Mary Pickford, first Hollywood movie star

This video from the USA is called Mary Pickford (PBS Special).

By Charles Bogle in the USA:

Milestone Films’ Mary Pickford: Rags and Riches Collection: The inventor of movie acting

23 May 2013

Intended as a means of introducing younger viewers to silent films, Milestone Films’ 2012 Mary Pickford: Rags and Riches Collection also provides adults the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with “America’s Sweetheart.” In so far as Mary Pickford is remembered today, the performer whom director George Cukor credited with inventing screen acting tends to be identified with a little innocent girl persona that safely belongs to an earlier, less sophisticated time.

Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto in 1892. Her father, the son of English immigrants, did odd jobs and left the family in 1895. An alcoholic, he died three years later. Pickford’s mother was of Irish Catholic descent. From an early age the future movie star acted along with her two siblings, without much success until she did a screen test for D.W. Griffith in New York in 1909. Griffith saw something in her.

She soon began acting for Biograph Pictures, first arriving in Los Angeles in January 1910. By 1914, Pickford was an immense star. Two years later, only Charlie Chaplin surpassed her in popularity. Commentators suggest she was the most famous woman in the world in the 1910s and 1920s. Her marriage to fellow film star Douglas Fairbanks created one of the first modern celebrity couples. When they honeymooned in Europe in 1920, riots erupted as crowds tried to get to them. Bucking the Hollywood studios, Pickford, Fairbanks, Chaplin and Griffith founded United Artists, a film distribution company, in 1919. Unable to make the transition to talking films, Pickford retired from acting in 1933, although she continued to produce films. She died in 1979.

The Rags and Riches collection’s three feature-length films— The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), The Hoodlum (1919) and Sparrows (1926)––provide a sampling of the complexity that Pickford brought to her characterizations. She drew on established acting traditions and her own painful childhood experiences for these roles, and in the process created a naturalistic movie acting style. The Poor Little Rich Girl (directed by Maurice Tourneur, father of Jacques Tourneur) was Pickford’s first portrayal of a child in a feature-length film (the 24-year old had already appeared in an astonishing 125 shorts and 26 full-length movies).

Gwendolyn (Pickford) is the 10-year-old daughter of a wealthy family. Because her father is always busy making money on Wall Street and her mother is equally consumed by her role in society, Gwendolyn is starved for attention and companionship and her efforts to gain attention often create problems in the household.

All of this changes when Gwendolyn’s father loses most of his money in the stock market and her attempts to find comfort from her distracted father are thwarted by several members of the household staff. On the night of Gwen’s 11th birthday, the staff members give the girl a strong dose of sleeping pills to keep her quiet so that they can attend a theater party. When she survives a delirious dream (during which she sees life as it really is), her parents decide that money isn’t the most important thing after all.

There was nothing unusual at the time about Pickford in her mid-20s playing a 10-year-old. Pickford, as well as Ruth Chatterton, Norma Talmadge and Lillian Gish, had played prepubescents on stage and in one-reel films. In many of her pre-adolescent roles, the 5-foot tall, slightly built Pickford was surrounded by a tall cast to increase her credibility as a child.

For the role of Gwendolyn in The Poor Little Rich Girl, Pickford could base herself on what she had learned from her earlier roles as well as her own experiences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.