Mary Pickford (April 8, 1892 - May 29, 1979) was a motion picture star, known as "America's Sweetheart" and "the girl with the curl." She became one of the Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood.
Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (for some reason, Pickford always claimed that her middle name was Marie). Her father, John Charles Smith, was a purser on a steamship who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1898. Her mother, née Charlotte Hennessy, began taking in boarders, and through one of these lodgers Gladys, aged seven, was cast in Toronto's Princess Theatre production of The Silver King, as Baby Gladys Smith. She subsequently played in many melodramas and became a popular child actress in Canada.
Her mother took her to New York, looking for stardom, and she landed a leading role in a 1907 Broadway play, The Warrens of Virginia, which was written by William C. DeMille, brother of Cecil B. DeMille, who was also in the cast. The play was produced by David Belasco, who insisted that she assume the stage name Mary Pickford.
D. W. Griffith screen tested and hired her for a part in a one-reel thriller, The Lonely Villa in 1909. Pickford would go on to become Hollywood's biggest female star, the first female actor to receive more than a million dollars a year (the first male actor who made a million dollar deal was Charlie Chaplin), and one of the few stars who were successful in both the silent film era and the sound film era. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929, but retired from films four years later, after a series of disappointing roles and the public's inability to accept Pickford in roles that reflected her own age, rather than teenage heroines.
She was married three times. She was first married to Owen Moore (1886-1939), an Irish-born silent-film actor, on January 7, 1911. The couple had numerous marital problems, namely Moore's alcoholism, and Pickford became secretly involved in a romantic relationship with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1883-1939), an action-adventure film star. The phrase "by the clock" became a secret message of their love; as the couple was driving and Fairbank was discussing the recent death of his mother, the clock stopped.
She finally divorced Moore in March 1920 and married Fairbanks on March 28 the same year. Together they were regarded as "Hollywood Royalty" and were famous for entertaining at their estate Pickfair. However, Pickford's second marriage was also plagued with marital problems. Her stressful business schedule and Fairbanks' extramarital affair with another woman led to a divorce in January 1936.
Her last husband was Charles 'Buddy' Rogers (1904-1999), a fresh-faced actor known as "America's Boy Friend" and later a bandleader, whom she married in 1937; they had two adopted children, Roxanne and Ronald. Fairbanks, however, was the love of the actress's life. Before he died, he sent Pickford a message saying simply, "By the clock." Upon hearing of his death, Pickford reportedly began to weep in front of her new husband, Rogers, saying "My darling is gone." She was unable to attend his funeral.
- 1909: discovered by David Wark Griffith at Biograph, worked for $5 a week
- 1910: I.M.P., $175 a week
- 1911: Majestic Film Corp.
- 1912: back to Biograph
- 1913: Appears (with Lillian Gish) in Belasco's Broadway production A Good Little Devil
- 1913: Famous Players, $20,000 a year
- 1915: worked for various companies, $1000 to $2000 a week
- 1916: founded "The Mary Pickford Corporation" as a part of Paramount Pictures, she gets about $10,000 a week. She became the first actress who was the producer of her own films.
- 1917: stars in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Poor Little Rich Girl, among other films. She tours the U.S. with Fairbanks and others, supporting U.S. involvement in World War I and promoting Liberty Bonds.
- 1918: Plays two starring roles in Stella Maris , in performances that Adolph Zukor reluctantly admitted were her best yet. She gets $675,000 for three films with First National, plus 50% of all profits, plus a signing bonus of $50,000 and complete control over her films, ranging from script to the final cut.
- 1919: A very astute business person, she founded United Artists together with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, William S. Hart, and her soon-to-be husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and became its first vice president in 1936.
- 1923: Pickford, wanted to work with a strong director, convinced Ernst Lubitsch to direct her next film. After considering alternatives, they settle on Rosita , in a performance that was praised by critics but avoided by her fans for not sticking to her little girl image.
- 1929: Pickford becomes the first major actress to star in a sound film, Coquette, in a film that did well at the box office, earning $1.4 million. Her performance earned her an Oscar.
- 1933: Pickford stars in Secrets, a money-losing film which was to be her last.
- 1937: Pickford founds Mary Pickford Cosmetics, a beauty company.
- 1941: The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers is founded by Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Orson Welles, Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Alexander Korda, and Walter Wanger .
- 1949: Pickford and her husband form Pickford-Rogers-Boyd, a radio and television production company.
- 1976: Pickford receives an Academy Honorary Award for a lifetime of achievements.
For the last 50-odd years of her life, Pickford suffered from alcoholism, which also afflicted her first husband and both of her parents. She died on May 29, 1979 and is buried with her scandal-prone brother Jack Pickford in the Pickford private family plot in the Garden of Memory of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6280 Hollywood Blvd.