it was a religious picture, “the one thing
motion pictures would be wise to let alone”—everybody but Griffith, in
whose studio she made some tests. Griffith thought it a beautiful story.
Her producer also believed in it, because, as he said, he had faith in
her judgment. Henry King, who had directed Barthelmess, was not
enthusiastic, at first, but warmed to the prospect of a trip to Italy.

By October they were ready to go—all the players engaged except the
leading man. James Abbe, a photographer, gave up a good business in New
York to become their “still” man, and to assist in other ways. Abbe was
valuable. One morning, quite excitedly, he called up Lillian, saying he
believed he had found a man for the lead. His name, he said, was Ronald
Colman, playing with Henry Miller and Ruth Chatterton, in “La

They arranged to have a test made in Abbe’s studio, that same afternoon.
Lillian went down; King directed the test. All privately agreed that
Colman was what they wanted; next morning, when they saw the tests, they
were sure of it. Colman declared himself willing to go, and everybody
voted “Yes—if we can get him.” Henry Miller, when he learned the
situation, generously agreed to release him from his part, which, though
not the lead, was important. This was not only to oblige them, but to
give Colman the opportunity he wanted. It was on Thursday morning that
they saw the tests. On Saturday of the same week they sailed—twenty-four
of them—on a Fabre Line steamer, bound for Naples.

“It was raining when we left Brooklyn,” Lillian remembers, “and very
dismal and disheartening, especially as I was leaving Mother and Dorothy
behind—Mother being still in the Catskills. Dorothy and Mary Pickford
came with me to the ship—a great comfort.”

It was hardly a lazy voyage. Colman knew nothing about playing before
the camera. Director King rehearsed him in his parts with Lillian, and
with the whole company, as soon as they got their sea-legs. The
Providence has a little after-deck, which the captain ordered enclosed
in canvas for their use. It was a very busy place during several hours
of every day. The Providence was a good ship, and the Southern route is
nearly always delightful. It was never too cold to rehearse, and
afterwards, one could sit drowsily in a deck chair and pretend to read,
or lean over the side, looking at the bluest of blue water, or watching
bits of skimming silver that were flying fish, and the big, black,
graceful bodies that were porpoises. One never ought to cross by that
friendless Northern route.

On the ship with them, by great good luck, was Monseigneur Bonzano, high
prelate of the Church, then on his way to Rome to be made a Cardinal.
Lillian quickly became acquainted with him. They put in much of their
spare time discussing the picture she was to make—ways and means for its
accomplishment. It was easy to realize that the churchman was won to the
idea when he mentally associated the face before him with the part of
the White Sister. And Lillian, regarding Bonzano, was infinitely
impressed. His personality, his attainments, his human understanding,
went far beyond anything she had ever known.

“I think he had the most beautiful face I have ever seen. He had
traveled in many countries, and lived a long time in China. He spoke
Chinese and any number of other languages and dialects. He had an
understanding of all races. It was destiny that he should have been on
that boat. Without him, we could hardly have made our picture. We were
between the Church and the Fascisti. Through him, later, the doors of
all Catholic Institutions were opened to us. When we stopped at Palermo,
he took us through the great church where the mosaics are. He had us
shown the treasure, and the jeweled robes. It was early November in
Palermo, and very lovely. We landed at Naples.”

Italy! All the way to Rome, Lillian looked out the window. She was
tired, but no matter. It was evening, there was a mist on the field—the
vines trailing from tree to tree, Italian fashion, were like wonderful
great spiderwebs. She would never forget that vision. It was eleven when
they reached Rome.

Rooms had been engaged at two hotels, the Excelsior and the Majestic.
Lillian and her companion, Mrs. Marie Kratsch, of Massillon, were at the
former. Very tired, they went promptly to bed. Then it seemed that
almost immediately they were awakened by an astonishing sound—the bells
of Rome! Never in her life had she heard anything like that. Why, they
were right in the room!

                  *       *       *       *       *

In Rome they found a small studio—sunlight, and four little Klieg
lights, when they needed at least fifty, possibly a hundred. They
ordered them from Germany, but did not sit down to wait for them.
Lillian rehearsed the company while Director King looked for locations.
Now and again she visited convents, forty or more, to decide what Order
to use. She finally chose the Order of Lourdes.

“We also began building our sets.” [Lillian remembering.] “We used the
Villa d’Esti, as the convent, and built all the interiors, the chapel,
etc. We built the most beautiful interiors I had ever seen. Our library
walls were of solid carved wood, so beautiful that we wanted to put
walls around them, and live in them. I think no other moving picture
sets were ever as beautiful as those we built in Rome and Florence. This
had to be so, because they were to match up with a real hall or
corridor. Construction was far cheaper than in America, but that was not
all—oh, by no means! We got there a feeling that it is impossible to get
here: the workmen had a love for what they were doing and expressed it
in the carving, or whatever the work was.”

So many of the critics had likened her acting to that of Duse. Yet she
had never seen Duse ... hardly expected to, now. She was to have her
chance, however. Soon after her arrival in Rome, Duse was given an
engagement at the Constanta Theatre.

“I gave a party for the occasion—Mr. King and his wife, Mrs. Kratsch and
myself. The play was ‘Ghosts.’ You may remember Gordon Craig once
designed scenery for it, especially for her. Isadora Duncan tells of it
in her ‘Life.’ It saddened me to find the house not more than half
filled. I was told that this was not unusual in Italy, where the young,
fresh actress is always the favorite over one who has seen her best
days. She fascinated me. I could not get enough of her. And then, at the
end, a single white wreath, the flowers beginning to droop, was handed
over the footlights. It was like a funeral offering.

“Every night while she was there, I saw her, and through a mutual friend
we exchanged affectionate messages. I was to have called on her; but
then I heard that she was ill, and I said they must not let me come. A
year later, during her last visit to America—when she died in
Pittsburgh—I saw her, in New York. It was in ‘The Lady from the Sea,’
and they gave her an opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House. It
was a great triumph. It made up, I thought, for her neglect at home. I
have never seen any theatre so packed as that was. Every seat, every
standing-space ... Morris Gest had floored over the orchestra pit and
placed chairs there.

“I was very busy, and did not know that I could attend. When I found I
could get away, I telephoned to Mr. Gest and asked him if he could
possibly get me in, anywhere—in the wings—anywhere. He said that he
would take care of me, and when I got there I found that he had placed a
chair in front, on the floor he had built over the orchestra, so I got
to see her at that close range.

“Long after, in Pittsburgh, where I was playing in ‘Vanya,’ a newspaper
woman, Mrs. Parry, told me that if anyone ever died of humiliation, Duse
did ... her life had known so many heartbreaks. I have a very precious
souvenir. When Duse died, the King of Italy sent a wreath of white
roses, to be laid on her casket. John Regan, a ship-news reporter, one
of my good friends, obtained a bud from it, put it into a small Italian
box, of carved wood, with a little Botticelli reproduction, ‘The Three
Graces,’ on the cover, and sent it to me. It is one of my priceless
possessions. It always stays on a little table at the head of my bed.”

Lillian’s early weeks in Rome remain among her happiest memories. The
little girl who once had been dragged through a sordid succession of
one-night stands, with such interest as smoky towns and sodden fields
could provide, was having her innings at last. They visited the Pincio,
drove out the Appian way, and saw the Coliseum by moonlight. What a
night it was! There was music all about—at one place, someone was
playing a violin. Farther along, someone was singing.

And the churches—she tried to visit them all! There are said to be three
hundred and sixty-five churches in Rome, and if one makes a wish on
one’s first visit it is almost sure to be granted. She made wishes all
over Rome, and left candles burning for her mother’s health.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was not very long after their arrival that the grand ceremony, where
Monseigneur Bonzano and others were made Cardinals, took place at the
Vatican. All the players were asked to attend, and were much excited.
They had to rise at five-thirty, to be there on time. The hour set for
the ceremony was six-thirty—ladies to be in black, high-necked dresses,
black veils over the head (not face), men in full evening dress, long
coats, white ties.

The guards were costumed in the dress designed by Raphael, the
ambassadors all in the most gorgeous array. Lillian thought them very
handsome, chosen, no doubt, for their physical appearance. Two
actors—Mr. Charles Lane, who played the part of Lillian’s father, and
Mr. Barney Sherry—Monseigneur in the picture—were so distinguished
looking, so imposing, with their white hair and fine faces and stately
figures, that they were mistaken for ambassadors and ushered into the
room where the ceremony took place. The Pope came in a golden chair,
carried by twenty-four men, accompanied by the Sistine Choir, the
gorgeous ambassadors, and the scarlet and ermine clad cardinals.

On Christmas Eve, she went with Mrs. Kratsch to Midnight Mass. That was
beautiful, too, and very strange. So many things in the church. Some of
the people had brought their dogs, or cats, even a goat. Two young
people were making love. Leaving the glory of the great altar for the
street, was to go to the other extreme. A little way along, was a
stable. Looking in, they saw a mother leaning against a donkey, nursing
her baby. It might have been the Manger at Bethlehem.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The lights came from Germany, but there was still trouble. All Rome
could not supply enough “juice” to run them. Mamaroneck over again.
Eventually an engine was brought from Civita Vecchia. They had expected
to finish the “White Sister” in three months, at the longest. It would
take double that time, or more.


                           “THE WHITE SISTER”

The story of “The White Sister” is not an unusual one. A beautiful young
girl, defrauded of her fortune, pledges her love to a young army
officer, who almost immediately goes to Africa, whence presently comes
the news that he has been massacred with a detachment of his men.
Broken-hearted, but clinging to hope, the bereaved girl becomes a lay
sister in a Catholic institution—a hospital—and after long years of
waiting, takes the vows of the Order, becomes a nun. Of course, at once,
the soldier, who all these years has been a caged prisoner, returns,
sees her, demands that the Church give her up, even kidnaps her,
temporarily in the belief that she will require her freedom at the hands
of the Pope. In the book, he gets her as a reward for unexampled bravery
in a catastrophe. In the picture, he is even braver, but has to rely on
Heaven for his reward, for Angela (Lillian) remains true to her vows,
and in any case, Giovanni (Colman) does not survive the catastrophe.

The tragic ending was thought better for the picture, with something
more spectacular than a mere explosion of a powder magazine for the
catastrophe. Henry King was for a flood; Robert Haas, art director, for
a volcanic eruption. In the end, they had both, also an earthquake—to
start the flood. Of course, that meant changing the scene of the story.
It was too costly, even for a motion picture magnate, to bring Vesuvius
to Rome, so they moved Rome to Vesuvius—that is to say, they moved
Angela’s convent to a town on the slopes above Naples, where the volcano
would be handy. A laboratory, an important feature in the picture, they
likewise built on the Vesuvian slope, but as Vesuvius could not be
counted on to erupt on schedule, Haas built a miniature and dependable
volcano in the studio.

“We worked very late,” Lillian remembers, “and I can still see Bob Haas,
those nights when we were all tired out, sticking his head from the
crater of his pet property, with some inane remark that would set us all
off in a gale of wild laughter.

“During our stay in Naples, I was given a room in the Excelsior Hotel,
with a window that looked out directly on Vesuvius. At that time of
year, the sun seemed to rise from the crater. It was a room that Duse
had once occupied.

“In Rome, our studio was on the outskirts. From my dressing-room, I
could see the dome of St. Peter’s in the distance. We ate our luncheon
in a little detached house, where the caretaker and his wife lived. The
room was small, and all gathered round one table ... simple food,
spaghetti, sardines, cheese, and always red wine with water. And then
the Italian bread! A sandwich of Italian bread and sardines, with red
Italian wine—nothing is better than that! We named our projection-room
‘The Catacombs,’ for it was a kind of cave, and had the same atmosphere.
Our studio being small, we occupied every corner of it.”

Soon after the first of the year, they began “shooting” the picture.
They had trouble at the start, getting extras, and workmen. Italians
will not drop what they are doing and come to a stranger, even at double
price. Finally, when they decided that the picture-makers were
reliable—and sane—they came in droves, and remained.

One day, Count and Countess Carlo Frasso (she had been American) came
out to see the work. It was where Giovanni is going to war: the lovers
embrace, and Angela weeps. The Count and Countess expressed surprise
that “Angela” shed real tears. They did not know that tears could be
turned on in that way. She was invited to their palazzo, to dine. A duke
of the royal house was there, a large, handsome man, to whom the ladies
made beautiful curtsies, after the custom of the Court. The room was
enormous, with many ambassadors in their splendid uniforms. Lillian was
much impressed by the height and grace and physical beauty of the upper
class Italians.

Through Cardinal Bonzano they secured the assistance of the Church.
Priests even came to the studio, to supervise the scenes, to see that no
mistakes were made in the appointments and ceremonies. The company was
given an audience with the Pope, and Lillian saw him several times
afterwards. All the things she wore in her part he blessed.

Lillian loved Rome, and tried to enter into the spirit of the people and
the Church, for the sake of her part. She studied Italian, and little by
little, learned to speak and understand, pretty well. She wanted to
think and feel as Angela would think and feel ... to know Rome as Angela
would have known it—its ancient monuments, its social aspects, its
religious ceremonies, its feast days. Rome at Easter Time ... the Sancta
Scala, where one ascends all the steps on one’s knees; Saint Paul’s on
Good Friday, for the Gregorian Chants; Saint Peter’s on Easter Morning,
where all the world goes by ... the spirit of the Church, of Rome, of
Italy, were in these—and in the market places, the streets, the beggars
... everywhere.

Henry King got up his flood at Tivoli, near Rome. There is a fall there,
and in some way the engineers held the water until the moment when the
volcano and the earthquake were supposed to cause a dam to break and
flood the little city that was on the slopes of Vesuvius.

The “eruption,” we made at the little town of Rocca di Papa, above Rome.
They took up great airplane propellers to make the wind. Before an
eruption, there comes a great hush—then wind with lightning, then the
earthquake. The people of the village were engaged to be the
panic-stricken crowd. They had no need of stage direction. When the big
propellers started, they were frightened enough without being told. The
wind those propellers made was terrific. The place became a bedlam of
swirling dust and frantic people. Dust flew that had not been moved for
five hundred years. A real eruption could hardly have frightened them

“That day, and the next, were killing days for me.” Lillian remembered.
“From eight-thirty in the morning, in the sun and dust, making scenes
and bits that were a part of the great eruption; then back to the
studio, and after a bath, make-up and costume, the great scene where
Angela takes the veil. I should have been in perfect condition for that
scene, and I was in about the worst possible. We kept at it steadily
through the night, until nine-thirty next morning, twenty-five hours at
a stretch, without sleep. Then I was allowed two hours and a half of
rest. I slept some of it, but right away jumped into work again, and
kept at it until eleven that night, when I was put into an automobile
with Mrs. Kratsch and motored to Florence, stopping for a brief rest at

“At Florence I saw the studio, costumes, sets, etc., that had been
partly arranged for, to be used in ‘Romola,’ which we were going to do
the following winter. Nobody works harder than motion picture players—in
the heat and glare of blazing lights, in all kinds of weather—twelve,
fifteen, twenty-four hours on end.

“From Florence to Paris, and to Cherbourg. On the ship, I got into a
cabinet bath, and then went to bed. I did not know when we sailed, and I
slept the clock twice around without a break. I started with a terrible
cold, but the bath and the rest cured it.

“We had begun ‘The White Sister’ in November, and it was now June. In
New York King and I worked at the cutting, all through the summer, until
the last of August, getting twelve reels ready for the big theatres. At
the same time we were putting ‘Romola’ into shape to picture. King
presently went back to Italy to begin work on it, while I remained to
cut ‘The White Sister’ down to nine reels, for the road, a difficult and
anxious job.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“The White Sister” made its first appearance, “World’s Premiere,” at the
44th Street Theatre, New York City, Wednesday evening, September 5,
1923. There was a special souvenir program, tied with a blue cord, with
Lillian’s picture on the outside and a message from Doug and Mary

The crowd poured in. Behind the curtain, on a soap box, Lillian and
Dorothy anxiously waited the public verdict. Lillian wore a new ivory
velvet dress, ordered for the occasion. She had been going to wear one
of her old gowns, but Dorothy and the others had shamed her into buying
a new one. She was certain to be called on, they said, and what a
disgrace to appear at less than one’s best. So the new gown had been
made on short notice, and now draped itself around the soap box, while
the reels that told the story of Angela and Giovanni unwound, to lovely
music, and their figures flickered silently across the screen. Two
sisters, that twenty years before, night after night, had waited much in
the same way to “go on” in their childish parts. Did they remember that?
Probably not—they were too anxious, too expectant, and when presently
the applause came roaring through to them, they hugged each other, for
it seemed to mean success.

It was a long waiting, nearly two hours, but it was over at last, and
there came a great final uproar, Lillian was summoned, and in the glory
of her ivory velvet, appeared before the curtain, and when the deafening
burst of greeting had subsided, made a brief speech, and the great first
night was at an end.

She had arranged a small supper at her apartment in the Hotel
Vanderbilt, just the family. A telegram from Mrs. Gish, by this time in
California, had come:

“Mother wishes you all success possible in your new picture. I know that
you will be sweet and dear in it.”

Her health was much better. She would go with them to Florence, for
“Romola.” Probably the two years or more of Lillian’s Italian picture
episode would not show another night as happy as that one.

“The White Sister” proved an undeniable success. Lillian’s ethereal
presentation of her part would insure that, and even when some random
critic raised his voice in timid protest as to the artistic structure of
the edifice, his accents were drowned in the chorus of applause: The
picture was unique. It had been made with the sanction and aid of the
Church. The Vatican had fixed upon it its seal of approval. That settled

                  *       *       *       *       *

Now that seven years and a day have gone by, one seeing “The White
Sister” again, as the writer of these chapters has seen it, rather
recently—may, perhaps, speak of it with a steadier pulse. There could be
no question as to Lillian’s part in it. At more than one moment in the
sequence she rose to great heights, and at no time was her performance
less than distinguished. At one instant—it is where she is prostrated by
the shock of Giovanni’s reported death—the spasmodic twitching of her
cheek—the result of long rehearsal—was hardly less than miraculous.

As a whole, however, she had done better work than in “The White
Sister.” In “Broken Blossoms,” for instance—and she has done
immeasurably better work since: in “La Bohême,” in “The Scarlet Letter,”
in “Wind,” in her part of Helena in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” her stage
play of 1930. Also, a good deal of her personality was lost in “The
White Sister”—had become mere costume. Of all people, Lillian is the
last to be standardized by uniform.

The picture itself was hardly a structural triumph. Briefly, its
beginning and its middle seem not very logical, its ending hopelessly
disproportionate. A volcanic eruption, an earthquake and a flood, for no
better reason, when all is said, than to kill a poor soldier who had
already spent five years shut up in a rabbit-hutch. Nothing he had done
warranted his being drowned like a rat in a flooded ditch. If all of us
who have been tempted to kidnap the woman we loved, in, or out of the
Church, deserve drowning, then it’s high time to invite a return
engagement of Noah’s flood. If Ronnie Colman—Giovanni, I mean—had,
perforce, to renounce his heart’s desire, surely a simpler and less
unbeautiful way than that might have been invented. A volcano, an
earthquake and a flood—such a rumpus, only to bring death and redemption
to one unhappy soldier! To have let him ride or sail out of the picture,
going back to Africa, would have been infinitely less expensive, and
even more heartbreaking, assuming that this was what the picture
intended to be. At any rate, it caused the shedding of many tears. In
Germany, it was immensely popular—in no other land are tears such a

It had been Lillian’s wish to dedicate the picture to the Sisters of the
Ursuline Academy in St. Louis, her old school, and she hoped to go back
there and run it for them, but was never able to carry out this purpose.

                  *       *       *       *       *

From the Director of Entertainments at Sing Sing Prison, Lillian
received an invitation to appear before the prisoners, on the occasion
of a showing—not of the new picture, but of “Broken Blossoms,” which, it
appears, had strangely enough become their favorite picture—for five
years had been voted as such.

[Illustration:“THE WHITE SISTER”]

She hesitated. She thought it could only be a sad occasion, but she
could not refuse. A day was arranged, and she made the beautiful drive
through the free air and sunshine, to a community where the outer scene
was limited to prison walls. She was met by the Warden and one other
official. Then they left her, and the prisoners were assembled. She
found herself alone with them. At first, it was strange, uncanny, then
delightful. All were so courteous and interested. After the picture was
shown, she talked to them. She told them how the play was made. They
regarded her with deep attention, hanging eagerly on every word. When
she had finished, they gathered about her. One among them had been a
friend of Thomas Burke, who wrote the story. By the time she was ready
to go, she had forgotten they were prisoners, and at the door asked her

“Aren’t you coming with me?”

