Dorothy Gish, 1916. Publicity photo from Stars of the Photoplay, Public Domain.
Dorothy Gish struggled alongside her sister and mother as they supported the family by performing in melodramas and other stage performances, but her determination and unique comedy style helped guide her into a successful acting career.
The Early Years of Dorothy Gish
On March 11, 1898, Dorothy Elizabeth Gish was born in Dayton, Ohio to Mary Robinson McConnell and James Lee Gish. Dorothy and her older sister, Lillian Gish, were still quite young when they started their acting and modeling careers to help support the family. Their mother, a theater performer, used the stage name Mae Bernard and introduced her daughters to stage melodramas in Rising Sun, Ohio.
Mary Pickford Introduces Dorothy Gish to D.W. Griffith
While working in the theater, Dorothy and Lillian, became friends with actress Gladys Smith. Gladys Smith later changed her name to Mary Pickford when she was given a contract with Biograph Motion Picture Company. Pickford introduced Dorothy and Lillian to the famous director D.W. Griffith, who recognized the talents of the two sisters and cast them in the 1912 film An Unseen Enemy.
Dorothy and Lillian Gish in An Unseen Enemy, 1912. Photo in Public Domain.
Dorothy and Lillian Gish wit D.W. Griffith in 1922. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain.
Dorothy and Lillian were soon famous silent film stars cast in numerous D.W. Griffith films for the Biograph Motion Picture Company and the D.W. Griffith Productions, including the popular French Revolution film Orphans of the Storm, released in 1921.
Dorothy Gish Begins Her Career in Comedy Films
Dorothy seemed to be overshadowed by the dramatic talents of her older sister, Lillian, but she was determined to be successful and worked hard to develop her own style. She often worked independently from her sister and mother and her talents seemed more appropriate for comedy.
Dorothy Gish starred in Hearts of the World in 1918. Photo in Pubic Domain.
In 1918 she was cast as “the little disturber,” a street-singing waif in the World War I propaganda film Hearts of the World. Although her performance did not seem to attract the attentions of D.W. Griffith, his protégées took note of her comedic presence and she was cast in numerous Paramount-Artcraft films.
Dorothy Gish Marries Actor James Rennie
Dorothy met and fell in love with Canadian actor James Rennie on the set of Remodeling Her Husband, the first and only film directed by Dorothy’s sister, Lillian.
Canadian actor James Rennie, 1924, Photoplay Magazine, public domain.
The Introduction of Sound Changes the Career of Dorothy Gish
In 1925, Dorothy Gish wrote an article titled “And So I Am A Comedienne” for Ladies Home Journal where she described her struggles and successes with comedy film acting, but when “Talkies” were introduced in the 1930s, Dorothy left the film industry and returned to her first love—the theater. She made numerous theater appearances and later appeared in plays produced for television, as well, returning to film only a few more times.
Dorothy Gish, 1932, US Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Division, public domain.
The Death and Legacy of Dorothy Gish
Five years after her last film, Dorothy developed bronchial pneumonia. She was hospitalized in Rapallo, Italy and treated for two years before she died on June 4, 1968 at the age of 70. Her sister, Lillian, was by her side. Dorothy Gish was interred at Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City.
Dorothy and Lillian Gish, trailer screenshot from Orphans of the Storm, 1921. Public Domain.
- An Unseen Enemy. Dir. D.W. Griffith. Perfs. Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish. Biograph Company, 1912.
- "Gish Sisters." The Dorothy &.Lillian Gish Film Theater & Gallery. Bowling Green State University Website.
- Hearts of the World. Dir. D.W. Griffith. Perfs. D.W. Griffith, David Lloyd George, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish. D.W. Griffith Productions, 1918.
- "Lillian Gish." American Masters. PBS.Org.