Born: Gladys Mary Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 8 April 1893. Family: Married 1) the actor Owen Moore, 1911 (divorced 1920); 2) the actor Douglas Fairbanks, 1920 (divorced 1936); 3) the actor Buddy Rogers, 1937, two adopted children. Career: 1898—debut as child actress in stage play Bootle's Baby; played other roles in Valentine Stock Company, and toured with other companies; 1907—Broadway debut in The Warrens of Virginia; 1909—film debut as extra in Her First Biscuits; leading role in D. W. Griffith's The Violin Maker of Cremona: became known as "The Biograph Girl with the Curls"; 1913–18—contract with Zukor; 1918—independent producer; 1919—co-founder, with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith, of United Artists; 1923–24—roles in Rosita and Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall attempted to break her "little girl" image; 1929—first sound film, Coquette; 1937—formed Mary Pickford Cosmetic Company; 1956—sold the last of her United Artists stock. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award for Coquette, 1928/29. Died: In Santa Monica, California, 29 May 1979.
Films as Actress:
(all films directed by Griffith unless noted)
Her First Biscuits; The Violin Maker of Cremona; The Lonely Villa; The Son's Return; The Faded Lilies; The Peach Basket Hat; The Way of Man; The Necklace; The Mexican Sweethearts; The Country Doctor; The Cardinal's Conspiracy; The Renunciation; The Seventh Day; A Strange Meeting; Sweet and Twenty; The Slave; They Would Elope;The Indian Runner's Romance; His Wife's Visitor; Oh Uncle; The Sealed Room; 1776, or The Hessian Renegades;The Little Darling; In Old Kentucky; Getting Even; The Broken Locket; What's Your Hurry; The Awakening; The Little Teacher; The Gibson Goddess; In the Watches of the Night; His Lost Love; The Restoration; The Light That Came; A Midnight Adventure; The Mountaineer's Honor;The Trick That Failed; The Test; To Save Her Soul
All on Account of the Milk (Powell); The Woman from Mellon's; The Englishman and the Girl; The Newlyweds;The Thread of Destiny; The Twisted Trail; The Smoker; As It Is in Life; A Rich Revenge; A Romance of the Western Hills; May and December; Never Again!; The Unchanging Sea; Love among the Roses; The Two Brothers; Romona; In the Season of Buds; A Victim of Jealousy; A Child's Impulse; Muggsy's First Sweetheart; What the Daisy Said;The Call to Arms; An Arcadian Maid; Muggsy Becomes a Hero; The Sorrows of the Unfaithful; When We Were in Our Teens; Wilful Peggy; Examination Day at School; A Gold Necklace; A Lucky Toothache; Waiter No. 5; Simple Charity; The Masher; The Song of the Wildwood Flute; A Plain Song
White Roses; When a Man Loves; The Italian Barber; Three Sisters; A Decree of Destiny; The First Misunderstanding(Ince and Tucker); The Dream (Ince and Tucker) (+ sc);Maid or Man (Ince); At the Duke's Command; The Mirror;While the Cat's Away; Her Darkest Hour (Ince); ArtfulKate (Ince); A Manly Man (Ince); The Message in the Bottle(Ince); The Fisher-maid (Ince); In Old Madrid (Ince);Sweet Memories of Yesterday (Ince); The Stampede; Second Sight; The Fair Dentist; For Her Brother's Sake (Inceand Tucker); Back to the Soil; In the Sultan's Garden(Ince); The Master and the Man; The Lighthouse Keeper;For the Queen's Honor; A Gasoline Engagement; At a Quarter to Two; Science; The Skating Bug; The Call of the Song; A Toss of the Coin; The Sentinel Asleep; The Better Way; His Dress Shirt; 'Tween Two Loves (The Stronger Love); The Rose's Story; From the Bottom of the Sea; The Courting of Mary (Tucker); Love Heeds Not the Showers(Moore); Little Red Riding Hood (Moore); The Caddy's Dream (Moore)
Honor Thy Father (Moore); The Mender of Nets; Iola's Promise; Fate's Inception; The Female of the Species; Just Like a Woman; Won by a Fish (Sennett); The Old Actor; A Lodging for the Night; A Beast at Bay; Home Folks; Lena and the Geese (+ sc); The School Teacher and the Waif; An Indian Summer; A Pueblo Legend; The Narrow Road; The Inner Circle; With the Enemy's Help; Friends; So Near, Yet So Far; A Feud in the Kentucky Hills; The One She Loved;My Baby; The Informer; The Unwelcome Guest; The New York Hat
In the Bishop's Carriage (Porter); Caprice (Dawley)