He smiled a faint, sad smile.

“Only so far, Miss Gish, and no farther.”

Speaking of it, she said:

“I believe criminals are only mentally and morally ill. The State
employs judges to send them to prison. Why not employ doctors, to
diagnose and treat them?”



Reports from “The White Sister” showed that it was going to make record
runs—that returns from it would be very large. Catholics and Protestants
alike approved it. Father Duffy, of the Fighting Irish 69th Regiment, of
New York, wrote:

  I wish to nominate “The White Sister” for a high place on the
  White List of dramatic performances.... It is religion struggling
  with human passions, as in real life, and gaining its victory
  after storm and stress.

Chicago society deserted the opera on the opening night of “The White
Sister,” and similar reports came from elsewhere. Lillian’s personal
tribute—her “fan” mail—assumed mountainous proportions: offers of
engagements, protection, marriage, requests for loans ... what not?

Meantime, one must get on with the next picture. King was already in
Italy, making a pirate ship scene. Lillian finished cutting down “The
White Sister,” for road use, an arduous, delicate work, and with Mrs.
Kratsch, sailed in November. Dorothy was to be in “Romola,” and with her
mother had sailed a little earlier.

To Genoa, then Florence, where they put up at the Grand Hotel on the
Arno, with an outlook on the Ponte Vecchio, all that the heart could
desire, if the weather had only been a little more encouraging.

It began to rain, and it continued to rain—“about nineteen days out of
twenty,” Dorothy said. Dorothy thought the rain not very wet rain—not at
all like English and American rain—not so solid—light, like ether. But
one evening, the rain stopped, and when they woke in the night, there
was a strange silence. In the morning, there was another sound—also
strange—strangely familiar. Dorothy looked over at Lillian.

“If we were in America, I should say they were shoveling snow.”

They hopped out of bed, and to the window. It _was_ shoveling, and it
_was snow_. “Very unusual,” they were assured later. But then, winters
in Southern Europe quite often are unusual. Even sunshiny ones.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The picture of “Romola” follows the main incidents of George Eliot’s
novel. Lillian, of course, had the part of Romola, Dorothy that of
Tessa, Ronald Colman that of Carlo Bucelline. To William H. Powell was
assigned the part of Tito; Herbert Grimwood was given the part of
Savonarola, and looked so much like him that when he walked along the
streets of Florence, children would point him out. Altogether, the cast
was a fine one.

They had expected to use a number of real scenes in Florence—the Duomo,
the Piazza Signoria, etc., but found that modern innovations—telegraph
wires and poles, street car tracks, and the like—made this
impracticable. On their big lot in the outskirts of the city, they built
an ancient Florence, a very beautiful Florence, of the days of
Savonarola. They did use the Ponte Vecchio, the ancient bridge, though a
second story had been added a generation later than the period of their
picture. And they used the Arno in several scenes.

Rain or no rain, their lot became a busy place. They brought the “White
Sister” equipment from Rome, and a small army of artisans and laborers
began to work wonders. In a brief time, a quaint old street sprang
up—along it shops of every sort, just as they might have been four
hundred years before ... real shops, in which were made every variety of
paraphernalia required for the picture: costumes, harness, basketry,
hats, footwear, furniture—everything needed to restore the semblance of
a dead generation. They even set up a little restaurant, and ate their
luncheons there. Animals—dogs and cats—walked about, or slept in the
sun. Flocks of pigeons were in the air, or on the house-tops. During the
brief visit of the year before, they had asked that these be raised on
the lot. It was all realistic, and lovely. Wood-carvers were at work on
the rich interiors, some of them more beautiful, even, than those of
“The White Sister”: a great church interior, and a banquet hall, for
Romola’s wedding. At one side of the lot were small buildings, where the
distinguished artist, Robert Haas, with his staff, worked at the
drawings. For the great wedding feast, they could not get period glasses
in Florence, so sent a man to Venice, and had them specially blown.
Lillian remembers the banquet hall as very rich, exquisite in detail—the
scene as a whole, one of peculiar distinction.

“We had for it a lot of titled people of Florence, who were eager to be
in the picture. We had very little trouble to get anything we needed in
the way of extras. In some of the scenes, we had hundreds of them.

“One thing we did not get so easily: For the wedding, we needed 15th
Century priest robes. We heard of some up in the hills, but we could get
them only on condition that we engage four detectives to guard them, two
by day, two by night.

“We had to guard ourselves, for that matter. Florence has many
Americans, and they have not much to do. If we had let in all who
called, we should have had a perpetual sequence of social events, with
very little work. We had many invitations, but could not accept them. I
think we went out just once, for dinner. When we had a little time in
the afternoon, we liked to go to Doni’s, for tea, or to shop a little,
for linens and laces. Whatever of such things we have now, Mother bought
that winter in Florence.

“Every night we literally prayed that the next day would dawn clear and
bright, so that we might make up our lost time. But no! Maybe, as
Dorothy said, the Italian ‘dispenser of weather,’ didn’t understand

“One cannot too highly praise the Italian workmen. Over and over, ours
would work on a set that it might be the exact replica of a 15th Century
design. Italian workmen are willing to be told, and possess an
astonishing ambition to do a thing exactly as it should be done.”

They began “shooting” the scenes. They had no regular scenario. They
worked, as it were, inspirationally. They did not know very exactly what
they were going to do when they began a scene, and they were not quite
sure what they had done when they finished it. The element of accident
sometimes produces happy results, but it is unsafe to count on it.
“Romola” developed into a kind of panorama—a succession of lovely
pictures, without very definite climaxes.

They worked hard. For one thing, they were experimenting with a new
film, the panchromatic, which had never been used for an entire picture,
and they did their own developing. One of the chief beauties of “Romola”
is the richness of its photography.

What with the weather and all, the making of “Romola” was hardly what
the French call “gai.”

There were lighter moments: In the scene where Dorothy is supposed to
drown in the Arno, she tried for an hour to sink in that greasy, unclean
river. She couldn’t swim, so it had to be done in shallow water. She
didn’t like to pop her head under, either, but they told her if she
would fill her lungs with air and hold her breath, there would be no
danger. She was plump, and her bones were small. Being filled with air
made her still more buoyant. Also, she had on a little silk skirt that
got air under it and ballooned on top of the water. Dorothy simply
couldn’t drown. When she popped her head under, the little skirt stuck
up in a point like the tail of a diving duck. Such an effect would never
do for a picture like “Romola.” From their window in the Grand Hotel,
Mrs. Gish and Lillian, watching through a glass, laughed hysterically at
Dorothy’s efforts to drown. Dorothy finally struck: she could stand no
more of the Arno water. The scene was finished one chilly day in
America—in Long Island Sound. Dorothy had a cold at the time, and they
thought she would contract pneumonia. But that was a poor guess. When
she came out of the water, the cold was gone. Clean, salt water, Dorothy

In the picture, Dorothy, as Tessa, has a baby. They borrowed the cook’s
baby, the youngest of nine, a fat, robust bambino, strapped to a board,
Italian fashion; easy enough to carry, properly held, but not handy for
cuddling. Juliana was her name, and as lovely as one of Raphael’s
cherubs—lovely, even among Italian children, all of whom have little
madonna faces, because for generations expectant mothers have knelt
ardently before altars and wayside shrines. Lillian and Dorothy became
fond of Juliana, took walks with her, carrying her, board and all—a
burden which increased daily as Juliana got fatter and fatter. They
wished Juliana would not grow quite so fast; there were scenes where
they had to run with her. Italian babies are seldom warm, in winter. One
day, Juliana broke out with a rash, which at first they thought was
measles, but was only the result of the studio heat, heat from the great
Klieg lights.

Lillian had a maid named Anna, a large, lovely soul, but a menace. If
one got an ache or a pain, Anna came running with an enormous Italian
pill, the size of those on the Medici coat-of-arms. After a day at the
studio, in the strained “Romola” poses, Lillian once mentioned having a
back-ache. Anna commanded her to undress and lie down. A very little
later she came bringing a bath towel, and a flat-iron, the latter quite
definitely warm. Then, turning the world’s darling face down, she spread
the towel on her back and proceeded to iron her. It was drastic, but
beneficial. The ironings became a part of the daily program. Anna
decided that her mistress needed blood, and cooked for her apples in red
wine. They were delicious.

“Romola” was finished near the end of May. The last scene was the
burning of Savonarola, terribly realistic. Lillian got so near the fire
that she was scorched. A few days later they saw the rushes and she was
ready to go. The great Italian episode was over. It was unique, and
remains so. Big companies do not go on foreign locations any more. They
build Italy or any part of the universe on their lots in Hollywood.

Lillian in America found that she had been chosen by Sir James Barrie
for the picture version of “Peter Pan.” No one could have been better
suited to the part, and it greatly appealed to her. But there were
complications. Regretfully she put it aside.

Pleasant things happened: Dimitri Dirujinski and Boris Lorski modeled
busts of her; Nicolai Fechin did her portrait, as Romola. The last was
given a special exhibition in the Grand Central Art Galleries, with a
reception to Lillian and the artist under the patronage of Cecelia Beaux
and New York’s social leaders. It was bought by the Chicago Art
Institute and today hangs in the Goodman Theatre of that city.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Romola,” released through the Metro-Goldwyn Company, had two great
premières: at the George M. Cohan Theatre, New York, on Monday, December
1st, 1924, and at the Sid Grauman Theatre, Hollywood, on the following
Saturday. Lillian and Dorothy, with their mother, managed to attend
both. The Los Angeles opening was so much more a part of the “picture”
world that we shall skip to it, forthwith.

It was unique. Manager Grauman had stirred up all Los Angeles and
Hollywood over the return of the Gish girls with a new picture.

They had anticipated no reception at the train. King was already in Los
Angeles; he might be there ... a few friends, maybe, not more. But when
the train drew in, they noticed a great assembly of expectant people,
most of them wearing badges—a rally of some sort, a convention. Lillian
and Dorothy stepped to the train platform, and were greeted with a
shower of rose-buds, thrown by gay little girls who had baskets of them;
a vigorous and competent band struck up; a siren began to blow;
everybody shouted and pushed forward; all those badges had on them the
word GISH; all the battery of cameras that began to grind was turned on
them; the rally was their rally—a welcome—welcome home to Los Angeles.

Producers and directors were there. Irving Thalberg, handsome,
youthful-looking, pressed forward. Mrs. Gish, thinking him from the
hotel, handed him her checks, and a moment later was apologizing. But he
said it was all right—he was always being taken for his own office boy.
John Gilbert was there, and Norma Shearer, and Eleanor Boardman, and
ever so many more. A crowd of students from the Military Academy rallied
around; also, a swarm of “bathing beauties” from the Ambassador, and a
fire engine came clanging up, for the Fire and Police Departments had
been called out. A news notice says:

  A squad of motorcycle policemen and fast cars of the Fire
  Department, made an escort for the automobile provided for Lillian
  Gish, Dorothy and their mother, through the downtown district.
  Sirens and bells added to the noise of welcome.

Not much like the old days, when with Uncle High Herrick, they had
landed with “Her First False Step” at a one-night stand.

They drove to the Ambassador Hotel. Mary Pickford had not been at the
train, but they found her standing in the middle of their “flower
embowered drawing-room”—never more beautiful in all her life, Lillian

By and by, Mary, Lillian and Dorothy, motored out to the old Fine Arts
Studio, where “The Birth of a Nation” and so many of Griffith’s other
pictures, had been made. They found the old place hidden behind a brick
building. “Intolerance” had been made there, and “Broken Blossoms.”
Douglas Fairbanks and many others had begun, there, their film careers.
They recalled these things as they looked about a little sadly, at what
had once been their film home.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Manager Sid Grauman had gone to all the expense and trouble he could
think of to make this a record occasion. “Romola” was following Douglas
Fairbanks’ “Thief of Bagdad.” It must not fall short.

“_A première without a parallel. A night of all nights. The most gala
festivity Hollywood has ever known. An opening beside which other
far-famed Egyptian premières will pale into insignificance._” These are
a few bits of Manager Grauman’s rhetoric, and he added: “Every star,
director and producer, will be there to pay homage to Lillian and
Dorothy Gish.”

They were there. The broad entrance to the Egyptian was a blaze of light
and gala dress parade. The crowds massed on both sides to see the
greatest of filmland pass. Doug and Mary (who had already run “Romola”
in their home theatre), Charlie, Jackie ... never mind the list, they
were all there. High above, the name of LILLIAN GISH blazed out in tall
letters. When she arrived, and Dorothy, and their mother, their cars
were fairly mobbed. Cameras were going, everybody had to pause a moment
at the entrance for something special in that line. Manager Grauman was
photographed between the two stars of the evening, properly set off and
by no means obliterated, small man though he was, by the resplendent

After which, came the performance. Manager Grauman had fairly laid
himself out on an introductory feature. There were ten numbers of it,
each more astonishing than the preceding: “Italian Tarantella,”
“Harlequin and Columbine,” “The Eighteen Dance Wonders,” but why go on?
It was a gorgeous show all in itself.

After which, the beautiful processional effects of Romola’s story.

[Illustration: “ROMOLA”]

There was no lack of enthusiasm in the audience. When the picture ended
and the lights went on, and Lillian and Dorothy appeared before the
curtain, the applause swelled to very great heights indeed. And when a
speech was demanded, Lillian, in her quiet, casual way, said:

“Dear ladies and gentlemen, both Dorothy and I do so hope you have liked
‘Romola.’ If you have, then, dear, kind friends, you have made us very
happy, very happy indeed ... and you have made Mr. King, who directed
‘Romola,’ very happy, too.”

From the applause that followed, it was clear that there was no question
as to the importance of the occasion—all the more so, had they known
that, for Hollywood, at least, it was the last public appearance of
these two together.

The critics did not know what to make of “Romola”—did not quite dare to
say what they thought they felt. To William Powell, as Tito, nearly all
gave praise; some regretted that Ronald Colman did not have a better
part. Dorothy, as Tessa, had given a good account of herself, they said,
and Charles Lane, as Baldassare. Of Lillian’s spirituality and acting
there was no question, but there were those who thought the part of
Romola unequal to her gifts.

As to the picture, one ventured to call it “top-heavy,” whatever he
meant by that. One had courage enough to think it “a bit dull.” Another
declared that it contained all the atmosphere and beauty of the Florence
of Lorenzo de Medici. “Romola” was, in fact, exquisite tapestry, and the
dramatic interest of tapestry is a mild one.


                        ALSO, THE INTELLIGENTSIA

A brief lawsuit in which Lillian was involved at this time added greatly
to her prestige. In October (1924), for what she felt to be just cause,
she had broken off relations with her producers. Suit for breach of
contract followed. At the trial, held in a small, crowded room of the
Woolworth Building, the chief executive of the picture corporation
testified to a number of remarkable things, among them that Miss Gish
had engaged herself to marry him, all of which notably failed to
convince Judge Julian W. Mack, who, on the second or third morning of
the trial, rose and summarily dismissed the case against Lillian, and
after a few well-chosen words to her accuser, held him “to bail in the
sum of $10,000” (I quote the minutes) “to answer to the charge of
perjury.” He was indicted, but Lillian, with no wish, as she said, to
send anyone to prison, declined to appear against him, and the case was

Lillian’s following was now enormous ... of the whole world, for in no
obscure corner of it was her face unfamiliar, or unwelcomed.

There was something almost magical about this universal homage. Men and
women alike paid tribute. Reporters ransacked dictionaries for terms
that would convey her elusive loveliness—likened it (one of them) to
“the haunting sadness of an old Spanish song, heard as the light fades
from the evening sky.”

What heaps of letters! And if, as has been said, she was wanting in
sex-appeal, why all the marriage proposals? Why so much poetry? Just one
young man wrote eleven little volumes of poetry—pretty good poetry, if
there is such a thing, even if not entirely sane (what poetry is?)—and
it was printed by hand with the utmost care and beauty.

Also, she was being discovered by the “intelligentsia,” whatever that
word means. If, as appears, it has to do with intelligence, it would
seem to apply to the great masses who had hailed her as an artist and
raved over her, almost from the beginning. Never mind—she was now
definitely recognized as an Artist—taken up by the elect, who in the
long run, have something to say about Art, and affix the official stamp.
And having discovered her, they proceeded to burn incense and chant
orisons to her as their special saint and _déesse_, just as the others
had been doing for a good ten years and more.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As early as 1921, Edward Wagenknecht, a young don of the Chicago
University, met her, and straightway hailed her as the “artist’s
artist.” Further he declared: “Words, especially prose, seem horribly
wooden in discussing her.... Hers is a personality which can be
adequately described only in terms of music, or poetry, which is a form
of music. In her presence one wants instinctively to talk blank verse.”
There was a great deal more to it which I should like to quote, for it
was sincere, and trimly phrased. Mr. Wagenknecht has since written a
whole chapbook on the subject of Miss Gish, a distinguished
performance.[2] My impression is that he was the advance guard of her
later “discoverers.”

I don’t know when Joseph Hergesheimer first came under the Lillian
spell, but probably about the time he used her as his model for
“Cytherea,” which I regard as something less of a compliment than his
article in the _American Mercury_, April, 1924. In this article, he is
supposed to be talking to Lillian.

  “No one,” I told her, “who has worked with you, has the
  slightest idea of what your charm really is. Two men, and not
  unsuccessfully, have written about it, about you ... James
  Branch Cabell and myself. James thinks it is Helen of Troy; and
  if he is right, then you, too, are Helen. I mean that you have
  the quality which, in a Golden Age, would hold an army about the
  walls of a city for seven years.”

Hergesheimer was proposing a picture, in which, as he assured her, she
would be “like the April moon, a thing for all young men to dream about
forever ... the fragrant April moon of men’s hopes ... ‘No one, seeing
you, will ever again be deeply interested in other girls.’ I recalled to
her the legend of Diana—how a countryman, hearing Diana’s horn through
the woods, lost in vague restlessness his familiar content. ‘You will be
the clear and unforgettable silver horn.’”

It was in the guise of Jurgen that James Branch Cabell celebrated
Lillian, wrote of her as Queen Helen, “the delight of gods and men, who
regarded him with grave, kind eyes” ... whom, long ago, Jurgen had
loved, in “the garden between dawn and sunrise.”

  Then, trembling, Jurgen raised toward his lips the hand of her who
  was the world’s darling.... “Oh, all my life was a foiled quest of
  you, Queen Helen, and an unsatiated hungering. And for a while I
  served my vision, honoring you with clean-handed deeds. Yes,
  certainly it should be graved upon my tomb, ‘Queen Helen ruled
  this earth while it stayed worthy.’ But that was very long ago.

  “And so farewell to you, Queen Helen! Your beauty has been to me a
  robber that stripped my life of joy and sorrow, and I desire not
  ever to dream of your beauty any more.”

Cabell, builder of magic phrases! His words look like other words, but
they assemble with a strange ardency, and they march to the pipes of
Pan. I am taking Hergesheimer’s word for it that it was Lillian who
inspired Cabell’s Helen, though I might have guessed that, anyway.

And then it happened that George Jean Nathan, hard-bitten dramatic
critic, hater of movies, suddenly became Lillian-conscious and proceeded
to do something about it—something rather special—in _Vanity Fair_.
Wrote Nathan:

  That she is one of the few real actresses that the films have
  brought forth, either here or abroad, is pretty well agreed upon
  by the majority of critics. But it seems to me that, though the
  fact is taken for granted, the reasons for her eminence have in
  but small and misty part been set into print.... The girl is
  superior to her medium, pathetically so.... The particular genius
  of Lillian Gish lies in making the definite charmingly indefinite.
  Her technique consists in thinking out a characterization directly
  and concretely and then executing it in terms of semi-vague
  suggestion.... The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness
  trembling on a bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl ... are
  the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his
  waltzes. The whole secret of the young woman’s remarkably
  effective acting rests, as I have observed, in her carefully
  devised and skillfully negotiated technique of playing always, as
  it were, behind a veil of silver chiffon.... She is always
  present, she always dominates the scene, yet one feels somehow
  that she is ever just out of sight around the corner. One never
  feels that one is seeing her _entirely_. There is ever something
  pleasantly, alluringly missing, as there is always in the case of
  women who are truly “acting artists.”

