Mary Pickford, who will always be forever known as "America's Sweetheart" and a pioneer of early Hollywood and shaping the industry but also for being the first talent who had so much power in Hollywood and joined Douglas Fairbanks (who would end up being her husband), Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith to create the film studio United Artists. As well as being one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and building her legacy as one of the greatest female actresses of all time.
Known for her work in silent films such as "Stella Maris", "Amarlilly of Clothes-Line Alley", "The Poor Little Rich Girl", "Tess of the Storm Country", "Pollyanna" to name a few, outside of her well-known films, there is a story to tell about Mary Pickford and details about her personal life that many people may not be familiar with.
Before becoming the celebrated actress, how Mary, who at the time was known as Glady Smith and her mother, Charlotte Hennessy and her younger siblings left home to get jobs in plays and living a life of poverty. That was until she starred in the 1907 Broadway play "The Warrens of Virginia" written by William C. DeMille and produced by David Belasco. Belasco was the man who helped her choose her stage name Mary Pickford and two years later, the actress would try out for her first screen test and capture the attention of director D.W. Griffith for the Biograph Company.
It wasn't until 1913 when the actress joined Adolph Zukor who started his own company Famous Players for Famous Plays (an early film company which would change its name to Paramount Pictures) and would star in several films, become one of the most highly demanded actresses, let alone the most highly paid actress in the business.
The actress would then leave Paramount in 1918 and became an independent producer at First National and a year later, she and a few friends would go on to create United Artists.
But as much as the rags to riches story is well-known to her fans, it's the struggles that people were unaware of. Her first marriage to Owen Moore, how alcoholism was a big part of her family, the strain of filming, her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks which seemed like a storybook marriage that was built to last but didn't, then Pickford running a film corporation, film production company and a marriage and have difficulty maintaining her own persona life and then her final marriage to actor/band leader Charles "Buddy" Rogers. And like many other silent stars, the transition from silent films to talkies which hurt Mary Pickford's career and would lead to very few roles afterward, despite her winning the first Academy Award for "Best Actress in a Leading Role" for the early sound film "Coquette" (1929).
Life may have seemed like a fairytale on the outside when one was to see Mary Pickford in her films but this American Experience documentary from PBS Home Video gives us the true details of Pickford's life using archival footage, stills, original audio interviews with Pickford, clips from her films and more.
The following documentary is presented in color and black and white and in standard format. Picture quality varies on the various video clips but for the most part, PBS/American Experience do a great job on the editing of their documentaries and this documentary on Mary Pickford is no different. Personally, the fact that we get to see these old film clips and photos from her early years, video of her and Douglas Fairbanks traveling to other countries and more.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Mary Pickford" is presented in Dolby Digital. Narrated dialogue is easy to understand and is very clear. Even the older audio clips are easy to hear as well.
There are no subtitles but the documentary is presented with optional closed captions.
"Mary Pickford" comes with a selected filmography with text based information of her films.
American Experience/PBS have done a tremendous job with their documentaries and one of the documentaries that I was looking forward to was on the actress Mary Pickford.
As a fan of Pickford's silent films and owning several of her films on DVD, my familiarity with the actress was from what I saw on film, still photos I own of her and reading about her on Kevin Brownlow's excellent book on silent cinema "The Parade's Gone By". But the truth is, I was not familiar with her personal life and nor was I privy to the pain the actress had to go through since an earlier age.
Afterall, there are no actresses that have ever been in Mary Pickford's shoes. For one, she was the most beloved silent film actress worldwide, highly paid, owning her own film production studio, a partner in a major film company and literally producing and directing her own films (despite the films having an actual director).
She was a businesswoman (while her mother provided the muscle), she was also a pioneer of early Hollywood and like many other actresses who were held at the highest pedestal during the silent film years, like many of them, despite the success Pickford has had in her life, despite being smart on her investments, all was lost in terms of acting, the fans and her involvement in Hollywood after the talkies became the mainstay in the movies. Sure, Mary Pickford was able to still get work and even won an Academy Aard but the roles that she was known for and what people remembered of her and hope she can do, was not going to be possible. She was not going to play young character roles in her 40's or 50's and the truth is, people's interests in moved on and silent films and their stars were considered the past.
Through this documentary, we see the struggles of her trying to maintain a life while being so busy and also the relationship with actor Douglas Fairbanks and a fairytale turned broken dream. In some way, I wasn't surprised because even though Pickford was busy, she was reserved. Fairbanks was the swashbuckler, the man with the ego, the man who seemed so opposite of Pickford but yet they were very much in love. Unfortunately, Fairbanks strayed elsewhere. So, overall...this fairytale romance is focused in the documentary. A very sad story about Pickford's personal life especially since she was so close to him and her family members and how she lost them all.
But I feel what was most tragic is the fact that many people have forgotten her and when they did see her again, it was at the 1976 Academy Awards when she was presented an Honorary Award at the Pickfair estate and Mary was in her mid-80's and people who have had this memory of this young actress in silent films were "horrified" (the actual description by the narrator) to see how the actress has fared.
For me, I have the utmost respect for Mary Pickford as an actress, as a careerwoman and what she contributed to Hollywood. It is very sad today, now that we have become a modern technological society, a lot of these silent stars, their films are either lost, out of print and unfortunately, those who do care are just a niche group of silent film fans who hope to keep the interest in these stars and their films alive and hopefully introduce them to a next generation of movie fans. Fortunately, interest in Mary Pickford is strong among these fans.
So, If you are a fan who has discovered silent films, especially the life of Mary Pickford, I wholeheartedly recommend this DVD release and for its price that you can find online especially Amazon these days, it's definitely worth it. It's a well-done, well-edited documentary on one of the most fantastic actresses to ever grace the big screen and will forever be known for her contributions to Hollywood and cinema.
"Mary Pickford" the American Experience PBS Home Video documentary is highly recommended!