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Mary Pickford (1892-1979), born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was an actress, producer, director and distributor (by way of her co-ownership of United Artists). Known affectionately as "America's Sweetheart," she was recognized throughout the world for her screen portrayals of sweet, innocent, childlike women, but beyond that type of characterization, she exhibited impressive versatility in a variety of screen roles. From 1915 through the mid-1920s she was arguably the most popular and best-known woman in the world. By 1915, statisticians calculated that she was seen globally by 12.5 million moviegoers every day of the year. Pickfair, the Hollywood estate she shared with her husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks, was considered a mansion fit for royalty. Pickford's sister, Lottie, and brother, Jack, also had careers in film.
Mary Pickford acted on the live stage in stock companies beginning in 1900, and in 1907 she finally made it to Broadway in David Belasco's hit production "The Warrens of Virginia." She abandoned the stage and began acting in film in 1909 at the age of 17. By 1915 she had started her own production company, and in 1919, with Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin and D. W. Griffith as her partners, she launched United Artists.
When Pickford retired from acting in 1933, she had more than 200 film credits to her name, among them "Tess of the Storm Country" (1914 and 1922), "Rags" (1915), "The Poor Little Rich Girl" (1917), "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1917), "Stella Maris" (1918), "Daddy-Long-Legs" (1919), "Pollyanna" (1920), "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921), "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall" (1924), "Sparrows" (1926), "My Best Girl" (1927), "Coquette" (1929), and "Secrets" (1933, her final film). After retiring from screen acting, she served as first vice president of United Artists from 1936 until the company was sold in 1953. She was married to actor Owen Moore from 1911 to 1920, to Fairbanks from 1920 to 1936, and to Charles "Buddy" Rogers from 1937 until her death. Pickford was a founder and life member of the Academy and served on its Board of Governors from May 1927 to October 1927. Pickford received a 1928/1929 Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Coquette and a 1975 Honorary Academy Award.
The Mary Pickford papers span the years 1861-2002 (bulk 1925-1979) and encompass 154 linear feet. The collection consists of production files (produced and unproduced), television files (produced and unproduced), radio files (produced and unproduced), story files, correspondence, subject files, personal papers, legal papers, financial papers, business papers, Buddy Rogers papers, real estate papers, books, and scrapbooks. While containing little about most of the films Pickford appeared in, these papers are the best available documentation of her many activities after the conclusion of her motion picture acting career.
The production files (produced) include sparse script, publicity, and/or other production material covering such Pickford silent films as “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1917), “Daddy-Long-Legs” (1919), “Pollyanna” (1920), and “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1921). There is also annotated publicity material for some of her earliest films, such as "The Lonely Villa" (1909), and a detailed production record for "Little Annie Rooney" (1925), as well as documentation of restoration projects involving George Eastman House and the Library of Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, and numerous letters and memoranda for the documentaries created for her by Matty Kemp, “The Birth of a Legend” (1966) and “America’s Sweetheart” (1978). The most extensive coverage is for the films she produced but in which she did not appear, as there are production reports, distribution records, and other such details, for the handful of B-pictures (“Little Iodine,” 1946; “The Adventures of Don Coyote”, 1947) and one A production ("Sleep, My Love," 1948) produced by Comet Productions and its offshoot, Triangle Productions. There are also anomalous files which include script, publicity, and/or financial records for "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924), "The Gaucho" (1927), "The Parson and the Outlaw" (1957), "Hot Rod Gang" (1958), and other productions involving not Pickford personally, but her third husband, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, or her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., as well as Art Cinema productions such as "Sorrell and Son" (1927), "Street Scene" (1931), "Hallelujah, I’m a Bum" (1933), and D. W. Griffith’s "Lady of the Pavements" (1929), to which she eventually owned all rights but in which her production involvement was nil.
The production files (unproduced) contain correspondence, legal material, and/or literary material regarding such projects as Pickford’s own life story, her fictional story "Demi-Widow," a version of "Alice in Wonderland" to be done in collaboration with the Walt Disney studio, and a Joseph von Sternberg project designed to follow "The Salvation Hunters," but is most extensive in the cases of two stories, "Champagne for Everybody" and "There Goes Lona Henry." The radio and television files consist largely of documentation of guest appearances (by Pickford and/or Rogers) on the Academy Awards broadcast, or on series such as “The Lucy Show” (1967), “Petticoat Junction” (1968), or “Front Page Challenge” (1963). There is also correspondence, scripts, and production plans for Rogers’ filmed series "Buddy Rogers’ Adventurous Hobby" (1962-1963), and other unsuccessful attempts to create series. Finally, there is material about the legal issues around references to “America’s Sweetheart” made in fiction series like "The Twilight Zone" (1959), and the use of archival footage by Kevin Brownlow, David Wolper, and others in compilations such as "Silents, Please! (1960-1963) and documentaries on the order of "D. W. Griffith: Father of Film" (1993) and the "Hollywood" series (1980). The unproduced sections of both series include sample scripts and proposals from the 1930s up to the 1980s. The story files contain myriad examples of similar items, ranging from clippings and scraps of paper to published novels, and for years this material constituted Pickford’s chief hard asset as a producer.
