Saturday, August 20, 2011

Miss Mary Pickford

Are you ready?

I think you are.

As I have explained before, I have held off doing an entry on Mary for so long because she is pretty well known, even by people who aren't huge silent film fans. They at least recognize the name. For that reason, I am not gonna do a HUGE entry about every little second of her life, but just hit the highlights and the good stuff.

Sound good? Groovy.

When we think of Mary Pickford, I am sure the first thing that comes to mind is "America's Sweetheart." We think of the little girl who played child like characters with her long, brown ringlets in heartwarming stories. In real life, Mary was a shrewd business woman and a hard worker. Charlie Chaplin once called her a "bitch," but I don't think she was...maybe just to him...Mabel Normand also once called her a "prissy bitch," but again, I think it just Mabel's opinion because she was more happy go lucky and wild while Mary just wanted to put her nose to the grindstone.

Mary Pickford was born Gladys Marie Smith on April 8, 1892 in Toronto, Ontario Canada to Charlotte and John Smith. John Smith, an alcoholic, abandoned his family when Mary was around 3 years old (he died three years later).

Now that Charlotte was alone in raising her three children, she had to find a way to make some good money and quick! She began taking in boarders and also pushing her children into appearing in plays.

In 1907, while appearing on Broadway, she was spotted by producer David Belasco who convinced her to go by the stage name of Mary Pickford.

Two years later she met D.W. Griffith, who was so taken by her that paid her double what the other actors in the studio were making. She played bit parts in tons of films because she figured she would become well known to the public if people saw her often enough. Makes sense.

Interesting note about her early years with the Biograph studio. Mary decided to help a friend of hers out by introducing her to Griffith and getting her parts in pictures. Her friend? Florence Labadie. Sadly, Florence died in 1917 at the height of her fame. But it was thanks to Mary that she got into pictures. What other friends did Mary help get into pictures? Lillian and Dorothy Gish!

In 1910, Mary followed the studio out to the new movie making spot, California! It was around this time that audiences began to point out Mary in pictures. But remember, this was before acting credits, so no one knew who this girl was that they kept seeing on screen. They would call her, "The Girl with the Golden Curls" or "The Biograph Girl" (that nickname was quite popular...Florence Lawrence ring any bells?)

During her stints in acting, she would also occasionally appear on stage and even went touring with Belasco for about a year. But while on the road, she realized how much more she enjoyed acting on film and around 1913, she decided to appear only in movies.

Her most popular characters were little girls (and sometimes boys), most of the times from fairy tales or popular stories. Such films include Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), Pollyanna (1920), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921).

When her contract expired, she bounced over to First National Pictures for a little over a year. In 1919, she, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks made history when they formed United Artists, an independent production company. With the new company, she could perform in what she wanted, make what she wanted, and distribute her movies the way she wanted.

And then came the talkies a few years later. Now, there wasn't anything wrong with Mary's voice but fans saw her getting older and tastes were changing, and Mary had bobbed her hair! *GASP*

Her first talkie, Coquette (1928), won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, but it didn't generate a lot of buzz from her fans who wanted her to just remain a little girl forever.

She officially retired from acting in 1933, but continued working in the film business by producing and helping out with various causes she was involved with.

Sadly, like her father and brother and sister, Mary became an alcoholic later in life. After her mother and siblings died and a bitter divorce, she became a recluse in her home. She only allowed her friend Lillian Gish, step son Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and other close friends to visit her.

In 1976, Mary received an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to the film industry. She did not attend the ceremony, but she gave her thanks on camera.

Mary Pickford passed away on May 29, 1979 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

She was buried in the Pickford family plot at Forest Lawn-Glendale. Side note: I was kinda curious who all was buried in the plot because I saw more than just the four Pickford's names etched in the stone on the Findagrave website and also when I took pictures of it. Come to find out, also buried there is Elizabeth Watson, Charlotte's sister, and her two children (not a 100% sure if it just her children or her husband too but she is for sure there. If you do know, let me know).

Mary was married three times, and all three times were to popular actors of the day. Her first marriage was in 1911 to Owen Moore, brother of Tom and Matt. The couple had a pretty rocky marriage. This was mostly due to Owen being an alcoholic and also being insecure living under his wife's enormous shadow of stardom. There was also whispers about domestic violence. They lived apart for most of the marriage, and eventually divorced in 1920.

