The Gal-lery: Mary Pickford.

Welome back to The Gal-lery, where DG spotlights women from the expansive and far-reaching fields of art and design.

Mary Pickford. The Photo-Play Journal, June 1916.
Mary Pickford. The Photo-Play Journal, June 1916.

What does the name Mary Pickford bring to mind? The doe-eyed ingénue of the silent film era, with girlishly-curled locks, and who wore those darling ruffled babydoll dresses? Yes, Ms. Pickford did capitalize on her youthful charms, but she was so much more than a sweet face of the early cinematic world— keep on reading to discover more about the astute woman behind the it-girl face!

Mary Pickford, née Gladys Marie Smith, was born in 1892 in Toronto, Canada and started a life in the limelight camera at the ripe ol’ age of 7 and 3/4 when she was cast in The Silver King for two parts (‘Big Girl’ and ‘Ned’). The following year, she and her siblings began to tour the country to perform. They worked with the Gish sisters, Dorothy and Lillian, whom Gladys eventually introduced to D. W. Griffith, pioneer of early American cinema in later years. In 1907, and upon a theatre producer’s suggestion, Gladys Smith adopted the new name Mary Pickford. Pickford’s cinematic debut was in the Griffith film Her First Biscuits in 1909, but she also signed-on with Biographic Company, where she met her first husband (Owen Moore).

Mary Pickford, 1916.
Mary Pickford, 1916.

Between 1909 and 1916, The Queen of the Movies changed production companies and managed to negotiate her salary from $10 a week to a queenly sum of $10,000 a week. With her numerous critically-acclaimed and box-office successful films, Pickford now had to power to pick-and-choose her projects, a luxury rarely afforded to actors at this period in time. In August of 1916, she became the first movie star to create her own production company: Mary Pickford Film Corporation. Not the just the first woman, mind you, but the FIRST ever. But America’s Sweetheart wasn’t done yet!

Among her many notable achievements, Pickford, along with Douglas Fairbanks (whom Pickford married in 1920), Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, created the United Artists Corporation. Motivated by the poverty Pickford experienced when she was growing-up, in 1921 she helped create a financial assistance fund for film industry employees in need, called the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In 1956 she established the Mary Pickford Charitable Trust in order to continue her charitable pursuits, which later became Mary Pickford Foundation in the 1970s. In 1928, Pickford became one of the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (yes, that Academy). Pickford continued to be an astute business woman, mother, philanthropist, and occasionally a writer, until her death in 1979.

Pickford, 1946.
Pickford visiting England, 1946.

Since this is Women’s History Month, why not take a look at some more interesting ladies from times past? The NWHP website (above) has some great resources, plus The Gal-lery is chock-full of women of note: Hatshepsut, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Frances Glessner Lee, and Elizabeth Keckley, just to name a few!


Mary Pickford Foundation

Mary Pickford – IMDb

What era or area of art and design would you like to see represented here? Do you have a particular artist or designer whom you positively admire? Let us know in the comments below!


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