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Overview for Dorothy Gish
Dorothy Gish

Dorothy Gish


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Also Known As: Dorothy Elizabeth Carter,Dorothy Elizabeth Gish Died: June 4, 1968
Born: March 11, 1898 Cause of Death: bronchial pneumonia
Birth Place: Dayton, Ohio, USA Profession: Cast ... actor


Though not as popular or successful as her older sister, actress Dorothy Gish nonetheless enjoyed a good run in the silent era as a pert and talented leading lady who seemed most at home in comedy. Gish made a number of pictures with her sister and director D.W. Griffith, starting with "An Unseen Enemy" (1912), before having her big breakthrough role in the World War I epic, "Hearts of the World" (1918). After signing a contract with Paramount Pictures that same year, Gish starred in a string of successful films that made her one of the top comic performers in Hollywood. She made her last film with her sister and Griffith in the epic "Orphans of the Storm" (1922), and moved to England in the mid-1920s to make her final silent-era films, including the international hit "Nell Gywnn" (1926). Gish made the transition to talkies with "Wolves" (1930), but stepped away from movies for 14 years to perform on the stage. She returned to pictures as a character actress in "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay" (1944) and "Centennial Summer" (1946), and made her last movie "The Cardinal" (1963), before succumbing to ill health. Though overshadowed by her sister, Gish was certainly remembered as a popular star in her own right.

Born on March 11, 1898 in Dayton, OH, Gish was raised by her father, James, a traveling salesman and her mother, Mary, a former actor and department store clerk. Before she ever really knew him, her alcoholic father abandoned the family and later died in 1912. Because her mother acted to support the family, Gish and her older sister Lillian were introduced to the stage and modeling at an early age. Also in 1912, childhood friend Mary Pickford introduced both sisters to D.W. Griffith, who was directing films for Biograph Studios. Both sisters debuted in Griffith's "An Unseen Enemy" (1912) and Gish went on to make a number of pictures as one of Biograph's leading comic ingénues alongside Lillian, including in "The Painted Lady" (1912), "Oil and Water" (1913), "The Lady and the Mouse" (1913), and "Just Gold" (1913). Of course, Gish made a number of pictures without her sister, often co-starring opposite Lionel Barrymore in movies like "My Hero" (1912), "The Perfidy of Mary" (1913), and "The House of Discord" (1913). As was the case with countless films from the silent era, many of these pictures were later lost.

In 1914 alone, Gish appeared in 30-odd films, including "The Better Way," "Silent Sandy," "The Suffragettes' Battle in Nuttyville" and "Judith of Bethulia," a four-reel biblical epic directed by Griffith. As the decade worn on, Gish's films became longer and her parts grew more significant, as she starred in "Minerva's Mission" (1915), "The Little Catamount" (1915), "Little Meena's Romance" (1916) and "Gretchen, the Greenhorn" (1916). She finally had her big breakthrough with the Griffith-directed World War I epic, "Hearts of the World" (1918), in which she played a French peasant girl caught up in battle and between two romances. Meanwhile, Gish signed with Paramount in 1918, and over the next four years starred in 14 successful comedies, including "Battling Jane" (1918), "I'll Get Him Yet" (1919), which was a loose precursor to 1934's "It Happened One Night," the comic Western "Nugget Nell" (1919), and "Remodeling Her Husband" (1920), which was reportedly directed by Lillian, though Griffith did claim to be at least a co-director. Meanwhile, Gish married actor James Rennie in 1920 and stayed married to him until 1935, when they divorced over his alcoholism. They had no children together.

Gish's most oft-revived film made during this period was "Orphans of the Storm" (1922), in which she played a visually impaired woman who goes to Paris during the French Revolution with her sighted sister (Lillian Gish) in search of a doctor who might be able to restore her vision. The film was a big hit with critics and at the box office, though it proved to be the last she made with both Griffith and her sister. After playing a maid at a flophouse in Henry King's "Fury" (1923), Gish - who spent much of the 1920s commuting between the United States and London - played a Cuban dancer in "The Bright Shawl" (1923), a tragic peasant in "Romola" (1924), a nagging wife in "Clothes Make the Pirate" (1925), and the title role in "Nell Gywnn" (1926), the first British film to find worldwide success. Following a turn as a cabaret star in "Tip Toes" (1927), Gish tried making the transition to talkies with the British-made melodrama, "Wolves" (1930), but the film failed at the box office and triggered Gish's 14-year hiatus from making movies.

Gish returned to the stage after leaving the movie business and performed in a number of successful productions, including "Life with Father," "Morning's at Seven," "The Inspector General," and "Getting Married." She returned to the big screen as a middle-aged character actress with the well-received light comedy "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay" (1944), starring Gail Russell and Diana Lynn. Preferring the stage, Gish would only make three more films in her career: "Centennial Summer" (1946), a rare musical comedy from the serious-minded Otto Preminger; "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" (1951), which starred Lloyd Bridges in an early dramatic role as a reluctant union leader; and "The Cardinal" (1963), Preminger's Oscar-nominated look at race and religion. Having suffered from failing health for several years, Gish went into hospice at a clinic in Rapallo, Italy, where she spent two years as a patient. On June 4, 1968, Gish died from bronchial pneumonia with Lillian by her side. She was 70 years old. Her older sister went on to outlive Gish by another 25 years. The two were eventually interred together at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York.

By Shawn Dwyer

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