The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Eighty-Three

September 12-19, 2018

“Dorothy and I to see Mary Pickford movie.” That was all Kate Roosevelt had to report in her diary on September 21, 1918. No mention of the plot or performance of the star. Maybe she just assumed that Mary Pickford was a household name and did not need an introduction. More than one hundred years later, Mary Pickford’s name still conjures up a picture of the actress who usually played the part of a young girl. Although her name is easily recognized today, all of her accomplishments are not. She was much more than a pig-tailed performer.

The Young Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford was her stage name. She was born Gladys Smith in 1892 in Toronto, Canada. When her father was killed in an accident, seven- year-old Gladys became the family’s main breadwinner by acting in the theater. She owes her stage-name to David Belasco, the New York City theater producer.

Pickford in “Tess of the Storm Country” (1922). Photo courtesy of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

By 1909 Mary Pickford was a stage star, but the silver screen was calling. She approached D. W. Griffith, the director of Biograph Studios, who had their studios in the building owned by, Kate Roosevelt’s family. It was called Roosevelt and Sons on Broadway between Broome and Grand Streets. This new medium of motion pictures and Pickford made magic. She came to be known as “Moving Picture Mary.” He petite size and youthful beauty made her an ideal choice to play the part of children and young girls, roles she continued with until she was well past middle-age.

Screenwriter, Frances Marion

By 1916 she negotiated a movie contract that paid her $10,000 a week, fifty percent of her film profits and her own production company. During that time, she made some of the best feature films of her career. One of them was released in 1918. Stella Maris was the silent film Kate and Dorothy went to see. In it, Mary Pickford played a dual role, a delicate and beautiful invalid named Stella who was raised by her wealthy guardians and the other, a hunched urchin named Unity. The screenplay was written by Frances Marion, one of the most successful female writers in Hollywood.

Pickford with a movie camera in 1916. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Way ahead of her time, Mary Pickford formed her own production company, United Artists in 1920 along with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, he future husband. Pickford and Fairbanks were known as the “King and Queen of Hollywood.”

Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith

Eventually silent movies were taken over by the “talkies.” Mary Pickford realized her days as the dainty doll-face were coming to an end. She cut her old-fashioned curls and tried to morph into a modern film star. She won an Oscar for best actress in the movie Coquette in 1929, but times were changing just as quickly as she was aging. She retired from acting and focused on producing films.  Her once-swash buckling husband, Douglas Fairbanks died in 1936, three years after their divorce and she passed away in 1979 at the age of eighty- seven.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

In addition to the fairytale marriage that Pickford and Fairbanks enjoyed in Hollywood and their estate, called Pickfair, the couple also participated in world affairs, politics and charity. During World War One, Kate Roosevelt was a witness to their patriotism during World War One when they came to New York City to promote the Liberty Loan Drive to finance the war effort.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

On WAT-CAST, listen to Sharon talk about the series.

Photo One:
Mary Pickford Lobby Picture from the movie Stella Maris
public domain, 1918

Photo Two:
The Young Mary Pickford
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Mary Pickford on the movie set
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Screenwriter, Frances Marion
wiki

Photo Five:
Mary Pickford behind the camera
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
United Artists Production Company Founders
Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith
wiki

Photo Seven:
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
wiki