I am no longer in pictures for money. I am in them because I love them. I am not in vain. I do not care about giving a smashing personal performance. My one ambition is to create fine entertainment.
—Mary Pickford, quoted by Herbert Howe, "Mary Pickford's Favorite Stars and Films", Photoplay, January 1924
The "girl with the curls". "America's Sweetheart". "Queen of the Movies". The Trope Codifier for The Ingenue archetype in film. But Mary Pickford's most lasting effects on the film industry came from her work so far from the camera that she wasn't even in the studio.
She was born Gladys Louise Smith to a family of performers in Toronto in 1892, 1893, or 1894. The family toured the United States in the 1900s, and Mary landed a supporting role in a 1907 Broadway play. In 1909, D. W. Griffith screen-tested Mary for the Biograph Company - she didn't get the role she tested for, but she was hired as a studio actress (playing various leading and supporting roles) for double the average Biograph wage, appearing in 51 films in 1909 alone.
Biograph moved to California in 1910, and Mary went with them. She returned to Broadway in 1912, but followed her own heart back to Hollywood in 1913.
Hearts Adrift, in 1914, was a milestone: Mary Pickford's name appeared in the credits. This was one of the first movies to credit any of its actors. By 1916, she was the most popular actress in Hollywood, and only Charlie Chaplin was a more popular actor.
In the late 1910s, Mary Pickford came up with the idea for the Motion Picture Relief Fund, incorporating it in 1921 and initially funding it from the payments she received for appearing at World War I war bond drives. This benevolent fund for needy actors still exists, now known as the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
In 1919, Mary Pickford's studio contract was up for renewal. Instead of re-signing, she, D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and her future husband Douglas Fairbanks founded United Artists, which let them make and distribute the movies that they wanted to make instead of what the studios wanted to make. They also distributed other performers' independent films, which was the first major crack in Hollywood's "studio system" business model - Pollyanna and Little Lord Fauntleroy each grossed over a million dollars, showing that the studios needed the big-name performers more than the big-name performers needed the studios. When she finally left UA in 1956, she sold her share of the company for $3,000,000.
She made a couple of missteps in the late-1920s: she didn't realize the importance of sound in cinema, and she cut her signature curls (to her fans' dismay) for her role in Coquette.
By the 1930s, Mary Pickford was no longer a star actress - too old to play an ingenue, too typecast as an ingenue to play a sophisticated woman. Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove (1934) was her only film appearance in Technicolor. After that, she moved to the other side of the camera full-time; she had almost always produced her own films, and after 1934 she produced movies for Claudette Colbert and the Marx Brothers.
Mary Pickford died on May 29, 1979, in Santa Monica, California.
- Canada, Eh?: So thoroughly averted that she was known as "America's Sweetheart", but she traveled under her Canadian passport and never applied for American citizenship.
- Dawson Casting: She was in her 20s when she played children in Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), Daddy-Long-Legs (1919) and Pollyanna (1920). Wikipedia says "Pickford's fans were devoted to these "little girl" roles, but they were not typical of her career." She was short enough to pull off the roles convincingly.
- Older Than She Looks: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. thought she was his age when they met, and asked whether she wanted to play trains with him. (She did.) She was 15-17 years older than him, and ended up marrying his father.
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