On June 24, 1916, Canadian actress Mary Pickford made history. The biggest movie star of his time signed on that date a contract where not only did she gain unrestricted autonomy over which films she would work on, but she started to receive half of the profits of the productions in which she was involved, a record salary of US$ 10,000 a week and a guarantee of one million dollars (now almost 20 million) annually, in addition to becoming vice president of Pickford Film Corporation. So, 106 years ago, the first million-dollar actress appeared.
Mary Pickford‘s career and contribution to the entertainment industry are unparalleled. In 50 years of activity, he starred in silent film classics, co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studios, and later, with Charles Chaplin, United Artists, in addition to being among the 36 founding stars of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In male-dominated times and markets, Mary Pickford was above or equal to any of them.
Mary, whose real name was Gladys Marie Smith, pioneered everything. Born into a family of artists, she made her film debut in 1909, aged just 17, after director D. W. Griffith auditioned her for a film, something new at the time. Clever, Mary realized that it was easier for her to work in front of the cameras than on the stage and, astute in business, she managed to close a contract where she already earned twice what the market paid.
She earned well and worked a lot. Between small roles and main roles, she played mothers, ingenues, cleaning women, spitfires, slaves, Native Americans, despised women, and even a prostitute. “I decided that if I could get into as many films as possible, I would become known and there would be demand for my work,” he later explained.
It worked out. In her first year, she appeared in no fewer than 51 films (one a week) and ended up as a lead actress. She followed the industry as companies decided to risk Los Angeles as a base to escape the short days and dim light of the East Coast winter. He never left California again. In just a few years, she was already one of the biggest silent movie stars.
By this time, Mary had pleaded for – and achieved – another significant change. Actors weren’t credited, so she was the “girl with curls” herself until her name was on the poster. She soon gained the reputation of being “America’s Sweetheart” and “Queen of Movies”. Her popularity was on par with Charlie Chaplin at his peak. Between 1910 and 1920, Mary Pickford was the most famous woman in the world. And powerful too. With Griffiths, Chaplin, and actor Douglas Fairbanks (her future husband and screen partner), they founded their own studio, United Artists, in 1919, taking control of the distribution of their works as well.
Only one thing interrupted the star’s upward trajectory: sound. When cinema adopted the new technology, things changed for many actors and Mary was no exception. She resisted the change for as long as she could.
In 1929, she starred in her first talkie, Coquette, and cut her famous curls for the role, adopting the hair fashion of the 1920s. Fans were shocked by the transformation, after all her hair was like a symbol of feminine virtue. The move made front-page news in The New York Times.
Despite winning the Oscar for Best Actress, the public did not respond at the box office and little by little Mary Pickford’s star lost its shine. On the radio, alongside actresses such as Norma Talmadge, Gloria Swanson, and Dolores del Río, she proved that her voice would also give audiences, but, at 30, for newly created Hollywood, Mary became “old”. The entry of color technology only made the transition worse. There was no way to pretend to be a teenager in the papers anymore. Nor was she sexy like the actresses who were making waves at the time. So, in 1933, he retired from the screens. “I knew it was time to retire,” he said in an interview in 1965. “I wanted to stop before I was asked to stop.”
Unfortunately, after leaving the screen, Mary Pickford became an alcoholic, a sad family heirloom. The deaths of her parents and siblings, the divorce from Douglas Fairbanks, and the end of her acting career all contributed to a depressing period, with the star staying secluded in Pickfair, receiving only select visitors and communicating with the world only by phone. She wrote books (including his autobiography) and started directing TV channels, but he didn’t want contact with the world. Her life was the loose inspiration for Sunset Boulevard, in the 1950s.
In her career, Edarism may have been the insurmountable obstacle for Mary Pickford, but she went on to run United Artists, becoming one of the film’s top executives. Alongside Douglas Fairbanks, she was Hollywood royalty, with historic parties at her mansion, Pickfair, which deserves a post of its own.
In 1976 he received an honorary Oscar for his contribution to cinema. She received the statuette at home, and a TV crew recorded her short thanks recorded in Pickfair. She died three years later, of a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 87. She left a legacy of almost 200 films, a mark in the industry, and a legend for fans of the seventh art.