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."

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.

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.

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Fascinating Facts About Samuel L. Jackson

SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES
SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

If you watch enough movies, you’re bound to spot Samuel L. Jackson. The 71-year-old star (he'll turn 72 on December 21, 2020) is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, appearing in Oscar-winning films like Pulp Fiction (1994) as well as blockbuster franchises like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From his background as an activist to the origin of his R-rated catchphrase, here are some things you should know about the Oscar-nominated actor.

1. Swearing helped Samuel L. Jackson manage his stutter.

Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Before he was one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors, Samuel L. Jackson had trouble speaking in front of others. He was bullied for his stutter as a child, and he avoided talking in school for nearly a year because of it. He eventually took the initiative to treat the issue on his own by researching breathing techniques at the library. He also came up with a unique anchor word: motherf***er. The expletive that helped him manage his speech impediment would also become his professional calling card later in life.

2. Samuel L. Jackson was an usher at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.

The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 thrust a young Jackson into the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson, who was a sophomore at Morehouse College at the time, flew from Atlanta to Memphis a few days later to march in support of a garbage workers' strike. Back in Atlanta, he agreed to be an usher at MLK’s funeral when he heard they needed volunteers. In 2018, he wrote about the experience for The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life. The funeral was pretty much a blur.” He later staged a lock-in at his college that got him suspended.

3. Samuel L. Jackson almost became a marine biologist.

Jackson attended college in the 1960s with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. After he held the lock-in at Morehouse, he saw a performance by the Negro Ensemble Company that inspired him to pursue acting. When his suspension ended, he switched his major to drama and joined the theater group that inspired him.

4. Samuel L. Jackson was a stand-in on The Cosby Show.

Before he made it big in Hollywood, Jackson worked as a stand-in for Bill Cosby during tapings of the sitcom. "I was the right height, and I was the right skin tone," Jackson told Vulture in 2012 about the gig. "We did the blocking, while they did the camera choreography because it was a three-camera show. For two to three years, they would put his crazy sweaters on me."

5. Samuel L. Jackson's famous Jurassic Park line was inspired by another film.

Not long before he found a permanent place on Hollywood's A-list, Jackson played a small part in Jurassic Park (1993). John “Ray” Arnold wasn’t the star of the film, but he did say one of its more memorable lines: “Hold onto your butts.” Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp recently revealed that he borrowed the line from director Robert Zemeckis, who uttered it before watching reshoots of his film Death Becomes Her (1992).

6. Samuel L. Jackson asked for a purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels.

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Jackson is such a big Star Wars fan that he immediately accepted the role of Jedi Mace Windu when George Lucas offered it to him. He did, however, make one request regarding the part: He wanted a purple lightsaber. Traditionally, lightsabers come in green for Jedi and red for Sith, but Lucas reluctantly agreed to make an exception for Mace Windu in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Jackson recounted the origins of his unique weapon on The Graham Norton Show: “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fighting or whatever. And I was like, well s***, I want to be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, ‘You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?’”

7. Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time.

Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in more than 150 movies, including blockbuster franchises like Star Wars and several of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including The Avengers series. So it’s not surprising that the actor has earned the distinction of being Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor. The combined box office earnings of all his films—which includes Avengers: Endgame, the biggest money-maker of all time—add up to more than $13 billion worldwide.

8. Samuel L. Jackson has his own wig consultant.

Jackson is bald in real life, but he has sported many iconic hairstyles over the course of his movie career. His ‘dos have become such a big part of his on-screen personas that he employs his own personal hair stylist and wig consultant. Robert L. Stevenson has used Jackson’s head as a canvas on dozens of films.

9. Samuel L. Jackson appears in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

After first collaborating with director Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown (1997), Jackson made a brief cameo in his Kill Bill series. The next time you watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), pay close attention to Rufus the wedding piano player—he’s played by a familiar face.

10. You can hear Samuel L. Jackson on Amazon’s Alexa.

Jackson is known for his distinctive voice and colorful vocabulary. In 2019, the actor lent his vocal talents to Amazon’s Alexa. The Samuel L. Jackson Alexa option has many of the same capabilities as regular Alexa, including playing music, setting your alarm clock, and singing “Happy Birthday.” You can even let the feature use swear words for a more authentic experience.