Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart"

Mary Pickford (born 8 April 1892)

Mary Pickford, "the girl with the golden curls,"
in 1916
Born Gladys Louise Smith, the tiny Mary Pickford (just a hair over five feet tall) became famous by playing little girls with "golden curls"--including Tess, in Tess of the Storm Country; Fanchon, in Fanchon the Cricket; Molly, in The Foundling; the eleven-year-old Gwendolyn, in Poor Little Rich Girl; Rebecca, in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; Sara, in The Little Princess; Pollyanna Whitler, in Pollyanna. 

Pickford acted in over 251 films during her career (she won the second Academy Award for best actress for her performance in 1929's Coquette), but her contributions to film go beyond her performances--in addition to acting, she produced, wrote, and directed.

According to the Mary Pickford Foundation, Pickford was "a multifaceted pioneer of early cinema": "she oversaw every aspect of the making of her films, from hiring talent and crew to overseeing the script, the shooting, the editing, to the final release and promotion of each project." She was also "a creative producer and a savvy businesswoman who helped shape the film industry as we know it today."

With D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford challenged the studios for artistic and economic control of her work, the four founding United Artists in 1919. She sold war bonds during the first world war, helped to establish the Motion Picture Relief Fund, now the Motion Picture & Television Fund (and served as its first vice president), and was one of the founders of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in 1941.

Pickford (left) with legendary screenwriter
Frances Marion*
Pickford died in 1979, but her legacy lives on. There are numerous biographies, and many of her films are available on DVD--although they are not currently streaming on Netflix, they are quite regularly broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. Even better, a number of Pickford's films are available for streaming via the Internet Archive (The Little Princess, for example, which you can access by clicking here).

If you aren't familiar with Pickford or her work, I'd recommend heading over to the Mary Pickford Foundation website--there you can find excellent biographical information, archival footage, interviews, an extensive photo gallery, a complete filmography, any a generous selection of film clips.  

The PBS documentary series The American Experience produced a documentary on Mary Pickford. You can view it by clicking here (this link was last checked on 8 April 2024--if it is no longer working, you can find the documentary via Google.) A full-length documentary, produced by CBC, is available by clicking here. (Mary Pickford was born in Toronto.)

Pickford in 1941 at the site of another of her philanthropic projects,
the Mary Pickford War Funds bungalow

*If you've never heard of the screenwriter Frances Marion, you can start at IMDb!