Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Gish, Dorothy (1898 Massillon, OH-1968 Rapallo, Italy) from Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

Courtesy of Silents Are Golden at<SilentsAreGolden.com>

Called by her sister “the most talented of the Gishes,” when Dorothy Gish's father deserted his family, her mother turned to acting to support her children. As soon as Dorothy and her sister were old enough, they joined their mother on the stage. By 1902 Dorothy was a seasoned performer.

In 1912, their friend Mary Pick-ford took the Gish sisters to Bio-graph Studios and the girls were given jobs as extras. Not long after their arrival, D. W. Griffith cast Dorothy and Lillian as the stars of An Unseen Enemy (1912), the first of over 100 films in which Dorothy Gish would appear. At first Griffith found the sisters so close in appearance to each other he had Dorothy wear a red ribbon and Lillian wear a blue ribbon to tell them apart. She occasionally starred with Lillian, and although Dorothy was a talented dramatic actor, her forte was light comedy.

Byl914she was a popular Biograph star and regularly appeared in the fan magazines of the time. In fact, Laura Lee Hope wrote a series of juvenile books—The Moving Picture Girls—based on the Gish sisters. Dorothy was known around the Biograph lot as a prankster and was one of the few people able to make even the austere Griffith smile.

In 1918 she appeared in Hearts of the World as a madcap French peasant—one of her best performances. Later that year she signed a contract with Paramount Studios, where she made fourteen films over the next four years. During her years at Paramount she married fellow actor James Rennie, but the couple separated in 1930 and eventually divorced in 1935.

In 1921 she starred with her sister in Orphans of the Storm, directed by Griffith. Although she enjoyed comedies, she was careful not to be typed as a “comedian,” because the audiences sometimes felt that female comics were “unfeminine.” She worked steadily throughout the 1920s and starred in her sister's only directing attempt, Remodeling Her Husband (1920), as well as the first internationally successful British film, Nell Gwyn (1926).

With the advent of sound, Gish returned to the stage and appeared in the successful play Young Love, in both New York and London. Her first sound film was not successful and she decided to concentrate on her stage career. In addition to her stage work she made several guest appearances on the radio in broadcasts of popular plays of the day.

She returned to films for the comedy Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944) and appeared in three more films over the next twenty years. But in 1964 she again retired from films, stating that “making movies used to be fun.” She made appearances on a few of the dramatic anthology series on television in the early 1950s, such as The Ford Theatre Hour and The Philco Television Playhouse, and appeared for several more years on the stage before her final appearance, with her sister, in Chalk Garden (1956).

After her retirement, she traveled extensively, but when her health began to fail she settled on the Italian Riviera until her death in 1968. Earlier her sister had written of her, “she is laughter … nothing saddens her or concerns her lastingly … trouble … is banished with a shrug of a shoulder.”

Film Credits
1912 An Unseen Enemy; The Painted Lady; The Musketeers of Pig Alley; Gold and Glitter; My Baby; The Informer; Brutality; The New York Hat; My Hero; A Cry for Help; The Burglar's Dilemma; So Near, Yet So Far
1913 Oil and Water; The Perfidy of Mary; The Lady and the Mouse; Just Gold; Her Mother's Oath; The Widow's Kid; The Vengeance of Galora; Those Little Flowers; Pa Says; The Lady in Black; The House of Discord; Almost a Wild Man; The Adopted Brother; Broken Ways; His Mother's Son; Red Hicks Defies the World; Almost a Wild Man; The Reformers; Papa's Baby; The Suffragette Minstrels; A Cure for Suffragettes; By Man's Law
1914 Judith ofBethulia; Home, Sweet Home; The Wife; Their First Acquaintance; The Tavern of Tragedy; The Suffragette's Battie in Nuttyville; The Sisters; Silent Sandy; The Saving Grace; Sands of Fate; The Rebellion of Kitty Belle; The Old Man; The Newer Woman; The Mysterious Shot; The Mountain Rat; Liberty Belles; A Lesson in Mechanics, Her Old Teacher, Her Mother's Necklace, Her Father's Silent Partner, Granny, The Floor Above, A Fair Rebel, A Duel for Love, Down the Road to Creditville, The City Beautiful, The Better Way; Back to the Kitchen; The Availing Prayer, Arms and the Gringo; The Warning (I)
1915 How Hazel Got Even; Bred in the Bone; Old Heidelberg; The Warning (II); Jordan Is a Hard Road; Victorine; Out of Bondage; An Old-Fashioned Girl; The Mountain Girl; Minerva's Mission; The Lost Lord Lowell; The Little Catamount; Her Mother's Daughter; Her Grandparents
1916 Betty of Grey stone; Little Meena's Romance; Susan Rocks the Boat; The Little School Ma ‘am; Gretchen the Greenhorn; Atta Boy's Last Race; Children of the Feud
1917 The Little Yank; Stage Struck; Her Official Fathers
1918 Hearts of the World; The Hun Within; Battling Jane
1919 The Hope Chest; Boots; Peppy Polly; I'll Get Him Yet; Nugget Nell; Nobody Home; Turning the Tables
1920 Mary Ellen Comes to Town; Remodeling Her Husband; Little Miss Rebellion; Flying Pat
1921 Orphans of the Storm; The Ghost in the Garret
1922 The Country Flapper
1923 Fury; The Bright Shawl
1924 Romola
1925 Night Life of New York; Clothes Make the Pirate; The Beautiful City
1926 Nell Gwyn; London
1927 Tiptoes; Madame Pompadour
1930 Wolves
1944 Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
1946 Centennial Summer
1951 The Whistle at Eaton Falls
1963 The Cardinal
© 2005 by Denise Lowe

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Gish, Dorothy (1898 - 1968)Gish, Lillian (1896 - 1993)
The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women

Stars of the silent screen, Lillian and Dorothy Gish went on to enjoy long and distinguished careers both in...

Full text Article Gish, Lillian (1893 - 1993) and Dorothy Gish (1898 - 1968)
The Cambridge Guide to Theatre

Dorothy made her stage debut in 1907 in East Lynne . In 1912 she made her first film with D.W. Griffith,...

Full text Article An Unseen Enemy (1912)
Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

An Unseen Enemy was the first film in which Lillian and Dorothy Gish appeared. Directed by D. W. Griffith, the short concerned two sisters,...

See more from Credo