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.


  1. Jack was actually a huge success back in the early 1900's. Critics LOVED him! He had a natural talent to convey such strong and powerful emotions on screen in such a subtle way. They loved him as Beppo in the film "Poor Little Peppina" starring Mary as the leading lady. He soon got a contract to star in more roles as Beppo, one including the film "Great Expentations" with Louise Huff. That film is now considered lost.
    The critics loved him and wanted him to do more films, but it was Jack who didn't want to. Mary would make Jack act so he would stay out of trouble, after Olive died, it got worse. After her passing, he hid for 10 months before surfacing again.
    He died from multible diseases (the diseases I don't know, that's just what his record says) mixed with nerve damage that spread to his brain. Years and years of heavy drinking didn't help any either. Doctors said he showed an unwillingness to live. His final words were, "I've lived more than most men and I'm tired, I'm very tired." He died with a smile across his face.

    It was said that whenever he was drunk, he would call out for Olive. Her death is what killed Jack in the end. Jack never had Syphilis either. It was NEVER proven. If Olive "drank" the Mercury because it was from his treatment, that's totally false. People didn't dissolve the Mercury in a liquid to apply it on their skin, it came in a little tin can, mixed with other chemicals. It was gooey, like Vaseline, not meant to "drink".

    He has a star because he did waaayyy more than most people think! I've been studying him for years, he deserves more credit than he gets. He had problems, but he was a nice, charming guy.

  2. Also, (I'm sorry, I get defensive when it comes to Jack and Olive..) Jack never had syphilis, and IF he did, Olive wouldn't be able to drink it. Back then, to treat syphilis doctors would give you a little tin can with prescription medicine (the Mercury Bichloride part of it) in it-it was gooey like Vaseline. It would almost be impossible to swallow it, especially accidently.

  3. Please do get defensive Lois lol Thank you so much for the extra info, it is also welcomed. I am thankful that in this day and age there is more information available at our fingertips so we can make these people more complete with information. I love reading old magazine articles about movie stars because it just adds more information.
    So, by all means, get defensive! I do when people talk about Roscoe Arbuckle and call him a rapist...or on another note, when people say The Monkees never play their own instruments *hiss*

  4. Thank you for understanding! Lol. God bless the internet for meeting new people and sharing new information!
    Have you ever seen the documentary, In Mary's Shadow: The Jack Pickford Story? It's wonderful! It's not on dvd or anything but if you contact Alaina Archer, she'll most likely send you a copy!

    On another note, I agree about the Roscoe Arbuckle statement! Although, I do like Virginia Rappe, she didn't blame him or anything, she didn't have anything to do with it. Anyway, thank you for understanding! I recently said something about Jack's syphilis being false and A LOT of people got angry at me!

    Thanks again!

    Also, I'm on Facebook, I do have a lot of information I could share with you about Olive!! Just message me if you interested!

  5. I have never heard of that documentary and I want to get my hands on it!! Is she on Facebook as well, because I would love to get a hold of her and the movie. I will add you on FB as well.

    Seems we are on the same page when it comes to silent stars, and this makes me happy. People need to realize that some stuff are just rumors and they have to be put right. I am so happy that this blog has given me a chance to meet some wonderful people who know silent films and really do know the history. I love you all!!!

  6. The documentary is wonderful! Here's a link to the page, you can find Elaina's email on there, just ask for the doc. She'll send it to you free of charge!

  7. John Lock was a good friend of my mother's in the 1950s. By then, he had remarried and was living in St. Petersburg FL. As a child, I recall his stories of a short career in the silent movies, always playing a bad guy of Mexican ethnicity. He spoke of Pickford Manor and it was clear to me even then that he had regrets of his life at that time, which was apparently filled with too much alcohol and drama. He spoke fondly of Lottie. I remember him as a kind, quick witted man.
    Sent from my iPad

    1. How amazing to be able to speak with someone who was actually at Pickfair! Seriously sucks that it is gone now. And that is great that he spoke nice words about Lottie because from the little there is out there, it is mostly about her wild streak.

  8. Hi, my name is Anrika Rupp. My father was Robert Rupp ( 1925 - 2011), son of Albert Rupp ( Lottie's ex ) and Mary Hall. I have been doing some ancestry research and ran into your blog. Thanks for all the information. My father kept in touch with Gwynee for a while in the 60's I think but then lost touch.

    1. Oh no way! Thank YOU for stopping by, Anrika! If you have additional information, please feel free to e-mail me and I will add it in!

    2. Hi: I'm working on a book on the Pickfords, focusing on their entire family dynamic. I have met an older cousin of yours that you may not know. She is the daughter of Charles Rupp, your father's uncle. If you would like more information, please contact me. From research at the Herrick Library, it's clear Mary and Gwynne kept in touch with your father and his brother, but I don't know if Gwynne saw her father Bert after the divorce. Do you know? Many thanks -- Susan Schulman @