A Good Little Devil (Porter); Hearts Adrift (Porter); Tess of the Storm Country (Porter); The Eagle's Mate (Kirkwood);Such a Little Queen (Hugh Ford); Behind the Scenes(Kirkwood); Cinderella (Kirkwood)
Mistress Nell (Kirkwood); Fanchon, the Cricket (Kirkwood);The Dawn of Tomorrow (Kirkwood); Little Pal (Kirkwood);Rags (Kirkwood); Esmerelda (Kirkwood); A Girl of Yesterday (Dwan); Madame Butterfly (Olcott)
The Foundling (O'Brien); Poor Little Peppina (Olcott); The Eternal Grind (O'Brien); Hulda from Holland (O'Brien);Less Than Dust (Emerson)
The Pride of the Clan (Tourneur); The Poor Little Rich Girl(Tourneur); A Romance of the Redwoods (De Mille); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Neilan) (title role); A Little Princess (Neilan)
Stella Maris (Neilan) (title role/Unity Blake); Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (Neilan); M'Liss (Neilan); How CouldYou, Jean? (Taylor); Johanna Enlists (Taylor); One Hundred Percent American (Rossen)
Captain Kidd, Jr. (Taylor)
The Madonna in the Gaucho (Jones)
Films as Producer:
Daddy Long-Legs (+ ro); The Hoodlum (+ ro); The Heart o' the Hills (+ ro)
Pollyanna (+ title role); Suds (+ ro)
The Love Light (Marion) (+ ro as Angela); Through the Back Door (Green and Jack Pickford) (+ ro as Jeanne Budamere);Little Lord Fauntleroy (Green and Jack Pickford) (+ ti-tle role)
Tess of the Storm Country (Robertson) (+ title role)
Rosita (Lubitsch) (+ title role); Garrison's Finish (Rosson)(co-sc titles only)
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (Neilan) (+ title role)
Little Annie Rooney (Beaudine) (+ title role)
Sparrows (Beaudine) (+ ro as Mama Mollie)
My Best Girl (Sam Taylor) (+ ro as Maggie Johnson)
Coquette (Sam Taylor) (+ ro as Norma Besant); The Taming of the Shrew (Sam Taylor) (+ ro as Katherine)
Kiki (Sam Taylor) (+ title role)
Secrets (Borzage) (+ roles as Mary Marlow/Mary Carlton)
By PICKFORD: books—
Pickfordisms for Success, Los Angeles, 1922.
Why Not Try God?, New York, 1934, as Why Not Look Beyond?, London, 1936.
Little Liar (novel), New York, 1934.
The Demi-Widow (novel), Indianapolis, 1935.
My Rendezvous with Life, New York, 1935.
Sunshine and Shadow, New York, 1955.
By PICKFORD: articles—
"What It Means to Be a Movie Actress," in Ladies' Home Journal, January 1915.
"The Body in the Bosphorus," in Theatre, April 1919.
"Greatest Business in the World," in Chaplin (Stockholm), 10 June 1922.
"Mary Is Looking for Pictures," in Photoplay (New York), June 1925.
"Mary Pickford Awards," in Photoplay (New York), October 1925.
On PICKFORD: books—
Niver, Kemp, Mary Pickford: Comedienne, Los Angeles, 1970.
Cushman, Robert, Tribute to Mary Pickford, Washington, D.C., 1970.
Lee, Raymond, The Films of Mary Pickford, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1970.
Wagenknecht, Edward, Movies in the Age of Innocence, New York, 1971.
Windelen, Robert, Sweetheart: The Story of Mary Pickford, London, 1973 + biblio.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.
Carey, Gary, Doug and Mary: A Biography of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, New York, 1977.
Herndon, B., Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks: The Most Popular Couple the World Has Ever Known, New York, 1977.
Eyman, Scott, Mary Pickford: America's Sweetheart, New York, 1990.
Whitfield, Eileen, Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood, Lexington, 1997.
Brownlow, Kevin, Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend, New York, 1999.
On PICKFORD: articles—
Johnson, Julian, "Mary Pickford, Herself and Her Career," in Photoplay (New York), November 1915-February 1916.
Belasco, David, "When Mary Pickford Came to Me," in Photoplay (New York), December 1915.
Cheatham, Maude, "On Location with Mary Pickford," in Motion Picture Magazine, June 1919.
Russell, M. Lewis, "Mary Pickford—Director," in Photoplay (New York), March 1920.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "Why Does the World Love Mary?" in Photoplay (New York), December 1921.
Birdwell, Russell, "When I Am Old, as Told by Mary Pickford," in Photoplay (New York), February 1925.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "The Story of the Married Life of Doug and Mary," in Photoplay (New York), February 1927.
