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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Early life of Mary Pickford
- Life of Mary Pickford as an Actress
- Mary Pickford’s Personal Life
KEY FACTS AND INFORMATION
Let’s know more about Mary Pickford!
- Mary Pickford was one of the greatest actresses to achieve success during the silent movie era. She became famous as a child: initially, she landed parts in theatre plays, and subsequently she was signed up to some of the best movie industries in the United States. She did not confine her acting career to specific roles, and played both dramatic and comedic characters.
- She was a very influential person in the American film industry, and her name is ‘as well-remembered as Charlie Chaplin’s’ (Brownlow 1968). During her lifetime, she became known as “America’s Sweetheart”, the “girl with the curls”, and “Queen of the Movies” for her important contributions to the film industry.
Early Life of Mary Pickford
- Mary’s real name was Gladys Louise Smith.
- From her early childhood, she was destined to become a success.
- Although she became ‘America’s Sweetheart’, she was a Canadian-American actress born on April 8, 1892 in Toronto (Ontario).
- She had two siblings — Jack and Lottie Pickford, who were both also actors.
- Her mother was Charlotte Hennessy (also an actress), whereas her father John Charles Smith was a Methodist and an alcoholic.
- In 1896, she suffered from diphtheria, and during that time she was baptised and renamed Gladys Marie Smith (Marie Pickford Foundation).
- In 1898, her father left the family and died leaving his family almost destitute.
Mary Pickford as an Actress
- In need of money, Mary’s mother rented a room to a stage manager who suggested that she should cast her young daughters in a play.
- Mary then had her stage debut in 1898 with the Toronto Stock Company.
- In 1900, ‘Baby Gladys’ landed two roles in “The Silver King”, which was performed at the Toronto’s Princess Theatre. She played a character called ‘Big Girl’ and a boy called Ned (Mary Pickford Foundation).
- As a teenager, Mary earned $40 per week, and helped her mother support her family following her father’s premature death.
- From 1901, Mary started performing in plays across the country, and met other actors including Lillian and Dorothy Gish (two other famous child-actresses).
- In 1907, Mary’s ambition became that of landing a role in Broadway, and she decided that if her dream did not materialise before the end of the year, she would quit acting and dedicate herself to a more financially rewarding job (Conradt 2018).
- However, Mary’s ambition to make it on Broadway came true the same year and she ‘was appearing in fifty-one films a year’ (Conradt 2018). In fact, sometimes she would produce one film per week.
- In 1907, she joined the David Belasco Theatre Company in New York and began her New York debut in the play “The Warren’ of Virginia”.
- At Belasco’s suggestion, Mary (then named Gladys), changed her name to Mary Pickford.
- The following year, 1908, she signed a contract with Biograph Studios, and made sure that her siblings were also signed.
- However, their fame did not last long since her brother Jack – who became Hollywood’s ‘bad boy’ – died at the age of 36 because of ‘multiple neuritis which attacked all the nerve centres’ and her sister Lottie had a heart attack at the age of 43 (Conradt 2018).
- In 1911, she signed a deal with the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP) which provided her with a great salary.
- However, the IMP moved its headquarters to Cuba where Mary became incredibly unhappy.
- She then decided that it would be the right thing for her to break the contract and return to the States. Here, she was signed once again by Biograph Studios.
- After taking part in some plays such as “A Good Little Devil”, Mary left Biograph and was signed by Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players studio.
- During the First World War years, she toured the country and started making films for Liberty Bonds.
- However, in 1916, Mary started ‘taking control of the films she was making’ and ‘oversaw the production entirely from script to shooting to distribution’ (Hutchinson 2016).
- In 1917, Mary got her first $1 million contract.
- Since she was convinced that ‘so many things can ruin fine work’, in 1919, she founded the studio United Artists Corporation with Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks (Hutchinson 2016).
- The primary objective of the United Artists Corporation was that of giving creative freedom and control to artists and directors.
- Mary, under the distribution of United Artists, established the Mary Pickford Company which produced films (Whitfield 2008).
- Her first movie made was in 1920 and was titled “Pollyanna”, grossing over a million dollars (Whitfield 2008).
- Throughout her career, Mary was not confined to any role in particular.
- In fact, during an interview she once stated: “I made a film in which I was the mother of several children, the eldest of whom was five years younger than I. […] I played scrub-women and secretaries and women of all nations. I noticed rather early that Mr Griffith seemed to favour me in the roles of Mexican and Indian women” (Hutchinson 2016).
- Moreover, even though she was incredibly well known to the public, and everything about her was known, throughout her twenties she played the roles of children in films. Examples include The Poor Little Rich Girl, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
- In essence, Mary demonstrated her ability to impersonate any character and played roles that represented people belonging to the working class (such as ‘street urchins or bonny farm kids who threw punches and tumbled out of trees’) or upper-class characters that ‘were disconsolate brats itching to get out into the yard and have some proper fun’ (Hutchinson 2016).