There was a good deal more in this strain. Widely quoted, it made quite
a stir. Later—as much as a year, perhaps—Nathan being a bachelor (about
the only one the intelligentsia could muster), it was reported from time
to time that he was to be married to Miss Gish; then, that they were
already married, privately, reports that have been recurrent, or
intermittent, or something, ever since. But Nathan was a bachelor,
apparently without much intention of becoming anything else, while
Lillian was far too occupied for domesticity, the kind of domesticity
she saw about her. She was satisfied with her circle as it stood—a
circle which included individualities: rude-handed old Dreiser, for
instance, and Mencken, and Sinclair Lewis, and Clarence Darrow. No
Madame Récamier ever had a more loyal following, ever accepted it with
such gratitude. And never a thing they said or did wrought a change in
her, touched that vanity which is a mortal possession, but is hardly her
possession, because, as I suspect, she is not altogether mortal, but a
visitant—a dryad, likely enough, who has strayed in from the Old Time
and is only puzzled a little, and saddened, maybe, by what she finds


Footnote 2:

  “Lillian Gish, An Interpretation”: Number Seven, University of
  Washington Chapbooks. Edited by Glenn Hughes (1927).


                              “LA BOHÊME”

When in February (1925) the break with her producer had been rumored,
telegrams with offers of engagements began to come.

Lillian was not at the moment in a position to consider a new
arrangement. When the press announced the conclusion of her suit, all
the offers came again, with others. Mary Pickford, as member of the
United Artists, fervently believed that Lillian’s salvation lay with
their company. “There is no question but this is where you should be,”
she telegraphed. Offers came from both the Schencks, and from many
others. By advice of her lawyers, Lillian finally accepted that of the
Metro-Goldwyn Company, at a figure larger than she had hoped for. Her
contract covered a period of two years, during which she was to make, if
required, as many as six pictures, for the sum of $800,000. It further
specified that she would not be required to attend anything in the way
of publicity dinners, press teas, and the like. She could see
interviewers in reasonable numbers, at her convenience. One day a
flaming banner, stretching from the Metro offices across the street,
announced that Lillian Gish had become a Metro-Goldwyn star.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She realized that she must begin with something important. To extend her
European audience, she hoped to do something with international appeal.
In Paris, she had discussed with Madame de Grésac and the musical
composer, Charpentier, the possibility of making a film from his opera,
“Louise,” but the element of free love in it was an objection, and
Charpentier declined to have it modified. The character of Mimi, in “La
Bohême,” had long been in the back of Lillian’s mind—Mimi of the opera,
rather than of Murger’s original. Madame de Grésac agreed that the part
was peculiarly suited to Lillian, and was eager to join in preparing the
script. In New York, now, they went over it all again, and presently
were in California, at the Beverley Hills Hotel, hard at work on it.
They had plenty of time. Production was to begin in June, but the
director and some of the players wanted were not yet free.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian, with time on her hands, an unusual circumstance, spent some of
it at Pickfair, with Douglas and Mary. Once they went camping. They went
down the shore to a place called Laguna, a sheltered spot on the beach,
about three hours by motor from Los Angeles. It was very secluded—cliffs
behind them; nobody in sight anywhere. They had to leave the cars and
climb down a big cliff. Mrs. Pickford and little Mary (Mary’s niece)
were along, and about ten others.

It could be hardly be called roughing it, though it was real camping.
They had fourteen little tents, a real village—string-town on the sea.
They had servants to look after them, and a dining tent, a sitting-room,
a kitchen, and individual sleeping tents. The weather was perfect. They
were there from Thursday until Monday, and were in the open every
minute. They wore only bathing suits and bathrobes, and were in the sea
a good half the time. The tide came up to the doors of the tents.

“One always has a good time where Douglas is,” Lillian said. “He is like
a boy. I remember Princess Bibesco and Anthony Asquith once came to
Hollywood and were invited by Douglas and Mary to make a party to climb
the mountain behind Pickfair, and go down on the other side, for camp
breakfast. We had to start very early. I drove from the Beverley Hills
Hotel and it was still dark when I got to Pickfair. I dressed in Doug’s
riding clothes to do the climbing. The Asquiths were to go on horseback,
but Douglas made Mary and me walk.

“We were well up the mountain before daylight, and the going was
terribly scratchy. I had never climbed a California mountain. I did not
know they would scratch one up so. I was a sight when we got down on the
other side, and very happy to get breakfast.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Irving Thalberg, head supervisor of the Metro-Goldwyn, Lillian said, let
her choose from the directors and people on their lots. After seeing a
number of scenes from “The Big Parade,” then in production, she selected
King Vidor, to direct, and asked to have John Gilbert and Renée Adorée.
Roy d’Arcy and Edward Horton were also chosen, and Karl Dane. Vidor
expected to finish “The Big Parade” very soon, but pictures have a way
of not getting finished, and it was August before they were ready for
rehearsal. Then she found that they did not rehearse any more—not in the
old way she had learned from Griffith—not at all until they were ready
to shoot the scene. Salaries had increased to a point where it was
cheaper to make the scene, time and again, than to rehearse it for days
in advance. Vidor said, however, that Lillian might do her scenes in the
old way. She tried it, but found the others so unused to it that she
gave it up.

King Vidor, in a recent letter to the author, tells of Lillian’s
familiarity with this method:

  One of the things that comes to my mind is the amazing ability she
  possessed of rehearsing a picture through without having any of
  the sets, properties, and sometimes actors, before her. The first
  time we tried this method of rehearsal, which was at her
  suggestion, we chose a secluded spot on a patch of bare lawn in
  the studio grounds. I asked Miss Gish to go ahead with the
  rehearsal and, to my amazement, she started through doors that did
  not exist, closing them behind her, picking up articles and using
  them, opening drawers, taking out things and putting others away,
  playing scenes with other members of the cast who were not there
  at the time, walking up and down stairways that did not exist, and
  even going out into the street and riding away in a bus, and
  playing scenes with people in carriages as they moved along. This
  showed a power of imagination that was almost mystifying. It
  reminded me of times when I had seen little girls playing at
  housekeeping, only in this case it was entirely useful and helpful
  in the making of the picture.

The story of “La Bohême” is almost universally known—the play and the
opera have taken care of that. Lillian and Madame de Grésac stuck rather
closely to the latter. Little Mimi, _pauvre brodeuse_, living alone in a
cold, miserable place against the roof, meets and loves, and is beloved
by, one of the bohemians, a writer, of the adjoining attic. To advance
his fortunes, she gives her strength, her life, for him, wins success
for him, is cast off because he believes her unfaithful, then at the
end, when she knows that her death is near, drags herself back to him,
to die. There is no more heartbreaking story, and no story better suited
to Lillian’s gifts.

The scenic designers had made small pasteboard sets, miniatures, to give
the directors, electricians, camera-men, and all concerned, an idea of
the possibilities of each scene. When Lillian looked at the miniature of
Mimi’s attic, she said:

“But isn’t it rather large? Mimi lives in a very small corner under the

“Ah, but this is in an old castle.”

“Why, yes, to be sure—only, there could hardly have been a castle in
that locality, and even so, Mimi and her friends would not have been
living in one. Just up under the roof of very old and rather poor

“But you see, you have been in big productions, with very fine sets. We
don’t want to put you into anything small and poor-looking. The road
exhibitors would not feel they were getting their money’s worth.”

“Romola’s” elaborate background had worked on their imagination. They
gave up their old castle, though sadly. The matter of costumes offered
another surprise: A very expensive designer from Paris had been
engaged—French, of Russian origin—Lillian rejoiced in the thought that
she would get just the right thing. But, oh dear, when she came to see
them! Monsieur was a small, dainty man, and he seemed to have designed
them for himself. Also, it appeared to be his idea that Mimi was a vamp.
Phyllis Moir, Lillian’s secretary of that time, says that it was Lillian
herself who, in the end, planned Mimi’s costumes. Of this, Lillian only

“Finally, the woman at the head of our wardrobe department took some of
the costumes I had—things I had picked up, here and there—and together
we got what I wanted. Mimi’s picnic costume was the only new one. Our
little designer was deeply offended. I was impossible to work with, he

“All on the Metro lot were so kind to me. Little Norma Shearer dressed
next door, and helped me in many ways. Marion Davies was another who was
considerate and kind. They had been there several years before I came,
and were a great comfort. After ‘Bohême’ was produced, Marion Davies
wrote me a very beautiful letter.”

In _Picture Play_, Margaret Reid, an extra in “La Bohême,” has written a
luminous article, from which I am going to quote, trusting in her good
heart to forgive me:

  Miss Gish arrived on the same day that the elaborate dressing-room
  suite designed for her was rushed to completion.... After a polite
  but systematic search of the studio I discovered her on the lawn,
  talking to one of the heads. She wore a severely plain white coat
  and a close hat of plain rose felt, and carried a heavy black book
  in her arms. No make-up, not even powder, marred the healthy,
  translucent, perfect complexion....

Lillian thinks that the first scene of “La Bohême” was made in Mimi’s
attic, which is doubtless correct, for Miss Reid speaks of something
having been done before she was called—before various of the ladies and
gentlemen were instructed to come out and be fitted for attire of the
year 1830.

  I happened to be among the fortunate, and was soon gowned in a
  lovely costume of hideous brown serge and a gray flannel cape. The
  keepers of the M-G-M wardrobe are the nicest wardrobe women in
  Hollywood, but even their elastic patience is tried on days when
  the picture and scene require a mediocre costuming of extras.
  Their sympathetic ears are deafened with cries of:

  “But, Mother Coulter, I _can’t_ wear this—why, it’s awful! Can’t I
  at least have a pretty cape to cover up this horror?” “Mrs. Piper,
  you wouldn’t make me actually wear such an ugly dress!” Each feels
  that anything less than the very best is not her type.

  But today we were Parisiens of precarious means, offering up the
  old wedding ring and Grandfather’s stick-pin in a dingy little
  pawnshop in the Latin Quarter.... The magician, Sartov, Miss
  Gish’s special camera-man, sat on his high stool by the camera,
  pulling placidly at his meerschaum pipe. The last touches were
  being applied to the dreary little set.... Miss Gish was called,
  and we made our first acquaintance with Mimi. Such a sad and
  thread-bare little Mimi ... faint shadows hollowed her cheeks, and
  her eyes were haggard with fatigue and hunger. In her arms was
  clasped a poor bundle which she timidly offered up. The coin
  thrust at her was too small, and with tears in her eyes and
  quivering lips, she tenderly placed her shabby, moth-eaten little
  muff on the counter. The orchestra breathed faintly one of Mimi’s
  gentle laments—oh, the pitiful little Mimi! I fumbled blindly for
  a handkerchief, feeling I couldn’t stand it any longer without
  doing something about it—anything to allay the misery of that
  wistful face.

  When the camera stopped, she peeped around it, the tears still
  shining in her eyelashes.

  “Was that all right, Mr. Vidor? Or shall we try it again?”

  “Well, let’s try it this way, too, and see how it looks,” in Mr.
  Vidor’s soft, lazy Southern accent.

  So Mimi is unhappy this way and that way and several other ways,
  until she receives her scanty loan and turns slowly and goes out
  of the door. That was all of Mimi, for that time.

  When next we saw her, it was at a picnic in the woods of “Ville
  D’Avray” ... a place of orange groves at the foot of mountains
  that stretch up into the lofty snow fields.

  In a grassy meadow, sheltered by oak trees, the picnic was spread.
  Miss Gish’s town car, with its shades drawn, was already parked at
  one side. Through the back window of an expensive coupé, a black
  head swathed in a towel indicated the transformation of John
  Gilbert into Rodolphe....

  When Miss Gish stepped out of her car and began to work, it was
  like the arrival of a limpid, fragrant wood elf, so exquisite was
  her costume and so beautiful was she herself....

  When I start to write of Mimi as I last saw her, I am reminded of
  the sensations I had as a child, when Mother used to tell me in
  vain that whatever I was reading was only a play or a story....
  Thus I keep assuring myself that Miss Gish is a young lady who
  makes enough money to live on very comfortably, and that she has
  beauty, fame and adoring friends.

  Yet there keeps recurring the picture of our last work in “La
  Bohême,” of the dying Mimi, struggling across Paris to Rodolphe.
  Her miserable clothes are in rags, and illness has carved deep
  hollows in her face. Clinging to the steps of a bus, fighting
  weakly through crowds, falling into the gutter and crawling on
  upon hands and knees, dragged holding to a chain behind a cart,
  slowly making her way, her long, pale-gold hair falling down over
  her shoulders and back.

  Between shots you might have thought her still playing a bit in
  the picture, so unpretentious was her manner. If her skirt had to
  be dirty for a close shot, she did not hail a prop boy, but knelt
  on the cobblestones and made it grimy herself....

  Toward the end of the sequence—scratched and bruised from her
  numerous falls and tumbles, her clothes ragged and mud-stained,
  her beautiful hair tangled and dusty, she waited so patiently for
  the lights to be arranged for each shot, now standing on the
  rough, sharp cobbles, now collapsed on the step. Sitting in the
  gutter, waiting for Mr. Vidor’s signal, she smoothed her apron—a
  tattered piece of black cotton—with a delicate gesture.

  The preservation of an illusion through reality is always a feat,
  an illusion being of such a fragile, rarefied substance. Usually
  we learn to be satisfied with treasured remnants. Thus, it is with
  pride in my good fortune, and with gratitude to Lillian for being
  what she is, that I present to you an illusion, not only intact
  but even increased in value—Miss Gish!

With her usual thoroughness, Lillian had prepared for the difficult rôle
of Mimi, especially for the tragic end. Mimi’s illness was a malady of
the lungs, brought on through exposure, hunger and unremitting toil.
Before the great death scene, Lillian had gone to see a priest about
getting a chance to study the progress of the disease. Most of the
priests knew her, after “The White Sister,” and this one was especially
kind. He took her to the County Hospital. All were proud and eager to
help her. They told her the symptoms at the different stages. It was all
rather terrible.

Both Miss Moir—Miss Gish’s secretary—and Mr. Vidor, in letters to the
writer, have written of the result of this intense hospital study. Mr.
Vidor’s picture follows:

  Another episode I shall never forget: The death scene was
  scheduled for a certain morning, but because the set was
  incomplete, it was postponed till the following day. Miss Gish had
  not been told of this postponement, and had thought so much and
  concentrated so vigorously to make this scene realistic, that she
  arrived at the studio whiter than I had ever seen her and looking
  at least ten pounds thinner. She was unable to speak above a
  whisper; in fact, she talked very little. We tried to do other
  scenes, but Miss Gish had lived that death so continuously during
  the night before that I was unable to instill enough life into her
  to make any other scenes that day. This terrific concentration
  continued all that day and that night. Upon my arrival at the
  studio next morning I was informed there would be another delay
  until that afternoon on this particular set. Again we made quick
  plans to switch, but when I saw Miss Gish we cancelled them. One
  look at her and my fears began to rise. I began to think that if
  we didn’t hurry and take this death scene we should never be able
  to finish the picture, so thoroughly was she experiencing the
  tortures of a tubercular death.

[Illustration: “LA BOHÊME” Mimi at the pawnshop]

  That afternoon the set was complete and we hastened—with great
  solemnity, I may add—to photograph Mimi’s death. I was jammed
  between a camera and a slanting wall in a narrow attic corner.
  Mimi was carried in by her friends, the bohemians, and placed upon
  her little bed. After her friends had taken a last farewell,
  Rodolphe entered the scene, and with him close to her Mimi
  breathed her last. Rodolphe, played by John Gilbert, was supposed
  to remain in the scene a few moments and then leave. In the
  playing of the scene, however, some of the bohemians, and also Mr.
  Gilbert, were so impressed that they completely forgot what they
  were to do. I, myself, was in the same frame of mind.

  I had noticed that when death overcame Mimi, Miss Gish had
  completely stopped breathing and the movement of her eyes and
  eyelids was absolutely suspended. This, even from the close view I
  had. The moments clicked but still Miss Gish had not moved, nor
  breathed. My mind immediately jumped to the great drama of this
  situation. To me, Miss Gish had actually died in the portrayal of
  a scene. I saw all the headlines in the newspapers of the
  following day. I saw all the drama and the hush that would fall
  throughout the studios when the news spread around.

  The cameras ground on—the moments turned into minutes. Finally,
  after an untold length of time, the other actors left the scene
  and the cameras stopped. Everyone was breathless, fearful of what
  might have happened. Miss Gish could plainly hear that the cameras
  had stopped, and could now take breath and open her eyes. But this
  she did not do. Not daring to speak I fearfully walked over to
  where she lay and touched her gently on the arm. Her head turned
  slowly, and her lips formed a faint smile.

  I think we all broke into tears of great joy.

  To me this is the most realistic scene I have ever known to be
  enacted before a camera. I hope I shall never see a similar one
  quite so well done. The inside of her mouth was completely dry,
  and before she was able to speak again it was necessary to wet her
  lips which had stuck to her teeth from dryness. The next morning
  Miss Gish was as bright and cheery as ever, and we were able to go
  ahead with the rest of the picture.

  One last word: personal contact with Lillian Gish did not destroy
  any of the idealism she created on the screen for me. To those who
  have known her only in that way, I promise there is no
  disappointment in meeting her face to face.

Miss Moir remembers that these final scenes of Mimi’s life lasted about
a week, and that everyone was relieved when they were over. Lillian
herself was so exhausted that her voice had sunk almost to a whisper,
and she had hardly sufficient strength to walk. “Poor Renée Adorée was
constantly coming back to her dressing room for a fresh supply of
handkerchiefs. During the sequence where Mimi is dragging herself back
to Rodolphe, to die—the bus, to the back of which she was clinging,
suddenly lost a wheel, and it was only by a miracle that she escaped
having both legs crushed under the heavy vehicle.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was near the end of December, 1925, that “La Bohême” was finished,
and it was two months later, February 24, at the Embassy Theatre, New
York, that it had its first showing. Lillian was not present. To this
day, she has never seen “La Bohême” given with its musical
accompaniment—not the original Puccini score, the cost of which was
prohibitive, but a very lovely adaptation expressing something of the
feeling and mood.

“La Bohême,” a picture of much sorrow and little brightness, was
sympathetically received and left a deep and lasting impression. Except,
possibly, in “Broken Blossoms,” Lillian had never appeared so
effectively—in a picture so suited to her gifts.

It was a big night at the Embassy. Social New York was out in force, and
all the picture people. The _Post_ next day said:

“Every movie player in New York, and there are many here just now, was
‘among those present,’ for the infrequent appearance of Lillian Gish on
the screen takes on the importance of an event.... The Gish can do no
wrong, in the opinion of many who subscribe to the art of motion

Approval of Lillian’s Mimi, though wide, was not unanimous. Certain
critics were inclined to hold her responsible for the departure from
Murger’s original. There was hot debate among the fans. Lillian, already
absorbed in another picture, gave slight attention to all this; much
less than did the interviewers, one of whom found her “not particularly
interested.” She merely asked absently: “Has someone been criticizing
me?” Which, declared Miss Glass, the interviewer, was as astonishing as
if she had looked at the Pacific Ocean and asked: “Is it wet?”

“Her manifest lack of resentment toward her critics confounded me....
She sat quietly toying with the folds of her dress, betraying no sign of
annoyance or concern.”

In itself, the Mimi of Madame de Grésac was a classic rôle. Not again in
her screen life would Lillian find a part more perfectly suited to her
personality and special gifts. Her portrayal of it warranted Pola
Negri’s verdict:

“Lillian Gish is supreme. That was my opinion when I first saw her. It
is still my opinion when I have seen all the other stars. She is sublime
in her genre.”

The New York première was not the picture’s first showing. There had
been a preview at Santa Monica, and one secured by Lillian for the
employees of the Beverley Hills Hotel, where she lived. These latter
sent her a joint acknowledgment, signed: “Thankfully your admirers, more
than a hundred strong.”


                          “THE SCARLET LETTER”

Lillian had not found time to go to New York. Through no fault of hers,
the production of “La Bohême” had been delayed, and there was not a
moment to lose, now. “La Bohême” was finished on Saturday, and the first
shots of “The Scarlet Letter” were made the following Monday. She had
agreed to do as many as six pictures, and she had two years to do them
in. She was very anxious to fulfill her part of the contract.

Her mother was with her. She had come out with her in May, but in
September had gone back to London, where Dorothy was making “Nell Gwynn”
for an English company. Now again she was back, vainly, unwisely trying
to share herself with both daughters. In January, Lillian had taken Mrs.
Pickford’s house at Santa Monica, directly on the beach. She believed it
would be better for her mother—not always warm, but there was nearly
always sunshine, and the air was good.

