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America's (Canadian) Sweetheart

"It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkies instead of the other way around."
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Mary Pickford (born Gladys Louise Smith, April 8th 1892 — May 29th 1979) was the biggest movie star in the world, the trope maker for The Ingenue and Dawson Casting in films, one of the founders of United Artists, and "America's Sweetheart" ... even though she was Canadian.

Pickford was born Gladys Smith in Toronto. By the time she was seven years old she was a child actor on the stage. By 1907, she was appearing on Broadway. This brought her to the attention of cinema's first great director, D. W. Griffith, who signed her to a contract in 1910. She soon became very popular, and by 1914 and Tess of the Storm Country, she was world-famous. Only her good friend and future business partner Charlie Chaplin could claim to be as big a star as she was.

Pickford played a variety of roles in her early years, but by the time she became a big star she was playing mostly innocent girls, spunky teenagers, or wide-eyed ingenues. She often was used for Dawson Casting parts, like in The Poor Little Rich Girl, when she played an 11-year-old child at the age of 24. In Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) she played dual roles, simultaneously Dawson Casting as 10-year-old Cedric Errol and Playing Gertrude as Cedric's mother.

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Determined to take control of her own career, Pickford joined her friends Chaplin, Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks in founding United Artists in 1919. At the same time she was falling in love with Fairbanks, despite the fact that both of them were married; they divorced their spouses and married each other in 1920. They became the first Hollywood power couple and the Ur-Example of the Portmanteau Couple Name—or rather, their house did. They divorced in 1936.

Pickford hated talking pictures (see the quote above) but still tried to make the transition. After relentlessly campaigning, she won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a talking film, for Coquette. She also did an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew with Fairbanks, the only film they ever starred in together. Additionally, she cut off her world-famous long, luxuriant curls, adopting a short bob in order to project a more grown-up image as she approached 40 years old. It didn't work, and her acting career petered out in 1934. She would still be the most important woman in Hollywood for another 20 years, however, due to her role as co-owner with Chaplin of United Artists. In her later years, she lived a very Norma Desmond-ish existence at Pickfair, drinking heavily and hardly ever seeing anyone, not even showing up when she received an honorary Academy Award in 1976 (she did allow a film crew to give her the award at her house).

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Mary Pickford films on TV Tropes:


Tropes associated with Mary Pickford:

  • Contractual Purity: One of the earliest examples. Known for her flowing ringlets and Ingenue roles, she was held up as "America's Sweetheart" and seen as a symbol of female virtue. Cutting her hair in the wake of her mother's death and playing an adult role in Coquette failed to help her transition to adult roles, and her fans couldn't accept her in anything else.
  • Dawson Casting: Probably the Trope Maker. She kept playing young girls and teens well into her twenties and thirties.
  • Fake Nationality:
    • She played the odd Native American role in her early days.
    • In Rosita she plays a Spanish woman.
  • I Am Not Leonard Nimoy: The likes of Sara Crewe, Madame Butterfly, Pollyanna etc all had their characteristics tweaked to fit Mary Pickford's specific type of Ingenue. She even appeared in a series of World War I propaganda films as herself — or rather the film image of herself.
  • Iconic Item: Pickford is mostly remembered appearing with cats in many photos. The Google doodle to celebrate her 120th birthday anniversary even features a cat sitting on her shoulder.
  • Old Shame: She called a film adaptation of A Good Little Devil one of the worst films she ever did. It was adapted from a Broadway play and had the actors reciting every single line of dialogue.
  • Playing Against Type:
    • Coquette saw her playing a reckless socialite.
    • Earlier she tried to break typecasting with Rosita, where she played a woman who becomes a king's mistress.
    • Another attempt was My Best Girl where she played a put-upon department store worker, who is very Tsundere towards her love interest.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name:invoked 'Pickfair' for her and Douglas Fairbanks was one of the first notable ones.
  • Reclusive Artist: Known for being so in the later years of her life. Left depressed by the deaths of her mother and siblings - and having a turbulent relationship with her children - she lived only at Pickfair manor and eventually only spoke to people on the phone. When presented with a lifetime achievement Oscar, she accepted it from her home, offering the public a rare look at it.
  • Regal Ringlets: For most of her career she wore her hair in long ringlets as a symbol of the innocence of her characters. In her prime, she was known as "the girl with the curls".
  • Star-Derailing Role: The Taming of the Shrew, made right after her drastic image change in Coquette, flopped at the Box Office and she retired from acting shortly afterwards.
  • Star-Making Role: Hearts Adrift marked the first time she was Billed Above the Title.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • She did screen tests for Disney's planned live action/animation hybrid of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1933. The project was cancelled when Paramount released their version. This still is all that survives of it.
    • Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett met with her to offer the part of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and she was one of the biggest inspirations for the character. But they never actually offered it to her, Wilder realising that she would be insulted at a part involving an affair with a man half her age.
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