So iconic, wonderful, inspiring, a treasure for all film-lovers, Mary Pickford might well be the most important woman in the history of cinema. So varied, ferocious, fast-paced, was her lifestyle in the industry, not only is her legacy unfathomable, I struggled to categorize this very piece. Women? Actress? Producer? Filmmaker? Legend?
Just going through what she accomplished in her film career, spanning five decades, is like reminiscing over a great cinematic story you’ve always adored and admired. I get emotional just having her in my thoughts. A movie legend. Superb actress. A ruthless pioneer. A total film geek. In her honor, to which I consider often, here are just 50 facts and achievements and milestones and, well, go be amazed once more.
Mary Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in 1892. The name Pickford was a family name, and she was baptized Mary (Marie, her second name), but didn’t change her name until some years later.
Mary passed away in 1979, aged 87, following a stroke. So much of her financial worth continued to help a lot of charitable causes decades after her death – including her estate, rumored to be around $50 million.
Just some of the charitable organisations that benefited from Mary Pickford’s generosity include the Payroll Pledge Program, Los Angeles Orphan Asylum, the YMCA, American Cancer Society, City of Hope, Salvation Army, Arthritis Foundation, Children‘s Hospital of Toronto, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And let’s not forget the Mary Pickford Foundation.
In 1919, Pickford co-founded film studio, United Artists Corporation (or just, United Artists) with Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Grifﬁth.
The formation of United Artists was once described as “the inmates have taken over the asylum”, in reference to the acting folk controlling their film production.
Mary eventually succumbed to her romance with Douglas Fairbanks, who were both married when they first met, and they themselves marry. Pretty much the first celebrity couple in cinema’s history.
At just over five foot in height, Pickford often acted alongside taller actors, as she wanted to appear even shorter than she actually was.
Pickford is the face of one of the very earliest close-ups. Her face was lit especially, and so revolutionary at the time, the studio took a while to see the appeal. Pickford was a huge ambassador of innovative film lighting, and film restoration.
Pickford had an uncredited appearance in Douglas Fairbanks’ 1927 film The Gaucho.
The first talkie picture to adapt Shakespeare was The Taming of the Shrew, in 1929, with Pickford and Fairbanks co-starring. The Taming of the Shrew was a huge financial success, considering its release coincided with the stock market crash of 1929.
In 1965, Pickford agreed to have many of her film titles be part of a cinematic institute’s retrospective collection of her work in Paris – The Cinémathèque Française.
Theater producer David Belasco was charmed by a very young Mary Pickford, who declared, as a child, she wanted to be a great actress. Belasco casts Mary in his new stage production, A Good Little Devil at Belasco’s Republic Theatre.
Film producer, Adolph Zukor, who signed up the likes of Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, gave Pickford her break as a teenager, believing she would be a movie star. Zukor would later make a feature film version of A Good Little Devil, and Mary would reprise her role
Pickford was not at all keen on the transition from silent film to the “talkies” – and believed it would not be successful.
Following a trip to Moscow, in 1926, with Fairbanks, footage of Pickford on the visit would be edited together to make a small film in her honor, called A Kiss from Mary Pickford.
Pickford was not just successful in her behind the camera work, she was also considered a genuinely brilliant actress. Garnering many glowing reviews over the years, even from a very young age. Prolific too, one year appearing in over 50 short films.
The house and its property inhabited by the married couple, Mary and Doug, was named Pickfair (do I need to explain that?). They hosted dinner parties at Pickfair, attracting the likes of Walt Disney, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Helen Keller, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells.
Even with the infamous Pickford curls, and a true image of innocence, Mary Pickford was a relentless and shrewd businesswoman. So influential, Pickford was soon able to pick and choose her scripts, co-stars and directors.
Pickford was a true movie star, appearing in the early Nickelodeons as far back as 1910. Her stage debut at age 7, saw her playing two roles; one girl, and one boy.
Her dear friend, writer-director Frances Marion, cast Pickford in the central role of The Love Light. In Marion’s 1917 screenplay, The Poor Little Rich Girl, Pickford receives further acclaim for playing a 12 year-old character, at 25.