Every morning Lillian went into the sea. The water was cold, but by six
she had put on her bathing suit, and plunged in. A dip, then out again,
a race to the house, a cup of hot water that Nellie, the maid, had
ready. Then quickly into a little roadster and away to the Culver City
lot, a brisk twenty-minute drive. Nellie there prepared breakfast while
her mistress was dressing and making up.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In her little corner of Beekman Terrace, the “den,” as she calls it,
overlooking the East River where a procession of water traffic moves
always up and down—stout, saucy tugs, with square-nosed barges or
droopy, submissive schooners in tow; swift Sound steamers; smudgy
freighters; private yachts—very romantic and expensive-looking; all the
motley parade of the marine register—Lillian not so long ago told of the
making of “The Scarlet Letter.” She said:

“It was while we were making ‘La Bohême’ that I worked with Frances
Marion on the story. Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne appealed to me, and I
thought the story had great picture possibilities. There was one
objection: the Church would oppose it—the Protestant Church, especially
the Methodist. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was one of a list of proscribed
books—forbidden for picture use. I took the matter up with Will Hays,
and prominent members of the Clergy. Why should the Church prohibit a
great classic, like that? When I told them how I proposed to present it,
they gave their sanction. When they saw the picture, by and by, they
recommended it.

“My idea was to present Hester as the victim of hard circumstance, swept
off her feet by love. Of course, that was what she was, but her innate
innocence must be apparent. I said:

“I believe in ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ if we can get the right man for
Dimmesdale, the minister.” We considered several, but none would do.

“One day, Louis B. Mayer, business head of the Metro, said to me: ‘I
think I have found the minister for your “Scarlet Letter.”’ Mayer had
brought over Greta Garbo, and I had faith in him. Garbo had done a
picture of ‘Gosta Berling’ in Sweden, with Lars Hansen, and the Metro
had brought over a print of it. ‘Go into the projection room and have
them run it for you,’ said Mayer. ‘If you like Hansen for the part,
we’ll bring him over.’

“The moment Lars Hansen appeared on the screen, I knew he was the man we
wanted. And I knew that we must have a Swedish director. The Swedish
people are closer to what our Pilgrims were, or what we consider them to
have been, than our present-day Americans. Irving Thalberg selected
Victor Seastrom, a splendid choice. He got the spirit of the story
exactly, and was himself a fine actor, the finest that ever directed me.
I never worked with anyone I liked better than Seastrom. He was
Scandinavian—thorough and prompt. If Mr. Seastrom said we would start at
eight, or half-past, the camera was ready at that time, and so were we.

“His direction was a great education for me. In a sense, I went through
the Swedish school of acting. I had got rather close to the Italian
school in Italy, watching them at their theatres, and from being
associated with those who were with us in ‘The White Sister’ and
‘Romola.’ The Italian school is one of elaboration; the Swedish is one
of repression. Mr. Vidor’s method—of the American school, if there is
such a thing—leaned to self-expression, which has its advantages.

“We had some of the people used in ‘La Bohême’—Karl Dane, for one, who,
except for the brief scene where a scrap of my forbidden laundry creates
a situation and finally flares out on a currant bush—furnished about all
the comedy of that too sad picture. Henry B. Walthall, with whom I had
played so often in the old Griffith days, was engaged to do Prynne,
Hester’s husband. In the old days, he had been taller than I was. I was
amazed now to find it the other way about. I had grown a good deal in
the ten or eleven years since then. I suppose exercise, open air, health
and proper food, had been responsible. Joyce Coad, my little girl in the
play, was a sweet child, and a clever little actress. I became much
attached to her.

“Work on ‘The Scarlet Letter’ went off smoothly until we were within two
weeks of the end. Then, one day in April, I got a paralyzing cable from
Dorothy in London. Dorothy had been over for a brief visit during the
Winter, and Mother had presently followed her back to London. She had
not wanted to go—not really. She had not been well for years. Commuting
back and forth across six thousand miles, trying to be with both of us,
had been too much for her. That last time she would not let me go to the
train with her. Dorothy’s cable said that she was dying.

“I cabled and got the latest news of her; she had had a stroke. I said I
would take the first ship I could get from New York.

“I found that by leaving Los Angeles in three days, I could catch the
Majestic out of New York, which would put me in London the last day of
April. It was the 15th that she had been struck down.

“At the studio, Seastrom said that by working day and night we could do
the remaining two weeks on the picture in the three days I had left. I
asked the company if they would stay with me through it, and every one
said yes. They were all so fine.

“We didn’t waste a moment, and during those three days and nights there
was very little sleep for anyone. I remember scarcely anything of the
details, for of course I had Mother on my mind, too. When the last scene
was shot, I made a rush for the train, without stopping to change from
my costume. Mr. Mayer and Mr. Thalberg got special police on motorcycles
to escort me and clear the way, so that I could work to the last moment
and still get the train. Twelve days later I was in London.”

Characteristically, Lillian says nothing of that trip across land and
sea. Miss Moir, less reticent, writes:

  I shall always remember the kindness and sympathy shown her during
  those long wearisome days on the train ... the little Catholic
  girl at Albuquerque who somehow or other managed to find her way
  to our compartment and press into Lillian’s hand a little silver
  cross which she said had been specially blessed and would surely
  bring an answer to her prayers for her mother.

  ... At Topeka, Kansas, when the train pulled in, we noticed that
  the platform was jammed from end to end with people. We supposed
  that they must have come to welcome someone and pulled down the
  blinds in the compartment to escape notice. Suddenly we heard raps
  on the window and calls for Miss Gish. The conductor appeared,
  smiling, to say that all these people had come to see Miss Gish,
  some of them had even driven a hundred miles for the purpose.
  Tired and heartsick as she was, Lillian went out on the platform
  of the train. The moment she appeared, a sudden silence fell on
  the crowd—they just stood and looked at her. Then a woman held up
  a baby and asked her to touch it “for luck.” That broke up the
  formality. They crowded round her, expressing their sympathy and
  good wishes, and they were still in the midst of it when the train
  pulled out leaving them cheering and waving.

  We arrived in New York on the morning of the day the _Majestic_
  sailed. When, late that night we went on board the boat, we found
  our stateroom filled with people all waiting to see Lillian.

  One pleasant young man with an ingratiating smile, insisted upon
  bringing in his girl-friend to meet Lillian, who, tired as she
  was, still managed to smile at them.

In London, Lillian learned just what had happened: Dorothy had been out
to a play, and had come in quietly and slipped into bed without turning
on the light. Mrs. Gish slept in the other twin bed. Presently, Dorothy
felt something touch her. She spoke softly, but got no answer. She felt
the touch again, and again got no answer. The third time, she snapped on
the light. Her mother could not speak—all her right side was helpless.
Fortunately, Dorothy’s bed had been at her left.

With Lillian’s arrival Mrs. Gish improved. Only the day before she had
not been expected to live. She seemed to recognize her—her eyes grew
large. Every paper had displayed in headlines Lillian’s race across the
world to her mother’s bedside, and the English are a kindly people.
Noble and commoner alike came forward with offered help—all ranks knew
and loved her. Cards, flowers, gifts, poured in.

What was to be done next? Lillian must return to California, or cancel
her contract. What must she—what could she—do? Miss Moir tells what

  One night somebody suggested going to a famous little restaurant
  in the Tottenham Court Rd. district for dinner. So Dorothy,
  Lillian and I got into a taxi and drove to it, three very forlorn
  females.... It was over that dinner that Lillian came to what
  seemed at first her preposterous decision to take her mother back
  with her to California, but as usual, she carried her point, and
  within a week Mrs. Gish, with a good English doctor and nurse in
  attendance, Lillian and I, were all aboard the _Mauretania_ en
  route for New York.

  Mrs. Gish bore the journey much better than we had expected and
  the days passed quickly. The morning we arrived at Quarantine
  Lillian and I were sitting up in bed eating breakfast when our
  stewardess rushed in looking quite alarmed, to warn us to bolt all
  the doors as our stateroom was shortly to be stormed by a mob of

Lillian herself told of the hectic overland journey:

“In New York I chartered a private car and took Mother to Hollywood. I
was no longer so poor, and if ever there was a time when I was thankful
for money it was then. Across the blazing southern desert we had tubs of
ice, with fans going over them, night and day. The car was cool, and the
change, or the thought that she was going back to California, which she
always loved, was good for Mother. When we reached California, instead
of being on her back, she was sitting up. But she could not speak—she
knew all that we said to her, but she could not answer, and she could no
longer read. We were told that this condition might last three to six
months. That was five years ago. She has improved a great deal; she can
walk a little, but most of her right side is helpless, and her words are
very limited.

“At Santa Monica we lived in Mrs. Pickford’s house until September, then
moved up to the beautiful Millbank place on the cliff, with a lovely
garden, and all, away from the dampness and the sound of the waves,
which made Mother nervous. On her birthday, September 16, she seemed
suddenly to pick up, and we felt there was a chance for her to get well.

“She does not suffer, but must get very tired of always being obliged to
sit, or lie down. But she is sweet and patient. The nurse and I read to
her, and she enjoys working the picture puzzles, of which she has always
a supply. She likes motion picture magazines. She cannot read them, but
she loves the illustrations—many of them of people she knows. And
always, if the name ‘Gish’ is on any printed page, she can find it.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“The Scarlet Letter” had its première in August, 1926, at the Central
Theatre, New York City. The evening _Sun_ next day, among other things,

  Miss Gish, for the first time in the memory of the oldest
  inhabitant of the cinema palaces, plays a mature woman, a woman of
  depth, of feeling and wisdom and noble spirit.... She is not
  Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, but she is yours and mine, and she
  makes ‘The Scarlet Letter’ worth a visit.

The _Sun_ man’s notice was a fair sample of other printed opinions at
home and abroad. Critics who were anxious to show that they were
familiar with Hawthorne, sometimes worked themselves up over the
departure from the original story, and sometimes “took it out” on
Lillian and Lars Hansen, but generally they had only good things to say
of the acting of these two, of little Joyce Coad and the others, and of
Seastrom’s fine direction. Seastrom had created New England atmosphere
on a Culver City lot, a fact not always suspected. Lillian had hoped
that some of the scenes might really be made in New England, but
Seastrom’s imagination had served as well—perhaps better. No fault was
found here—indeed, very little anywhere. Critics who went prepared to do
their worst, forgot all about it when they saw Lillian in her little
Puritan cap, her expressive back in its little Puritan waist, and
especially when she sat in the stocks, “for running and playing on ye
Sabbath,” leaning feverishly out to drink from the cup of cold water
brought her by the conscience-stricken minister. One hardened critic

  I retire from the field with tears in my eyes and rage in my
  heart, as becomes a cynic betrayed and undone. To consider her
  critically is beyond my powers—she simply annihilates the
  instinct. Of this much I am quite sure: She is a great, a very
  great artist, and by far the most appealing and human little
  figure appearing on the screen today—and the loveliest.

[Illustration: “THE SCARLET LETTER” Miss Gish as Hester Prynne, with the
shadow of Lars Hansen, as Dimmesdale]

Three or four years ago, in a big barn of a theatre in Southern France,
the writer of these pages first saw “The Scarlet Letter” and went home
in a daze, waking up now and then to damn his Puritan ancestors. In the
seat next his, had sat a small, intense Frenchwoman, who, at one point,
had said, tearfully, to her companion: “Regardez, Léontine, regardez son
pauvre petit dos!” (Look, Leontine, look at her poor little back!) And
just now I read a paragraph which said: “Lillian Gish can convey more
pathos with her back than any other actress with all her features.”

I agree with that, and I am not going by my first impression. I have
seen the picture again—very recently, with Lillian, in the New York
Metro-Goldwyn projection room. Association had destroyed none of the
illusion. The effect was the same—heightened.

We left the crash and glare of Ninth Avenue for the comparative
seclusion of a cab. Lillian said, presently:

“I was too immature to play that part. She was a woman. I looked just
like a child.”

“You looked young, certainly, but not too young for Hester—that Hester.
Of course, the real Hester—supposing there ever was one—was not at all
your Hester. She was less—more—what the others were.”

She assented, a little doubtfully. I stumbled on:

“If I might offer a humble opinion, you did not turn Lillian Gish into
Hester Prynne; you turned Hester Prynne into something—well—something
more exquisite.”

“Some of the critics didn’t think so; they said——”

“I know the things they said. I have those scrapbooks, where you
carefully preserved all the worst ones. A critic—a young critic—does not
think he is doing his duty unless he puts a little sting into what he
writes. The cup he offers must have its drop of hemlock, even when he
proffers it on bended knee.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“La Bohême” and “The Scarlet Letter” were popular abroad. From Europe,
from the farthest East, the letters came. Oriental young men, in
exquisite calligraphy and quaint phrase, told her how she was adored,
begged for a photograph, a written line. Some suggested pictures they
hoped she would do—“Joan of Arc” among them.


                     “THE FIRST LADY OF THE SCREEN”

During Lillian’s absence in England, a scenario for a new picture bad
been prepared for her, based on the song of “Annie Laurie,” believed to
have a wide human appeal. All the sets were ready, the costumes had only
to be fitted. The day of her arrival, Lillian went to the studio, and
next day began on the scenes. Lillian and Miss Moir agree that it was a
fearfully hot summer, and that the velvet costumes for Annie weighed
fifteen pounds each. Lillian did not care much for the story, and cared
for it a good deal less when she learned that Bonnie Annie Laurie, for
whom someone had been ready to lie down and die, had, in her later
years, turned into an old gossip. Of course, in the picture, her lover
is a member of another clan, and there is the usual treachery, with a
great deal of confused fighting, and struggling through artificial snow
which, in that deadly heat, just about blistered your fingers when you
touched it. But Lillian was faithful, and did her sweltering best.

One Sunday, Miss Moir, thinking how much it would be appreciated by the
company, “on location,” drove out there with several gallons of
ice-cream. Unfortunately, that day, rehearsal broke up early. She met
Lillian on the road, but two girls couldn’t eat all those gallons of
cream, and for some reason the rest of the company failed to
materialize. They tried to give the surplus away, to passersby, but when
several had haughtily refused, they dropped the rest into a ditch.

“Annie Laurie,” first given at the Embassy Theatre, New York, May 10,
1927, appears to have been well received. As usual, the notices spoke of
Lillian as “lovely,” and “winning,” and “charming,” but they lacked the
enthusiasm of those written of Hester and Mimi, and they were doubtful
of the picture itself.

The reason is clear enough: the tame, or partially tame, Scot of today,
has commendable points; he knows about engines, and Greek, and often
plays a fair game of _gowf_. But the range species of some centuries
ago, was a good deal different—an unprepossessing, evil-smelling, hairy
type, who had clans and feuds and delighted in running off his enemy’s
cattle, or cannily luring him into a cave and smoking him to death, or,
as in this instance, into a castle, to murder him in cold blood. That
earlier Scot was hardly the thing to offer to a delicately-nurtured
picture audience. Even Norman Kerry as Ian MacDonald, even Lillian as
Annie Laurie, could not make him palatable.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian, however, was riding on the top wave. An English company offered
her the lead in “The Constant Nymph”; a great German company offered the
part of Juliet: “Cannot tell you how delighted we should be, if the
remotest possibility”; de la Falaise offered her the part of Joan of
Arc, in a picture for which Pierre Champion, the great French authority
on Joan, had prepared the scenario. To the last named, she replied that
she had long been considering the part of Joan, and put the matter aside
with real regret.

And many wanted to write of her. Whatever she did, or was about to do,
was news. A magazine, _Liberty_, sent a gifted young man, Sidney
Sutherland, all the way to the Coast to see her. He had expected to do
one, possibly two, articles, but his editors asked for more, and under
the general title of “Lillian the Incomparable” continued his
chapters—“reels” as he not inaptly termed them—through nine weekly

On any excuse, and with no excuse at all, other than what it presented,
and stood for, periodicals carried her picture. _Vanity Fair_ published
a full front-page portrait, by Steichen, nominating her “The First Lady
of the Screen.”

Miss Moir says that she was always being approached by lovesick young
men, anxious to find out all they possibly could about the object of
their affections.

  They wanted to know what she ate, what she read, what she did
  after studio hours, what she talked about. I did the best I
  tactfully could to gratify their curiosity, but I well remember
  the look of pained surprise which came over the face of one
  admirer when I told him that Lillian took a cold plunge every
  morning, exercised vigorously and did a really spirited
  Charleston. I suppose this was all contrary to his idea of what
  such a fragile, ethereal being should do.

Flowers were always arriving, enough to start a florist’s shop. And
permanent gifts—anonymous ones, some of them, and of great value: a
large, magnificent fire opal set with diamonds; an exquisite point lace
shawl, so perfectly suited to her personality that the donor must have
had taste as well as an opulent purse.

Photographers were always besieging her to pose for them, and painters.
The latter rarely caught her personality. It was such an elusive thing.
The quick camera was better at it. Frequently, too, she was caricatured,
and it is only fair to say that most of the caricatures were among the
best of the results—strikingly like her: “more like me than I was like
myself,” she said.

She shared her success with those less fortunate—gave freely, money,
advice to young aspirants, help to sister-players and would-be
players—provided jobs for them. One day a girl with a face a good deal
like her own, and the fairy name of Una Merkel, came to see her. Screen
fans know Una Merkel very well today, but perhaps not many know that she
is a poet. One Christmas, in appreciation of what Lillian had done for
her, she wrote and had beautifully printed on a card of greeting, some
verses, two of which follow:

                            TO LILLIAN GISH

             If I could breathe on canvas white my dreams,
             I’d dip my fancy into tubes which held
             Life’s colors—pure, of sheerest loveliness,
             Then—I’d paint—you.

             I’d borrow of the Lily its perfume,
             Of day—the misty beauty of its dawn;
             Then of the world I’d take a tear—a smile,
             And I’d have—you.



There had appeared an anonymous novel (later acknowledged by Dorothy
Scarborough), a tale of sickening horror, entitled “Wind.” It was the
story of a young, refined Southern girl, who goes to Texas in an earlier
day; is made desperate by the wind and blowing sand and hard human
circumstance; marries a rough cowboy; is violated by a man she had met
on the train; murders him and goes mad—a category of black disaster.

It was regarded as fine material for a picture, well-suited to motion
photography, because of the wild, tireless wind—perfect symbol of
motion, and of the fierce action of the story. A director, Clarence
Brown, was highly enthusiastic over the possibilities of “Wind” on the
screen, but a favorable decision might have been less quickly reached
had all the conditions been foreseen. For making the picture was an
experience nearly as desolating as the story. When the studio scenes
were finished, a trek of wagons, trucks and motor busses, loaded with
paraphernalia, an entire company of actors, a big crew of technical
assistants, mechanics, etc., the whole accompanied by eighty mounted
cowboys, invaded the blistering Mojave Desert, in the cause of art.

Mr. Brown, after all, was not to direct. He had been sent off to Alaska,
on the “Trail of ’98,” and could not, it seemed, finish it. Victor
Seastrom was given the direction of “Wind,” and again Lars Hansen was
Lillian’s leading man. Satisfactory as far as it went. They had waited a
long time on Brown—until they could wait no longer. Spring had come. The
Mojave in midsummer was unthinkable. So that big procession one morning
got in motion.

It was May, and it was hot. Arriving at Mojave, the men took up quarters
in a train that had been shunted onto a disused siding—Lillian, Miss
Moir and a few others in a flimsy little hotel, opposite the tracks,
where engines switched and banged most of the night long. It was a
Harvey hotel, which was the best that could be said for it; the food at
least would be good. Cool enough at first, the weather presently became
unbearably hot. Whereupon a new difficulty presented itself: Film
coating melted from the celluloid. No developing could be done with the
thermometer at 120 in the shade. They tried freezing the films, but this
made them brittle, like thin glass. Finally, they packed them, frozen,
and rushed them by special cars to the Metro laboratories, one hundred
and forty miles away, to be carefully thawed out.

And the human misery of it! Miss Moir writes:

  Quivering veils of heat lay over the desert, there was no shade
  anywhere, and a burning wind blew all day long, raising blisters
  on your face, taking every bit of skin off your lips. I shall
  never forget the appearance of the crew during that picture. To
  protect their faces from the sun they all wore a heavy blackish
  make-up while their cracked and swollen lips were covered with
  some sort of white stuff. Add to this goggles, and handkerchiefs
  tied round their necks, and you can imagine that most desperate
  looking gang to be seen anywhere on that desert. When the studio
  executives saw the first rushes they were so horrified at Lars
  Hansen’s unromantic appearance that they ordered the whole
  sequence to be done again and Lars Hansen to appear shaven and
  clean, as they argued that no girl could possibly entertain
  romantic thoughts for such a hairy ruffian.

  The cowboys added interest and excitement to the adventure. Long,
  lean blasphemous individuals, reckless of everything, gambling the
  minute they were not needed for a scene.