Her second marriage was her most famous and also almost a huge scandal. She had been seeing Douglas Fairbanks since they toured together selling war bonds in 1918, when they were both married to other people. They both divorced their spouses and married in 1920. The studios were scared that the extramarital affair and marriage would ruin their careers, but it only made them Hollywood's King and Queen. They even had their own castle called Pickfair which was visited by presidents, foreign leaders, and of course their many movie star friends. They were together for the heights of the careers and also together as the silents were on their way out. Doug was getting restless with movie making and not being able to do what he wanted in film and he would often travel, leaving Mary alone. He was also having an affair with Sylvia Ashley, who he would later marry. Mary and Doug finally divorced in 1936, and he died four years later.

Her third and final marriage was to Charles 'Buddy' Rogers in 1937. She had appeared with him in the 1927 film, My Best Girl. They adopted two children, a son, Ronald and a daughter, Roxanne (Mary had miscarriages and abortions during her first marriage that could have possibly hindered her chances of having her own children). Apparently Mary's took her cue on motherhood from her own mother and was quite strict with her own children, even sometimes condescending. Both her children said she was too self absorbed to really love them, but they did think she was a good woman. Kinda getting into Mommie Dearest territory, eh? Anyways, Mary and Buddy were married until her death. Buddy died 20 years later in 1999.

Mary cutting her hair coincided with her mother's death in 1928. Think she was making a statement? I think so!

Apparently she was screen tested by Disney for a live action version of "Alice in Wonderland" but the idea was scrapped. There is a picture from the screen test floating around, but I have yet to find it.

As stated before, Mary, Fairbanks, and Chaplin toured selling war bonds. Wherever they went, they were greeted by hoards of fans. I mean, the pictures are just incredible! It is estimated that she sold around 5 million worth in war bonds. The Navy even gave her the nickname of "Little Sister." And she wasn't even born in the US, she maintained a dual citizenship.

She also set up the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help down on their luck actors and after a few years they were able to build the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital. This facility eventually became home to such stars as Mary Astor, Evelyn Brent, Billie Dove, Jobyna Ralston, and many others.

Beautiful Pickfair was demolished (like so many other beautiful silent film star's homes) in 1990. Actress Pia Zadora did it. Bitch.

She was another actress who turned down the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. That would have been both surreal and AWESOME to see Mary in that role.

"Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo." ~ Mary Pickford

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "other" Pickfords

Mary, Lottie, and Jack Pickford

So, I consider this the coming attraction or opening band before I do a big entry on Mary Pickford. I have held off doing entries on her and Chaplin because they are such biggies that (mostly) everyone knows who they are and I wanted to turn the spotlight on some of the lesser known, but still loved stars of the silent screen.

Jack and his sister Lottie were both actors in their own way, but of course, they were overshadowed by their gigantic star of a sister, Mary. This way of living under her shadow and the happy go lucky times of the 1920s let to the sad demise of both siblings due to alcoholism, excess, and fast living. Their big sister Mary outlived both of them. Jack was more famous for his marriages to famous leading ladies of stage and screen...Olive Thomas and Marilyn Miller (coincidentally who both died tragically as well). Lottie was known around Hollywood for having such a good time at parties, that she would take off all her clothes! (Sounds like Virginia Rappe, no?)

Jack Pickford was born John Charles Smith on August 18, 1896 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His parents were John and Charlotte Smith and he joined sisters Gladys (aka Mary) and Lottie.

The patriarch of the family, John was an alcoholic who deserted the family when his children were still young. Charlotte Smith decided to put her children on stage in order to make more money for the family she was now responsible for. They eventually moved to New York City where the three siblings continued to make good money performing.

In 1910, Charlotte Smith signed a contract with Biograph Studios. This lead to her eldest daughter, Gladys, changing her name to Mary Pickford. The entire family eventually changed their surname to Pickford.

Mary, being the head breadwinner of the family, did her duty and got both her siblings jobs acting for the studio. But while Mary decided to move to California to continue acting, her family was still living in New York. Jack was just a teenager at this time, but he really wanted to follow his big sister out to California...even though Mary wanted him to stay put. Well, Mary have been the wage earner, but Charlotte was still in charge! She ignored her eldest daughter and sent Jack out to join her in California.

He signed up with First National Pictures after his sister insisted in her contract that her family was signed along with her. He appeared in around 100 films at this time! But he just didn't/couldn't make a big splash. He continued making films until around 1928. He never appeared in a talkie.

Jack and Madge Bellamy

Jack served with the Navy for a brief time in the later 1910s but was eventually kicked out for being involved in various schemes to make money. He was almost given a dishonorable discharge, but it never appeared on his record. Rumor has it that Mary had something to do with this and supposedly secured a "medical" discharge for Jack.

