Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legendby Kevin Brownlow, Robert Cushman
"America's Sweetheart" is the subject of this lavish tribute, illustrated with fabulous film stills, rare production shots, and personal photographs--most never before published. 232 illustrations.
The New York Times Book Review
- Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
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- 9.37(w) x 12.25(h) x 1.00(d)
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...Contrary to general present-day perception, Mary Pickford was much more than "the little girl with the golden curls." She was a unique symbol of the birth and growth of the only art form that found its origins in the western hemisphere -- the motion picture. She was the most popular, powerful, prominent, and influential woman in the history of the cinema. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of that fact today. Why? It is largely Pickford's own fault: she rigidly controlled and kept her films out of public view for over forty years. Why? She was afraid she would be laughed at -- in the wrong way. She could not have been more mistaken.
One of the earliest of the great pioneer performers in film, she had been making movies for several years before luminaries such as Lillian Gish and Charles Chaplin ever stepped in front of of a camera. Having been a stage actress since age five, Mary Pickford entered the movies in April 1909, at age seventeen; and within a few months, at a time when most "legitimate" actors looked on the "galloping tintypes" with dismissive, withering contempt, she had the vision to realize the hitherto undreamed-of potential of the motion picture while it was still in its infancy. She stayed with this new medium that many derided as a toy and went on to build a career that was unprecedented in the annals of entertainment and eventually made her the most popular woman in the world.
She was certainly the world's first "superstar," as she was the first figure in the performing arts to achieve international fame and recognition among millions of people around the globe. There was simply no precedent for this level of fame, no concept or comprehension of just what such fame meant in terms of both professional and personal life. Mary was the first person to learn precisely what this entailed -- and how to deal with it.
Pickford was the first female star to found her own corporation (in 1915), and she virtually invented the concept of the independent star/producer. To this role she added the concept of distributor, an entrepreneurial inspiration that resulted in the incorporation and coownership (with partners Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith) of United Artists early in 1919. That was a unique moment in film history; to this day no one has ever succeeded in amassing so much control. Even the likes of Steven Spielberg and Barbara Streisand do not personally own their distribution companies.
Until her retirement from acting in 1933, after more than two hundred films and twenty-five years after her motion picture debut, Pickford was never to desert the screen, save for a brief Broadway run in a David Belasco play early in 1913. She developed a deep respect for the motion picture medium at a very early stage in her career and would always take whatever steps necessary, often risking life and limb, to achieve all effects correctly. Nothing -- no job -- was beneath her, even when she was her own producer and the world's biggest star. If it was for the good of the picture, she did it. She would ride a horse at full gallop atop a narrow twenty-foot wall, plunge into icy water, and pick up a five-foot snake. Reminiscing with Kevin Brownlow, she recalled, "There was always something that scared me about that camera...."
The space allotted Pickford in film histories has been inappropriately small, in light of her enormous importance, but some observations have been insightful. In 1915 Julian Johnson was one of the earliest to grasp her significance:
Occasionally, a science, a trade, a craft or an art produces some single exponent who stands above all other exponents; who becomes not so much a famous individual as a symbol; whose very name, in any land, is a personification of the thing itself.... What Edison symbolizes in electricity, what Stephenson stands for in mechanical invention or Spencer in synthetic philosophy, Mary Pickford stands for in the great new art world of living shadows.
In 1931 even the severe critic C. A. Lejeune succumbed when she wrote in her Cinema:
...she is at once a myth and a surety, a legend and a pledge.... It is a rather curious corollary...that Mary Pickford, a woman of steely sense and practicality, should have become the cinema's great sentimentality, the concrete expression of our ideals and memories.... She sends us away from the picture-house absurdly generous, ridiculously touched, so that we want to stop the first grubby urchin in the street and surprise it with a five-pound note, buy an orphanage, adopt a township of homeless dogs, or sell all we have and give it to the poor....
Excerpted by permission of Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Copyright c 1999 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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