To which Lillian adds:

“It was the very worst experience I ever went through. Temperature 120
in the shade. In the sun...? One man burned his hand quite badly opening
the door of a motor. We had eight wind machines, and in the studio, to
match up with the blowing sand outside (supposed to be blowing in the
doors and windows), we used sulphur pots, the smoke giving the effect of
sand blowing in. The sand itself was bad enough, but the pots were
worse. I was burned all the time, and was in danger of having my eyes
put out. The hardships of making ‘Way Down East’ were nothing to it. My
hair was burned and nearly ruined by the sulphur smoke. I could not get
it clean for months. Such an experience is not justified by any

Nature seems to have wearied of their evil-smelling feeble devices, and
one day gave an example of what she could do herself. Miss Moir,

  A few days before we finished the scenes up there it turned cold.
  Towards the end of the afternoon work was stopped by a terrific
  sandstorm. A howling wind, which soon assumed the proportions of a
  hurricane, tore down from the mountains sending the sand whirling
  in dense masses before it. The sky was black and everything was
  obscured by a veil through which we could dimly perceive the
  figures of the cowboys bent forward on their saddles, horse and
  rider braced against the oncoming fury, making for camp. There was
  an extraordinary beauty about the scene, as Lillian and I stood
  for a moment and watched it before getting into the car, and I
  could appreciate the feeling in her voice when she said “Oh, how I
  wish Mr. Griffith was here. How he would have loved to photograph

  All night long the storm raged while our shaky little hotel
  quivered to its foundations. As we lay in bed trying vainly to
  sleep, we could see the flimsy walls of the hotel bending before
  the onslaught, and in the morning the room was full of sand which
  had leaked in through every crevice of the ill-built structure.

This was exactly what they had come up there to produce, but apparently
they made no use of it. One remembers Griffith waiting for the blizzard
in New England, and echoes Lillian’s heartfelt utterance. The day had
come when Nature’s effects were no longer in favor—were even resented,
as an imitation; and one who has seen the picture must confess that
those eight wind machines were not easily to be outdone.

The most depressing of Lillian’s films, “Wind,” is one of the
best—beautiful in its sheer ferocity. Nemirovitch Dantchenko,
distinguished manager, playwright and producer, of the Moscow Art
Theatre, being then in Hollywood, after a preview of it, wrote as

  I want once more to tell you of my admiration of your genius. In
  that picture, the power and expressiveness of your portrayal begat
  real tragedy. A combination of the greatest sincerity, brilliance
  and unvarying charm, places you in the small circle of the first
  tragediennes of the world.... One feels your great experience and
  the ripeness of your genius.... It is quite possible that I shall
  write [of it] again to Russia, where you are the object of great
  interest and admiration by the people.

[Illustration: “WIND” Letty, burying the man she had killed]

For some reason, “Wind” was not released until late in the year. When it
finally appeared, the time for it was brief—the talking picture was
ready to invade the land—but that story—a sad one—we shall come to a
little later.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Lillian’s last silent picture, “The Enemy,” a war picture, laid in
Vienna—not very startling—closed her two-year contract with the Metro
company. She was to have made six pictures, but they were unable to give
them to her. Both sides were satisfied, however, and parted on the
pleasantest terms. Only too gladly, Lillian would have made another
picture, had conditions been otherwise. The company on its part had no
word of complaint, even paid her for one day extra time, something over
a thousand dollars, a complete surprise, for she had taken no account of
that day.


                          GOOD-BYE, CALIFORNIA

On the whole, in spite of “Annie Laurie’s” burdensome velvets, in spite
of Mojave’s sulphur blasts and blistering sands, it had been—or, but for
her mother’s illness, might have been—a happy as well as a profitable
two years. Mimi and Hester Prynne had been worth while. “Wind” had been
an artistic triumph.

Miss Moir, very close to Lillian during all this period, has left a
series of impressions and incidents not directly connected with her

  I remember the first time I saw her at the Ambassador Hotel, New
  York, she struck me as a person of perfect poise and great charm
  of manner in which there was something almost childishly
  appealing. In many ways she is a paradox. She gives the impression
  of helplessness when she is really the most resourceful person I
  know. You think sometimes that she is weak and easily led, and
  then you suddenly come up against an inflexible will and an iron
  determination to do what she has set her mind on doing.

  Then another picture comes into my mind as I often saw her at
  parties, sitting uncomfortably in the quietest corner she could
  find, talking generally to some elderly person until the time came
  to go home, where she always went as soon as possible.

  Her hands are expressive of her whole personality, delicately
  modelled, yet with a look of latent strength and capability about
  them. She uses them beautifully.

  She has no fidgety movements. She is one of the few women I know
  who have learned the art of perfect stillness.

  She loves fortune tellers, though she doesn’t take them seriously
  and generally forgets what they have told her, five minutes after
  leaving them.

  Our entire life in California on looking back, seems to have its
  centre in the room where poor Mrs. Gish sat, patient and
  speechless, looking forward to the moment when Lillian would get
  back from the studio. On her Birthday morning her room was so
  crowded with presents it looked like a giftshop. She was delighted
  with everything, and seemed to take a turn for the better from
  that day. Until then she had seemed to be losing interest in
  life—slipping away from us. Having once aroused her from this
  lethargy Lillian’s whole endeavor was spent on keeping her mother
  amused. She was constantly coming home with some lovely thing for
  her—a pretty bed-jacket, a taffeta quilt for her bed, an exquisite
  set of china for her breakfast tray.

  Mr. Mencken came for dinner one Sunday night. I remember we were
  all a little bit worried about entertaining such a distinguished
  guest, but we needn’t have been because he seemed to enjoy
  everything with the zest of a schoolboy.

  I have somewhat different memories of the night Mr. Hergesheimer
  came to dine. Dinner was set for 7:30; Mary Pickford and Douglas
  Fairbanks arrived, but no Mr. Hergesheimer. Half an hour and then
  three-quarters of an hour went by—still he did not appear. Finally
  the telephone rang and a desperate voice called over the wire. It
  was Mr. Hergesheimer: somehow or other he had gone to the house
  which Lillian had rented the previous year, and had been unable
  sooner to locate her present abode. He arrived quite out of
  breath, an hour late, and considerably disturbed.

  One of the pleasantest recollections I have of California is the
  evening Lillian and I went to a “bowl” concert just a week or so
  before coming East for good. It was a night of brilliant
  moonlight, unusually warm for that climate and perfect for a
  concert in the open air. I remember as we drove homeward after it
  was all over, that we talked of our years together in California,
  of all the drama and comedy we had shared there, and agreed that
  it hadn’t been such an unpleasant time after all.

Then, presently, they were off for New York; Lillian, her Mother; the
nurse, Miss Davies; Miss Moir; John, the poll-parrot, which they had got
twelve years before at Denishawn; two dogs; three canary-birds, and a
bus-load of hand luggage.

As usual, Lillian had worked up to the last minute, had made one or more
scenes of “The Enemy” the morning of her departure. Little she guessed,
when she walked out of the studio, that those were the last scenes in
silent pictures she would ever make, that all unsuspected, another
beautiful craft was about to be relegated to that limbo of outworn
things which holds the painted panorama and the wood engraving. During
fifteen years, she had been a unique figure in an industry which she had
watched grow, almost from infancy, to a mighty maturity, and which was
now at the moment of dissolution. That Lillian did not see this is not
surprising, but that the great producers, with ears supposedly close to
the ground, their research departments always alert, should have taken
so little account of the warning voices (literally that), is

                  *       *       *       *       *

Of Lillian’s pictures, I believe there are three on which her screen
fame rests. In many there are distinguished scenes: in “The White
Sister,” for instance; in “Romola,” in “Wind,” and in “Way Down East.”
But of those which were consistently good, I should name, in order,
“Broken Blossoms,” “La Bohême” and “The Scarlet Letter” as those for
which she will be longest remembered: and this because of their
exquisite beauty and their suitability to her special gifts.

As to what Lillian did for the picture world, I am troubled by a lack of
knowledge. There are moments when it would seem that very little has
been done for it, by anybody. I suspect, however, that she did more than
now appears. She had a wide following among the picture players, to
whom, through example alone, she must have taught restraint, delicacy—in
a word, good manners. In a hundred pages I could not say more, or wish



Lillian, at the Drake Hotel, in New York was kept busy declining offers
of engagements—ranging from vaudeville through matrimony and pictures to
the so-called legitimate stage. Maurice Maeterlinck wrote to a friend:

  I should be all the more happy to undertake the scenario you speak
  of, in that it concerns Lillian Gish, who is the great star of the
  cinema that, among all, I admire, for no other has so much talent,
  or is so natural, so sympathetic, so moving.[3]

Lillian concluded a contract with the United Artists for three pictures,
to be directed by Max Reinhardt, foremost director and producer of
Europe. The company had a contract with Reinhardt, and it was on their
promise that he should direct her, that Lillian signed with them. Her
plan had had its inception a year earlier, she said, during a visit of
Reinhardt’s to Los Angeles.

“My connection with Reinhardt was this: In 1923-24, I had seen his stage
production of ‘The Miracle,’ with Lady Diana Manners and Rosamond
Pinchot. Morris Gest brought it over, and at the time had asked me to
play the part of the nun. Reinhardt, who had seen something of mine—I
suppose ‘The White Sister’—had suggested this. I could not do it because
of my contract. I was then on the eve of returning to Italy, to make

“I did not meet Reinhardt until he was in California, with ‘The
Miracle.’ With Rudolph Kommer and Karl von Mueller he came out to our
Santa Monica house, for luncheon. Before luncheon we went to the studio
and ran, I think, ‘Broken Blossoms.’ Then, in the afternoon, ‘La Bohême’
and ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ They seemed to please him. He spoke no
English, and I spoke no German, at the time. Kommer served as
interpreter. It was then that Reinhardt suggested that we might work
together. He had never made a picture, but was eager to try. He had
spent thirty-five years in the theatre, and was tired of it. He had
theatres in Berlin and Vienna, the finest in Europe.”

From Kansas City, Reinhardt and Kommer telegraphed:

  Once more we want to thank you for that most fascinating Sunday
  you gave us. We greet you as the supreme emotional actress of the
  screen and hope fervently that the near future will bring us in
  closer contact on the stage and on the screen. Please do not
  forget Salzburg when you come to Europe. We shall be waiting for

Salzburg was Reinhardt’s home, where in an ancient castle, Leopoldskron,
he kept open house, for a horde of congenial guests. Reinhardt and
Kommer had spoken of a picture they would prepare when she came to New
York. Now, at the Drake Hotel, they started on a story for it.
Reinhardt, meantime, had brought over a company and was producing
“Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Danton’s Todt.”

Reinhardt, Lillian said, talked to her about Theresa Neumann, the
peasant miracle girl of Konnersreuth, who on every Friday except feast
days went through the entire sufferings of Christ, the blood trickling
from stigmata on her forehead, her hands and her feet. Nobody but those
who have seen it will believe it, but her case is a very celebrated one,
and has been studied by scientists of Germany and Austria, and of other
countries. Reinhardt believed that a great miracle picture could be
based on the case of Theresa Neumann, and Lillian agreed with him. She
would come to Leopoldskron, and would go to see Theresa Neumann for
herself. “I must do that, of course,” she said, “and familiarize myself
with the lives of the peasantry of which she was one.”

“In April, Mother, Miss Davies and I sailed for Hamburg. We arrived at
Cuxhaven early one morning. Mother had to be carried to the train and to
a private car. Reinhardt was already over there. His secretary met us,
and Mr. Melnitz, head of the United Artists in Germany.

“At Hamburg, we put Mother to bed for two hours. She had been up since
half-past four. Nurse and I had not slept all night. We took train for
Berlin, arriving at six in the evening. I had not realized that Germany
is like America in the matter of news. I supposed we would go in
quietly. Instead, we found the station literally jammed with people, all
trying to get around us. It was terribly hard on poor Mother.”

There were a dozen or two camera-men, and when they found they couldn’t
all take pictures of Lillian, they got around Mrs. Gish, who was in a
big chair carried with poles. She could not tell them that she did not
want her picture taken, and began to cry. When at last they got into an
automobile, all the camera-men and reporters jumped into other cars and
came racing behind, taking pictures all the way to the hotel. During the
next few days, Lillian was too nervous to give more than a few
interviews. Reinhardt comforted her by saying that no artist ever had
come into Germany with such a reception from the press.

At Berlin Lillian consulted Professor Vogt, head of the Kaiser Wilhelm
Institute, supposed to know more than anyone else about cases like her
mother’s. Professor Vogt said he could not do very much for Mrs. Gish,
but warned Lillian that she herself was likely to be headed in the same
direction. He advised that her mother be taken to Doctor Sinn’s
Sanatorium at Neubabelsburg, advice promptly followed. Mrs. Gish
remained there a year.

To Lillian, in Berlin, came this letter:

  O smallest blonde:

  You must not think of any other place but Leopoldskron! Max
  Reinhardt and we all would think that we had failed completely to
  please you. Besides, the hotels are now terribly over-crowded and
  you would be perfectly miserable there. So please, do overcome any
  inhibitions, and come to Leopoldskron! I am expecting your wire
  about train and hour.

  We are just having Anthony Asquith and Elizabeth Bibesco here.
  This means that the whole castle is one flaming song _in gloriam
  Lilliane Gish_....

  I do hope that Professor Vogt will entirely satisfy the
  expectations of your poor mother. My sincerest wishes and regards
  to her ... Schloss Kommer and Salzburg are sending you loving
  greetings. Au revoir! Yours ever,

                                                        R. K. Kommer

“I went to Salzburg,” Lillian said, “to Leopoldskron. Reinhardt and his
secretary, Miss Adler, were on the train, and Kommer was at the station
to meet us. Leopoldskron is a huge place, a little way out of Salzburg,
built hundreds of years ago. I don’t know how many rooms it has, but
only candles were used to light them. I was much impressed when we drove
up to it, and when we got inside. There were ever so many guests,
distinguished persons from everywhere. It is like a great hotel, and has
three dining-rooms. Among the guests, was the poet Hugo von
Hofmannsthal, who had come to work on the story we had planned for our
picture. Kommer got me a maid, Josephine, whom I afterwards brought to

“We worked three weeks on our story, that time; then I went to Paris for
a fortnight, then to Mother at Neubabelsburg. Later I went to
Leopoldskron for another three weeks, to meet Mr. Joe Schenck, who had
come over to hear the story. Frances Marion was in Salzburg by that
time. She said we had a wonderful theme. Schenck also liked it—said we
should get back to Hollywood as quickly as possible, and make it.
Possibly he suspected that something was likely to happen—something like
an earthquake in the picture world. Off there in that corner of Austria,
we never dreamed of it.

“I was anxious to see something of Austrian peasant life at close range.
At Leopoldskron was the artist Feistauer. He himself was a peasant, and
he asked me to pose for him. So we made a bargain. I agreed that if he
and his wife would go with me, I would get a car, pay the expenses of
the trip and he could take us to the part of the country he knew. If he
would do this, I would pose for him. He was quite willing, and we
arranged our party. There were five of us besides the chauffeur:
Feistauer and his wife; von Hofmannsthal’s son Raymond; myself, and
Josephine, my maid.

“It was a wonderful experience. I saw peasant life as I should never
have seen it otherwise. We would stay a day and a night in a peasant
house—huge houses they had, like those in the Schwartzwald, with their
animals in one part of it. Their food was a coarse bread, milk and
potatoes, placed on a kind of framework in the middle of the table. I
was so impressed with it all—different from anything I had ever
seen:—the great room below, the small chambers above. The combined
living-room and kitchen was sometimes very beautiful. The great
cooking-stoves so unlike any I had known. Beautiful, too, because

“We came one day to a house where a man walked out to meet us, carrying
a child in his arms, leading another. I thought he had the most
wonderful face I had ever seen, a perfect Christus. He was followed by
some geese, two dogs and a baby lamb. He came up and greeted us with the
word they use with strangers, ‘Christgott,’ and led us to the house. He
apparently knew Feistauer, but his greeting to him was the same as to
us. We sat down for a little; then he took Raymond and myself through
the house. We were there perhaps an hour in all. When he had gone I said
to Feistauer: ‘If you should ever wish to paint the Christus, I should
think you would use that man. He is nearer my idea of the Christ than
anyone I have ever seen.’ Feistauer said: ‘I have done so, often. He is
my brother!’ Because Feistauer had given up the land to be a painter in
town, he was, in a sense, an outcast, a stranger—no more than any other
of our party.

“It was at the end of my second visit to Salzburg that I saw the miracle
girl, Theresa Neumann—at Konnersreuth. I was on the way to see Mother
again, and stopped off there. She was to be the subject of our picture,
and it was very necessary that I see her. No one is allowed to do so
without special permission. I had letters from the Archbishop of
Regensburg. Josephine, my maid, went with me.

“I found poor, the very poorest, accommodations in the peasant village
where Theresa Neumann lived. She is just a peasant girl herself, the
eldest of eleven children, about thirty years old when I was there.
Hundreds try to see her, but only members of the clergy, or those with
special permits, can get near her on the days of the miracle. There is
no charge of any sort, and her people are very poor, helped a little by
the Church.

“It is the most amazing sight in the world. Her ecstasy begins about one
o’clock Friday morning, and lasts until noon. The wounds, which are
closed and black between times, open, and blood flows from them—from
those on her hands and feet, from the spear-wound in her side, and the
thorn-wounds on her forehead. Tears of blood drip from her eyes, run
down her cheeks, and stain her white gown. I was within three feet of
her, and saw all this. I don’t expect anyone to believe these things,
but I saw them, exactly as I have said, and if it is trickery, it is
beyond anything of the sort I have ever heard of. I asked her to pray
for Mother, and I believe she did. Mother got better, so it may have

“The miracle has been accounted for in many ways, both by skeptics and
believers. The believer, a priest, who talked about it to me, called her
a ‘child of grace,’ which may be as good an explanation as any, if one
knew what it meant. Dozens of books have been written about her. Perhaps
she is all mind, but that seems a poor explanation. It is claimed that
she has not taken food or drink for a number of years. Incredible, of
course, but no more so than the things I _saw_.”


Footnote 3:

  “Je serais d’autant plus heureux d’entreprendre le scénario dont vous
  m’avez parlé, qu’il s’agit de Lillian Gish, qui est la grande vedette
  du cinéma que j’admire entre toutes, car aucune autre n’a autant de
  talent, n’est aussi naturelle, aussi sympathique, aussi émouvante.”


                           THE SHADOW SPEAKS

Lillian left her mother in the sanatorium, where apparently she was
improving, and with Josephine, her maid,—booked as a “fellow artist”
(she was really that, for she would serve as model for Austrian peasant
girls in the picture),—Lillian sailed on the _Île de France_, for New
York. Reinhardt presently followed, with the play itself, which von
Hofmannsthal had completed. Young von Hofmannsthal came as Reinhardt’s
assistant. These two, with Lillian, and Josephine the “fellow artist,”
descended upon Hollywood.

Alas, for the beautiful, silent picture play of “The Miracle Girl of
Konnersreuth.” They were just a year too late!

                  *       *       *       *       *

For now it was that the long-unexpected-inevitable had happened: All in
a brief summer and autumn—in a night, really—a change had come over the
flicker of the photographic dream ... it SPOKE!

The film with a voice—a possibility for twenty years or more—hardly
taken seriously except by the inventors—now, all at once, had arrived.
Rather doubtfully at first—a crude thing, but of instant popularity. The
writer of these pages remembers a fierce summer day in ’28, when he
slipped into a jammed and darkened house on Broadway, and sat on the
floor in a remote corner, fascinated, watching the moving phantoms,
silent heretofore, as they shouted wildly at each other in the _mise en
scène_ of a haunted house. After that, when he heard friends say: “It is
just a novelty—it will not last,” he was not convinced. If he knew
anything at all, he knew better than that. If they could do so much,
they would presently do more. They did. The Warners put out Al Jolson in
“The Singing Fool,” and the doom of the silent film was not only
written, but sounded very loud. The play itself was hardly a classic—it
didn’t need to be. Jolson’s speaking and singing voice was up to
microphone requirements—sound and vision were synchronized. The record
was miles beyond anything attempted before. The “Talkie” had come!

A huge shudder ran through the ranks of movie actors. Many of them did
not even speak English. Many of them did it very badly—provincially,
nasally, flatly, indistinctly, or with an impossible accent. Of those
who spoke it well enough, not all had voices suited to the
microphone—(“Mike,” as they irreverently named it)—they recorded poorly.
Their voices had to be “placed.” Voice culture became a new Hollywood
industry. Some, even, began learning to sing.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was just at this point, late in 1928, that Lillian and Reinhardt
reached Hollywood. The press heralded their coming, recounted the story
of Reinhardt’s life, and distinguished work; how now with a new and
marvelous story, written by von Hofmannsthal in the great castle of
Leopoldskron, for the “first lady of the screen,” he was ready to enter
and electrify the picture world.

