Jun 1, 2012

Why Do People Love Mary Pickford?

I'm hosting this great entry that David Menefee posted in the comments, so that you all can read it with more ease.

By David W. Menefee

I have always loved Mary for all that is good in her spirit, which cameras managed to capture. Vachel Lindsay in his 1915 book, THE ART OF THE MOVING PICTURE, may have been one of the first to put into words what people around the world thought of Mary:

“Mary Pickford in particular has been stimulated to be over-athletic, and in all her career she has been given just one chance to be her more delicate self, and that was in the almost forgotten film: A ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS. This is one of the serious commercial attempts that should be revived and studied, in spite of its crudities of plot, by 
our Art Museums. There is something of the grandeur of the redwoods in it, in contrast to the sustained Botticelli grace of "Our Mary." One description of the Intimate-and-friendly Comedy would be the Mary Pickford kind of a story. None has as yet appeared. But we know the Mary Pickford mood. When it is gentlest, most roguish, most exalted, it is a prophecy of what this type should be, not only in the actress, but in the scenario and setting.”

“Mary Pickford can be a doll, a village belle, or a church angel. Her powers as a doll are hinted at in the title of the production: SUCH A LITTLE QUEEN. I remember her when she was a village belle in that film that came out before producers or actors were known by name. It was sugar-sweet. It was called WHAT THE DAISY SAID. If these productions had conformed to their titles sincerely, with the highest photoplay art we would have had two more examples for this chapter. 

Why do the people love Mary? Not on account of the Daniel Frohman style of handling her appearances. He presents her to us in what are almost the old-fashioned stage terms: the productions energetic and full of painstaking detail but dominated by a dream that is a theatrical hybrid. It is neither good moving picture nor good stage play. Yet 
Mary could be cast as a cloudy Olympian or a church angel if her managers wanted her to be such. She herself was transfigured in THE DAWN OF TOMORROW, but the film-version of that play was merely a well mounted melodrama. 

Why do the people love Mary? Because of a certain aspect of her face in her highest mood. Botticelli painted her portrait many centuries ago when by some necromancy she appeared to him in this phase of herself. There is in the Chicago Art Institute at the top of the stairs on the north wall a noble copy of a fresco by that painter, the copy by Mrs. MacMonnies. It is very near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In the picture the muses sit enthroned. The loveliest of them all is a startling replica of Mary. 

The people are hungry for this fine and spiritual thing that Botticelli pointed in the faces of his muses and heavenly creatures. Because the mob catch the very glimpse of it in Mary's face, they follow her night after night in the films. They are never quite satisfied with the plays, because the managers are not artists enough to know they should 
sometimes put her into sacred pictures and not have her always the village hoyden, in plays not even hoydenish. But perhaps in this argument I have but betrayed myself as Mary's infatuated partisan.” 


  1. Thanks for the post David. It's interesting to get this perspective on Mary from the past. When I read a thoughtful analysis like this from so early in the days of film, I feel like at least some people must have realized those movies were important and not a fleeting entertainment.

  2. Thank you David for the beautifully written blog on Mary. I know with Romance of the Redwoods she apparently signed some agreement with Zukor that she would obey Cecil Demille's direction for these two pictures he was to direct her in. She reluctantly agreed and this was when she permanently moved to Los Angeles and bought her first house over in Fremont Place in Wilshire district of LA. It was this house that was used in the recent film The Artist. It was also during this time she started seeing more of Douglas Fairbanks since he was over in LA. The other picture that Demille directed her in was called "The Little American". That film is also very fascinating to watch if any of you are curious.