Whitaker, Alma, "Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Analyzes Mary Pickford," in Photoplay (New York), March 1928.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "Why Mary Pickford Bobbed Her Hair," in Photoplay (New York), September 1928.
Harriman, M. C., "Mary Pickford," in New Yorker, 7 April 1934.
Current Biography 1945, New York, 1945.
Card, J., "The Films of Mary Pickford," in Image (Rochester, N.Y.), December 1959.
Spears, J., "Mary Pickford's Directors," in Films in Review (New York), February 1966.
"Lettre de Paris sur Mary Pickford," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1966.
Scaramazza, Paul, "Rediscovering Mary Pickford," in Film Fan Monthly, December 1970.
Harmetz, Aljean, "America's Sweetheart Lives," in New York Times, 28 March 1971.
Gow, Gordon, "Mary," in Films and Filming (London), December 1973.
"Album di Mary Pickford," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), August 1979.
Mitry, J., "Le Roman de Mary Pickford," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 November 1980.
Arnold, Gary, "Mary Pickford," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1984.
Bakewell, W., "Hollywood Be Thy Name," in Filmfax (Evanston), March 1990.
Schickel, Richard, "Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.: The Fabled House of Hollywood's Fabled Couple," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1990.
Kaufman, J.B., "Before Snow White," in Film History (London), June 1993.
Musser, Charles, "On Extras, Mary Pickford, and the Red-Light Film," in Griffithiana, May 1994.
Classic Images (Muscatine), October 1995.
Oderman, S., "Jack Pickford and Olive Thomas," in Films in Review (New York), November/December 1995.
Greene, R., "The Big Picture," in Boxoffice (Chicago), March 1996.
Corliss, Richard, "Queen of the Movies," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1998.
* * *
It is hard to imagine the impact and popularity of Mary Pickford during the height of her career since she retired from the screen in 1933 and refused to let her films be rereleased or shown on television. She sensed that the image she established of innocence, diligence, and uncomplicatedness was historically specific. Her embodiment of idealized, rural American values was essentially meaningless past the demise of the silent film era. She belonged in short to a different world, a world of rapidly expanding technology, star idolatry, and fantastic power. Fortunately, she donated most of her films to the American Film Institute, establishing the Mary Pickford Collection, and her third husband, Buddy Rogers, organized a small theater in her honor at the Library of Congress. These are the only two places where one can see the majority of her works.
Judging from her first one-reelers at Biograph, Pickford possessed a natural screen presence and mastery of mime technique that far exceeded her fellow performers. By the time she left Biograph, she had effectively redefined film acting. She later claimed, "I refused to exaggerate in my performance. . . . Nobody ever directed me, not even Mr. Griffith." She demonstrated intelligence, wit, grace, and ambition in quickly learning every detail of the film industry. She was fully aware of her popularity as "Little Mary" and "America's Sweetheart," and pressed the studios to pay her accordingly. By 1916 Pickford was earning $10,000 a week and choosing her scripts, cameraman, and director.
Her place in the pantheon of stars was secured by her performance in the title role of Tess of the Storm Country. This was followed by a string of brilliant roles that repeated the winning formula of innocence and pathos in such films as Poor Little Rich Girl, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Pollyanna, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and one of cinema's first split-screen double roles in Stella Maris. The public adored her long golden curls and her embodiment of the eternal child/woman: lovable, spirited, whimsical, and pure. Behind the scenes she was an accomplished businesswoman. Pickford, along with Charles Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks, founded United Artists to control the production and distribution of their films.
In the 1920s Pickford's career did not diminish. She graduated from "America's Sweetheart" to "World's Sweetheart"; hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Moscow to see her when she and Fairbanks visited the Soviet Union in 1926. She could play any role, as her performances in Sparrows, Stella Maris, The Hoodlum, and The Taming of the Shrew demonstrate. But the public wanted "Little Mary" and Pickford enjoyed the wealth and fame too much to attempt more than a few departures from her established image. Pickford explained, "My career was planned, there was never anything accidental about it. It was planned, it was painful, it was purposeful."
Unable completely to escape her stereotype, she was forced to quit filmmaking as its popularity waned. One of the figures who shaped the Hollywood aesthetic, she lived as a virtual recluse in her mansion, Pickfair, until her death. She said of her filmgoing audience, "Make them laugh, make them cry, and back to laughter. What do people go to the theater for? An emotional exercise. . . . I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that." Mary Pickford, although unseen for many years, cannot be forgotten.
