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History of Cinema 10 – Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford. Born 1892. Died 1979. Canadian born actress. Married to Charles Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Owen Moore. Two children: Ronald Rogers and Roxanne Rogers.

Born Gladys Smith in Toronto, Mary became the breadwinner of her family at the very young age of 7 after the death of her father. She earned money acting on stage along with her mother, brother Jack and sister Lotti. Mary was alone in wanting a career in acting. She made it to Broadway in 1907.

Producer/director David Belasco changed her name to Mary Pickford. Mary did well on Broadway earning a solid reputation and getting gigs steadily. While between two shows in 1909, DW Griffith approached Mary inquiring if she wanted to work in pictures. He admired her acting talent and wanted to have her featured in some of his one reelers. She agreed but only temporarily, between shows.

Pickford worked as an actress and writer for Biograph Pictures from 1909-11, occasionally working at the Independent Motion Picture Company and the Majestic Picture Company. In 1911 Pickford was the first movie star to be featured on the cover of New York Dramatic Mirror magazine. The public loved Pickford and nicknamed her “Moving Picture Mary.”

Mary signed with Adolph Zukor in 1913 and left Broadway. Tess of the Storm Country bowed in 1914. It was so popular it made her an international star. Fan worship of her grew exponentially, leading to tremendous negotiating power. Pickford was quick to recognize what the fans gave her and capitalized on it. By 1916 Pickford had negotiated a contract that paid her $10k/week, gave her 50% of the gross of her films, and established her own production company. She now would sign off on every aspect of her films, top to bottom.

Pickford often played children given her youthful looks and short stature. She brought complexity to her roles that children would not have been capable of using her physicality and body language.

At 27, Pickford cofounder United Artists with best friend Charlie Chaplin, rival D W Griffith, and future husband Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford and Fairbanks were timid about getting married as they did not want to upset their fans. When it was revealed they found adulation from the fans. Soon they were considered the King and Queen of Hollywood, holding court at their home, Pickfair.

Pickfair

Taking advantage of United Artists, Pickford slowed her career down. She began producing one film a year rather than dozens. Her focus was on quality. She made her best pictures in this period: Tess of the Storm Country, Rosita, Sparrows, and her last silent film, My Best Girl.

Continuing to see the big picture of the industry, she moved to talkies quickly after the technology premiered. 1929 brought Coquette, her second Oscar winning picture. She retired from acting after Taming of the Shrew, her next picture with husband Fairbanks, died at the box office. She produced only from 1929-1936. She left film in 1936 as her mother, sister and brother all died within the year. Fairbanks divorced her as well and died three years later. Pickford remained a philanthropist and civic ambassador.

Mary Pickford leaves a legacy of progress indelibly ingrained in film production. Her personality marked pop culture in ways that still persist.

The ingenue archetype was defined by Pickford. She had the first close-up. Pickford was the first actress to,fly on a plane in a film. She innovated spotlights.

There is an adult beverage named for Pickford. It was created in the ‘20s Cuba, the Mary Pickford Cocktail. 1 1/2 oz white rum, 1 1/2 oz pineapple, 1 teaspoon grenadine, 6 drops maraschino liqueur.

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