Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford was a Canadian-American actress and co-founder of United Artists.

Mary Pickford in 1916

Mary Pickford in 1916

Mary Pickford was born Gladys Mary Smith in Toronto, Canada on 8 April 1892, the eldest child of John Charles Smith and Charlotte Hennessey. Following her father’s death in 1898, the young Gladys was given parts in stage productions at the Princess Theatre in Toronto, including the role of Little Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

After success in Canada, Gladys toured the United States at the turn of the century with her mother, sister and brother, all of whom had taken up acting. For several years the family scraped a living from performances in minor plays and venues, but in 1907 Gladys secured a supporting role in a Broadway production of The Warrens of Virginia. It was for this play that she first used the name Mary Pickford.

Pickford moved into silent movie acting in 1909 when she appeared in many short films, in supporting and starring roles, for DW Griffith’s Biograph studio. Although her name did not appear on the credits of these films, her star potential was noticed and the films began to be advertised as featuring “The Biograph girl” or “The girl with the golden curls”.

The Biograph studio moved to Los Angeles in 1910 and Pickford moved with it. Over the next two years she changed studios several times before returning to Broadway in 1912 in a production of A good little devil. Following this final stage play, Pickford decided to concentrate solely on film.

In 1913, Pickford joined Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players in Famous Plays company, which later became Paramount Pictures, and a year later she starred in the Hearts adrift, the first film to feature her name above the title. By 1916, Pickford was earning $10,000 a week and had been given full production authority over her own films.

In 1911, Pickford married fellow actor Owen Moore but the marriage failed and they divorced in 1920 after several years of separation. She toured the US with Douglas Fairbanks Sr in 1918 to promote the sale Liberty Bonds in order to raise funds for the war effort. The couple married in 1920 less than a month after her divorce from Moore.

Following the First World War, together with Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and DW Griffith, Pickford formed the independent production and distribution company United Artists. She continued to act and produce during the 1920s, but her acting career came to an end soon after the arrival of talking pictures. Pickford’s first talkie was Coquette in 1929 for which she received an Academy Award for Best Actress, but she starred in her final film, Secrets, just four years later.

Despite retiring from acting, Pickford continued to produce and sit on the board of United Artists for many years. In 1936, she divorced Fairbanks and married Buddy Rogers the following year. The couple adopted two children in the 1940s. After selling her stake of United Artists in 1956, Pickford made few public appearances and struggled with alcoholism.

In 1979, Mary Pickford suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died on 29 May in Santa Monica. She was buried in her family plot at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale California.

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