Our Own Hall of Fame
LILLIAN AND DOROTHY GISH
RISKED LIVES 18 YEARS
Gish Sisters Rounding Out Six Decades of Show Biz
THE DAYTON DAILY NEWS MARCH 24, 1961
BY MARY ELLEN LYNCH
Daily News Staff Writer
Two of the most durable darlings of stage (barn and Broadway) and screen (pre-talkie and TV) are rounding out six decades of show business as minor authorities on yoga and astrology and major authorities on how to reach stardom and stay there.
They are Springfield and Dayton’s Lillian and Dorothy Gish, who’ve been treading boards since they were six and four respectively.
Lillian, who was to become first lady of the silver screen, was born in Springfield in 1896 while her job-flitting father was working for a wholesale grocery there.
A year later the family (on the mother’s side was an Ohio senator, President Zachary Taylor and a poetess) came to Dayton and Dorothy was born here in 1898.
IN DAYTON father Gish failed twice in the confectionary business and finally abandoned his wife and children in New York. They needed money and in 1902 stage-struck Lillian and Dorothy made their debuts.
(Dorothy pulled down $15 a week in “East Lynne,” Lillian $10 in an epic called “Convict Stripes” that played a bar in Rising Sun, O.)
Road shows, bit parts, Broadway and settle-down-for-school stints in St. Louis and Massillon followed. But years before Hollywood beckoned, the girls were accomplished actresses with scrapbooks full of notices.
They made their screen debuts in New York in 1912 playing extras in a theater audience for $18 each. However $50-a-week Hollywood contracts came out of it and the girls headed for the coast to play in as many as three one-reelers a week.
LILLIAN HIT the jackpot in “Birth Of A Nation” in 1915, reached the pinnacle four years later playing a 12-year-old child when she was 23. Critics called her “luminous “ and “sublime.” David Belasco said she was “the most beautiful blonde in the world.”
While Lillian won acclaim as a frail and fragile tragedienne, rosy-cheeked Dorothy (who never hit the heights her sister did) was getting recognition as a good, smart actress and a hearty comedienne.
In the days before doubles and stunt girls, the Gish sisters risked life, limb and nervous system for 18 years, riding careening coaches, jumping from runaway horses and working under live shell fire.
Dorothy returned to the stage first and has shown in a long series of successes. After making one talkie, Lillian went back to her fist love, too.
THE TWO SLENDER blondes (they still do backbends, push-ups and lie on boards with their heads down at a 30 degree angle half an hour a day) hung onto stardom effortlessly, switched subtly from ingenues to mature players.
Lillian never married, but critic George Jean Nathan was her constant companion for years. For Dorothy, a 15-year marriage to a fellow actor ended in divorce.
The Gish Sisters are different. (“When I go to a party it stops being a party,” says Lillian. “On the other hand, Dorothy is the party.”)
But they have retained close ties, live a few blocks apart in New York and today are up to their still-swan-like necks in the theater and TV.
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