Mary Pickford

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Mary Pickford, 1913
Mary Pickford (1915)

Mary Pickford (born April 8, 1892 in Toronto , Ontario , † May 29, 1979 in Santa Monica , California , as Gladys Louise Smith) was a Canadian actress and producer of the silent and early talkies. She was also the only female co-founder of the independent film distributor United Artists and was one of the 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences , which awards the Oscars .

life and work

Mary Pickford was the eldest of three children of John Charles Smith, a son of Methodist British immigrants, and his wife Elsie Charlotte Printer, who worked as an actress under the pseudonyms Charlotte Hennessy and Charlotte Pickford . Mary had a sister, Charlotte "Lottie" Smith (1893-1936), and a brother, John Charles "Jack" Smith Jr (1896-1933). When she was five years old, her father died and the mother made some extra income for the family by taking in lodgers. In addition, she let Mary take on minor roles in theater and vaudeville . Under the name Baby Gladys , she toured Canada and the United States with various vaudeville troops. By 1907 she was already enjoying success on Broadway , where she stormed into the office of impresario David Belasco at the age of 14 and persuaded him to give her a role in The Warrens of Virginia . In 1909 she was able to convince DW Griffith to give her roles in his films. In the same year she began her film career at Biograph . By 1912 she had acted in over 140 films, mostly one-act plays.

DW Griffith , Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks when they signed the United Artists Charter (1919)

Pickford was instrumental in developing the Star System. Initially known as The Girl with the Curls , audiences kept demanding new films starring the popular actress, who went to the theaters under the name Little Mary . When she finally went to the IMP after a hectic change from society to society , they could proudly announce: Little Mary is an IMP now . While she was still earning $ 40 a week at Biograph , she increased her salary to $ 175 in 1910 and by moving to Majestic in 1911 to $ 275 a week. A year later, Adolph Zukor was already paying her weekly compensation of $ 500 for moving to his Famous Players Company . After making additional moves, she made $ 10,000 a week plus a bonus of $ 300,000 in 1916. By founding her own production company, she also had a percentage of their box office profits. The following year, Pickford went to the newly founded company First National for a fee of $ 350,000 per film . She was given complete freedom of design for her films, from the script to the final cut . In 1919 she founded the film company United Artists with Charlie Chaplin , DW Griffith and her future husband Douglas Fairbanks senior .

Mary Pickford around 1916

Pickford oversaw every detail in their films and only worked with the best of professionals. Cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Freund were involved in many of their later successes. She also worked often with director Marshall Neilan and screenwriter Frances Marion . For the production of The Little Lord , in which she played both the little lord and his mother in 1921, she set standards with a scene in which the actress as the little lord hugs her mother and thus herself. Together with Charles Rosher, she worked over 16 hours on the take, which in the finished film only lasted a few seconds. In the film Stella Maris she also took on the role of both Stella and the ugly orphan girl Unity, and the finished scenes, which show Mary in dialogue with herself, so to speak, were revolutionary for the time.

Pickford was dissatisfied early on with being committed to portraying little girls. In 1922 she attempted a radical change of image when she hired Ernst Lubitsch to direct the film adaptation of Faust . Pickford's mother strongly advised against playing a child murderer, and Pickford allowed himself to be changed. She later regretted this decision and blamed herself for following the advice. The very autocratic Pickford did not get along well with Lubitsch. When the two of them could not agree on the costume drama Dorothy Veron of Haddon Hall , Lubitsch proposed a popular novel of the time, which was eventually rented under the name Rosita . Pickford was not pleased with the collaboration, although most of the critics were benevolent. After a second unsuccessful foray into adult education, she returned to her tried-and-true image for the next few years, and the public apparently found little interest in a woman over thirty playing twelve-year-old girls. The 1926 film Sparrows , which shows Pickford and other orphans fleeing a baby farm in the Florida swamps, caused a sensation with scenes in which children crossed a swamp full of alligators on a log. For this purpose, the sequences with the reptiles were shot first and then incorporated into the scenes with Mary and the children. Lubitsch enthusiastically called the film “the eighth wonder of the world”.

