Mary Pickford (born Gladys Louise Smith; April 8, 1892 – May 29, 1979) was the biggest movie star of her day, the trope maker for Dawson Casting and The Ingenue on the screen, 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 she was working on the stage as a child actor, and by 15 she was appearing on Broadway. This brought her to the attention of the cinema's first great director, D. W. Griffith, who signed her to a contract in 1910. Pickford quickly became very popular, and by 1914 and Tess of the Storm Country, she was famous enough that 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 as Cedric's mother.
Determined to take control of her own career, Pickford joined her friends and colleagues Chaplin, Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks to found 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 respective spouses and married each other in 1920, becoming the first Hollywood power couple and the Ur-Example of the Portmanteau Couple Name—or rather, their house (dubbed "Pickfair") did. They divorced in 1936, and Fairbanks died three years later.
Though Pickford hated talking pictures (see the quote above), she still tried to make the transition. In 1930, 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. She finally sold her share of the business in 1956, the last of the original owners to do so (Chaplin, in exile in Europe, had sold his share the previous year). In her later years, Pickford 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).
Pickford died in 1979, survived by her third husband, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, and their two adopted children. Pickfair would remain vacant for the entirety of The '80s, after which Pia Zadora and her then-husband bought the estate and demolished it in 1990, claiming that it had been infested with termites (though many years later Zadora acknowledged this to be false).
Mary Pickford films on TV Tropes:
- The Country Doctor (1909)
- The Lonely Villa (1909)
- The New York Hat (1912)
- Tess of the Storm Country (1914)
- Fanchon the Cricket (1915)
- The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
- Stella Maris (1918)
- Daddy-Long-Legs (1919)
- Pollyanna (1920)
- Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) (Playing a 10-year-old boy! When she was 28!)
- The Love Light (1921)
- Rosita (1923)
- Little Annie Rooney (1925)
- Sparrows (1926)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1929)
- Secrets (1933)
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:
- Portmanteau Couple Name: '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.