Lillian and Dorothy Gish were from Ohio and their journey to stardom began when their father who by all accounts was an alcoholic and abandoned the family. The girl’s mother put them on the stage in order to help make ends meet. This decision would eventually lead to both Lillian and Dorothy to become two highly recognized silent film stars.
Lillian is the older of the two girls and first appeared on the stage in 1902 at the age of six. Lillian met a young Gladys Smith who would later be renamed Mary Pickford. Mary would introduce Lillian to D.W. Griffith and this would be instrumental in launching Lillian’s impressive film career. Mary and Lillian remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Although it was rumored that Lillian had an affair with Griffith there is no true evidence to say yes or no although it is highly agreed upon that they had an amazing working relationship and parted amicably in 1925 when Gish signed with MGM.
Some of the films credited to Gish included La Boheme, The Scarlet Letter and The Wind. The Wind would be Lillian’s last silent film.
In the twenties public taste was evolving and with that came the “flapper actress” which included actresses such as Clara Bow and even Greta Garbo. Lillian realized that her place was evolving and left Hollywood to return to the stage. On Broadway she had a triumphant success and played notable roles in Ophelia and in 1941 she had an incredible sixty-six week run in Chicago in the play Life with Father.
Lillian made the decision to return to film in the 1940’s and appeared in Duel in the Son with Lionel Barrymore and Portrait of Jennie, with Jennifer Jones. Both of these films were done for David O. Selznick a famed Hollywood producer. Lillian also appeared on television with Helen Hayes in the adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace.
She was not only an accomplished actress; in 1969 she authored her own autobiography titled The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me. The following year in 1970 she was awarded a special Academy award for “Superlative artistry and distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures.”
Her last film appearance would be in 1987 in the film Whales of August.
Dorothy Gish was also born in Ohio and along with her sister was introduced to D.W. Griffith. Dorothy was all of four years old at this time. Where her sister excelled in dramatic work, Dorothy on the other hand excelled in comedic roles and appeared in over one hundred movies several of which was alongside her sister, Lillian. Although Lillian had a longer and some would say more commercial success then Dorothy, there was no jealousy between the sisters.
The last film Dorothy appeared in was the 1927 Madame Pompadour. After this film she appeared in smaller film roles although she enjoyed a longer career in theater and moved to England directly after retirement to take the London stage.
From 1920-1935 she was married to actor James Rennie. She never remarried but did return to the cinema in 1944 in order to take a role in the romantic comedy Our Hearts were Young and Gay. Her final film appearance was in The Cardinal.