- Mary Pickford has also been described as a ‘shrewd businesswoman’ since she shifted from one company to another in order to land the greatest deal, earn the highest salary, and gain ‘more artistic control’ (Library and Archives Canada, undated).
- Moreover, she never accepted a salary inferior to her male counterparts, and at one stage in her career, she was being paid $350,000 per movie (Library and Archives Canada, undated).
- She also had very specific requests to which her producers had to comply.
- For instance, ‘during her time at Famous Players, she demanded that her pictures be sold separately and not packaged with other Famous Player products.’
- ‘She demanded half the profits, signing bonuses, her name on the marquee, a studio named for her and transportation for her and her mother’ (Library and Archives Canada, undated).
- Throughout her career, Mary starred in and produced many silent movies, including Coquette in 1929 that won her an Oscar for best actress. Her last silent movie was My Best Girl in 1927, which she performed with Buddy Rogers.
- When sound was being introduced on films, Mary was not completely fond of the new add-on and stated ‘adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus De Milo’ (Conradt 2018).
- Unfortunately, after movies began being produced with sound, her career became rather stagnant and she was in less demand within the industry.
- For this reason, when her fame significantly decreased in 1930, Mary claimed ‘I left the screen [..], the little girl made me. I wasn’t waiting for the little girl to kill me (Hutchinson 2016).
- However, although Mary’s career as an actress had passed its peak, she nonetheless became active in social causes.
- She also published three books and remained a movie producer as well as vice-president of her film company the United Artists (Library and Archives Canada, undated).
- She was also still recognised in Hollywood, as she mentored the young star Shirley Temple.
- Furthermore, being a co-founder of United Artists as well as the producer and star of her own films, Mary became the most powerful woman who’d ever worked in Hollywood.
- She left the United Artists company in 1956, selling her remaining $3 million shares.
- Though she bought the rights to most of her silent films, she agreed to donate 50 of them to the American Film Institute in 1970.
- In 1976, Mary was attributed an honorary Oscar for her lifetime achievement, which she accepted at Pickfair (her home) as she was no longer making public appearances then.
- During her lifetime, she became known as “America’s Sweetheart”, the “girl with the curls”, and “Queen of the Movies” for her important contributions in the development of the film industry.
Personal Life of Mary Pickford
- Mary was married three times.
- In 1911, despite her mother’s warning, Mary married Owen Moore, who would not treat his wife in the best of manners — in fact, he was a very violent and insecure man, and was also addicted to alcohol.
- He was also an actor, and once made a remark about Mary that seemed to undermine her intellectual abilities.
- He claimed that his wife had an ‘expressive little talent. Hardly what one would call cerebral.’ (Hutchinson 2016)
- Considering the dynamics between the two, unsurprisingly their toxic relationship ended and they divorced on March 2, 1920.
- Before divorcing Moore, Mary had a secret relationship with Douglas Fairbanks, co-owner and founder of the United Artists Corporation.
- Days after divorcing Moore, Mary married Fairbanks on March 28, 1920.
- They were the most popular couple in Hollywood, often referred to as “Hollywood Royalty” and the public nicknamed them ‘Pickfair’.
- The couple hosted grandiose dinner parties in their mansion, and the people who attended included Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Jack Dempsey, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Crown Prince of Japan (Conradt 2018).
- For work purposes, they both travelled across Europe, and the German ‘free camerawork and dramatic lighting’ inspired one of Mary’s greatest works, Sparrows.
- Being “hollywood royalty”, the couple had little to no private time with each other.
- When their careers both began to falter as the silent era was ending, Fairbanks went overseas to travel.
- His travels weren’t something Mary enjoyed.
- In the early 1930s, Fairbanks’ romance with another actress Sylvia Ashley became public.
- Soon enough, the two divorced on January 10, 1936.
- Mary got married for the third and last time on June 24 1937, to Buddy Rogers, her co-lead in the film “My Best Girl”.
- They adopted two children — Roxanne and Ronald Charles.
- Roxanne was born in 1944 and adopted the same year, whereas Ronald Charles was born in 1937 and adopted in 1943.
- Although they were adopted to be like the couple’s own children, a PBS American Experience documentary described the relationship of the children to their mother as tense, too self-absorbed, and lacking maternal love.
- The documentary talked about how Mary criticized the children’s physical imperfections.
- In the last years of her life, Mary Pickford succumbed to a habit that many within her family were not able to resist: she fell into a heavy drinking habit.
- In 1979, at 86 years old, she died of a stroke. Even today, she is remembered for her extraordinary contribution to the film industry.