Mary Pickford (1893-1979) was the first star of American cinema. Immensely popular in the silent era of motion pictures, Pickford was also a savvy businesswoman and the first female movie mogul. She and three other film legends (including one-time husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.) formed United Artists to produce and distribute their work.
Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith on April 8, 1893 in Toronto, Canada. Her father, John Charles Smith, was an alcoholic laborer who abandoned his family. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1898 after an accident at work. Her mother, Charlotte (maiden name, Hennessey) Smith, took in borders and sewing to support her family, which included Pickford's younger brother Jack and younger sister Lottie. One of Charlotte Smith's lodgers was the manager of a theater company in Toronto. Though her mother was initially leery of being involved with the theater, Pickford began acting at the age of six to support her family. She worked primarily in stock company melodramas in Toronto and tours across Canada. Pickford only attended school for three to six months, with Charlotte Smith educating her children at home. Pickford once quipped that road-side billboards taught her how to read. She had no real childhood.
In 1907, Pickford traveled to New York City by herself at the age of 14 to seek work, when the Canadian stock company production tours grew too demanding. She decided that if she could not be a Broadway actress, she would become a dress designer and quit show business. She managed an audition with a famous stage producer/mogul, David Belasco. Belasco and Pickford came up with the name Mary Pickford (Pickford being her paternal grand-mother's name) and he cast her in his Broadway production of The Warrens of Virginia. The play was successful, and Pickford's acting improved. She later claimed that this experience taught her to act with heart and feeling.
Turned to Film
By 1909, Pickford was lured by the movies. At the time, movies were still regarded as cheap entertainment, far inferior to the stage. Her mother urged her to try movies because the family needed the money if they were to stay together. She was hired by D.W Griffiths at Biograph, appearing in her first film The Lonely Villa (or Her First Biscuits depending on the source) only after insisting on better terms than Griffiths originally offered. From the first, Pickford knew her worth as an actress and expected to be paid accordingly. Deborah G. Felder in The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time quoted producer Samuel Goldwyn as saying, "It took longer to make one of Mary's contracts than it did to make one of her pictures." This was a hallmark of her career, though it was considered unladylike and aggressive at the time. Pickford was still her family's primary source of income.
The public began to notice Pickford, dubbed "Little Mary" after some of the titles in the films. (There were no credits in films at this time.) She had a rare ability to silently express emotion. Pickford became known as the "Biograph Girl" and she appeared in over 100 Biograph films. Pickford was typecast as the moppet girl with hair full of curls (some of which were fakes bought from prostitutes for $50). As Felder wrote in The 100 Most Influential Women, "Her screen image-childlike, sweet, demure, with a touch of mischievousness, and a great deal of spunk-belongs to a completely different era. In an age which prided itself on its innocence, 'Little Mary,' was acclaimed as the feminine ideal." Many of Pickford's silent films paralleled her own life. She often played a girl who was trying to find her absent father and bring her family together.
In 1910, Pickford briefly defected from Biograph to a different film company, Independent Motion Picture Company. Here, she wrote a script (credited as Catherine Hennessey, her grandmother's name) entitled The Dream and appeared in the film. (Pickford wrote about 30 scripts over her career.) She also did five films for another company, Majestic, but returned to Biograph for a while. In 1911, Pickford secretly married an alcoholic Biograph actor named Owen Moore. They divorced after a shaky marriage in 1920.
Returned to Stage
By 1913, Pickford severed ties completely with Biograph. She was back on the stage for one production (a Broadway play staged by Belasco entitled A Good Little Devil) before signing with Famous Players, owned by Adolph Zukor. He made her "America's Sweetheart." Pickford's salary was $500 per week, a princely sum at the time. In 1915, Pickford appeared in twelve films, including one, The Foundling, on which she served as producer. By 1916, Pickford was receiving $10,000 a week and a percentage of the profits as her salary. She invested much of the money wisely, especially in real estate. Though Zukor made a fortune off Pickford, her demands as an actress proved so exacting that he once offered her a quarter of a million dollars to retire. Still, Pickford later said these were the happiest years of her life. However, her childhood haunted her. She was always afraid of losing everything she had earned and did not enjoy the money.
Career Reached New Heights
Between 1917 and 1919, Pickford appeared in higher quality films and was at the peak of her career and popularity. She made some of her best known movies and was in control of many aspects of production. She could pick and choose her scripts and directors, for example. Pickford also helped develop lighting techniques by insisting that Charles Rosher act as her cameraman for every movie. Pickford similarly furthered film narrative techniques. Despite this savvy, she was still cast as the little moppet girl. For example, in 1917, Pickford played a 12-year-old in The Little Princess though she was 24 years of age. Pickford continually challenged herself as an actress, playing more than one role in a film or roles that were physically demanding. In 1918, she and her mother formed the Mary Pickford Film Corporation, making her the first female film star to head her own film company.