Good publicity, but it fell on deaf ears. Jolson HAD MADE the “Jazz
Singer”! Chaos ruled in the studios. A dozen producers who didn’t know
whether they stood on their heads or their heels, shouted that it was
all just a passing fad, but meantime were knocking together “sound
stages” and engaging people who could talk prettily to “Mike,” or sing,
or do anything that would make a convincing noise.

Of course, everyone still believed in the old silent pictures, but
nobody wanted to start one. Those already begun were dropped. Gloria
Swanson, at great loss, stopped a half-completed film.

Reinhardt and Lillian were dazed. Joe Schenck, who in Salzburg had bid
them hurry home to make their picture, now repudiated it—told them to
make a talkie of it. Reinhardt protested, then went into the desert—not
to fast and pray, but to do what Schenck demanded.

No use. He had been working for a year on a silent picture. Now to make
the shadows speak ... impossible. Even the desert ... even fasting and
prayer ... even “The Miracle Girl,” could not accomplish it. He lingered
through the winter, hoping that those who said the talkie was just a fad
were right. Then....

Lillian sighed as she remembered these sorrowful things:

“Hollywood, always more or less mad, was really an asylum. Even Mary was
doing a talkie, ‘Coquette’[4]; Chester Morris was doing another ‘Alibi.’
Nobody was doing our beautiful old silent pictures, any more. Everywhere
you heard the hammering of workmen building sound stages. Then—with
Spring—Reinhardt returned to his neglected theatres, to his castle at
Salzburg. It had been a great loss to him. I was not responsible, for he
had signed his contract with United Artists before I had, but I felt
terrible over it. He never blamed me, or was anything but fine about it.
I did not see him again until last Summer (1930), when I was in Paris.
We spoke of the pity of it all—his coming at the wrong time, when it was
too late—too late and too early. Another year, and he might have been in
the mood for a talkie. He had really come on a sincere errand. Most of
those who come, come just for the money in it. He had come for a finer


Footnote 4:

  Lillian herself was more or less responsible for “Coquette.” In a
  letter of Sept. 17, 1928, Mary wrote her: “I remember, dear, you were
  the first to tell me to do ‘Coquette.’ If it turns out well, it will
  be the second time in my career that you have helped me bridge a
  difficult place.” Lillian’s suggestion, however, had been, of course,
  for a silent picture.


                          ON THE FLYING CARPET

Lillian looked out of the window of the den, on the boats passing up and
down, perhaps reflecting a little on the uncertainty of human

“I have one bright memory of that gloomy Spring,” she said presently.
“One morning in March, while Reinhardt was in the desert, Douglas
Fairbanks called me up, and asked:

“‘Are you game to do something?’

“‘What is it?’ I said.

“‘Never mind; are you game to do it?’

“‘Are you and Mary going to do it?’

“‘We are.’

“‘Well, then I will.’

“‘All right. We’re going on a plane to have a look at the war in Mexico.
Will you go?’

“‘I should _think_ so. When do we start?’

“‘Right away, as soon as we can get ready.’

“I went up to Pickfair, to see Mary as to what we were to take. We met
at the studio about eleven o’clock, drove to the Glendale Flying Field,
and got into what seemed a very big, powerful plane. There were ten of
us altogether: Doug and Mary; Doug’s brother, Robert, and his wife,
Lurie; Mary’s niece (‘Little Mary’); two cousins, Verna and Sonny;
myself, and the pilot and captain. There was plenty of room and we got
off without any trouble.

“But it turned out that our motors were not powerful enough. We meant to
cross the mountains by the San Bernardino Pass, but when we were over
the low first range, we ran into a storm of wind and snow, and our
engines would not lift the plane over the Pass. The snow got so thick
that we could not see a thing in any direction—just a white, whirling
mass. We were likely to run into the mountain-side, any moment. We
rolled and billowed around, three times turning back, and trying it
again. Then the captain, very white, came and shouted into Doug’s ear
that it was madness to go on, that we had better turn back and follow
down the Coast to Mexico. It was impossible, the captain said, to find
the Pass.

“We turned back, and all were relieved. There had been no question as to
the danger. Less than a year later, a big plane with a party was lost up
there, dashed against the mountain-side.

“The weather was better as soon as we got away from the mountains, and
along the Coast was fine. At Agua Caliente, Mexico, we ate dinner and
spent the night.

“We telephoned for a larger plane, and a big Wasp came down. All got
into it except Robert Fairbanks, who said he knew when he had had
enough, and that the day before had satisfied him. We left about eleven
o’clock. For some reason, we did not take much along in the way of food,
and about three P. M. our crowd began to look rather poorly—hungry and
seasick. Even Douglas shushed Mary when she started to tell her
troubles. He had a greenish look, and not at all his usual high-hearted

“We got to Phoenix, Arizona, about five, starved, and went to the
beautiful hotel. They lodged us all in one bungalow, and immediately we
called loudly for tea and sandwiches. We spent the night there, left
around nine, next morning. We flew to Grand Canyon—not really to the
Canyon, but to the nearest flying field, and drove to the Canyon by
motor. There we took a long walk along the rim, and looked down on the
Canyon in the evening light, one of the strangest and loveliest and most
impressive sights in the world—really sublime.

“Next morning, we motored back to the plane and headed Westward. We got
hungry, but there seemed no good place to stop for luncheon. All we
could see were poor little Mexican or Indian villages, in the desert.
Finally, we got to Las Vegas, and after luncheon flew homeward, over the
mountains we had been unable to cross when we started, dropping down
into the San Fernando Valley at sunset, as on a magical flying carpet.
We had had four beautiful days. We did not see much of the war, though
at one place in Mexico we saw smoke, and thought we heard the sound of
distant firing. Douglas had believed it unwise to go any nearer. We
might be taken for spies, and pursued—even brought down. After all, war
was not what we really cared to see.”


                          “ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT”

It is difficult to realize the size of the catastrophe resulting from
the sudden production of talking pictures, even of pictures with “sound
effects,” as many of them were, at first. Some of them really
talked—better, or worse, than others. No matter; every picture theatre
in New York, and most of them on the road, were presently being “wired
for sound.” All the millions (possibly billions) of dollars’ worth of
silent pictures, shrunk in value at a ghastly rate. The Eastern
Hemisphere, the only market for them presently, was comparatively
unimportant. Hundreds of pictures were useless; picture players found
themselves “out of a job.” Stars began to pale and disappear.

On the other hand, ill as was the wind, it dispensed benefits. Stage
players out of employment found market for their trained speech. Their
feet warmed the way to Hollywood. A good many were already there. As the
months passed, the screen showed more of the old familiar faces.
Broadway to the rescue. Even the great succumbed. George Arliss, master
of diction, joined the procession, Ruth Chatterton—eventually, Lillian.

Not willingly. She still believed in the silent film. She had objected
even to the lip movement, the simulated speech insisted upon by the
directors. To her, the perfect picture must be pure pantomime—with
music—appropriate music, as in “Broken Blossoms.” It would never be
that, now. Beautiful Evelyn Hope was dead. There is no help for such
things. Tears, idle tears. Since the beginning of time, grief has never
repaired a single loss. One might as profitably wail over the sunken

She still had her contract with the United Artists, and by its terms
must make at least one picture before she could cancel it. She had hoped
to get out of it altogether; but while it did not mention talking
pictures, she was advised to abide by the terms.

“It would involve me in a suit with the United Artists, and I had had
suits enough. As it was, I barely avoided another: The company had
agreed to let me do Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Strange Interlude,’ if I could get
it for a reasonable sum—I could have it to take the place of the
Reinhardt picture. I came East in April (1929), to see Mr. Madden,
O’Neill’s agent. I could have it for $75,000. This suited Mr. Joe
Schenck. It suited Mr. O’Neill. We had the papers drawn up. I was to
sign them that morning, and it was only because I was protected by an
angel that I didn’t do it. On that very day, a woman brought suit
against O’Neill, for plagiarism. Had I signed that contract, I should
have been involved in the suit. She was beaten, and had to pay costs,
but the damage to O’Neill was more than that, in fees.

“Meantime, Dorothy had gone to Germany and brought Mother to London.
Mother was tired of sanatoriums and hotels. She wanted a home, and I
decided to have one. I joined them, and Dorothy and I went to Paris, to
collect furniture for an apartment. I had most of it made, copies of old
French pieces.

“I came home in August, and all through that month looked for a place to
live. It was a terrible search in the heat. When I saw this apartment,
with its outlook on the river, its quiet air and sunshine, I knew that
it was what we wanted.

“My friend, Mr. Paul Chalfin, kindly looked after the decoration, and I
started at once for California, to do the picture we had selected, ‘The
Swan.’ This was during the latter part of September, 1929. The apartment
would not be ready before November.”

In California, Lillian lived with Madame de Grésac, at Beverly Hills.
There was just then a good deal of talk about kidnapping, and she was
advised against living alone. Josephine, her Austrian maid, had remained
in Los Angeles, but met her at the station, with flowers and tears.

Careful preparation for “The Swan” began. Lillian was admirably suited
to the rôle, that of the fair Princess Alexandra, her voice quality and
diction needed only slight adjustment. Melville Baker had written the
script for “The Swan,” adapting it from his translation of the original
play by Ferenc Molnar. She thought very well of it, and hoped for the

She wrote Reinhardt of her decision, and received a gracious reply. Both
artistically and from the business point of view, it (“The Swan”) ought
to be a success, he said, and added:

  In spite of all those rather disagreeable experiences I had to go
  through in Hollywood, I have kept the time I spent there in most
  agreeable remembrance. To have been together with you, your
  undeviable artistic spirit, blossoming there like a rare lonely
  flower, and the pureness of your conviction, made me happy and
  will remain for me an unlosable experience for all time to

Making a picture now was a different matter from those very recent old
days. Then, a set where action was in progress, was about the noisiest
place on the lot. Stagehands and various bosses shouting to one another,
the director shouting at the players—noise, noise, no end to it. Now,
all was silence. Every sound, even the feeblest rustling, was recorded
by the microphone. Except for the actors, their laughter, their
breathing, the accessory beat of rain, or hail, the stillness was
perfect. The sound stage was a padded cell.


“With the preparation and all,” Lillian said, “I worked about three
months on ‘One Romantic Night,’ as they called the picture later. Mary
Pickford has a bungalow on the lot, and lent it to me. I used it as a
dressing-room, sometimes I slept there, when I had to be on the lot very
early. I had Georgie, my dog, and Josephine. It would have been well
enough, but they were building soundstages all about, which made a great
deal of noise, all night long. It was a complete little house. Josephine
cooked for me when we stayed there.

“I arrived in New York Christmas morning, with a wild turkey, which I
got in Arizona. It had been brought to the train by some friends of a
little girl who had done my hair out there. They had often sent turkeys
to me, to California. It was all dressed, and all the way across the
continent, cooks on the diners kept it in their refrigerators. They were
very much interested.

“We had dinner in our new apartment, our first real home. Mother was
delighted with it, and has seemed better and more contented ever since.
Her pleasure in it makes us all so happy.”

“One Romantic Night” was a photographically beautiful picture, with a
distinguished cast. Lillian, as Princess Alexandra; Rod La Roque, as the
Prince (sent, against his will, to woo her); Marie Dressler, as her
designing mother; Conrad Nagel, as a tutor, in love with Alexandra; O.
P. Heggie—altogether a fine company.

Yet it has been called a poor picture, and Lillian today is not proud of
her part in it. It was by no means a failure. Never had she looked more
lovely. No longer a victim of tyranny, brutality and betrayal, but a
Princess, as rare as any out of a fairy tale, with a palace and a rose
garden and suitors, with a lilting, perfectly-timed voice, Lillian
appeared to have come into her own. Her acting and beauty furnished no
surprise, but her voice and laugh did; she had been silent, and sad, so
many years. The audience followed her through a presentation, in itself
seldom more than mildly exciting, and not always that. The tutor’s
astronomy at times wearied, not only the Prince, but, unhappily, the
audience. Marie Dressler’s broad comedy was highly amusing, but there
were moments when one got the impression that the play was not only very
light comedy, as apparently it was meant to be, but a good farce gone

Only, that fairy princess in the rose garden—on a terrace under the
stars, or leaning from a balcony to her Prince, was not quite farce
material. And the ending helped: the Prince and Princess, in a properly
ordered elopement, in quite a royal car, swinging under the castle
walls, out of the picture, into the night, to the notes of a marvelously
musical klaxon, added a touch that brought the story back to the realm
of pure romance, leaving a lovely impression.


                               PART FOUR


                             “UNCLE VANYA”

It was at the end of May, 1930, at the Rivoli Theatre, New York City,
that Lillian was presented in her first, probably her only, talking
picture. For during those months since she had finished it, something
had happened—something of epochal proportions: she had _returned to the
stage_! A block down Broadway, in 48th Street, at the Cort Theatre,
since April 15, she had been appearing six nights and two afternoons a
week, as Helena, in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”

It had all come about naturally enough. When it became known that
Lillian Gish was closing her contract with the United Artists, proposals
arrived plentifully. The distinguished Russian manager, director,
author, Dantchenko, wrote that he had begun a story with her especially
in mind; Basil Rathbone sent a manuscript and wrote: “I need not say how
happy I should be to do a play with you, a privilege denied me even in
my very own play, ‘The Swan.’” A cable from Germany stated that a motion
picture company had been formed of those who believed in Reinhardt, and
that Jannings and all the best of Germany’s artists had signed; that the
first picture was to be “La Vie Parisienne,” by Offenbach—three versions
to be made, French, English and German, Lillian to have the position of
production manager.

But then came an opportunity such as she had hoped for: One day, George
Jean Nathan spoke to her of the actress Ruth Gordon, of how much Lillian
would like her.

“Couldn’t you arrange a meeting?” she asked.

He could, and did. He asked them both to tea, at the Colony Restaurant.

Lillian was not disappointed in Ruth Gordon. They had one love in
common: France. They talked a great deal about that pleasant land, its
beauties, its castles, its wines—especially its wines—one of which in
particular, they both loved, Clos Veugeot. Ruth Gordon said:

“And I know a man who has the same taste: Jed Harris, the theatrical

Someone proposed: “We must try to get a bottle. The first one of us who
finds it, to give a dinner, and invite Mr. Harris.”

Said Lillian, remembering:

“But of course no one could get a bottle of Clos Veugeot, any more. One
day, Ruth telephoned that she had a bottle of Rhine wine, and that Mr.
Harris loved that, too. So we had a small dinner in her apartment, with
Rhine wine and strawberry ice-cream. For the first time, I heard Jed
Harris talk. I thought I had never heard anyone like him. It seemed to
me that he knew the theatre as no one I had ever met. Later, when I went
with Ruth to get my hat, I said: ‘Ruth, he’s wonderful! I’d work for
such a man for nothing.’ Ruth agreed. She had worked for him in ‘Serena
Blandish,’ and told me how fine he had been.

“A few weeks later, George Nathan called up to say that Jed Harris had a
part for me: ‘That’s splendid,’ I said, ‘but do you think I could do

“‘Of course. It’s Helena, in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”’

“I said I would read it over at once, and see if I could do it. I adored
Chekhov, and had a volume of his plays, but it didn’t contain ‘Vanya.’ I
was very excited. For ten years—from the time of working with Victor
Maurel, I had hoped to get back to the stage.”

She ran out to a bookshop, and presently was back, deep in the play. She
thought Helena a hard part—wondered if she could do it. Her stage work
lay far behind her—really counted for little, though for more, perhaps,
than she realized.

This was at the end of February, or early in March. Almost immediately,
they went into rehearsal. Jed Harris had selected a well-nigh perfect
cast. With Walter Connolly in the title rôle, the tired, tearful,
disillusioned Vanya; with Osgood Perkins, as Astroff, the hard-riding,
hard-drinking, disillusioned doctor; with Eugene Powers, as Serebrakoff,
the ailing, fat-headed, city professor; with Lillian, as Helena, his
young, beautiful, disillusioned wife; with Joanna Roos, as Sonia, his
unhappy, love-lorn daughter; with Kate Mayhew, as Nurse Marina; with
Isabel Irving, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Harold Johnsrud—one must travel
far to find a group of players better suited to a Chekhov play, or one
more congenial to work with. Ruth Gordon was not in the cast, but she
came to Lillian’s apartment and worked with her. So did Mr. Harris. They
believed in her, and encouraged her to believe in herself.

Going back to the stage had its difficulties. For one thing, it had been
seventeen years since she had appeared before an audience, and then had
never played a leading part. The audience did not matter so much—she had
never been audience conscious. But the rehearsing. In the pictures, the
scene was shot, the film developed, and put on the screen for judgment,
all within a brief time. If unsatisfactory, it could be made over, and
over again. Furthermore, it could be “edited.” Now, it was all quite
different. You could not see how well, or how badly, you had done a
thing; you only knew what the director told you.

She had moments of misgiving. Perhaps it would have been better,
certainly safer, to remain in the pictures—even the talking pictures
that had offended her as incongruous. They were new, crude—Arliss in his
“Disraeli” had taken a long step towards something that, in the end,
might mean, if not perfection, at least something as near it as the
silent film had reached. Oh, well....

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was in New Haven, on the evening of April 6 (1930), that the curtain
went up on Lillian’s first night in “Uncle Vanya.” She was nervous,
after all. The moment came when Helena enters, merely to drift
voicelessly across the stage. There was a burst of applause from the
audience—she was not prepared for that, and was almost as frightened as
on that long-ago night of the explosion at Risingsun. She quickened her
step, quickened it still more—was almost running, at the exit. Jed
Harris still gives amusing imitations of this first entrance across the
threshold of her new-old career.

Never mind—it was a success. The leading New Haven paper, which never
before had given an editorial to a theatrical performance, gave one next
morning, to “Vanya.” Professor William Lyon Phelps invited her to
luncheon, and was full of enthusiasm. He had seen nothing, he declared,
since Mary Anderson, to impress him so much as Lillian’s Helena. He
wrote a letter to the “People’s Forum,” calling the public’s attention
to the play.

All very gratifying: To Lillian, however, one of the most satisfactory
features of her new venture was the absence of the money element—always,
after the Griffith days, a foremost consideration. The word “salary” had
never been mentioned between her and Mr. Harris. She did not even know
what she was to have until she got her envelope at the end of the week.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a gray afternoon, in the little den which has become so much a
part of our story, that Lillian recounted these things. She owed a heavy
debt to Ruth Gordon, she insisted, and thought of Helena as “Ruth’s

And just here came one of those coincidences which are always being
popped into plays and stories. In another room, the telephone rang. A
maid appeared at the door.

“Will you speak to Miss Gordon?” she said.


                           HELENA IN NEW YORK

The New Haven Register, after commenting on the “superb piece of staging
done by Jed Harris, and the quite indescribable beauty and magic of
Lillian Gish’s performance as Helena,” spoke of “Uncle Vanya” as “surely
one of the few really great plays in existence ... a richly polyphonic
drama, in which one watches the drift and flow of human life as one
listens to the different voices in a Bach fugue.”

True enough, though “Uncle Vanya” is hardly a play at all, but a
succession of incidents with no more plot than a picture, which is
precisely what it is—a tapestry of exquisite workmanship, a cartoon of
human futility—in this case, on a Russian farm.

Mark Twain once wrote:

“God, who could have made every one of His children happy ... yet never
made a single happy one.”

Chekhov might have taken that as a text for any of his plays. In
“Vanya,” no one of the characters is even passably happy, except Marina,
the nurse, and Marina’s happiness lies in strong tea and hope in the
hereafter. All the rest are actively _un_happy, especially Vanya
himself, who is hopelessly in love with Helena, wife of a querulous
egotist twice her age—Helena being a little in love with “the Doctor,”
who is drinking too much, himself heedless of the love of Sonia, who is
too good for him, and breaking her heart for him, and is about the
unhappiest of all. The late R. K. Munkittrick, of Puck, had a poem
beginning: “All the house is full of sorrow, all the house is full of
gloom”; the rest of it will not bear quotation, but in its entirety, it
would make a typical Chekhovian chant. Chekhov’s houses all were full of
sorrow—the pathetic gloom of thwarted human ambitions and desires, of
blasted human ideals. Like any of us who happens to think about it,
Chekhov did not at all know whether life was a tragedy or a comedy, so
he called his plays comedies, and laughed them off on us, letting the
tragedy take care of itself, and sink in, and add itself to our own, to
make certain that we had our share. And in doing this, he created
pictures of which, as the Register remarked, “one is forever thinking:
‘These things cannot have been written, they must have been lived.’”
With the possible exception of “The Cherry Orchard,” “Uncle Vanya” is, I
should think, the choicest of Chekhov’s tapestries, and the part of
Helena, the subtlest example of his artistry.

