Mary Pickford’s Early Career

When a Man Loves
R: David W. Griffith. B: George Terwilliger. K: G. W. Bitzer. D: Dell Henderson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, George Nichols, Verner Clages, Grace Henderson, Robert Harron. P: Biograph Company. USA 1911
Print: Mary Pickford Foundation

“Acting soon became a family enterprise as Charlotte, Gladys, and her two younger siblings Jack and Lottie, toured the United States by rail and performed in rag-tag melodramas. After six impoverished years of touring, Gladys and her mother headed for Broadway. She landed a supporting role in a 1907 Broadway play, ‘The Warrens of Virginia’. The play was written by William C. DeMille, whose brother, the then unknown Cecil B. DeMille also appeared in the cast. David Belasco, the producer of the play, insisted that Gladys Smith assume a name with more charisma. Drawing on family names they came upon ‘Pickford.’ With the stage name, ‘Mary Pickford,’ a star was born and a new precedent had been set. On April 19, 1909, the Biograph Company director D. W. Griffith screen-tested Pickford at the company’s New York City studio. The role went to someone else, but Griffith was immediately taken with Pickford, particularly with her intuitive feeling that acting for film was more intimate than the stylized stage acting of the day. Griffith agreed to pay her an astronomical $10 a day (Most Biograph actors earned $5 a day). Like everyone at Biograph, Pickford played both bit parts and leading roles. She displayed emotional range as mothers, ingénues, spurned women, spitfires, and even a prostitute. As Pickford said of her whirlwind success at Biograph: ‘I played scrubwomen and secretaries and women of all nationalities. I took anything that came my way because I decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible, I’d become known, and there would be a demand for my work.’ In 1909, Pickford appeared in 51 films—almost one a week. Her comic blend of sweetness and feistiness made her not only Biograph’s most important player, but the most popular star of the nickelodeon era when silent movies were referred to as “flickers.”

In January 1910 Pickford traveled with a Biograph crew to Los Angeles where sunnier skies provided for longer shooting days. Pickford’s name was not listed in the credits, as was customary for the times, but she had been noticed by audiences within weeks of her first film appearance. Exhibitors capitalized on her popularity by advertising on sandwich boards outside their nickelodeons that a film featuring The Girl with the Golden Curls, was inside. Cited as ‘America’s Sweetheart’ during the silent film era, she was one of the earliest stars to be billed under her own name. Pickford left Biograph in December 1910, and spent 1911 with the Independent Motion Picture Company (later Universal) and Majestic. Unhappy with their creative standards, she returned to work with Griffith in 1912. Uncertain whether her future lay in film or theater, she made her last Biograph film, The New York Hat. She also starred on Broadway in the David Belasco production of ‘A Good Little Devil’. This experience turned out to be a major turning point in her career, as she then decided to devote her energies exclusively to film. In the same year, Adolph Zukor formed Famous Players in Famous Plays (later Paramount), one of the first American feature film companies. She instantly attracted a devoted following, appearing in such comedy-dramas as In the Bishop’s Carriage (1913) and Hearts Adrift (1914). Her appearance as a tomboyish guttersnipe in 1914’s Tess of the Storm Country, a film shown on four continents, brought her international recognition.”
New World Encyclopedia

A Lodging for the Night
R: David W. Griffith. B: George Hennessy. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Charles West, Mary Pickford, Charles Hill Mailes, Frank Opperman, Frank Evans, Robert Harron. P: Biograph Company. USA 1912
Print: Mary Pickford Foundation

>>> Griffith and Pickford (1)
>>> Griffith and Pickford (2)