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Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford

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Secrets DVD By 1933, silent star Mary Pickford was on her way out of the movie business, and... more info $19.95was $19.95 Buy Now

Also Known As: Gladys Smith, Catherine Hennessey Died: May 29, 1979
Born: April 8, 1893 Cause of Death: cerebral hemorrhage
Birth Place: Toronto, Ontario, CA Profession: actor, producer, screenwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Long before Charlie Chaplin ever met Mack Sennett, silent film actress Mary Pickford had become the first superstar of a burgeoning movie business with her collaboration with director D.W. Griffith. Having broken into movies in 1909, Pickford became such as a fast-rising star, that by 1916 she was making an unprecedented $10,000 a week and a percentage of the profits. She rode the wave to stardom as the curly blonde, elfin moppet in "Tess of the Storm Country" (1914), "Madame Butterfly" (1915), "The Poor Little Rich Girl" (1917) and "The Little American" (1917). She had big hits with "Stella Maris" (1918), "Daddy Long Legs" (1919) and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921). In 1919, Pickford - along with Charlie Chapin, D.W. Griffith and future husband Douglas Fairbanks - formed their own studio, United Artists, in an effort to secure more artistic control over their films. Meanwhile, she developed a more mature persona with director Ernst Lubitsch and eventually segued into talkies, winning an Oscar for Best Actress - and kicking up a bit of controversy - for her performance in "Coquette" (1929). But she soon left acting altogether, making her last film, "Secrets" (1933), before settling into a strictly...

Long before Charlie Chaplin ever met Mack Sennett, silent film actress Mary Pickford had become the first superstar of a burgeoning movie business with her collaboration with director D.W. Griffith. Having broken into movies in 1909, Pickford became such as a fast-rising star, that by 1916 she was making an unprecedented $10,000 a week and a percentage of the profits. She rode the wave to stardom as the curly blonde, elfin moppet in "Tess of the Storm Country" (1914), "Madame Butterfly" (1915), "The Poor Little Rich Girl" (1917) and "The Little American" (1917). She had big hits with "Stella Maris" (1918), "Daddy Long Legs" (1919) and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921). In 1919, Pickford - along with Charlie Chapin, D.W. Griffith and future husband Douglas Fairbanks - formed their own studio, United Artists, in an effort to secure more artistic control over their films. Meanwhile, she developed a more mature persona with director Ernst Lubitsch and eventually segued into talkies, winning an Oscar for Best Actress - and kicking up a bit of controversy - for her performance in "Coquette" (1929). But she soon left acting altogether, making her last film, "Secrets" (1933), before settling into a strictly producer role. Living in Pickfair, her famous Beverly Hills estate, in near seclusion for the rest of her life, Pickford nonetheless basked in her legacy as a pioneering actress whose girl-next-door charm made her Hollywood's first true movie star.

Born Gladys Smith on April 8, 1893 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Pickford was raised by her father, John, an alcoholic who left the family shortly after she was born and later died in 1898, and her mother, Charlotte, a seamstress who took in boarders to make ends meet. Pickford showed her pluck early on, refusing to allow the family to split up and consciously assuming the father's role as breadwinner. A working actress from the age of six, she solidified the family fortunes by aligning herself with producer David Belasco as a teenager, who gave her the name Mary Pickford, before she made her New York City debut in "The Warrens of Virginia" (1907). She entered the film business by working with D.W. Griffith, who at the time was directing silent pictures at Biograph. Initially, Griffith offered her $5 a day like all the other actors with the studio, but Pickford held out for a guarantee of $40 a week after only one day of work. Because Biograph churned out many short one-reelers, Pickford racked up a number of credits in short order, including "The Lonely Villa" (1909), "The Country Doctor" (1909), "The Sealed Room" (1909) and "The Restoration" (1909), in which she played one of her first named roles.

