Mary Pickford was born Gladys Smith in 1892 in Toronto, Canada. After her father was killed in an accident, Gladys became the family’s main breadwinner by performing in the theatre. She was seven years old. In fact, the stage became a family venture, as her younger siblings Lottie and Jack and even her mother took up the trade. But the drive and determination to be a star belonged solely to Gladys. In 1907, her ambition would take her to Broadway and famed producer-director David Belasco, who changed her name to Mary Pickford and gave her a part in “The Warrens of Virginia.”
Mary Pickford publicity still. Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library.
Ad In the Bishop’s Carriage (1913). Private Collection.
Mary Pickford, The Love Light (1921), written and directed by Frances Marion. Private Collection.
Mary Pickford, Caprice (1913). Private Collection.
Mary Pickford with Frances Marion. Private Collection.
Mary Pickford ad for Kiki 1931. Private Collection.
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith – founders of United Artists, 1919. Private Collection.
Mary Pickford, Tess of the Storm Country (1922), co-written by Josephine Lovett. Private Collection
Mary Pickford with directors and producers. Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library.
In 1909, when Pickford was between stage engagements, she approached director D. W. Griffith at the Biograph Company in New York and asked for work in moving pictures. She had no intention of working permanently in the new medium, but hoped the income would tide her over before she went back to Belasco and the stage. Pickford was intrigued with film acting, and before long she began to enjoy “posing” for motion pictures. She stayed with the Biograph Company, working as both an actress and writer from 1909 to 1911, leaving for a brief stint with the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP), and later with Majestic Pictures Corporation. She returned to Griffith at Biograph in early 1912, finishing out the year with him. In 1913, after a run on Broadway in “A Good Little Devil,” Pickford made a definitive break from the stage by signing a motion picture contract with Adolph Zukor and the Famous Players Film Company. The year 1913 marked the dawn of the feature motion picture, and Pickford was about to become its biggest star.
In fact, she came to feature films with a well-established legacy. In 1911, “Moving Picture Mary” was the first movie star to adorn the cover of the New York Dramatic Mirror, an honor previously bestowed only on theatrical stars. And because moviegoers had already singled Pickford out as a favorite, her success in features was guaranteed. In 1914, Pickford’s Tess of the Storm Country, the story of a fiery young woman fighting for the underclass, caused a sensation. The extraordinary reaction made Pickford an international star and created fan worship that had never before been witnessed. In turn, this success gave Mary Pickford incredible bargaining power. In 1916, Pickford had negotiated a contract that gave her a $10,000 a week salary, 50% of her film profits, and her own production company. Pickford would sign off on every aspect of her productions, from the script to the director. She was even known to have had a hand in editing. During these years she worked with directors Maurice Tourneur and Marshall Neilan, the writer Frances Marion, and made some of the best features of her career, including Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), Stella Maris (1918), and The Hoodlum (1919).
Pickford is often remembered for her portrayals of children in films including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917) and Daddy-Long-Legs (1919). The stories were adapted from popular novels and had been performed on stage with an adult actress (Edith Taliaferro and Ruth Chatterton) playing the role of a young girl. Pickford’s petite size and youthful beauty made her ideal for these parts, but it was her acting talent that seared these roles into the public consciousness. Her portrait of childhood captured both the simplicity and complexity of a young person’s inner world, and also its physicality, through body language and mannerism.
In 1919, when she was only twenty-seven years old, Pickford cofounded United Artists, the first independent film distribution company, along with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her future husband Douglas Fairbanks. Then in 1920 she and Fairbanks were wed in a private ceremony, but they shared their married life with the world. At first, the couple had feared a negative reaction (both were already married when they met), but their union only fed into the romantic fantasies many fans had about Hollywood. The couple was mobbed at every port on their whirlwind European honeymoon. Back in California, they relished their place as the King and Queen of Hollywood, holding court at their home, known as Pickfair. Pickford decided to make only one film a year after 1921, focusing on the quality of her productions. Many believe that she was at her creative peak during the teens, but her films of the 1920s were the most successful. Favorite titles from this decade include a remake of Tess of the Storm Country (1922), Rosita (1923), and Sparrows (1926). Her last silent film, My Best Girl (1927), would be one of the greatest of the era.