After 3 failed marriages, Jack became even more of a wreck. He visited his sister briefly in 1932, and Mary later remembered a premonition she had that told her that would be the last time she saw her brother. Sadly, she was right.

Jack Pickford died on January 3, 1933 in Paris, France. His cause of death was listed as "neuritis" (Whatever the hell that is).

He was buried in the Pickford plot along with his mother at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

As stated above, Jack was married three three Ziegfeld Girls! His first, and most famous marriage was to my beloved Olive Thomas in 1916. Even though the two seemed perfect for each other and oh so happy, they had quit the tumultuous marriage. Both young with lots of money, they loved to spend lavishly and enjoyed partying to all hours of the morning. Olive wanted to have kids, but it never came about (which is kind of a blessing, don't ya think? I think these two would have been fine on their own until they got older). Sadly, Olive passed away while the two were vacationing in Paris. She had accidentally (in my opinion) swallowed Jack's mercury bichloride that he used to treat his syphilis. Jack later told his mother that he almost jumped off the ship that was carrying him and his wife's body back to the States for burial. But a voice inside his head told him not to do such a "cowardly act."

Jack and Olive Pickford

His second marriage was to another party loving Ziegfeld Girl, Marilyn Miller. They married in 1922, but apparently Jack was very abusive and cruel towards her, so she eventually filed for a divorce in 1927. His last marriage was to Mary Mulhern in 1930. The couple was separated and headed for divorce when Jack passed away.

A lot of people say that Jack could have reached great stardom like his sister, but his hard partying ways took control over him. He loved to drink and spend money on whatever he could and often borrowed money from Mary to go spend on a wild night on the town. Jack may have been seen as the "Boy Next Door" onscreen, but in real life, he was anything but.

Jack has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame..........and honestly, not sure why. I mean..........yeah, not sure why. I don't know if Mary had anything to do with it, but it just seems like such a big honor for someone who hasn't a huge star. Perhaps it was because he made so many films in the early days of cinema. Who knows?


And now we move on to middle sister, Lottie.

Lottie was born Charlotte Smith on June 9, 1893 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She was her father's favorite, and he gave her the nickname "Chuckie." Older sister Mary was quite jealous of all the attention her father put on her younger sister.

Lottie and Jack were the closest of the siblings because after their father left, Mary took on a more motherly role because she was earning money for the family. They saw her a strict, mean, and bossy but they all remained close throughout their lives. Lottie even defended her sister against mean accusations from director, D.W. Griffith. Lottie though idolized her younger brother, and loved him dearly.

Although all the siblings were signed by studios and acted in features, Lottie was the weakest when it came to acting. She was also considered not very pretty, so Biograph studios didn't really want anything to do with her. So, instead of getting cast for lead parts, she would work as an understudy for Mary, take bit parts in her films, and just hung around the set for an extra work. In all, she appeared in around 25 shorts and only 8 features.

She was actually blacklisted from films for a short time when the studio found out she was pregnant and hadn't told anyone.

After her brother died in 1933, she was never the same. As her sister Mary said, a part of her died along with Jack.

Lottie Pickford died of a heart attack on December 9, 1936 in Los Angeles.

She was buried next to her brother and mother in the Pickford plot in Forest Lawn-Glendale.

Even though Lottie had a short life, she wound up being married four times! Her first husband was a broker named Alfred Rupp in 1915. They had a daughter named Mary Pickford Rupp (nice sentiment for someone who wasn't too fond of her sister. She eventually went by the name Gwynne). Lottie and Rupp divorced in 1920. After the divorce, Lottie gave up custody of her daughter to her mother. She also began drinking heavily and using drugs at this point and was not a good mother figure. Gwynne was very close to Charlotte Smith and also with Mary, but there is no word whether or not she had a close relationship with her mother after she gave her up.

In 1922, she married actor Allan Forrest. She used his last name as her stage name in a few films, until they divorced in 1928. A year later she married an undertaker named Russel Gillard. They divorced in 1933. Her final marriage was to John William Lock. They remained married until her death, but I am not sure if they were together at the time or not.

Mary and Lottie Pickford

Like her brother, Lottie loved to party and have a good time. She was infamous for her parties where her and her friends would live it up completely naked. She also had the reputation for being very sweet and down to Earth.

In Mary's autobiography, she talked very highly of her brother Jack and defended him against any bad press he may have received in his lifetime (or after for that matter.) She did not do the same for Lottie.

The three Pickford siblings only appeared in one movie together; Fanchon, The Cricket in 1915. It was a film that was considered lost for years until he was rediscovered in England. The film was also the screen debut of Adele and Fred Astaire.