Displaying the same intuitive genius for film acting as Griffith had for direction, Pickford rejected the broad stock gestures of 19th Century stage technique in favor of a stillness that riveted audience attention. She not only showed feeling, but she captured the subtle shift of feeling without dialogue and, as the first actor to understand the impact of the close-up, soared to the top of the new art form in films like "To Save Her Soul" (1909), "The Englishman and the Girl" (1910) and "Romona" (1910). In 1910, Pickford briefly left Biograph to make movies for Independent, where she wrote and starred in "The Dream" (1911), directed by Thomas Ince and co-starring then-husband, Owen Moore. After further starring roles in "Sweat Memories" (1911), "The Lighthouse Keeper" (1911) and "'Tween Two Loves" (1911), Pickford left Independent and signed a contract with Harry H. Aiken's Majestic Film Company, only to make five one-reelers, including "Little Red Riding Hood" (1911), before returning to Biograph. Reunited with Griffith, she starred in "The Inner Circle" (1912), "So Near, Yet So Far" (1912), "The Informer" (1912) and "The New York Hat" (1912), her last film with Griffith and Biograph.

In 1913, Pickford left the movie business for a spell to star on Broadway in a production of David Belasco's "A Good Little Devil," before resuming her film career in May of that year after signing a contract with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company. She starred in "Caprice" (1913), "Hearts Adrift" (1913) and "Tess of the Storm Country" (1914), before Paramount Pictures began releasing Zukor's films. Under Paramount, Pickford became a major star with movies like "Cinderella" (1914), "The Dawn of a Tomorrow" (1915), "Madame Butterfly" (1915) and "Poor Little Peppina" (1916). When she was ready to sign a new contract with Zukor, Pickford was undoubtedly "America's Sweetheart," which allowed her to earn an unprecedented $10,000 a week and a percentage of the profits of her films. Adoring audiences flocked to Little Mary's movies, with the actress having struck a deep chord in the new mass of moviegoers. During her peak between 1917-19, she was a prime shaper in developing the movie narrative, bringing verve and finesse to feature storytelling, often in collaboration with directors Cecil B. DeMille, Marshall Neilan and William Desmond Taylor. Such titles as "The Poor Little Rich Girl" (1917), "The Little American" (1917), "Stella Maris" (1918) and "Daddy Long Legs" (1919) solidified her status as Hollywood's biggest star.

Though she never took a directing credit and rarely one for screenwriting, Pickford was undeniably the power behind her pictures, and she used that power to ensure she was well compensated. So when Zukor joined forces with Jesse Lasky, they attempted to reduce her power, only to be met with failure. In fact, Pickford frustrated Zukor so much that, according to her testimony in a 1923 lawsuit, he once offered her $250,000 if she would simply stop making movies. She reached her peak of popularity during the last years of World War I, touring the country selling Liberty Bonds, and afterwards becoming a mogul herself as one of the founders of United Artists, along with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith and soon-to-be second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. In fact, Pickford and Fairbanks were something like Hollywood royalty at that time, being the industry's two most popular stars, and became the first true celebrity couple. They even entertained fellow celebrities, presidents and world leaders at their rolling Beverly Hills estate, dubbed "Pickfair" by the press, which, during their marriage, became the most famous American residence outside of the White House. Meanwhile, the formation of United Artists marked the period of her best films and the most complete exploitation of America's Sweetheart in films like "Pollyanna" (1920), "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921), "The Love Light" (1921) and "Tess of the Storm Country" (1922), a remake of her 1914 film of the same name.

Perhaps tiring of her Little Mary curly-cue persona, Pickford brought Ernst Lubitsch over from Germany to help her adopt a more mature screen attitude, but her hated of working with him on "Rosita" (1923) led her to work with more amenable directors like Marshall Neilan on "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall" (1924); William Beudine on "Little Annie Rooney" (1925) and "Sparrows" 1926); and Sam Taylor on "My Best Girl" (1927), her last silent film. In 1926, while on a visit to the Soviet Union, Pickford was convinced by director Sergei Komorov to kiss a local actor, an event that was captured on film and turned into an entire film, "A Kiss from Mary Pickford" (1926). She continued to break new ground - this time literally - when in 1927 Pickford and Fairbanks became the first stars to press their footprints into concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Pickford made the transition into talkies and showcased a new screen personality, renouncing her famous curls to play a flapper in Taylor's "Coquette" (1929), based on a Broadway hit that had starred Helen Hayes. She used her clout as half of Hollywood's reigning royal couple to lobby the Central Board of Judges and win the Best Actress Academy Award, which triggered controversy and led to direct voting by Academy membership.

