For my previous post about Dorothy and Lillian Gish, see Conservatism in Revolution: The Gish sisters in D. W. Griffith’s ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921). For more about silent movies in general, check out The Joys of Silent Film, a guide for newbies to the medium.
Sisters Dorothy and Lillian Gish had been working with famed movie legend D. W. Griffith for many years before he handed over the directorial reigns to Lillian for REMODELING HER HUSBAND (1920).
“Having worked in almost all the branches of motion pictures, I still felt that there was one thing I should like to do before I could feel that I really understood the medium: I wanted to direct.” (Lillian Gish)
Although women made up only 5% of directors in Hollywood in 2011 (Huffington Post), there were many more women working in the film industry in the silent era. According to “The Story of Film,” women were able to participate in the movie-making process in the early years before it became a big-bucks business. After the advent of sound in the late 1920s, movies began to make more money and men started to compete for roles previously filled by women. Therefore, it isn’t unusual that Lillian Gish would be tempted to direct or that her boss, Griffith, would permit her to do so.
REMODELING HER HUSBAND was intentionally an “all-woman picture.” New York writers Frances Marion and Anita Loose suggested Lillian approach Dorothy Parker to create the titles. Lillian and Dorothy penned the story themselves, originally entitled “She Made Him Behave.” Lillian chose her sister to play the leading role.
“I felt like no one had realized the extent of [Dorothy’s] talent. True, she was a comedienne – they all agreed upon that; but with that quality there was also a great dearness that I hoped to bring out in her work.” (Lillian Gish)
“We knew that each was working for the other’s benefit. Dorothy followed my directions as she would any other director’s. We were both pleased with the result.” (Lillian Gish)
As is the case with many films from the silent era, no known copy of REMODELING HER HUSBAND currently exists. All that remains of this feministically historical film are a few lobby cards, film ads, and photographic stills from the picture. A novelization of the film, accompanied by pictures from the movie, published in “Motion Picture” in July 1920, survives and can be read in full HERE.
The plot for REMODELING HER HUSBAND is not very complex. Janie (Dorothy Gish) has married a man whom “everybody” knows is a philanderer. Nevertheless, Janie has complete confidence in her ability to keep her bridegroom on the straight and narrow.
“Everybody does not have to marry him. Nor, I might add, has he married everybody. I am the first, I shall be the last. All that is necessary in the marital relationship is efficiency.” (Janie)
When John T.’s faithfulness starts to waver, Janie gives him hell.
Friends: “He’s a devil with the ladies.”
Janie: “He’ll have a devil for a wife.”
John T’s roving eye roves a couple times, Janie throws a few fits and walks out on him a couple times, then they celebrate a second and third honeymoon and live happily ever after.
Despite the tumultuous relationship between Janie and John T. on screen, Dorothy and her co-star James Rennie were quite enjoying themselves.
“I finally found that rehearsing the love scenes many more times than were really necessary was anything but irksome to [Dorothy]. I was able within a few days to transfer her interest from the megaphone to the leading man. A mean trick? It resulted a year later in their marriage, and for eight years I have never regretted that their embrace in one scene was so long I had to coin the word ‘unhug’ to disengage them.” (Lillian Gish)
The 50-minute film was produced in less than a month, with a budget of $58,000. Although the film was a popular success, Lillian was wiped out and decided directing was not her chosen career path. The five-reel film was distributed under “artcraft” classification, so it could command higher prices than the lower grade “realart” pictures.
To learn more about Dorothy and Lillian Gish, I recommend the following books and movies: