Their adopted hometown became something of a running joke with Lillian's teacher and mentor, D.W. Griffith.

The Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, where Lillian is said to have performed. It is only a few blocks from the Gish home.
"I grope in the files of memory for my first impression of David Wark Griffith.

He looked so tall to my young eyes, yet he was two inches under six feet. He was imposing; he held himself like a king. Later I discovered that he could no more slouch than change the color of his blue eyes, which were hooded and deep-set. He was vigorous and masculine-looking. Under the wide-brimmed straw hat set on his head with a jaunty curve to the brim, his brown sideburns were rather long. His nose was prominent; his provile seemed to belong on a Roman coin, and he had the heavy lower lip and jaw of the Bourbons. It was an important face.

I grew tense under his gaze. He seemed to be dissecting us. What I did not know was that he needed two young girls for a movie he had in mind, which turned out to be An Unseen Enemy. As he came toward us, he changed his tune, singing in English, 'She'll never bring them in, never bring them in.'

I could not understand what he meant, but evidently Mary [Pickford] did. For, when he added in a teasing voice, 'Mary, aren't you afraid to bring such pretty girls into the studio?' she retorted: 'I'm not afraid of any little girls. Besides, they're my friends.'

'Where are you from?' he asked me.

'The theater,' I said, 'but we come from Massillon.'

'Massillyoon.' It seemed to amuse him to mispronounce the name. 'Well, I knew you were Yankees the minute I saw you...'"

But while in Europe to film Hearts of the World, their connection to Massillon was to come in quite handy.

Yep, this is it, folks: The "main drag" of downtown Massillon, Ohio
"At last the time came for us to leave for Paris. It was the summer of 1917, and Paris was out of bounds, closed even to our soldiers on leave. Mr. Griffith took us to the American Embassy in London to apply for visas for our journey across the Channel. We were kept waiting. Finally a messenger came out. Mr. Griffith jumped up and was about to speak when the man said, 'Are these the Gish girls from Massillon, Ohio?'

'Yes,' Mother said, 'they are.'

'Well, then, will you kindly come into Mr. Skinner's office?'

We left the astonished Mr. Griffith and went into the private office. Robert Skinner, who was later to be Minister to Turkey, greeted us warmly. His wife had taught us at Trinity Church Sunday School while we were staying with Aunt Emily in Massillon. The problem, he told us, was not with our visas but with Wilhelm Gottlieb Bitzer's. At that time everyone of German heritage was suspect. The clerk told Mr. Griffith firmly, 'We're sorry; we cannot accommodate you with Mr. Bitzer's visa.'

When Mr. Griffith realized that we wasn't going to bring Billy to France, he said to him, 'Oh, why did your mother christen you Wilhelm Gottlieb?'

Although Billy never did receive permission to cross the Channel, Mr. Griffith was impressed by our acquaintance with Mr. Skinner. 'Well, praise be to Massillon!' he exclaimed, and never mispronounced it again, not even in jest."

Despite the fact that both of the sisters spent a great deal of time in Massillon, it was Lillian, not Dorothy, who was recently honored by the city, with a small, unnamed street dedicated in her honor.

Previous Page

More links on Lillian...

Lillian Gish
Welcome to the Golden Years: Classic Movies - The Superstars. This site has comprehensive lists of links to filmographies, Web sites, articles, and more.

Lillian Gish
Massillon Proud, a tribute to Lillian from her home town of Massillon, Ohio.

[Home] [News & Notes] [The Features Page] [The Store] [At the Movies]
[The Calendar] [Silent Era Facts] [Silent Star of the Month]