10 Fascinating Facts About Mary Pickford
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."
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.
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.