The correspondence files contain personal and professional letters exchanged with Hollywood notables from Charles Chaplin in the 1920s through Pearl Bailey in the 1970s, in particular George Cukor, Bebe Daniels, Marion Davies, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (“Jayar”), Glenn Ford, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Sid Grauman, Bob Hope, Helen Hayes, Will Hays, Jesse Lasky, Mervyn LeRoy, Harold Lloyd, Ben Lyon, Jeanette MacDonald, Frances Marion, Mae Marsh, Colleen Moore, Marshall Neilan, Jack Oakie, Basil Rathbone, Debbie Reynolds, Rosalind Russell, Gloria Swanson, King Vidor, William Wyler, and Adolph Zukor. There is also correspondence with world figures from Winston Churchill to Leopold Stokowski. Of note is the abundance of letters from the extended Smith and Hennessy families, most of whom remained in Canada, with the notable exception of Pickford’s cousin John Mantley, who became an active motion picture and television producer. It should be pointed out that Mary Pickford included many biographical details in her correspondence to everyone, particularly close friends, shedding light on previously obscure corners of her life story.
The subject files include American Biograph film flyers from early films not covered in the production files, Pickford’s recollections of and insights into Marshall Neilan and D. W. Griffith, and supplementary material revolving around Pickford’s various writings, some of which were done in collaboration with Fairbanks. There is documentation of every Christmas at Pickfair from the 1940s to Pickford’s death, including a Christmas card from Adolf Hitler’s office. Included are detailed records of the storage, preservation, and latter-day film festival and television distribution of Pickford’s classic films, including the “Hommage à Mary Pickford” at the Cinémathèque Francaise, and correspondence with George Eastman House, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Library of Congress. Some material covers the origin and development of such aspects of Hollywood history as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers, the Motion Picture Relief Fund (now known as Motion Picture and Television Fund), its Country House and Hospital, and the ill-fated Hollywood Museum of the 1960s. Two subseries of the subject files, Pickfair and publicity, contain invoices, vouchers, and clippings: a multiplicity of documents that chronicle the twin stories of Pickford’s world-famous home and life’s work. In the subject and correspondence files, typed or handwritten notes by Mary Pickford, Buddy Rogers, their secretary Esther Helm, or anyone else keeping track of the file, convey information which may be invaluable to the researcher. References to “Bess” in most cases indicate Elizabeth Lewis, a fellow actress and companion from Pickford’s days on the stage, who became her secretary, and references to “Tess” (or “Tessie-Wessie”) indicate Tess Michaels, a close friend and valuable contact in the New York office of United Artists.
The personal files consist largely of correspondence with Pickford’s family members, from her mother to her adopted children and their spouses, beginning in 1916 and focusing primarily on her niece Gwynne and Gwynne’s husband George “Bud” Ornstein, an executive for Paramount and United Artists. Also included are extensive records of Pickford’s estate, including various drafts of her will. The legal papers, ranging from 1913 to 2002, document Pickford’s extensive experience with attorneys, contracts, and lawsuits, particularly Piedmont v. Rogers, revolving around the Rogers’ purchase of a radio station in Wichita, Kansas.
The financial papers extend from 1914 to 1995 and consist of ledgers, invoices and vouchers, trust documents, and voluminous tax records and correspondence, containing the most complete budgetary information that exists on some of Pickford’s early films. The business papers contain comparable financial records for Pickford’s and Rogers’ several companies, most particularly the Mary Pickford Company, the Pickford Corporation, and United Artists, and range from 1909 to 1995, including Pickford’s dealings with other business entities such as American Biograph. Most of the material concerning Charles Chaplin in these papers lies in the United Artists files, but confusion can result from the existence of a United Artists district sales manager who was also named Charles S. Chaplin. In the records for these papers, “Charles Chaplin” refers to the famous co-founder of United Artists, and “Charles S. Chaplin” to Pickford’s fellow Canadian and, in time, closer friend. The business subcategory for Comet Productions contains the bookkeeping for Charles Rogers’ first foray into feature film production, including its offshoot, Triangle Productions.
The Buddy Rogers papers, extending from 1927 to 1996, consist largely of clippings, receipts, and correspondence documenting his own career and leisure activities away from Mary Pickford and Pickfair, particularly his fondness for golf. The real estate papers contain the records of the specific location and day-to-day activity of Pickford’s massive property holdings in California and Arizona from 1923 to 1980. The books and scrapbooks consist chiefly of items sent and/or inscribed to Pickford, Rogers, or Douglas Fairbanks, but contain some rare and esoteric material from the 1910s and 1920s.
Gift of Mary Pickford, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, with additions from Edward G. Stotsenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Charles "Buddy" and Beverly Rogers, The Mary Pickford Foundation, and Sull Lawrence, 1979-2000.