The decade’s last year brought about major changes in the industry and for Mary Pickford. By 1929, the Talkies had all but obliterated silent film. Pickford knew she could not resist the change. She cut her old-fashioned curls and made two Talkies before the decade ended. Coquette (1929) won her an Oscar for best actress, and Taming of the Shrew (1929) featured the much-anticipated pairing of Pickford and Fairbanks. But even with good reviews and promotion, these films were not as successful as her silent pictures. She attempted two more sound features, then retired in 1933 after twenty-three years of making movies. And though she kept on producing films after retiring, the experience was not as rich as running her own career had been. Pickford, whose professional decline had begun in the same year as the death of her beloved mother, Gladys, in 1928, saw her brother and sister die in the 1930s. In 1936, her fairytale marriage to Fairbanks ended in divorce. Fairbanks died of heart failure only three years later. In 1937, Pickford married actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers, her costar in My Best Girl. The marriage lasted until Mary Pickford’s death in 1979.
Lines of White in a Sullen Sea. Dir.: D.W. Griffith (Biograph Co. US 1909) cas.: Mary Pickford, Linda Arvidson, James Kirkwood, George Nichols, si, b&w. Archive: Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art.
The Sorrows of the Unfaithful. Dir.: D.W. Griffith (Biograph Co. US 1910) cas.: Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Edward Dillon, Gladys Egan, si, b&w. Archive: Library of Congress.
The Thread of Destiny. Dir.: D.W. Griffith (Biograph Co. US 1910) cas.: Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon, si, b&w. Archive: Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art.
The Dawn of a Tomorrow. Dir.: James Kirkwood sc.: Eve Unsell (Famous Players Film Co. US 1915) cas.: Mary Pickford, David Powell, Forrest Robinson,, Margaret Seddon, si, b&w. Archive: Svenska Filminstitutet, Library of Congress.
Fanchon the Cricket. Dir.: James Kirkwood (Famous Players Film Co. US 1915) cas.: Mary Pickfod, Jack Standing, Lottie Pickford, Jack Pickford, si , b&w. Archive: BFI National Archive, George Eastman Museum.
Rags. Dir.: James Kirkwood sc.: Edith Barnard Delano (Famous Players Film Co. US 1915) cas.: Mary Pickford, Marshall Neilan, Joseph Manning, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
The Eternal Grind. Dir.: John B. O’Brien sc.: William H. Clifford (Famous Players Film Co. US 1916) cas.: Mary Pickford, Dorothy West, Loretta Blake, John Bowers, si, b&w. Archive: Cinémathèque Française.
Hulda from Holland. Dir.: John B. O’Brien sc.: Edith Barnard Delano (Famous Players Film Co. US 1916) cas.: Mary Pickford, John Bowers, Frank Losee, si, b&w. Archive: Národní Filmov Archiv.
Poor Little Peppina. Dir.: Sidney Olcott sc.: Kate Jordan (Famous Players Film Co. US 1916) cas.: Mary Pickford, Antonio Maiori , Jack Pickford, Eugene O’Brien, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
The Pride of the Clan. Prod. Mary Pickford, dir.: Maurice Tourneur sc.: Elaine Sterne, Charles E. Whittaker (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1917) cas.: Mary Pickford, Matt Moore, Warren Cooke, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
A Romance of the Redwoods. Prod.: Cecil B. DeMille, Mary Pickford, dir.: Cecil B. DeMille sc.: Jeannie MacPherson , Cecil B. DeMille (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1917) cas.: Mary Pickford, Elliott Dexter, Raymond Hatton, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum.
M'liss. Prod.: Mary Pickford, dir.: Marshall Neilan sc.: Frances Marion (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1918) cas.: Mary Pickford, Thomas Meighan, Theodore Roberts, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
The Heart o' the Hills. Prod.: Mary Pickford, dir.: Sidney A. Franklin sc.: Bernard McConville (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1919) cas.: Mary Pickford, Claire McDowell, Jack (John) Gilbert, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
Little Lord Fauntleroy. Prod.: Mary Pickford, dir.: Alfred E. Green Jack Pickford sc.: Bernard McConville (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1921) cas.: Mary Pickford, Claude Gillingwater, Joseph Dowling, Kate Price, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
Through the Back Door. Prod.: Mary Pickford, dir.: Alfred E. Green , Jack Pickford sc.: Marion Fairfax (Mary Pickford Film Corp. US 1921) cas.: Mary Pickford, Gertude Astor, Wilfred Lucas, si, b&w. Archive: George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress.