Certainly, no rôle could have been better suited to Lillian. Helena’s
beauty, her elusive, eerie personality, her mild, impersonal attitude
toward much of what went on about her—it was as if the part had been
created for her, or she for the part. It is the advent of Helena, and
her gouty, insufferable husband, Serebrakoff, that is the catastrophe of
the play—a calamity, in Astroff’s phrase, as definite as the ruin
wrought by a herd of elephants—and misses being complete only because
Vanya’s attempt to shoot Serebrakoff hurries them away. There is no
special reason why sympathy should be with Helena, except that she is
beautiful, and indifferent, and only passively to blame for the trouble
she causes, and for the fact that she is bound for life to the
bewhiskered Serebrakoff. Perhaps that is enough; perhaps the fact that
Lillian played the part had something to do with it. The scene between
the two, which opens the second act, is one of the high spots in the
play. The contrast between Lillian in a canary-colored dressing-gown,
her splendid hair loose, and her trumpery husband, reveals an entire
epic, as tragical as any in the human story; and wherever the blame may
lie interests the audience not at all, the chief desire being that the
whining old human disaster may pass away as promptly as
possible—overnight—leaving the lovely Helena and the doctor, or
somebody, to live happy ever after.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was at the Cort Theatre, on the evening of April 15, that “Uncle
Vanya” opened in New York City.

It was the event of the Spring season. A first-night audience in New
York is a different matter from one in New Haven. New Haven being a
university town, a Chekhov first-night audience would be largely
intellectual, with a good sprinkling of picture fans who had “adored
Lillian on the screen.” In New York, there would be all the typical
first-nighters, who get a thrill out of any first night, and especially
where it is the first appearance of a comely lady, famous in a
different, even if kindred, field. Also, there would be the
professionals of stage and screen, each with a very special interest;
and all the Chekhovians, some of them doubtful and critical, resolved
not to be carried off their feet by any trick of beauty and spotlight,
but to stand firm for art only; after these, an army of fans, who all
the years had longed to see Lillian perform in the flesh, and, of
course, there would be intellectuals, too—and critics—on the whole, I
submit, except for the fans, a rather hard-boiled audience, one
calculated to put fear into the troubled heart....

But then the curtain went up ... on a Russian garden scene, and
presently, across the stage, floated a vision of loveliness, and all the
fans broke loose. And all the Chekhovians, and first-nighters, and
professionals, and critics of high and low degree, forgot they were
hard-boiled, and broke loose, too, and pounded their hands together long
after the vision had passed, as if they hoped it might return, if only
to bow.

The _Times_ next morning spoke of “the storminess of the greeting at her
entrance,” and Charles Darnton, in his afternoon column, had this to say
of it, and of the play as a whole:

  The applause that greeted her at her appearance not only followed
  her every step of the way but into the wings. Even then it kept up
  warmly, strongly, insistently. For a moment I was seized with the
  sickening fear she might pop into view again, like a grand opera
  singer after an aria, to bow to the tribute. Evidently, the
  audience expected no less of her. But it might just as well have
  expected to call back the Ghost in “Hamlet.”

  The event had its peculiar phase. Walter Connolly was playing the
  principal character, and playing it finely, whereas Lillian Gish
  was appearing in a minor rôle, or what would have been a minor
  rôle in the hands of an ordinary actress. Yet throughout the whole
  performance interest centered in Miss Gish.

  This is said with every consideration for Mr. Connolly. He could
  not help himself. He was as powerless, and blameless, in the
  matter as though he had been playing with Duse. But I couldn’t
  help wondering how he felt about it. Not that I suspected him of
  professional jealousy. It was just that the gods, or Jed Harris,
  had set down an artist touched by genius, and there was nothing to
  be done about it. When Miss Gish again appeared, this time to stay
  and let us hear as well as see her, when the presence of her
  filled the stage like light flooding through a window into a room,
  she was so luminous that the others, including Mr. Connolly, faded
  into the background. Never before had I seen quite the same thing
  done in quite the same way.

  Certainly, she is not a pushing person. Instead of crowding into
  the limelight, she seems always to be withdrawing from it. Yet
  wherever she goes her own radiance follows her and lights her up.
  Try as you may, you cannot get her out of your eye. Just what this
  rare thing is I hesitate to say. But a first-nighter did say to
  me, “She is sublime.”

  Whatever it may be, it is there in the eyes, the face, the hair,
  the voice, the form of Lillian Gish.

True enough, but it was a qualification that in future would make it
difficult for her to get a part in any play having more than one major

Mr. Darnton says that he was assured by Mr. Harris that bringing Lillian
Gish back to the stage was the finest thing he had been able to do in
the theatre, adding: “I am convinced that her performance is one of the
most magnificent things I have ever seen.”

If there was any dissenting voice as to Lillian’s triumph, I have been
unable to discover it. But I think there was none. She had everything
demanded by the part: the personality, the subtle understanding, the
years of training which had equipped her for its perfect interpretation.
Percy Hammond, of the _Herald Tribune_, wrote:

“In future when I am told that association with the films is a
destructive influence, I shall cite Miss Gish’s appearance in ‘Uncle
Vanya’ to prove the contention wrong.”


                       “THE PENALTY OF GREATNESS”

We have reached the point in this narrative where the writer’s personal
association with Miss Gish began. Though long an ardent admirer of her
work on the screen I had never seen her, never made any attempt to do
so. Once, from France I had written urging her to make a picture of Joan
of Arc. I know now that this was an old story to her; many had offered
the same suggestion—the idea had been one of her own dreams.
Engagements, one thing after another, had always interfered. I treasured
the two friendly letters she wrote me about it, but the matter had gone
no further. Now, three years later, back in America, the papers told me
that Lillian Gish was appearing in person and in picture, in Broadway
productions. “Vanya” was playing to capacity, and I do not like buying
seats in advance—something is so liable to happen.

Then, one June day, I found myself on Broadway in front of the Rivoli,
facing the announcement: LILLIAN GISH IN ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT. I learned
that it was continuous, and that there were seats. A very little later,
in the cool dimness, I sat watching Alexandra and Prince Albert and the
others, and for the first time was hearing Lillian speak.

I thought her more pleasing than ever, and her clear, perfectly
enunciated speech was a revelation. I had feared that it might be too
loud, too low, provincial—in some way disappointing. It was none of
these things; it was pure and sweet, and particularly intelligible; the
microphone had recorded every syllable. I sat twice through the picture,
suffering through several program features until it came again.

Once more outside, I was sorry I had not remained longer, for the sun
was a hot glare. Sitting in Fairyland with Lillian was much more to my
taste. I drifted down Broadway, and by chance (apparently), turned into
48th Street.

All at once I stopped: From a large frame on an easel, several Lillians
looked out at me. A moment later, I realized that it was Wednesday, for
a card at the top plainly stated MATINÉE TO-DAY. I was at the entrance
to the Cort Theatre. Some people were going in. I wondered if I could
get a seat. Midweek, mid-June, and a hot day—I would try.

A very little later, from a fairly good, even if fairly warm, angle, I
watched the curtain go up on a Russian garden, where Kate Mayhew was
pouring tea and Osgood Perkins, in semi-Russian dress—that is to say,
tall boots—was marching up and down.

“Take a little tea, my son.”

And so the action starts, and presently Walter Connolly comes yawning
in, the weariest, most lethargic, ill-kempt man the stage has shown this
season. What a contrast it all is to the smart soigné picture around the
corner! Voices outside, and Gene Powers, wearing long whiskers,
enters.... Then—a beam of pure light, a radiance—floats, glides, drifts
across the stage, to a long, and prolonged, salvo of applause ... and
then ... it is not Kate Mayhew and Perkins any more, or Walter Connolly
and sweet Joanna Roos, but Marina and Astroff and Uncle Vanya and Sonia,
figures in a sad, amusing dream—a dream that is real—truth reflected as
in a looking-glass, and one no longer minds the heat, or thinks of it,
or of anything except the figures that drift in and out, and carry on
the dream ... especially the one figure, embodiment of the Chekhov
spirit—that luminous being around which all the others revolve and
bruise their wings. The lines of Astroff: “What does she think ... who
is she ... what is inside her small blonde head? She drifts about here,
mysterious, fascinating us.... She is like a firefly, that arrests our
attention, but gives no warmth, nothing....” And by and by ... hours,
days, maybe—time no longer counts—the futile human dream draws to its
futile human ending, and Sonia’s sweet voice is saying—to Uncle Vanya,
bowed and heartbroken, like herself:

“You have never known what happiness was ... but wait, Uncle Vanya,
wait. We shall rest. Beyond the grave we shall say that we have suffered
and wept, and God will have pity on us. And we shall be happy.... The
wheat fields will be there, and the blue cornflowers ... and the woods
in Spring.” And to the low music of Telegin’s guitar, she adds: “And
those who in this existence did not love us ... they’ll love us ...
they’ll want us ... we shall rest.”

The crowd flows out into the June sunshine, the dream with it ... and
all the way home. Poor Uncle Vanya and Sonia ... one would like to
comfort them ... and, yes, poor Helena...!

This was on Wednesday, as I have said. I think it was on Sunday that I
sent a note to Miss Gish, proposing to write of her. I had given up such
work as too arduous, but it seemed to me that this might be a happy
thing to do—the story of one who had begun humbly, and walked in beauty
and humility to achievement, making the world better and lovelier for
her coming.

I suppose it was a week later that I received a characteristically
simple reply. She expressed willingness to cooperate in the proposed
work, modestly adding: “—if I really deserve it. Whatever I could do in
the way of help, I should do most conscientiously.”

One could rely upon that. Whatever she did was done in that way. She was
on the eve of sailing for France, to visit Eugene O’Neill and his wife.
She would return the last of August; then we could begin.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She returned as planned, but it was not until September 11, at her town
home, Beekman Terrace, at the extreme end of 51st Street, New York City,
that we had our first meeting. Arriving, I was shown into the
living-room, a handsome apartment, one end lined with books. A few
moments early, I stood looking out at the striking East River view, when
she entered.

I had, of course, expected to see a beautiful woman—the woman I had
known in the pictures, and on the stage. Yet when she appeared in the
room—a slender figure, simply gowned in black, simply coiffed, without
make-up—and stood in the drench of light reflected from the river, I
confess I caught my breath a little.

I could not understand it. The actress in her home is so often
disappointing. Her beauty is the beauty of her rôle—of her lines, her
make-up, of the lights—she lays it aside with her part—leaves it in the

Yet it was all simple enough, later: Lillian Gish had never played the
part of a character as lovely as herself ... as her own spirit.

She led the way to the little room overlooking the river, the den with
which we have become familiar—also a place of books. No word of an
agreement, much less of a contract, was mentioned between us. In my
letter I had suggested that the work be done without the idea of gain.
If profit accrued it could be shared. I think neither of us remembered
this—then, or afterwards.

I thought the speaking quality of her voice even more musical than when
I had heard it in the play and the picture. When I mentioned this, she
spoke of the training she had received from Maurel. What I found still
more notable was her refinement of diction. Of Middle-West birth and
early association, it seemed to me remarkable that she had been able to
eliminate practically every trace of sectional usage—no easy matter,
once it is ingrained. I noticed that she pronounced “been” rather in the
English way, though not conspicuously so. It seemed to me that this
woman, whose childhood and girlhood had largely been spent amid
surroundings where purity of diction was indifferently regarded, spoke
about the most satisfactory English I had ever heard.

I mentioned “Vanya”—her utter identification with the part of Helena;
and I asked:

“When one has played many parts, is one ever uncertain as to one’s own

“N-no. The actor has a picture in his mind that he hopes to paint on the
screen or present to the audience. I think he does not confuse it with
his own personality. Of course, I speak only for myself.” And a little
later: “I have always honestly tried to reach a high spot—perfection.
Sometimes I seem—almost—to reach it. But then it was never a personal
thing—a mood—a moment in the play.... Acting in itself is not an art—it
is merely repeating lines and gestures, more or less in the manner of
the director. But to give these things a special quality—to make them
produce a particular mood in the mind of the hearer—to stir something
deep down in the heart of the audience—something not measurable by any
physical law—something fourth-dimensional—that is art, and may become a
very great and sublime one.”

I think it was not altogether what she was saying; I think it was as
much her manner, her look ... her voice; but as I listened, the feeling
grew upon me that she was not quite of the familiar world ... I saw what
Cabell had meant, and Hergesheimer.

“With your voice,” I said, “now that the pictures speak——”

Gently she dissented.

“I do not care for the talking pictures. They seem to me incongruous.
Even the lip movements, to give the effect of speech, seemed to me all
wrong. The silent film at its best was a beautiful thing, and lovely
effects could be produced with it. To make the pictures speak seems to
me a mistake. Oh, I’m sorry I made the ‘Romantic Night.’

“Charlie Chaplin’s picture,” she went on—“I want it to be a success. He
is one of the few who can do what he likes. Mary can do that, too, and
Douglas. None of the rest of us. Yes, the people want the talking
pictures now, but maybe there will be a change. There should be music,
of course. The pictures need music.

“Griffith, in his way, is an artist—too much of an artist ever to be
rich. He has shown the others the way to fortune—he has not travelled it
himself. Nothing satisfied him but the best—completeness. He did not
regard cost. Sometimes in the cause of completeness, he overdid. In
‘Intolerance,’ for example.

“Yes, I have written, from time to time, about the pictures. Not long
ago I did an article for Oliver Sayler’s book, ‘Revolt in the Arts,’ and
I did one on ‘Motion Pictures,’ for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They
sent me a check, which I have kept as a souvenir. It was for twenty-one

She told me some of the happenings of her childhood, half pathetic,
amusing things, over which one hardly knew whether to laugh or weep. I
was not surprised to find that she had a happy, delicate sense of
humor—I have yet to meet anyone worthwhile without it.

She spoke of Mark Twain—of her love for his work, especially
“Huckleberry Finn.” Later, of “Mickey Mouse”: “I could see an entire
show of nothing else.”

She spoke of her mother, her early hardships, her final break. “All
those years of struggle and privation had to be paid for; her capital of
health and strength were exhausted, utterly.”

Her face, in the fading light, reflected from the river, took on an
added unreality.

“This is my favorite part of the day,” she said, and it came to me that
her remark, and the manner of it, removed her a step farther from her
surroundings: that she was, in fact, of Arcady.


                          WORKING WITH LILLIAN

“Uncle Vanya” was to reopen in New York for two weeks at the Booth
Theatre, then it was going on the road—to Boston, to Chicago, to
Pittsburgh, to Philadelphia. There would be rehearsals, but we should
have a good deal of time to work, she said, and would I like to come
again tomorrow? It would be nearly four weeks until she left for Boston.
We could make a good start.

We worked the next day, and the next, and were to have worked on Sunday,
but she was ill when I arrived, and I saw her only briefly, her face
flushed with fever, a light attack of “grippe.” On that day, I first met
that rare woman, her mother, sweet and patient, her face like a
miniature, her hands the daintiest in the world. And then, a few days
later, that princess of comediennes, light-hearted Dorothy, “a bright
flag flying in the breeze,” to whom all the days are good days, all
music good music, to whom all clouds are lined with silver and spanned
with rainbows. The likeness between the sisters, whatever it had been
earlier, was hardly more now than a family suggestion that flashed
faintly at long intervals. They were, in fact, about as different as it
is possible for sisters to be.

Daily we rebuilt the sequence of the years—for Lillian a new occupation
which she entered into with zest. As I have told earlier her “den” had a
wide window that overlooked the East River—a cozy room, with small low
chairs which she loved—a proper setting for her. We almost always worked
there. It is associated with these pages.

Her memory of earlier happenings was vague. We relied a good deal upon
Dorothy, always in childhood with her mother, who had kept her memories
refreshed. To Lillian, those days of wandering had been one like
another—little to look forward to, less to look back upon—mere links in
a succession of one-night stands. Memory and anticipation do not prosper
on that nourishment.

She typified the present. The moment it became the past, it was
blurred—sometimes obliterated. Her interest in tomorrow lay chiefly in
the fact that directly it was to become today. She examined it, she took
it to pieces, in order that she might more substantially rebuild it.
Dreams of a radiant, far-off possibility, interested her but meagerly.
She had grown up without them, or had grown out of the habit of them and
did not miss them any more. I think of her today as a slender figure,
walking through a field of ripening grain, that parts before her, and
closes behind her as she passes along. Her interest in life lies in the
beautiful, exquisite things not far away, and in the welfare of those
about her. She moves steadily forward, her feet firmly set. She is
without envy, or malice, and totally without curiosity. She is, as I
have suggested, apt to forget, but it is never safe to count on her
doing so: More than once I have known her to treasure up some casual,
inconsidered remark, and recall it one day to my undoing.

She was always in quiet good humor, but almost never gay. The spirit of
banter, so riot in Dorothy, was in Lillian altogether lacking. I
remember Dorothy saying to me: “Couldn’t you find a cigarette holder
more complicated than that one?” A remark as foreign to Lillian as toe

Yet her words not infrequently took a quaint turn. Speaking of the many
demands for money that came to her, she once said:

“Three hundred dollars is the amount they usually want to borrow.
Sometimes they pay it back—a little of it—when it is three hundred. When
it is five hundred, it is a gift—they don’t pay any of it.”

And I recall her saying: “Jazz is America’s challenge to the world.” And
again: “The Guild Theatre looks like a library gone wrong.” She
certainly made no effort to say such things, and when she did,
apparently did not notice them at all, and would not have remembered
them a moment afterward. But they were often quite unexpectedly on her

A mystic herself, she believed in mystical things—in telepathy, in
foreknowledge, in visions, in Christian healing. I have already spoken
of her visit to the Miracle Girl of Konnersreuth, and there was a time,
chiefly on her mother’s account, when she devoted herself to Christian
Science,—mind healing, and the like. I was sure she believed in the
efficacy of prayer, though perhaps could not give any clear reason for
it, beyond the general theory that spiritual and physical harmony might
thus be restored. Certainly she was not orthodox, and I was by no means
sure that she was not a pagan—a Sun-, a tree-, a flower-worshipper—that
would be natural, and proper, for a dryad.

“What is your idea of God?” I asked, one day.

“Force, creative power.” A moment later, she added: “The cloud, the
sunlight, that out there, the beggar on the street, myself—all a part of
the great Whole—the Truth Absolute.”

“Mathematics,” I said, “is the only truth—mathematics in the larger
sense, which includes art, music, science——”

But the faith of her childhood was not to be limited to equations. At
luncheon, one day, we discussed the beauty of certain phrases,
especially those of the King James version of the Bible. She mentioned
the comfort and sheer loveliness of the words: “And underneath are the
everlasting arms.”

I agreed, but pessimistically added:

“The ghastly thing about it is, that they’re not there—that this tiny
pellet of a world is a part of no protecting consciousness—is drifting
unheeded through space.”

“But it holds to its orbit—keeps its place in the constellation.
Something sustains it.”

“A law—gravity, perhaps. Nothing that cares.”

“Oh, but there is—the arms are there—I am certain of it.”

She was interested in dreams. “I have dreamed things that happened;
sometimes soon after,” she once said, and added: “I have worked out
scenes in my sleep, and half-sleep, when my subconsciousness had full
control. And I have many times experienced something that I am sure I
had experienced before—possibly in a dream.”

“Science has accounted for that, rather prosaically, I believe.”

“Science is always accounting for things, and then by and by, it
accounts for them again, in another way.”

One day, when I was rather down, she said to me:

“I know all about how futile one’s work can seem—how inconsequential. So
many times last Spring I thought: ‘What am I doing this for? Dressing up
and pretending to be something I am not—selling myself to these people.
‘Vanya’ was a beautiful play, and I loved it ... but to do it publicly.
It was just offering oneself to be seen, for money. I never had quite
that feeling, doing the pictures. The audience was not present; we were
doing the picture primarily for ourselves—at least it seemed so—making a
panoramic painting, on a screen.”

One day I made use of the word “dooryard.” Surprisingly, I found it new
to her, but she liked the sound—the picture it conveyed. “When lilacs
last in the dooryard bloomed,” I quoted from Whitman. She thought it a
beautiful phrase.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the article she had written for Oliver Sayler’s book, I read—as
already she had said to me:

  I do not believe in the sound film. Something very right, very
  true, very precious, was cut short on the verge of its ultimate
  and certain perfection by the intrusion of spoken dialogue and by
  the consequent throw-back of the cinema toward the theatre. The
  silent film was slowly coming into its own as an independent art
  which had nothing to do with the theatre, an art closely allied
  with music, dependent on music, an art which visualized music,
  creating independently to a certain point and completed thereafter
  by music.

But then, one day, she said:

“The silent film came to an end none too soon; it had gone as far as it
could go.”

