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Mary Pickford

Queen of the Movies

edited by Christel Schmidt

Publication Year: 2012

In the early days of cinema, when actors were unbilled and unmentioned in credits, audiences immediately noticed Mary Pickford. Moviegoers everywhere were riveted by her magnetic talent and appeal as she rose to become cinema's first great star.

In this engaging collection, copublished with the Library of Congress, an eminent group of film historians sheds new light on this icon's incredible life and legacy. Pickford emerges from the pages in vivid detail. She is revealed as a gifted actress, a philanthropist, and a savvy industry leader who fought for creative control of her films and ultimately became her own producer. This beautifully designed volume features more than two hundred color and black and white illustrations, including photographs and stills from the collections of the Library of Congress and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Together with the text, they paint a fascinating portrait of a key figure in American cinematic history.author of South of the Border with Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program, 1941-1948

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright

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Editor's Preface

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pp. ix-xii

As the movies expanded to feature length, Pickford’s skyrocketing fame created box-office gold; meanwhile, her widely heralded acting prowess advanced the medium’s quest for respectability. In 1915 Pickford formed her own corporation and began hardball negotiations...

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pp. 1-6

So quickly did cinema move from the stagy theatrics of one-reelers to the fluid intimacy of silent cinema and then to the completely different registers of sound that Mary Pickford, who had been in the forefront of the first revolution, came to seem old-fashioned in the second. It wasn’t just a matter of acting...

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The Natural

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pp. 7-22

There was something about watching Mary Pickford that moved silent-era moviegoers in a way no other actor has ever achieved. And to find out why, one has only to watch her smashing work in Tess of the Storm Country (1914), the first surviving feature to fully...

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Childhood Revisited: An Evaluation of Mary Pickford’s Youngest Characters

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pp. 23-32

No aspect of Mary Pickford’s career is as misunderstood as her work playing children. These characters, featured in a fraction of her movies, are beautifully rendered and deserve their popular and critical success. But after the close of the silent era, distortions and...

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Mary Pickford: Passionate Producer

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pp. 33-46

In his 1923 autobiography, independent film producer and studio founder Sam Goldwyn wrote, “There was no detail of film production which she, this girl, still in her early twenties, had not grasped more thoroughly than any man to whom I ever talked. She knew pictures not only from...

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Father of the Family: Mary Pickford’s Journey from Breadwinner to Businesswoman

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pp. 47-63

In many ways, it was highly unlikely that Mary Pickford (born Gladys Smith in 1892) would grow up to be a magnate in an industry boardroom. Most women of her era had little contact with finance beyond the management of household accounts, and performers were often considered...

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Pickford and Fairbanks: A Modern Marriage

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pp. 64-72

By the time Mary Pickford wed actor Douglas Fairbanks in March 1920, the marriage seemed almost preordained. Each was already an international superstar, adored by fans with the passionate intensity that early cinema inspired. Each had an onscreen persona that represented...

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“Little Mary”: Formidable Philanthropist

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pp. 73-88

Under the title “Mary, the Well Beloved,” Bartlett’s Photoplay article details Mary Pickford’s five-year commitment to the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum. Along the way, it highlights her monetary contributions as well as her perhaps more significant...

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America's Sweetheart

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pp. 89-108

It must be very difficult for people today to realize what Mary Pickford meant to America when she really was America’s Sweetheart—not only the undisputed queen of the movies but also, by all accounts, the most famous woman in America. The...

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Dressing the Part: Mary Pickford’s Use of Costume

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pp. 109-144

Clothes may make the man, but in the case of Mary Pickford, they definitely helped define the filmmaker. The silent film actress and producer—who had once considered a career in the fashion industry—played a pivotal role in selecting the costumes...

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American Idol: Mary Pickford, World War I, and the Making of a National Icon

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pp. 145-162

In April 1918 Mary Pickford stood on an outdoor stage surrounded by American flags, soldiers, and a military band. She faced an audience of thousands that, in trying to get closer to her, almost pushed through the railing between them. Using a megaphone, Pickford began...

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Laws of Attraction: Mary Pickford, Movies, and the Evolution of Fame

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pp. 163-168

The pioneers of silent cinema had no idea that the advent of movies would not only reshape entertainment but also spark the transformation of fame itself. Producer Adolph Zukor, whose company made Pickford’s early silent features, first thought that...

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Crown of Glory: The Rise and Fall of the Mary Pickford Curls

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pp. 169-186

It is no exaggeration to say that Mary Pickford had one of history’s most famous heads of hair. During the early twentieth century, the eighteen honey-golden ringlets that beautifully framed her face enraptured filmgoers and became a key element in her meteoric rise...

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Blood and Sympathy: Race and the Films of Mary Pickford

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pp. 187-204

In the opening of the 1927 Douglas Fairbanks film The Gaucho, audiences are given a treat: a brief, unbilled appearance by Mary Pickford as the Virgin Mary, a miraculous vision in two-strip Technicolor. She materializes magically from a rock wall, a blond, rosy-cheeked...

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The Films of Mary Pickford

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pp. 205-217

The two greatest names in the cinema are, I beg to reiterate, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin... Theirs are the greatest names in the cinema and from an historical point of view they always will be great.” The quotation is from Iris Barry’s...

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Mary Pickford and the Archival Film Movement

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pp. 218-223

Nineteenth-century stage star Lawrence Barrett once said that acting a role was like “carving a statue out of snow.” Indeed, before the invention of cinema, all that remained of an actor’s performance was a memory in the viewer’s mind...

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The Mary Pickford Film Collection at the Library of Congress

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pp. 224-225

The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation (PCAVC), a state-of-the-art facility for storing and preserving audiovisual materials, is home to the largest archival collection of motion pictures starring Mary Pickford. Currently, the Library retains moving image materials...

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The Mary Pickford Photograph Collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library

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pp. 226-227

Shortly after I began working at the Margaret Herrick Library in 1972, I contacted silent film actress Mary Pickford about the possibility of her donating her collection of still photographs and papers to the institution. She responded that, although she didn’t...

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The Mary Pickford Costume and Ephemera Collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

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pp. 228-229

Among the estimated 35 million artifacts and specimens that reside at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) is a collection of fifty objects that document Mary Pickford’s role as Hollywood’s first movie star and female film mogul...

Mary Pickford Chronology

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pp. 230-240


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pp. 241-250

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pp. 251

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies is a collective work, and I am indebted to many publishing professionals, institutions, and writers for aiding its creation. In particular I am indebted to the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and...


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pp. 252-261


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pp. 262-264


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pp. 265

Photo Credits and Permissions

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pp. 266-269


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pp. 270-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136479

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pickford, Mary, 1892-1979.
  • Motion picture actors and actresses -- United States -- Biography.
  • Motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Biography.
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