April 8, 1892 - May 29, 1979
Born in Toronto, Canada, on April 8, 1892, Mary Pickford was most likely the most influential woman in motion pictures. She was a movie fan favorite during the silent film era, as well as a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was also a co-founder of United Artists.
Born as Gladys Louise Smith, her alcoholic father had abandoned the family and was dead by the time Mary was 6 years old. Mary would be performing on stage within a year, at seven years old. Over the next half dozen years, her family would be touring the United States in second-rate stage productions.
She would finally land a leading role on Broadway in 1907 where she would be working alongside an actor by the name of Cecil B. DeMille in a play called "The Warrens of Virginia". It was at the suggestion of David Belasco, the producer of the play, that Gladys Louise Smith changed her name to Mary Pickford.
It was early in 1909 when Mary Pickford got a screen test by D. W. Griffith, the famed director for the Biograph Company. Impressed with Mary, Griffith hired the young actress at $10 a day with a guarantee of $40 weekly. During her first year at Biograph, Mary Pickford would appear in 51 films. She left Biograph in December 1910, only to return again after a year with the Independent Motion Picture Company (Universal Studios) and Majestic Films. She left Biograph for the last time in late 1912 for a return to the Broadway Stage. A year later, Mary Pickford would sign with Adolph Zukor and his new company, "Famous Players in Famous Plays" (Paramount Films). Within 2 years under Zukor, Mary Pickford would easily be recognized as the most popular actress in the world.
In 1918, Mary Pickford left Paramount to become an independent producer with her films distributed by First National Pictures. A year later, 1919, she would partner with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks to form United Artists. By this time, Mary Pickford was the highest paid actress in the world at more than a million dollars per year.
Mary Pickford would see her star appeal fall with the advent of talking films. Her middle-aged appearance in the new medium did not go over well with movie audiences. However, Mary Pickford would continue behind the scenes.
After a divorce from actor Owen Moore in 1920, Mary Pickford married Douglas Fairbanks. The romance with Douglas Fairbanks had already been ongoing for a couple of years. The new husband and wife team were considered Hollywood royalty, without a doubt the most popular couple in Hollywood. Their marriage would become strained, however, and they finally divorced in 1936. A year later she would marry band leader Charles 'Buddy' Rogers.
On May 29, 1979, Mary Pickford died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 87. In addition to her extensive film legacy, she was without question the most important woman in the history of motion pictures.
* Mary's siblings, Lottie and Jack, were also in the acting business. Both died young from alcoholism related illnesses.
* Mary Pickford's mother passed away cancer in 1928. She also suffered from alcoholism... as did Mary later in life.