After starring opposite Fairbanks in the disastrous adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew" (1929), which contained the infamous credit "By William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor," Pickford starred in two more sound films before surrendering ground to new stars like Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. She made her last film, "Secrets" (1933) before settling into the role of producer on "One Rainy Afternoon" (1936), "The Gay Desperado" (1936) and "Little Iodine" (1946). In 1936, a distraught Pickford divorced Fairbanks after his affair with Lady Sylvia Ashley became public knowledge; not long after, she soon married "My Best Girl" co-star, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, with whom she stayed happily married for the remainder of her life. Pickford had her last producing credit on Douglas Sirk's "Sleep, My Love" (1948) and later rejected the offer to play Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). She planned to act in "Storm Center" (1956), but gave way to Bette Davis in the end, settling once and for all into genteel retirement at Pickfair. Pickford eventually sold her share of United Artists after buying out Griffith and Fairbanks prior to their deaths, which allowed her to live in comfort for the rest of her life. She slipped into alcoholism and reclusion, entertaining few old friends and otherwise staying out of view. In 1976, Pickford received an Honorary Academy Award, which she accepted via videotape at Pickfair. On May 29, 1979, Pickford suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at 87 years old. She left behind a legacy as the biggest star of the silent era, surpassing even Chaplin, perhaps due to the hope she inspired for a new century and a new American art form.

By Shawn Dwyer

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Secrets (1933) Mary Marlowe/Mary Carlton
3.
 Kiki (1931) Kiki
4.
 Coquette (1929) Norma Besant
5.
 Taming of the Shrew (1929) Katherine
6.
 The Gaucho (1928) Our Lady of the Shrine
7.
 My Best Girl (1927) Maggie Johnson
8.
 Sparrows (1926) Mama Mollie
9.
 Little Annie Rooney (1925) Little Annie Rooney
10.
 Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924) Dorothy Vernon
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Acted in touring stage melodramas from the age of six
1907:
Wheedled an interview with New York stage impressario David Belasco who christened her Mary Pickford (one of Gladys' family names); NYC debut for Belasco, "The Warrens of Virginia"
1909:
Entered the movies, engaged by D W Griffith at Biograph; first film, "The Lonely Villa"; Griffith offered her five dollars a day "when he needed her" but she held out for a guarantee of $25 a week and "extra when I work extra"
:
Achieved star status in the wake of people inquiring about the 'Little Mary' they'd seen in so many movies
1910:
Briefly left Griffith for Independent
1911:
While at Independent, scripted 11-minute "The Dream", directed by Thomas H Ince; acted in it along with then-husband Owen Moore
:
Did five films for the Majestic company
1912:
Briefly returned to Biograph; left to resume stage career
1913:
Returned to films with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players (Edwin S Porter, director-general) at $500 per week; first film, an adaptation of her Broadway success for Belasco, "A Good Little Devil" (1914), directed by Porter
1915:
Produced and starred in Allan Dwan's "The Foundling", one of a dozen Pickford features released that year
1916:
Earned $10,000 a week, plus a percentage of the profit from her films
1917:
Acted in two Cecil B DeMille films, "The Little American" and "A Romance of the Redwoods"
1917:
First film with director Marshall 'Mickey' Neilan, "A Little Princess", playing a 12-year old at age 24
1917:
Screenwriter Frances Marion wrote scenarios for nine of the eleven films in which Pickford starred; Marion would write 17 in all
:
Along with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, attracted the largest crowds for WWI Liberty Bond drives
1918:
Acted in three films directed by William Desmond Taylor and three by Neilan
1919:
Starred in Neilan's "Daddy Long Legs"
1919:
Left Zukor, signing with First National for $675,000 a year, plus fifty percent of the gross
1919:
Co-founded United Artists with Fairbanks, Griffith and Chaplin
1921:
Directed by brother Jack (and Alfred E Green) in "Through the Back Door"
1921:
Starred in Marion's directing debut, "The Love Light"
1923:
Acted in Ernst Lubitsch's first American film, "Rosita"; Pickford had brought Lubitsch to America in an effort to adopt a more mature screen attitude
1924:
Last film with Neilan, "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall"
1926:
On a visit to the Soviet Union, director Sergei Komorov persuaded her to kiss a local actor, captured the event on celluloid and built an entire film around it ("A Kiss From Mary Pickford")
1927:
With Fairbanks, became the first stars to press their footprints into concrete at Grauman's Chinese
1928:
Made cameo appearance as 'Our Lady of the Shrine' in "The Gaucho", starring Fairbanks
1929:
Acted in first talking film, "Coquette", winning her "tainted" Best Actress Oscar; since she was married to the Academy's president (Fairbanks), Pickford had campaigned hard for the statuette, at one point inviting the members of the Central Board of Judges over to Pickfair for tea; the resulting controversy brought down the Board of Judges and led to direct voting by the membership
1929:
Starred opposite Fairbanks in the disastrous "The Taming of the Shrew", containing the infamous credit, "By William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor"
1933:
Made last film, "Secrets", directed by Frank Borzage who replaced a dismissed Neilan
:
Served as vice-president of United Artists
1936:
Produced Rouben Mamoulian's "The Gay Desperado"
1948:
Last producing credit, Douglas Sirk's "Sleep, My Love"
1953:
With Chaplin, sold share of United Artists, having previously bought-out (and out-lived) both Fairbanks and Griffith; according to Chaplin, an earlier and better opportunity was lost when Pickford balked at having to wait two years for $7 million
1975:
Presented with honorary Academy Award
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Pickford charmed producer David Belasco on thier first meeting. When he asked, "So you want to be an actress, little girl?", she cagily replied, "No, sir. I have been an actress. I want to be a good actress."

