I watched the 2008 documentary Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, on Netflix streaming earlier this week. It was so interesting! I didn’t know much about Mary Pickford before seeing it, but now I’m full of admiration for all she accomplished. Not only was she the first megastar actress in the movies, famously known as “America’s Sweetheart,” but she also had a great deal of intelligence, ambition, and savvy, holding her own in a business very much dominated by men. This in the teens and twenties! Pickford was a woman ahead of her time as far as the things she did and the power she exerted in her industry.
Pickford was a leader in the fledgling movie business, forming the United Artists movie studio along with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith in 1919. She was one of the 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927. Pickford gained creative, co-star, and financial control of her films long before other actors were doing the same, and she helped establish the Motion Picture Home for retired employees of the movie business. She was as big an influence on the early days of American movies as anyone else you could name.
Plus, she was part of Hollywood’s first glamorous power couple with her second husband, fellow actor Douglas Fairbanks. They were pretty much the “it” couple for years and years, entertaining luminaries such as Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, George Bernard Shaw, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Noel Coward, Greta Garbo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their Beverly Hills mansion, Pickfair.
(Why wasn’t Pickfair made a historical site and museum to honor Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks? I Googled it in hopes of having a new place to visit on my next trip to Los Angeles, only to learn that it had been demolished in 2012. Sad.)
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the first actors to put their footprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, supposedly because they made the suggestion to the theater’s owner after their dog stepped into some cement at Pickfair and left his pawprints on the driveway.
Weren’t they gorgeous and perfectly chic? The embodiment of what you’d imagine 1920s movie stars to be.
(Shallow side note: I want all her shoes!)
The documentary is very well done, full of fascinating detail about Mary Pickford’s life and career, and interviews with friend and actress Lillian Gish, stepson Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Pickford’s third and final husband, actor and band leader Buddy Rogers. Much of the film is narrated in her own voice, too, with voiceovers of interviews she gave during her life providing even more insight into her character.
I can’t say I’ve yet developed a huge appreciation for silent movies, although 2011’s The Artist made me a lot more open to seeing them and I’ve enjoyed a few recently, including Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans starring George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor and Laugh, Clown, Laugh starring Lon Chaney and Loretta Young. After learning about Mary Pickford’s life and career, however, I’ll be sure to check out any of her movies that air on TCM. She was a truly remarkable woman, and one I’m looking forward to learning more about.