The Love Light was one of many collaborations between Pickford and cinematographer Charles Rosher, whose work here with lighting and contrasts was a cinematic masterstroke.
Mary and Lillian Gish were great friends for years and years. They even shared an apartment together one summer with their respective mothers. The Gish sisters would act in several of D.W. Grifﬁth‘s films, whom Pickford had introduced them to.
Mary came down with influenza in 1919, a very serious illness at the time, which caused the numbers of deaths comparable to the losses during World War I.
After appearing in just four films from the new sound era, Pickford retired from acting in 1933.
Some forty years late, Pickford sells her shares in United Artists for $3 million.
Mary suffered a huge loss in 1928, when her mother, Charlotte, died from breast cancer. So affected by this, Pickford impulsively dropped her childlike on-screen persona to take on fully-fledged adult roles. Coquette, released in 1929, being the first.
And thus, for Coquette, Pickford would become the first “talkie” recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Pickford would take on dual roles again in Stella Maris (1918, also a Frances Marion script), portraying both the invalid Stella, and the orphan Unity. In her 1921 film, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Pickford took on the roles of both the mother and the son. There’s an extraordinary moment for its time (in visual effects also) when she essentially kisses herself on-screen.
In 1918, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Marie Dressler, and Charlie Chaplin sell Liberty Bonds on tour, in aid of the war effort.
The only remaining costume from the 1922 film, Tess of the Storm Country, is the raggedy blue and white dress worn by Pickford.
One such dress was customized for realism to look tatty and near-ruined. Torn in certain places, patched up here and there, and bits of cotton fabric stuck on willy-nilly.
Pickford ranked 24 in the AFI’s Greatest Female Screen Legends all time list.
Pickford was the founder of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in 1941.
Mary came from an acting family. Along with her two siblings, and mother, they would take parts in local productions. Mary’s mother believed the motion picture industry would be a good fit for her.
Mary caused quite a stir when she chopped her illustrious locks into a bob, in 1928. The actress makes the front page of the New York Times, and shocks the world by cropping her signature curls into a short bob.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the very first people to leave hand and footprints outside the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in 1927. Pickford was inspired when a dog ran through wet cement, leaving paw prints – rumor has it.
Apparently, Pickford turned down Gloria Swanson’s iconic role in Sunset Boulevard.
Joan Crawford married Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, which kind of made her Pickford’s daughter-in-law.
Mary appeared on the cover of the very first issue of Photoplay in 1912 – dressed as the Little Red Riding Hood character.
In 1927, Mary stars in My Best Girl, her last silent film, with co-star Buddy Rogers. Ten years later, Pickford and Rogers would marry, following her divorce to Fairbanks in 1936. Mary and Buddy later adopt children, Ronald and Roxanne.
Mary Pickford publishes her novel The Demi-Widow in 1934.
Sadly, in 1939, both former husbands of Pickford pass away. Owen Moore dies of a cerebral hemorrhage, and Douglas Fairbanks of a heart attack.
At the 25th Academy Awards, in 1953, Mary Pickford announces the winner of Best Picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, to Cecil B. DeMille, with whom she worked with years earlier.
Pickford meets her first husband, actor Owen Moore, during Her First Biscuits, one of many directed by D.W. Griffith.
In the space of five years, the flourishing film career of Mary Pickford, saw her earnings soar from $175 a week in 1910, to a whopping $2000 per week by 1915 – making her the world’s highest-paid actress.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks joined the ranks with 34 other founders, to establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s right, AMPAS. The Oscars. Pickford would receive an honorary Oscar for her contribution to motion pictures nearly fifty years later, in 1976.
Nicknamed America’s Sweetheart, Mary was actually born in Canada. The Ontario Heritage Foundation erected a plaque honoring her in 1973.
In 2006, Mary Pickford was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.
Pickford was adamant that future generations would find her era of film laughable, and was to burn all of her films after her death. Luckily, dear friend Lillian Gish, convinced her otherwise.
Whilst visiting London, Lillian Gish was asked what M.P. stood for (Member of Parliament), and her response was: Mary Pickford.