Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies


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.


Christel Schmidt

IT HAS BEEN 100 years since Mary Pickford was first dubbed the Queen of the Movies. At the time, the phrase simply noted her popularity in the huge field of actors who appeared in short films shown at nickelodeons. Though it was a gratifying compliment, the title had inherently ignoble associations. After all, most people considered the movies to be a low form of entertainment. Pickford winced at the label, but it was remarkably prophetic of her future triumphs.

As the movies expanded to feature length, Pickford’s skyrocketing fame created box-office gold; meanwhile, her widely heralded acting prowess advanced the medium’s quest for respectability. In 1915 Pickford formed her own corporation and began hardball negotiations with her studio, Famous Players. This led to a landmark film contract the following year, in which Pickford received her own production unit, a strong creative voice in the making of her movies, and a salary rivaled only by that of Charlie Chaplin. Just two years later, she left Famous Players for First National in a deal that gave her complete creative control and more money. Then, with the ink barely dry on her contract, she became involved in plans to form a new company, United Artists, which she cofounded with Chaplin, actor Douglas Fairbanks, and director D. W. Griffith in 1919.

Throughout the 1910s, the fervor of Pickford’s massive fan base never wavered. In fact, the craze amplified, especially when the Queen of the Movies—a title that now defined her position as both an industry leader and a superstar—married Fairbanks. As Hollywood’s most popular leading man, Fairbanks was a king in his own right, and he shared Pickford’s passion for filmmaking. The pair became the first celebrity supercouple; their movies spread American culture and values around the world and made them the nation’s unofficial ambassadors. During their international travels, they were coveted guests of royalty, presidents, and prime ministers. At home, they ruled Hollywood from Pickfair, their Beverly Hills mansion, which became a social center for the cultural elite.

By the mid-1920s, newer and younger stars were challenging Pickford’s box-office supremacy. Several, including Clara Bow, Colleen Moore, and Gloria Swanson, temporarily won the mantle of movie queen, but Pickford remained an enduring favorite. Then suddenly the industry underwent a radical change: silent film was out and the talkies were in. Within a few years, most of the era’s great stars had toppled from their lofty positions, and Pickford’s acting career and marriage floundered. During the Depression, she sought refuge in new ventures—forming a cosmetics company, performing on radio, and writing books. These projects met with varying success, but none captured her soul as the movies had. And though she continued to work with United Artists and occasionally produced films for other people, nothing matched the thrill of creating her own. A decade of professional disappointment was matched by profound personal losses; her mother, Charlotte, died in 1928, followed by her younger siblings, Jack and Lottie, in 1933 and 1936, respectively. Fairbanks died in 1939. These painful events exacerbated a growing struggle with alcohol that plagued her until the end of her life.

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