Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies

Edited by Christel Schmidt
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mary Pickford
    Book Description:

    In the early days of cinema, when actors were unbilled and unmentioned in credits, audiences immediately noticed Mary Pickford. Moviegoers everywhere were riveted by her magnetic talent and appeal as she rose to become cinema's first great star.

    In this engaging collection, copublished with the Library of Congress, an eminent group of film historians sheds new light on this icon's incredible life and legacy. Pickford emerges from the pages in vivid detail. She is revealed as a gifted actress, a philanthropist, and a savvy industry leader who fought for creative control of her films and ultimately became her own producer. This beautifully designed volume features more than two hundred color and black and white illustrations, including photographs and stills from the collections of the Library of Congress and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Together with the text, they paint a fascinating portrait of a key figure in American cinematic history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3667-7
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Christel Schmidt
    (pp. 1-5)
    Molly Haskell

    So quickly did cinema move from the stagy theatrics of one-reelers to the fluid intimacy of silent cinema and then to the completely different registers of sound that Mary Pickford, who had been in the forefront of the first revolution, came to seem old-fashioned in the second. It wasn’t just a matter of acting style and voices, but the zeitgeist as well. The Victorian ideal of childlike innocence and can-do spirit that Pickford brought to luminous perfection crashed on the shoals of a more cynical age. The brittle disillusion that followed the First World War, the end of Progressive Era...

  5. THE NATURAL Transitions in Mary Pickford’s Acting from the Footlights to Her Greatest Role in Film
    (pp. 7-21)
    Eileen Whitfield

    There was something about watching Mary Pickford that moved silent-era moviegoers in a way no other actor has ever achieved. And to find out why, one has only to watch her smashing work inTess of the Storm Country(1914), the first surviving feature to fully convey what one fan, inPhotoplay,called her “weird magnetic grip.”¹

    The grip still holds, from the moment Pickford (as Tessibel Skinner, a ravishing, unkempt young woman in rags) awakes from a nap beside a fishing shack. Disentangling herself from a heap of ropes and leaves, she shakes Tess to life with the force...

  6. CHILDHOOD REVISITED An Evaluation of Mary Pickford’s Youngest Characters
    (pp. 23-31)
    Eileen Whitfield

    No aspect of Mary Pickford’s career is as misunderstood as her work playing children. These characters, featured in a fraction of her movies, are beautifully rendered and deserve their popular and critical success. But after the close of the silent era, distortions and half-truths about their nature had a toxic effect on Pickford’s image. Writers repeatedly claimed that Pickford usually or always played children on the screen. Others incorrectly wrote that the films in which she played adults were box-office failures. Critics who apparently had not seen the movies described the portrayals as false and coy. Indeed, her “anachronistic little...

  7. MARY PICKFORD Passionate Producer
    (pp. 33-44)
    Kevin Brownlow

    In his 1923 autobiography, independent film producer and studio founder Sam Goldwyn wrote, “There was no detail of film production which she, this girl, still in her early twenties, had not grasped more thoroughly than any man to whom I ever talked. She knew pictures not only from the standpoint of the studio, but from that of the box office. Back of those lovely brown eyes, disguised by that lyric profile, is the mind of a captain of industry.”¹ He was speaking, of course, about Mary Pickford, the groundbreaking actress who, by age twenty-four, was running her own production company,...

  8. FATHER OF THE FAMILY Mary Pickford’s Journey from Breadwinner to Businesswoman
    (pp. 47-63)
    Christel Schmidt

    In many ways, it was highly unlikely that Mary Pickford (born Gladys Smith in 1892) would grow up to be a magnate in an industry boardroom. Most women of her era had little contact with finance beyond the management of household accounts, and performers were often considered too mercurial to understand business. Still, by the 1920s, Pickford was not just an international movie star but also a film producer with her own corporation. She shared and ran a studio with her husband, actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks, and was one of the original founders of United Artists, Hollywood’s first distribution...

    (pp. 64-71)
    Christel Schmidt

    By the time Mary Pickford wed actor Douglas Fairbanks in March 1920, the marriage seemed almost preordained. Each was already an international superstar, adored by fans with the passionate intensity that early cinema inspired. Each had an onscreen persona that represented American optimism, energy, and youth. Each had amassed extraordinary wealth, power, and respect within the industry. And though their courtship was fraught with complications (at the time, both were married to other people), their eventual union seemed, to the public and to their friends, the ideal match of personal and professional equals.

