10 Fascinating Facts About Mary Pickford

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Happy 126th birthday to Mary Pickford! We might not pay her movies much mind these days, but there's no question that Hollywood wouldn't be what it is today without her contributions. Here are a few facts about the woman who originated the "America's Sweetheart" title.

1. "AMERICA'S SWEETHEART" WAS ACTUALLY CANADIAN.

Born Gladys Louise Smith, the woman who would become known as "America's Sweetheart" was originally from Toronto and was part of a surprisingly large number of people from the early Hollywood days from up North. Others included her brother Jack Pickford, Norma Shearer, MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, Marie Dressler, and Fay Wray.

2. SHE WAS PART OF AN ACTING DYNASTY.

Long before the Baldwins or the Arquettes, there were the Pickfords. The siblings toured the U.S. with their mother, acting in some not-so-great companies. In 1907, Mary decided that if she didn't land a role in a Broadway play by the end of the year, she would quit acting and pursue a more lucrative career. She got a job on Broadway that summer.

By 1909, Pickford was appearing in 51 films a year. By 1910, she had signed a contract with Biograph Studios. She made sure her brother and sister were signed as well, starting with then-14-year-old Jack and closely followed by Lottie, who was just a year younger than Mary.

When Mary signed her first $1 million contract in 1917, she again made sure her family got their own contracts as well. Jack was one of the first Hollywood "bad boys" but died at the young age of 36 from "multiple neuritis which attacked all the nerve centers." Lottie suffered a very unexpected heart attack and died at the age of 43.

3. SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED BY "TALKIES."

Mary Pickford in the American comedy film 'Kiki' (1931)
United Artists, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Pickford was unimpressed with "talkies" and famously said, "Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus DeMilo." She was right on a personal level—once talkies took off, Pickford's acting career went rather stagnant. But that didn't mean she was done with show business.

4. SHE CO-FOUNDED A MOVIE STUDIO.

Mary co-founded United Artists along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks (before he was her husband). Although she did this in 1919, while she was still acting, she really got into producing with United Artists when she retired from acting in 1933. She sold her shares in the company in 1956 for the now-shockingly low price of $3 million.

5. SHE WAS JOAN CRAWFORD'S MOTHER-IN-LAW.

Pickford's stepson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., married Joan Crawford in 1929. Which must have made for some interesting family gatherings.

6. SHE AND DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS WERE LEGENDARY HOSTS.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks at their home Pickfair.
United Artists, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The dinner parties at Pickfair, the enormous mansion Mary shared with husband Douglas Fairbanks, were absolutely legendary. The guest lists read like someone's fictional "if you could invite 20 people to dinner..." list. Just a few of the people who supped at Pickfair include Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Jack Dempsey, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Crown Prince of Japan. It wasn't uncommon for foreign dignitaries visiting the White House to request an invitation to Pickfair as well.

7. SHE CAUSED A SCANDAL WHEN SHE CUT HER HAIR.

Mary was really close to her mom. She played an integral role in her children's success and even served on the United Artists board later in life. Because her mom was so entwined in both Mary's personal and professional lives, Mary took it quite hard when Charlotte died of breast cancer at the age of 55, but reportedly also felt liberated of her previous "little girl" persona. Famous for her long curly locks, Mary sort of pulled a Britney Spears (really, Britney pulled a Mary) and had them shorn off to a shockingly short length. People were stunned; she was so associated with her hair that the trim was front page news for The New York Times. She received hate mail from fans who felt as if they had been personally betrayed.

8. SHE WAS A PHILANTHROPIST.

At the end of WWI, Pickford helped found the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help needy actors. And in 1932, she started the "Payroll Pledge Program," where people in the industry pledged to give half of a percent of their earnings to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. There have been many industry veterans over the years who are glad she did: eventually the fund evolved to include the Motion Picture Country House, where they could go to retire even if they didn't have the funds to pay for it.

9. SHE WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO LEAVE HER HANDPRINTS AT GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATER.

Along with Fairbanks, she was the first person to leave her handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Although legend has it that Norma Talmadge was really the first (she supposedly wandered through the wet cement unwittingly and gave Sid Grauman the idea). If that's true, and not just a nice Tinseltown tale, then you can amend that statement to say that Mary and Douglas were the first to record their prints on purpose.

10. SHE WAS MORE THAN 40 YEARS INTO HER CAREER WHEN SHE MADE HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE.

Although she appeared in hundreds of movies, Pickford didn't make her first television appearance until 1953. She presented Cecil B. DeMille with the Best Picture Oscar for The Greatest Show on Earth at the first-ever televised Oscars.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


Getty Images

White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


Getty Images

In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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