top of page
  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Mary Pickford

In a career that spanned several decades, her various nicknames included “Goldielocks,” “The Girl with the Curls,” and most of all, “America’s Sweetheart.” Short in stature, with a pretty face framed by masses of golden ringlets, Mary Pickford was the most famous film actress of the 1910s and 1920s. More than that, she was the most powerful woman in Hollywood: a producer, a studio head, and an admired philanthropist.


America’s Sweetheart was born April 8, 1892, in Canada, as Gladys Louise Smith. She began working in Canadian theaters at age seven, to help her newly widowed mother gather a few extra pennies; continuing thereafter to appear in several plays. Her “big break” on New York’s Broadway came in 1907, when she was cast in a supporting role in The Warrens of Virginia. David Belasco, the play’s producer, suggested that she take Mary Pickford as a stage name.


Two years later, she signed with director D. W. Griffith’s New York-based Biograph Company. Like all actors at Biograph, she played both leading roles and bit parts. In 1910 she traveled to Los Angeles with a Biograph crew, where she added a few more film credits made in California to her already impressive resume, among them Sweet and Twenty, and They Would Elope. Actor’s names weren’t listed in the credits of Biograph films—but audiences took note—and exhibitors, in turn, capitalized on her growing popularity by advertising that a film featuring “Blondilocks” was inside.  


She married actor Owen Moore in 1911, an unhappy union that only lasted a few years.


Mary Pickford was one of the earliest film stars to be billed under her own name (Hearts Adrift, released in 1914, was the first time her name was featured above the title on movie marquees); and she used her fame to promote a variety of causes. During World War I, beginning in Washington DC, she promoted the sale of liberty bonds, selling an estimated five million dollars’ worth of bonds in a single speech in Chicago. At war’s end Mary helped found the Hollywood Studio Club, a dormitory for young women in the motion picture business; and organized the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help out of work actors.


In 1919, she co-founded United Artists, an independent film distribution company, with Charlie Chaplin, director D. W. Griffith, and actor/filmmaker Douglas Fairbanks—whom she married in 1920.


As happened to many another star of the silent era, Pickford found her career fading with the arrival of motion picture sound when she was in her thirties, and no longer cast as an ingénue. In Coquette (1929), her first talkie, she played a glamorous, vixenish socialite—a role for which her famous ringlets were shorn into a bob—a transformation that shocked her devoted public. Coquette won her an Academy Award for best actress, but her fans, who had adored her portrayals of little girls, teenage spitfires, and feisty young women, failed to respond favorably to her more sophisticated roles, and her next film, The Taming of the Shrew with husband Douglas Fairbanks, was not well received at the box office.   


In 1933, the most powerful woman who had ever worked in Hollywood retired from film acting, although she continued to produce films for United Artists; and in 1976 she received an Honorary Academy Award for her contributions American film.

Allegedly depressed by the deaths of family members and her 1936 divorce from Douglas Fairbanks (though in 1937 she married actor and band leader Charles “Buddy” Rogers, her third husband, with whom she adopted two children), Mary Pickford became reclusive in her later years, allowing visits to her home from only a select few. Still married to Rogers, she died May 29, 1979, at a Santa Monica hospital.

March is National Women's History Month



17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page