    Just a generation earlier, middle-class men and...

  10. “LITTLE MARY” Formidable Philanthropist
    (pp. 73-86)
    Alison Trope

    Under the title “Mary, the Well Beloved,” Bartlett’sPhotoplayarticle details Mary Pickford’s five-year commitment to the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum. Along the way, it highlights her monetary contributions as well as her perhaps more significant gift of personal time and love. According toPhotoplay,Pickford did not know the story was being written. An inset box (on the article’s title page) emphasizes her desire for anonymity regarding her work at the orphanage. The magazine, however, claimed that her good deeds had to be made public, if for no other reason than to inspire others.¹

    Photoplay’s explanation represents an unusual...

    (pp. 89-99)
    Edward Wagenknecht

    It must be very difficult for people today to realize what Mary Pickford meant to America when she really was America’s Sweetheart—not only the undisputed queen of the movies but also, by all accounts, the most famous woman in America. The “America’s Sweetheart” tag, invented by “Pop” Grauman, was sedulously cultivated by her press agents, and her career was intelligently geared and self-directed toward the success she had deliberately set for herself as a goal. Yet none of this would have sufficed without an enthusiastic public response, and nobody who lived through the years of her fame can doubt...

  12. Mary Pickford Memorabilia: 1910s
    (pp. 100-107)
  13. DRESSING THE PART Mary Pickford’s Use of Costume
    (pp. 109-134)
    Beth Werling

    Clothes may make the man, but in the case of Mary Pickford, they definitely helped define the filmmaker. The silent film actress and producer—who had once considered a career in the fashion industry—played a pivotal role in selecting the costumes for her films. In fact, the depth of her involvement (particularly in the 1920s) highlights her brilliant producing skills as well as her realization that clothes were key to the art of storytelling.

    Pickford was surrounded by costumes and dressmaking as a child. Her widowed mother, Charlotte, supported her children as a seamstress; later, when the family began...

  14. Mary Pickford Memorabilia: 1920s
    (pp. 136-143)
  15. AMERICAN IDOL Mary Pickford, World War I, and the Making of a National Icon
    (pp. 145-161)
    Christel Schmidt

    In April 1918 Mary Pickford stood on an outdoor stage surrounded by American flags, soldiers, and a military band. She faced an audience of thousands that, in trying to get closer to her, almost pushed through the railing between them. Using a megaphone, Pickford began a rousingly patriotic speech about the American effort in the First World War. As she spoke of Germany’s military aggression, her rage spilled over. Stamping her feet and pounding her fists, she told of Germans who had crucified Belgian babies and bludgeoned Allied soldiers to death. She recounted her meeting with a brave young army...

  16. LAWS OF ATTRACTION Mary Pickford, Movies, and the Evolution of Fame
    (pp. 163-167)
    Eileen Whitfield

    The pioneers of silent cinema had no idea that the advent of movies would not only reshape entertainment but also spark the transformation of fame itself. Producer Adolph Zukor, whose company made Pickford’s early silent features, first thought that leading theatrical players such as Minnie Maddern Fiske and Sarah Bernhardt would claim screen stardom for their own. But watching live actors is an arm’s-length relationship. The experience of watching silent film is different: the medium is trancelike, ethereal, and fluid. The performer’s image is everywhere and nowhere, a nebulous presence made of shadow and light. Viewers sit immersed in the...

  17. CROWN OF GLORY The Rise and Fall of the Mary Pickford Curls
    (pp. 169-184)
    Christel Schmidt

    It is no exaggeration to say that Mary Pickford had one of history’s most famous heads of hair. During the early twentieth century, the eighteen honey-golden ringlets that beautifully framed her face enraptured filmgoers and became a key element in her meteoric rise to stardom. Over time, her tresses—the most admired, coveted, and copied in America during the 1910s—came to symbolize the era. It is not surprising, then, that her hair became a focal point during the cultural shifts and major battles over women’s hairstyles, dress, and behavior that marked the 1920s.

    When Pickford first started appearing in...