"I think the picture a wonderful business and I will always love it, but I don't know whether it will always love me . . . Nobody in the world is important; the world may miss people for a while, but the world goes on just the same . . . My ambition is to become bigger and better than ever and to retire gracefully at the floodtide of power and live comfortably the rest of my life." --Mary Pickford, quoted by Maude C Pilkington in San Jose Mercury Herald, June 17, 1917.

"For world popularity, [Pickford] is the greatest American, the greatest world citizen ... the world evangel." --From a 1920 St Louis Globe Dispatch

"I never liked one of my pictures in its entirety." --Mary Pickford

"I left the screen because I didn't want what happened to Chaplin to happen to me ... The little girl made me. I wasn't waiting for the little girl to kill me. I'd already been pigeonholed. I know I'm an artist, and that's not being arrogant, because talent comes from God ... My career was planned, there was never anything accidental about it. It was planned, it was painful, it was purposeful. I'm not exactly satisfied, but I'm grateful." --Mary Pickford

Mabel Normand, before her career was ruined by scandal, reputedly responded to an interviewer who asked her hobby as follows: "Don't say 'work'. That's like Mary Pickford, that prissy bitch." Although the interviewer dropped the last three words.

"The first female movie mogul ... perhaps the only female movie mogul." --Scott Eyman writing in his biography "Mary Pickford: America's Sweetheart"

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Owen Moore. Actor. Married in 1911; divorced in 1920.
husband:
Douglas Fairbanks. Actor. Married in 1920; divorced in 1936; died on December 12, 1939 of heart attack; co-founded United Artist with Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D W Griffith.
husband:
Charles Rogers. Actor, bandleader. Married from 1937 until her death; co-starred together in "My Best Girl" (1927); reportedly, Pickford had dry fun at his expense, calling him 'Douglas' and ignoring his comments while the company squirmed.

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Catherine Faeley Hennessey. Firebrand Catholic, called by Mary "the warrior in the family"; Pickford wrote scenario for "Little Annie Rooney" (1925) under pseudonym Catherine Hennessey.
father:
John Charles Smith. Alcoholic; died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1898.
mother:
Charlotte Smith. Actor, manager. Born in 1873; died on March 22, 1928 from breast cancer.
brother:
Jack Pickford. Actor, director. Born on August 18, 1896; died on January 3, 1933; married to actresses Olive Thomas and Marilyn Miller.
sister:
Lottie Pickford. Actor. Born on June 9, 1895; died from heart attack on December 9, 1936.
son:
Ronald Charles Rogers. Adopted at age 6 in 1943; married c. 1955 and had two children; became estranged from adoptive parents.
daughter:
Roxanne Rogers. Waitress. Adopted as a baby in 1944; married three times; became estranged from adoptive parents.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Why Not Try God?" H.C. Kinsey & Co
"My Rendezvous With Life" H.C. Kinsey & Co
"The Demi-Widow" Bobbs-Merrill
"Sunshine and Shadow: An Autobiography" Doubleday
"Sweetheart: The Story of Mary Pickford" Praeger
"Mary Pickford: America's Sweetheart" Donald I. Fine, Inc.
"Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood" University of Kentucky Press
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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