Today is the 123rd birthday of a woman who has a lot of Hollywood firsts associated with her name: Mary Pickford. She is arguably the first female American film star and she and her husband Douglas Fairbanks Sr. became one of the very first Hollywood power couples.
NAME: Mary Pickford
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress, Producer, Screenwriter
BIRTH DATE: April 08, 1892
DEATH DATE: May 29, 1979
PLACE OF BIRTH: Toronto, Canada
PLACE OF DEATH: Santa Monica, California
ORIGINALLY: Gladys Mary Smith
BEST KNOWN FOR: Mary Pickford was a legendary silent film actress and was known as “America’s sweetheart.” She was a founder of United Artists and helped establish the Academy.
Actress, producer and screenwriter Gladys Mary Smith was born on April 8, 1892, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Known as America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford was a legendary film actress during the age of silent pictures. She often appeared on screen in young girl roles, even when she was an adult. Pickford began performing at the age of five on the stage and was known for a time as “Baby Gladys.” After touring in different shows and productions for more than nine years, she went to New York to conquer Broadway. Taking the stage name, Mary Pickford, she made her Broadway debut in The Warrens of Virginia.
Soon after the show’s run, Mary Pickford got into film, working for D. W. Griffith, a director and head of American Biography Company. At the time, most films were short and she appeared in more than 40 movies in 1909. When Griffith moved his operation to California the following year, Pickford went with him. Over the years, her fame grew as well as her salary. She became an international star, beloved for her beauty and charm.
Some of Mary Pickford’s greatest films were a collaborative effort with friend and writer-director Frances Marion. Together they worked on such hits as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917) and Poor Little Rich Girl (1917). Pickford also worked behind the scenes as a producer and founded the United Artists (UA), a film company, in 1919, with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., who would become her second husband. She had been married to actor Owen Moore and divorced him to be with Fairbanks.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks married in 1920, becoming one of Hollywood’s earliest supercouples. Fans adored the pairing, and the couple were known to host fabulous events at their home, called Pickfair, which were attended many of the leading figures in film.
In the 1920s, Mary Pickford continued to score more box-office hits with Polyanna (1920) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1922). She went on to help establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927. Around this time, the film industry was changing and talking pictures were on the rise. In 1929, Pickford starred in her first talkie Coquette, which explored the dark side of a wealthy family. She won an Academy Award for her work on the film. Still she was never quite able to recreate the phenomenal success she had in the silent pictures with the sound films. Her last film was 1933’s Secrets.
After retiring from the screen, Mary Pickford continued to be involved in filmmaking.
She worked as a producer on such films as One Rainy Afternoon (1936), Susie Steps Out (1946) and Sleep, My Love (1948). She also was on the board of directors for UA for many years. She married her third husband, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, in 1937. They stayed together until her death and adopted two children.
In her final years, Mary Pickford became reclusive. She largely stayed home at Pickfair and choosing to only see a select few. She died on May 29, 1979, in Santa Monica, California.