In 1919, Pickford was lured away from Famous Players by First National, which offered her a $675,000 per year salary and 50% of the profits made by her movies. That year, Pickford also was one of the four principals who founded United Artists with famous actors Douglas Fairbanks (her fiancé) and Charlie Chaplin, as well as director D.W. Griffiths.
On March 28, 1920, Pickford and Fairbanks married, after a three-year affair. Their marriage was idealized by their adoring fans, and they were considered the first couple of Hollywood. Publicly, the couple encouraged this. Pickford and Fairbanks were the first stars to imprint their footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. The private reality of their marriage was far from the myth. Fairbanks was jealous and had numerous extramarital affairs. Pickford also had affairs, as well as a problem with alcohol.
In the early 1920s, Pickford wanted to cultivate a more adult screen presence. To that end, she arranged for a European director, Ernst Lubitsch, to come to the United States. She appeared in his first American effort, Rosita, though she did not like working with him. Despite this and other efforts to be cast as an adult, Pickford was forced to do juvenile roles, like playing the son and the mother in Little Lord Fauntleroy, to please her audience. While Pickford wanted to take on more creative roles, she wanted to increase her box office receipts more.
The quality of her films began to decline as Pickford tried to escape her typecast moppet image. She appeared in her first, and most successful, sound picture in 1929. Coquette was the subject of controversy for fans because Pickford cut off her curls and bobbed her hair in the style of the flapper that she played. She won an Academy Award for best actress, although this decision was even more controversial. At the time, voting for the Oscars was done by the Academy's central board of judges. Pickford was a co-founder of the Academy and Fairbanks was its president. She used Fairbanks' position as leverage in her aggressive campaign to obtain the prize. As a result of this incident, voting for the awards was done by all Academy members from that year forward. Still, Coquette was one of the most successful films of Pickford's career, earning $1.3 million at the box office.
Retired from Acting
Pickford's acting career faltered after her Academy Award victory, although she always tried to give the audience what it wanted. Pickford retired from acting in 1933, after an appearance in Secrets, her last film and a box office failure. Pickford believed her audience wanted her to always play the young girl and this was no longer possible at the age of 40.
In the 1930s, Pickford kept herself busy in a number of ways. She served as a vice president at United Artists from 1935 until 1937. She also produced films such as 1936's The Gay Desperado. Pickford continued to work as a film producer until 1948's Sleep, My Love. She was also active in charity work (especially the Motion Picture Relief Fund and Home), wrote books (an autobiography and a novel), and appeared on her own, short-lived radio show. Despite the end of her acting career, Pickford retained her popularity. Upon a visit to Toronto in 1934, more people came to see her than Prince Edward, the future king of England.
Pickford's personal life was not as rosy. Her drinking increased after her divorce from Fairbanks in 1936. The following year, she married her third and last husband, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, an actor and bandleader. They adopted two children, Ronald and Roxanne, in the mid-1940s. Her alcoholism grew more pronounced over the years, in part because she was still in love with Fairbanks.
Pickford had several offers to act in the 1950s, most notably in Sunset Boulevardand Storm Center, but she ultimately turned them down. In 1953, she and Chaplin, the only survivors of the four who founded United Artists, sold their shares for $3 million each. By 1972, Pickford had become quite reclusive. She was given an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to the cinema in 1975, but refused to appear in person at the ceremony. Pickford died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 29, 1979, in Santa Monica, California. Her estate's net worth was estimated at $50 million. Richard Corliss in Film Comment wrote "Best to remember Mary Pickford as her fans did: part Eve, part angel, total evangelist for the blooming art of cinema."
The Continuum Dictionary of Women's Biography, edited by Jennifer Uglow, Continuum, 1989.
Felder, Deborah, The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time: A Ranking Past and Present, Citadel Press, 1996.
Mordden, Ethan Movie Star: A Look at the Women Who Made Hollywood, St. Martin's Press, 1983.
Read, Phyllis J. & Bernard L. Witlieb, The Book of Women's Firsts, Random House, 1992.
Reynolds, Moira Davidson, Immigrant American Women Role Models: Fifteen Inspiring Biographies, 1850-1950, McFarland & Company, 1997.
Film Comment, March-April, 1998.
Films in Review, January-February 1997.
Journal of Popular Film and Television, Fall 1994.
Maclean's, November 3, 1997.
New Yorker, September 22, 1997.
People Weekly, May 21, 1990; Spring 1991.
http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (February 16, 1999). □