Mary Pickford: More Than a Sweetheart


Christel Schmidt, editor. Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies. University of Kentucky Press, 288pp

America’s original screen darling Mary Pickford always seemed to get there first: she was the screen’s first true icon. one of the first women to start up an independent production company in Hollywood (United Artists, with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and her then husband Douglas Fairbanks). She may have been one of the first superstars to carry on a romance with a popular actor (Fairbanks) white still married to another man. Griffith told his protégé Lillian Gish that the movie camera was powerful enough to sway nations and could even end war and bloodshed, but it is possible that Pickford heard that prophetic song even before Griffith did. She knew intuitively the power of the camera and she has never lost her status as America’s sweetheart.

“Little Mary” was never the little woman, either in business or in her own households, from her early life as a breadwinner to “Pickfair”, the estate she shared with Fairbanks. Cinema’s then first couple had what Christel Schmidt calls, in Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies, “a modern marriage”. They not only shared a passion for filmmaking but also forged “a progressive union that not only met but surpassed companionate marriage’s expectations of gender equality”.

Schmidt’s book is a handsome (and huge) collection of photographs and essays that aims to be the last word on all things Pickford. She has assembled an excellent group of experts who together give a well-rounded view of Pickford’s career, her work as a first-rate producer and an exploration of contemporary issues such as the racial tension in her films, her impact on the film industry and her cinematic legacy. Pickford’s business prowess is set alongside other, equally important aspects o her life and career – such as her use of costume to emphasize aspects of both her on and off-screen personas.”

Mary Pickford is beautiful to look at and to read. It also carries special meaning for anyone who has visited the vast Pickford collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, which houses many of the photographs reprinted here. Schmidt dedicates this book to the late Robert Cushman, whose life’s work, in addition to running the library’s photographic collection, was making sure that Pickford’s photos comprised one of the best collections the library has to offer. That it is.

TLS (Times Literary Supplement), June 2013

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