Madame Rex. Dir.: D.W. Griffith sc.: Mary Pickford (Biograph Co. US 1911) cas.: Edwin August, Stephanie Longfellow, si, b&w. Archive: Museum of Modern Art.
B. Filmography: Non-Extant Film Titles:
1. Mary Pickford as Actress
Back to the Soil, 1911; The Better Way, 1911; The Caddy's Dream, 1911; The Call of the Song, 1911; The Convert, 1911; The Courting of Mary, 1911; The Fair Dentist, 1911; The Fisher-Maid, 1911; For Her Brother's Sake, 1911; For the Queen's Honor, 1911; A Gasoline Engagement, 1911; Her Darkest Hour, 1911; His Dress Shirt, 1911; Honor Thy Father, 1911; Love Heeds Not the Showers, 1911; The Master and the Man, 1911; The Message in the Bottle, 1911; Pictureland, 1911; The Rose's Story, 1911; Science, 1911; The Secret of the Palm, 1911; The Sentinel Asleep, 1911; The Skating Bug, 1911; The Stampede, 1911; There is Life, 1911; The Toss of a Coin, 1911; Tracked, 1911; While There is Hope, Second Sight, 1911; Caprice, 1913; In the Bishop's Carriage, 1913; Hearts Adrift, 1914; Such a Little Queen, 1914; Esmeralda, 1915; A Girl of Yesterday, 1915.
2. Mary Pickford as Screenwriter and Actress
Hearts Adrift, 1914; A Girl of Yesterday, 1915.
3. Mary Pickford as Producer and Actress
How Could You, Jean?, 1918; Captain Kidd, Jr., 1919.
4. Mary Pickford as Screenwriter
Caught in the Act, 1911; The Medallion, 1911; When Fate Decrees, 1913.
C. DVD Sources:
Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley. DVD (Image Entertainment US 2000)
Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley with The Dream. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2000)
Daddy Long-Legs with What the Daisy Said. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 1999)
Through the Back Door with Cinderella. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2005)
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2017)
M'liss and Heart o' the Hills. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2005)
Heart o' the Hills. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2013)
The Hoodlum. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2013)
Johanna Enlists. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2016)
Less than Dust. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2015)
The LittleAmerican. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2015)
Little Annie Rooney. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2017)
Little Lord Fauntleroy. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2015)
Without Lying Down with The Little Princess. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2003)
Tess of the Storm Country. DVD (Image Entertainment US 1999)
Stella Maris. DVD (Image Entertainment US 2000)
The Love Light. DVD (Image Entertainment US 2001)
Madame Butterfly. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2015)
The Pride of the Clan with Sweet Memories. DVD. (Grapevine Video US 2013_
Sparrows with Wilful Peggy and The Mender of Nets. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 1999)
My Best Girl. (The Milestone Collection US 1999)
A Romance of theRedwoods. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2013)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. DVD. (Alpha Video US 2014)
Suds. DVD. (The Milestone Collection US 2005)
Rags and Riches: Mary Pickford Collection. DVD. (Milestone US 2012)
Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934. DVD. Image Entertainment US 2007)
The Origins of Film Collection. DVD. (Smithsonian Video US 2001)
Griffith Masterworks: Biograph Shorts (1908-1914. DVD. (Kino Video US 2002) - contains The New York Hat (1912)
D.W. Griffith Years of Discovery, 1909-1913. DVD. (Image Entertainment US 2002) - contains The New York Hat (1912)
D.W. Griffith Director, Vol. 3, 4, 5, 6. DVD. (Grapevine Video US 2011)
The Cecil B. DeMille Classics Collection. DVD. (Passport Video US 2007)
Mary Pickford Collection. DVD (St. Clair Vision US 2008)
D. Streamed Media:
The New York Hat (1912) is streaming online via Amazon Video (with Fandor subscription)
The Library of Congress has two 35mm prints of a 1968 reissue version of Pickford’s Taming of the Shrew deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office. The sound track on these prints is different than the original 1929 version. Several films exist as incomplete prints: A Timely Repentance, At a Quarter of Two, A Good Little Devil, Less than the Dust, Daddy-Long-Legs, The Hoodlum, Tess of the Storm Country. The author states that there are silent versions of Coquette and The Taming of the Shrew. It is believed that Mary Pickford wrote Their First Misunderstanding (1911), while IMDb credits George Loane Tucker.
Schmidt, Christel. "Mary Pickford." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-nkzz-e525>