I looked out of the window, puzzled. A vessel of considerable size was
passing up, toward the Sound. Noticing it, she added:

“I love a ship; any ship; I would go anywhere a ship was going. I never
see one that I don’t wish to be on it.”

“I don’t think I quite understand,” I said.

“About my loving a ship?”

“No, I understand that—entirely. It is what you say of the pictures ...
I can’t quite reconcile it with your article in Sayler’s book.”

“But that was theoretical. What I said just now related to existing
facts. The silent pictures had gone as far as they could go in the hands
they were in ... too far. In the right hands, they might have saved the
world. They spoke a universal language—the only one ever invented. They
could have brought all the nations together ... done away with the
narrow patriotism that childishly celebrates its own country above all
others, that has for its motto ‘My country, right or wrong,’ a sentiment
unworthy of grown-up, enlightened people. Human beings are pretty much
alike, the world over. Difference in language is the chief barrier
between them. With the interchange of films, which all but the blind
could read, I believe these barriers, in time would have disappeared.
Now ...”

“Now ...?”

“The barriers are busily being built up again. George Arliss’s
‘Disraeli,’ a beautiful talking picture, would be practically wasted in
any country but England and America. An operetta has a better chance.
There is a German one on 55th Street that you should see—‘Two Hearts in
Waltz Time’—clean and wholesome, with lovely music. You come away from
it with a kindlier feeling for Germany. Even better were the lovely
silent pictures, with such titles as were needed, in the language of
each country. I know something of that, from the letters that came to
me, from everywhere. Fine, friendly letters. The writers of those
letters could not be our enemies.”


                      “UNCLE VANYA” TAKES THE ROAD

“Uncle Vanya” reopened September 22, at the Booth Theatre, with the
original company, except for the part of Sonia, which was played by Zita
Johann. That Miss Johann is a successful actress has been sufficiently
demonstrated. Yet one could hardly fail to resent any change in the
perfect “Vanya” cast. It did something to the illusion. The scenes
between Helena and Sonia were still lovely, only Sonia wasn’t quite
Sonia any more, but just someone playing her part, pretending. Lillian
was all that she had been—my knowing her had not made her any less the
illusion, Chekhov’s Helena. It was a warm night, but the audience was
good—and appreciative.

When I saw her next day, she reproached me for not letting her know I
was there. A week later, I went again, and this time sent in a card,
specifying my seat. During the next intermission, a boy brought a little

“I am playing for you,” she wrote. “I hope you will think I am not doing
it too badly.” And her kind heart prompted her to add: “God bless you!”

Then after two weeks, they were off for Boston, where they arrived at
perhaps the worst moment in Boston theatrical history. A great military
reunion was there—the streets were a bedlam—all day and far into the
night. Not many could get to the theatre, the Wilbur, and those who
could, were unable to hear the actors for the tumult outside. What an
atmosphere for Chekhov. Lillian wrote me:

  It was such a nervous night. The theatre seemed like a barn to
  speak in, and the noises from the sky and the streets made us all
  wonder if the audience would tell what we were trying to do.

  There are 500,000 strangers in Boston, all of them shouting,
  blowing whistles, shooting, or making some sound to convince the
  world that they are “happy.”

  It is almost impossible to walk on the streets and today no motors
  are allowed within the city limits. Concentration is difficult.
  Just now, they are shooting beneath my window. Yesterday “Sonia”
  came over to rehearse our scenes. We found it impossible.
  Americans are at their very worst in such a mood, it seems to me.

  These are the notices that Georgina cut from the papers. If they
  are bad it is not surprising, as we were far from our best, last

She did not read notices of herself, during an engagement; they made her
self-conscious, she said.

The Boston notices were by no means “bad.” They spoke of the hard
conditions under which the play was produced, the paid-for empty seats,
the perfect cast selected for Chekhov’s picture of human futility. “A
delicately beautiful dramatic tapestry,” the Globe called it, “its
colors subdued and blended, as only master craftsmen can blend.... The
company is superb, and the acting well-nigh perfect.” And the
Transcript, with a full-length three-column picture of her, paid a just
tribute to the play and its production. Lillian’s part it spoke of as
“elusive, wraith-like, symbol of the unattainable. At the end, like a
spirit of a passing dream, she drifts away, to leave them to their old
problems and their solitude.”

But for a week, the attendance was very bad. Then the visiting military
was gone, and the house filled. It would have been filled for a month
longer, if they could have stayed. But Chicago was waiting.

Lillian was always reading some book on the road. This time she was
re-reading “Wuthering Heights.”

  What a beautiful piece of work is Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering
  Heights.” It sweeps across the page like the winds on the moor
  that she knew so well. From fury to tenderness, with such
  understanding; how many lives had she lived before, to know so

She firmly believed in mental and spiritual growth through
reincarnation. She was convinced that she had lived before—that now and
again, she caught glimpses of a former life. Personally, I was by no
means sure that mere human beings had known a previous existence, but I
was certain that Lillian had. Not a previous existence, but the same
existence, of which the present gave hardly more than a glimpse.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Chicago welcomed her with open arms: she had always been a favorite
there. She wrote:

“They keep me moving as fast as a machine-gun in this kind, friendly
Chicago. But I shall be so happy when I am by the East River, once more,
talking in the little den.”

As for the papers, they could not say enough good things of “Uncle
Vanya,” of Lillian, of the entire company. The _Post_ gave a column of
appreciation. It had a large picture of Lillian, and in part, said of

  If an embodiment were needed of our Siberian spirit from the
  steppes, stalking from East to West, we’d say cast Miss Gish for
  the part—only, make the spirit glide across the stage, as does
  Miss Gish at her first entrance.... “Uncle Vanya,” as presented,
  may not be Chekhov, but it is superbly Lillian Gish—and this
  reviewer, for one, prefers Lillian Gish to Chekhov.

The _News_ spoke of her initial entrance, “Not only as a perfect
entrance for an actress to make out of the half-dream world of filmdom
into the world of flesh and blood, but the whole of Chekhov’s drama in a
fifteen-second gesture.”

Twenty-two years before, Lillian had last “played Chicago,” in a theatre
where one’s dressing-room was in a flooded basement, and one had to wear
a long skirt and high heels to avoid the Gerry officers. Now, the Gerry
officers did not mind any more—the Harris Theatre was beautiful and
well-appointed—one’s dressing-room had the fittings required by a modern
star. And there were flowers in it, and a little heap of notes and
cards—invitations, and requests for interviews. There had been no
interviews twenty-two years ago, and if the critics noticed her at all,
it had been obscurely and briefly, a line in some half-hidden corner.
Now, her picture looked out from every dramatic page, while at the
Goodman Theatre, in the foyer, along with those of Mrs. Siddons and John
Kemble, hung the “Romola” portrait, which Nikolai Fechin had painted,
the only portrait of a living actress so honored. Lillian had known that
following its exhibition in New York, the portrait had been bought for
the Chicago Art Institute, but did not know before that it had been hung
in the Goodman Theatre. Now, she was obliged to go and stand beside it
and be photographed, with a bevy of girls, and the papers published
that, too. And here, in one paragraph, we have a romance as complete as
any to be found in the story books.

It was on November 3, that “Uncle Vanya” reached Pittsburgh, a damp and
heavy season of gloom.

  “Someone dropped my heart into the pit of a coal-mine,” wrote
  Lillian. “I want so to find it, so I can dust it off before I
  reach New York.”

To brighten her stay, and to get material for our work, she brought
“Aunt Emily” down from Massillon, not very far distant.

Pittsburgh was hardly a “Vanya” city, but the newspapers were kind—to
the play and to the company.

Perhaps it was not strange—but only seemed so—that “Uncle Vanya” had its
best houses in Newark, which had been substituted for Philadelphia. I am
told there are a good many Russians there—it may be that Chekhovians and
other cultured ones abound. At all events they did love “Vanya,” there,
and said so, and I shall always hold them in affection for the sake of
Jed Harris and his perfect company, and especially for the sake of
Chekhov, whom a good many people regard lightly, or do not regard at
all. The in-growing life of a Russian farm-house, the tragedy of a
cherry orchard, are meaningless to them, or only amusing. It was amusing
to Chekhov, too, who laughed—a little—that he might not weep—too much.

Lillian was at home again during the Newark engagement, going across the
river each evening and matinée afternoon, unpretentiously by bus, with
tiresome changes. She might have gone as befitted a great star, but she
preferred to go modestly, and, as she thought, more suitably.

And then, presently, “Vanya” was being given in New York again, this
time briefly, at the Biltmore. I saw it twice, there, and the charm of
it did not wane, but grew upon me exactly as the charm of the play
itself, when read quietly on a winter afternoon. It is my conviction
that such another company to play “Uncle Vanya” is not likely to be

                  *       *       *       *       *

The “Vanya” engagement ended at the Biltmore on the evening of November
29, 1930. Following the matinée, Lillian had the company to her
apartment, for dinner. She was as pleased as a child with the prospect
of having them, and the arrangements. A friend had sent in some very
good Italian home-made claret, there was a big turkey, and the tables
were arranged in a T, in the living-room at Beekman Terrace.

Owing to the evening performance, the guests could not remain more than
an hour, but it was an hour to remember. Kate Mayhew beamed on her
younger companions. And when, that night, at the theatre, Griffith came
behind the scenes and greeted her with a rousing kiss, she declared,
later, to Lillian, that it was the happiest day of her life. “Dinner
with you, and kissed by Mr. Griffith! What more could anyone ask?”

Lillian had not seen Griffith for some time. It was a surprise,
therefore, when he came behind, at the end of the performance. It was
something more than eighteen years since the day she had come to find
Gladys Smith at the Biograph studio, and had first seen him, a tall man
walking up and down, humming “She’ll never bring them in.”

What a story of endeavor those eighteen years had told. I have given
many pages to it, but among the “Vanya” notices I find this unidentified
bit which reflects the spirit of it all:

  Lillian Gish, who has ever held high the torch of beauty during
  her entire career as stage and screen star, and with undeviating
  purpose has been representative of the finest and best traditions
  of the theater, adds another triumph to her list of admirable
  achievements. As the ethereal and wistful Helena she is all the
  author could have hoped for. Something more intangible she gives
  to the rôle than her delicate loveliness, her undeniable charm and
  the richness of her experience as a sincere and gifted actress.


                           RELIVING THE YEARS

It became our custom to work two afternoons a week—Tuesdays and Fridays,
and on the hour I found her always ready. Whatever engagement she made,
she would keep it; whatever promise, even a partial one. I think she was
born with that conscience, and the years of rigid picture appointments
had kept it in repair. Griffith had said to her: “You, as the star, must
never fail to be there. The others will take their cue from you. _You_
must be on time.” And she always had been on time, and ahead of time.
Once, by a lapse of memory on my part, I missed an appointment when we
were to see one of the old pictures together. If she had scalded me with
censure, I should have felt better—if she had even shown a little
irritation, instead of anxiously helping me to find excuses, I could
better have borne it. Five minutes later, it had passed from her memory,
but it refuses to pass from mine.

We saw a number of the old pictures, that winter, as has appeared in
earlier chapters:

Lillian, in “Broken Blossoms,” the picture that had made her the
“world’s darling” and is still today recognized as the highest point
touched by the pictures, for beauty and artistic perfection. I insisted
on seeing this picture twice, for it seemed to me her masterpiece. From
the moment she enters the picture, her whole attitude, her face, her
hands, her feet, her bowed shoulders and bent back—every part and
feature of her, tell her crushed, stunted, trampled life.

Of course, her wistful beauty added to the pathos of it all, but Lillian
without beauty—if one can conceive that possibility—would have achieved
a triumph. When she crosses the street, stoops to pick up the tin foil
which she gathers to sell, looks into the shop window, touches the
flower she wants, one’s heart turns fairly sick for the broken child.

She had not wished to play the part, because it was of a child of
twelve. “I wanted Griffith to get a girl of that age.”

“But a girl of twelve could never have done it.”

She did not answer, only mentioned that she had been ill at the time.

“Do you consider it your best picture?”

She hesitated.

“If not, what would be your choice?”

Again she hesitated, then:

“‘White Sister,’ perhaps.”

We saw that, too, and “Romola,” and poor little Mimi, and Hester Prynne,
made when Lillian had become, beyond all question, “First Lady of the

It was toward the end of March that we saw the last of her great silent
pictures, “Wind.” The motion picture had arrived at mechanical
perfection when it was made. It was one of the several “swan songs” of
that ill-fated year. I thought it a remarkable picture—beautiful in its
stark _un_-beauty. It only seemed unfortunate in that it presented the
most sordid of human aspects against a background of wind-cursed wastes.

Lillian watched it almost without a word. I think she approved her part
in it, and why not? Technically, she was at her best. We drove home
rather silently.

“It was the exact opposite of ‘Broken Blossoms,’” I ventured to say.

“You mean ...”

“That _that_ was sheer beauty, while this——”

“But this had beauty, too, don’t you think?”

“Great beauty. The illusion of blowing sand ... Letty’s cumulative
terror of it—those were classic things. But I cannot imagine going
through the torture of seeing it again. The ending didn’t save it.”

“No. I wanted it to end with her complete madness ... with her rushing
out into the wind ... vanishing in the storm. They wouldn’t let me.”

“They thought they were giving it a happy ending.”

“I suppose so.”

We saw one more picture after that, “The Enemy,” her last silent film,
and our winter was at an end—a winter during which, by a form of
“eternal recurrence,” exactly symbolic of Ouspensky’s “duplicate
reincarnations of the past” I had watched her relive the years, change
from the young girl who had played Elsie Stoneman to the mature and
finished actress of “Wind,” of “One Romantic Night,” of Chekhov’s

And in watching I seemed to guess something of her secret. Chiefly, as I
believe, it lies in the fact that she does not do violence to herself by
making herself over into the part she presents. She studies the
environment, the period, the hundred contributing details of the
situation, then lives her part in the play as she might have lived it in
reality. She takes on the psychology of it—what she conceives to be
such—and in some subtle fashion, fuses it with her own. Always, it is
Lillian who is playing, and always you want it to be Lillian, just as
all those people she has played—Hester Prynne, Mimi, the White Sister,
poor little Lucy Burrows, and Helena—would wish to be Lillian, if they
could see her in their parts. And the nearer they could be like her, the
better White Sister and Hester Prynne and Helena and the rest, they
would make. I am not saying that hers is the best dramatic method—my
equipment does not warrant that positive statement—I am only saying that
the effect she gives us is not of acting, but of life itself.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes I feel that I have dwelt overmuch on the subject of Lillian’s
beauty; again, I feel that I have said very little. It is such a
tremendous thing when considered in its relation to her material
being—such a baffling thing. She is not richly proportioned. In height
five feet four and one half inches, her weight is one hundred and ten
pounds. True, her slender feet are small, her limbs shapely; but her
arms are full long, her expressive hands rather large, her shoulders
narrow, her bust that of a young girl. It is strange, but these very
defects—defects in another—add to the charm that surrounds her like an
aureola. Her face—I cannot write about her face—I suppose the classic
purist might take it to pieces, discovering a variety of faults. Let him
do so. In doing it he will miss Lillian altogether—her beauty and the
magic of it. It has often been likened to music, the strains of Debussy,
which is well enough, as far as it goes, and I have found it in the
heart cry of Mascagni’s “Intermezzo,” in the “Eve of St. Agnes,” in the
dying fall of the “Londonderry Air.” To say that it is spiritual only
partly tells the story. It is that, but it is something more. It has a
haunting eerie quality that has to do with elfland, and lonely moors—the
face that seen by the homing lad at evening leaves him forever undone.
Scores of men and women, too, have written of it, have felt its
strangeness. Some have tried to write of it lightly, but underneath you
feel the magic working. They have glimpsed “Diana’s silver horn,” and
are forever changed.

[Illustration: “CAMILLE”]


                              A FEW NOTES

In my notebook of this time I find these entries:

_March 31, 1931_: She has returned from a brief stay at Atlantic City.
“I read ‘Arrowsmith,’” she said. “I think it a fine book.

“I remembered something while I was there: something from my childhood:
I remembered Papa taking Dorothy and me there, once; I think we stayed
there overnight. I know we paddled in the water on the beach. How
strange, when my memory is so poor, that this should come back to me,
after all these years. I think we went from New York, so it must have
been just after Baltimore, when I was about five.”

_No date_: How tolerant she is! Whatever her belief or habits, she never
urges them upon others, or tries to disintegrate theirs. She never
smoked a cigarette in her life, but for years she has lived in a drift
of tobacco, without objection or criticism. She drinks nothing stronger
than mild wine, but provides generously for her guests.

_April 5_: Artists are always wanting to paint Lillian. Just now she is
posing for Sorine, the distinguished Russian painter who did the Pavlowa
which hangs in the Luxembourg. Lillian’s portrait is to hang there, he
says, and some day in the Louvre. I saw it today, with her. It is
vividly, delicately done.

_No date_: Today she said: “I attended a symphony concert, last night,
with some friends. In the box with us was Gabrilowitsch. I thought of
what the music meant to him that it did not mean to me. What he heard
that missed me entirely. Musicians have an entire world of their own. No
other art has that in the same degree. Science has it, I suppose. But
music seems different,—of a world still farther removed.”

_April 15_: How does she find time for all the things she does? She has
no secretary, now, yet somehow keeps up conscientiously with her letter
answering—of itself a heavy task. Then, home duties, social demands,
this posing every day for Sorine; also, for a young German girl,
Fräulein von Bismarck; reading plays; this work of ours, which takes no
end of time, and thought. I don’t see how she manages it all—but she

I suppose things trouble her, but she remains serene. There is about her
a detachment from the worries of life that suggests Karma Yoga, and is
that, I have no doubt, for she is versed in Eastern Philosophy.

Whether she “suffers fools gladly,” or not, I do not know. I only know
that she suffers them—without complaint.

She reads omnivorously, but always, as I think, seeking the best, and
apparently reading with care and reflection.

A few days ago I lent her Brand Whitlock’s latest book, “Narcissus,”
which tells a Belgian legend of Van Dyck. Today she said: “I read it
twice—for the story, first, then for the beauty of it—the style. It has
great charm. I want to read it again.” Then she told me a story of Van
Dyck and Frans Hals, which somewhere she had read, or heard.

                  *       *       *       *       *

_April, 1932._ Something has happened, or is in the process of
happening. Since the conclusion of “Uncle Vanya” Lillian has given
little serious consideration to theatrical matters, putting aside as
unsuitable a variety of offered parts. A new prospect now presents
itself—one that appeals to her taste and imagination: a group of
influential citizens of Denver, Colorado, headed by Mr. Delos Chappell,
propose to refurbish and reopen the ancient Opera House of the little
“ghost mining town” of Central City, with a week’s presentation of
“Camille,” at fancy prices, for the benefit of the University of Denver.
Robert Edmond Jones is to stage and direct the production, with Lillian
as Casting Director, herself in the title rôle. She is deeply
interested—has secured Raymond Hackett for the part of Armand, the
rehearsing to begin at once.

                From a special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

  Denver, Col., July 16.—In an impressive ceremony, amid the merry
  laughter of “pioneer” belles and gay young men, and at a cost of
  $250,000, the famous Central City Opera House was brought to life
  tonight after a silence of fifty years.

  Men, women and children from the Atlantic Seaboard and the Pacific
  Coast came to this “phantom” village, once the miners’ capital.
  Daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons of pioneers who
  once made those same walls vibrate with their applause were there
  for the gala opening of the revival, in dress such as their
  ancestors wore at the theatre when it was new. Some of the gowns,
  handed down through the fifty years, were once heard to rustle
  down those same aisles. Every person in the audience represented
  some famous character of the time when Central City was the centre
  of Colorado’s gold mining industry. “Camille” typified to
  perfection the taste of the ’80s in the theatre.

  Miss Lillian Gish, as Marguerite Gautier, takes the leading rôle,
  with Raymond Hackett playing opposite her as Armand. It was the
  first time “Camille” has played in the old opera house in fifty



And so, at last, the plowman, turning the furrows of life, comes to the
boundary that divides the known from the unknown—the wilderness from the
sown field. Whatever we may one day find beyond, is already there in
every detail—only, I lack the clairvoyant gift, and turn for a brief
backward glimpse. It is no vision of artistic triumph that comes to me
tonight ... not the memory of Chekhov’s radiant heroine ... not the
triste picture of that broken flower of the Limehouse ... something even
more real than these: a real child, trouping with wandering players,
away from a mother’s care ... a slim-legged little girl, who slept on
station benches and telegraph tables, who running across a foot-bridge
lost her poor possessions in the swift black water, who from a train or
hotel window stared silently into the night.

“What are you looking at, Lillian?”

“Nothing, Aunt Alice, just looking.”

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