With the comedy My Best Girl from 1927 Pickford finally tried to leave her image as America's Sweetheart and take on roles more appropriate to her age. She cut off her curls with great journalistic effort and had a flapper haircut, a bob haircut, which was modern at the time . The audience accepted the change half-heartedly. At the Academy Awards in 1930 (April) Mary Pickford was recognized as Best Actress for her performance in Coquette , with which she made her sound film debut. After the less than successful comedy Kiki , which tried to turn Pickford into a French vamp, the actress also had no luck when Walt Disney tried to film a version of Alice in Wonderland with Mary in 1933 . Her last film as an actress was Secrets , which was made in 1933 under the direction of Frank Borzage . After that she only worked as a producer until the late 1940s. The actresses Janet Gaynor and Shirley Temple then starred in several remakes of Pickford films. In the following years there was no lack of attempts to help Pickford make a comeback. More well-known projects included offers for Our Life with Father and the role of Norma Desmond on Sunset Boulevard . In 1937 she founded the Mary Pickford Cosmetic Company. She sold her last shares in United Artists in 1953. Her memoir Sunshine and shadow appeared in 1955. During the 1976 Academy Awards , she was awarded the honorary Oscar for life's work; a television crew broadcast Pickford's acceptance speech directly from their living room on Pickfair .

The actress left the negatives for most of her silent films to the American Film Institute in 1970 .


Mary Pickford was married three times: from 1911 to 1920 to Owen Moore , from 1920 to 1936 to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and from 1937 until her death in 1979 with Charles "Buddy" Rogers . All husbands were actors. Together, she and Fairbanks built the lavish Pickfair estate where Pickford lived until her death. During her marriage to Fairbanks Sr., Pickford was the stepmother of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and thus temporarily the mother-in-law of Joan Crawford . Pickford and her third husband adopted a boy, Ronald, in 1943 and a girl, Roxanne, in 1944

After becoming increasingly withdrawn from the public eye, Mary Pickford died on May 29, 1979 at the age of 86 of a cerebral haemorrhage. It was in the Garden of Remembrance of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park -Friedhofs in Glendale , California, buried. Her mother Charlotte and her siblings Lottie and Jack are buried next to her. After her death, her last husband, Charles Rogers, sold the property, which went to the singer Pia Zadora and her husband via detours in 1988 . They had the house torn down shortly thereafter, for which they were heavily criticized in public. In 2007 Katie Melua released the song " Mary Pickford, " which also mentions Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin.

Filmography (selection)

Daddy Long Legs in May 1919 on loan from the "Mary Pickford Company"
  • 1909: Mrs. Jones Entertains
  • 1909: The Lonely Villa
  • 1909: The Sealed Room
  • 1909: The Gibson Goddess
  • 1909: Lines of White on a Sullen Sea
  • 1910: The Unchanging Sea
  • 1912: The New York Hat
  • 1912: The Female of the Species
  • 1914: Cinderella
  • 1917: Backfish pranks ( Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm )
  • 1917: A Romance of the Redwoods
  • 1917: The Poor Little Rich Girl
  • 1917: The Little Princess
  • 1918: Stella Maris
  • 1918: Mary, the Pearl of the West (M'liss )
  • 1918: Cook for Everything (How Could You, Jean?)
  • 1918: The Mysterious Treasure (Captain Kidd Jr.)
  • 1919: My dear sweet Uncle Langbein (Daddy-Long-Legs)
  • 1919: Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley
  • 1919: Bergherzen (Heart o 'the Hills)
  • 1920: Sun in the Heart (Pollyanna)
  • 1920: The novel of a little laundress (Suds)
  • 1921: The Lighthouse Keeper (The Love Light)
  • 1921: The Little Mother (Through the Back Door)
  • 1921: The Little Lord (Little Lord Fauntleroy)
  • 1922: Tess of the Storm Country
  • 1923: Rosita
  • 1924: The Ride for Life (Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall)
  • 1925: Little Annemarie (Little Annie Rooney)
  • 1926: sparrows God (Sparrows)
  • 1927: Mary Pickford, the shop girl (My Best Girl)
  • 1927: Douglas Fairbanks, the Gaucho (The Goucho) (guest appearance)
  • 1929: The Taming of the Shrew (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • 1929: Coquette
  • 1930: Forever Yours
  • 1931: Kiki
  • 1933: Secrets


Web links

Commons : Mary Pickford  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Doris Akrap : Tempting Ambivalence . In: taz , March 29, 2014, p. 27