  18. BLOOD AND SYMPATHY Race and the Films of Mary Pickford
    (pp. 187-202)
    Elizabeth Binggeli

    In the opening of the 1927 Douglas Fairbanks filmThe Gaucho,audiences are given a treat: a brief, unbilled appearance by Mary Pickford as the Virgin Mary, a miraculous vision in two-strip Technicolor. She materializes magically from a rock wall, a blond, rosy-cheeked shock of color in an otherwise black-and-white world; her large eyes brim with compassion for the Argentine shepherd girl who has fallen from a cliff and whose broken body lies motionless next to a spring. A single loving glance from the Madonna heals the rapturous girl and dazzles a gathering throng of pampas folk.The Gaucho’s Technicolor...

    (pp. 205-217)
    James Card

    “The two greatest names in the cinema are, I beg to reiterate, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. . . . Theirs are the greatest names in the cinema and from an historical point of view they always will be great.” The quotation is from Iris Barry’sLet’s Go to the Movies,originally published in 1926. Further on in the same book, Miss Barry adds the name of Douglas Fairbanks and observes: “Fairbanks, his wife and Chaplin are, and behave like, serious artists: in that is their great strength . . . they are, largely, the history of the cinema.”¹


    (pp. 218-223)
    Christel Schmidt

    Nineteenth-century stage star Lawrence Barrett once said that acting a role was like “carving a statue out of snow.”¹ Indeed, before the invention of cinema, all that remained of an actor’s performance was a memory in the viewer’s mind. The silent film camera, designed to record only images, could fully capture the work of movie actors whose voices were not a part of their art. Mary Pickford, like many of her colleagues, marveled at the thought of screen immortality. However, as early as 1921, she felt a growing concern that the technical simplicity of her early films would earn audience...

  21. The Mary Pickford Film Collection at the Library of Congress
    (pp. 224-225)
    Christel Schmidt

    The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation (PCAVC), a state-of-the-art facility for storing and preserving audiovisual materials, is home to the largest archival collection of motion pictures starring Mary Pickford. Currently, the Library retains moving image materials representing 156 Pickford titles out of the estimated 210 she made between 1909 and 1933. (Sadly, 36 films are considered lost.) Over the past century, a number of films have been acquired through copyright deposits, through repatriations from European archives, and from movie collectors. However, the Library received most of the films from the actress herself, who made a gift...

  22. The Mary Pickford Photograph Collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library
    (pp. 226-227)
    Robert Cushman

    Shortly after I began working at the Margaret Herrick Library in 1972, I contacted silent film actress Mary Pickford about the possibility of her donating her collection of still photographs and papers to the institution. She responded that, although she didn’t have very much left, she would eventually give us what remained. When the Academy held the grand opening of its new Wilshire Boulevard building in 1975, we decided to feature a huge Pickford exhibit (on two floors) to commemorate the event. In addition to being one of the great figures of film history and a founder of the Academy...

  23. The Mary Pickford Costume and Ephemera Collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
    (pp. 228-229)
    Beth Werling

    Among the estimated 35 million artifacts and specimens that reside at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) is a collection of fifty objects that document Mary Pickford’s role as Hollywood’s first movie star and female film mogul. Postcards displaying scenes from the actress’s now-lost first features, a pair of badges bearing her photograph from the Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Ball in 1914, costumes from the 1920s, and her iconic blond curls are some of the items that make up Pickford’s extraordinary donation to the museum.

    Why did Pickford decide to give her career-defining collection to the NHMLAC? The...

  24. Mary Pickford Chronology
    (pp. 230-239)
    Christel Schmidt

    1892 Mary Pickford is born Gladys Louise Smith on April 8 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to John Charles Smith and Charlotte Smith (née Hennessey).

    1893– Charlotte gives birth to a daughter,

    1898 Lottie, on June 9, 1893, and to a son, John (known as Jack), on August 18, 1896. John Charles and Charlotte separate in 1895. John Charles dies after a fall on February 11, 1898.

    1900– Pickford, billed as Gladys Smith,

    1901 makes her stage debut (along with sister, Lottie) inThe Silver Kingat the Princess Theatre in Toronto on January 8, 1900. She continues to act in...

  25. Filmography
    (pp. 241-249)
    Christel Schmidt
  26. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 251-251)
  27. Notes
    (pp. 252-260)
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 262-263)
  29. List of Contributors
    (pp. 265-265)
  30. Photo Credits and Permissions
    (pp. 266-268)
  31. Index
    (pp. 270-276)