Silent Film Star Mary Pickford

Over a morning cup of tea–which I was only allowed during my weekend visits with my grandmother (Gra Gra)–the stories were learned of the “old” days when they had dishware give-aways at the movie theaters. She had quite the dish collection from these weekly movie shows, including many from the days of silent films.

Gra Gra was quite theatrical at heart. She directed Minstrel shows prior to the second World War. They ended those show productions because so many of the young men had to go off to war. A large trunk in the basement contained costume items which she would go through with me from time-to-time, reminiscing all the while of which costume belonged to which show. Although I no longer have the costumes, somewhere within all the old stuff that I do have are some posters from a few of those shows. My mom had appeared in some of those productions and I remember seeing her listed on the posters as a singer. When I eventually uncover those posters, again, they would be something nice to share within this blog.

LOCAL THEATERS

Over the years, there have been three old theaters in the West Warwick area of Rhode Island, that I know of anyway. I am not certain which movie theater Gra Gra attended most often during that time she collected all the “free” dishware. Nor, do I know which theater held those minstrel shows she directed (at least until I find those posters again). However, the oldest theater in town was called Thornton’s and was located in the Riverpoint section of town. This theater opened in 1895 and was destroyed by fire in 1910. The original building was replaced by a new theater but then was demolished in 1968.

In the Arctic section of town, the Majestic Theatre opened in 1901. It replaced a previous theater which was destroyed by fire. The theater was part of the Majestic Building, which is pictured on the postcard shown below and I remember as a hardware store. The theater portion of the building closed in the late-1920s and the entire building was demolished in the late 1990s.

The third old theater in West Warwick was also in the Arctic section of town, it was called the Palace Theater and was located at 85 Washington Street. This 1000-seat theater opened in 1921 and had been demolished by the end of the 1980’s.

MOTION PICTURE CAMERA AND SILENT FILM

The motion picture camera was invented by Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). He made a patent application in 1891 for what was called a Kinetograph and a Kinetoscope, a motion picture peephole viewer. He went on to adopt a projector developed by Thomas Armat and Charles Francis Jenkins and called it the Vitascope, which premiered on April 23, 1896.

Although the Silent film era is usually noted as occurring from 1910 to 1929, the first silent film was actually made in 1903 (with multiple-reel films appearing in the US as early as 1907). This first silent film was titled: The Great Train Robbery and was produced by Edwin Porter and published by the Edison Manufacturing Co.

By 1916, in the US, there were more than 21,000 movie theaters.

MARY PICKFORD

My featured postcard today is a real photo style card showing Silent film star, Mary Pickford. By 1914, Mary became “the world’s highest-paid actress” and was soon afterward referred to as “The Queen of the Movies”.

Mary Pickford, was named Gladys Louise Smith at birth. She was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 8, 1892 and died on May 29, 1979, in California. Gladys was the daughter of John Charles and Charlotte (Hennessey) Smith.

Her middle name was changed to Marie in 1896 by a Catholic priest when Gladys became sick with diphtheria. She had two siblings: a sister Charlotte Smith, also known as, Lottie Pickford and a brother John Charles Smith, Jr., also known as, Jack Pickford.

Their father, John Charles Smith died in 1898 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

In 1900, Gladys made her stage debut at the Princess Theatre, in Toronto.

It was in 1907 that theatrical producer David Belasco suggested Gladys change her name to Mary Pickford. The last name being inspired from her maternal grandfather’s name, John Pickford Hennessey. Her mother and siblings took the last name of Pickford, as well.

In 1909, Mary performed in her first film, Her First Biscuits. It was during this time that she met her future husband, actor Owen Moore (1911-1920). They married on January 7th, 1911 in a secret ceremony, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

In 1912, the Famous Players Company was started by Adolph Zukor and in 1913, Mary played the role of Julia in her first feature-length film, A Good Little Devil for this new company. The film was actually released in 1914.

Notice along the bottom section of the front side of the postcard shown above, (as well as on the postcard shown below) the words printed: “MARY PICKFORD Appearing Exclusively in Famous Players Film Co. Productions”. The Famous Players Company formed a merger, in July 1916, with Jesse L. Lasky’s Feature Play Company, becoming Famous Players-Lasky. So, that would lead me to assume that both of these postcards would date prior to 1916, most likely sometime between 1913 to 1916. Both postcards were “unused”–no postmarks and no writing.

The back side of my featured postcard (shown first above) has the publisher printed as Kraus Manufacturing Co. (1912-1930), New York, NY. The second card (shown just above) does not show a publisher on the back. Kraus was known to publish halftone lithographic view-cards and cards related to the theater.

Both postcards have some fine print on the front indicating that each photo had been taken by the Otto Sarony Co and each are numbered. My featured card is numbered 10 and the second card is numbered 20.

Otto Sarony (1850-1903) was a photographer during the timeframe of 1875 to 1903. Although his name appears on the postcards they were most likely taken by a different photographer. In 1902, Otto sold the right to his name to Theodore C. Marceau. Otto died in September of 1903 and afterward the Otto Sarony label issued photographs taken by other photographers. In 1906, the Marceau Studio merged with the Otto Sarony Studio.

In August 1916, Mary formed the Mary Pickford Film Corporation and produced only Pickford films.

On March 28, 1920 Mary married Douglas Fairbanks (1920-1936), in California. They were the first stars to get their hands and feet imprinted in cement at the Grauman’s Theater, in 1927, in Hollywood. They were among the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Doug being the first elected president.

Mary’s mother Charlotte died on March 21, 1928 of breast cancer.

Mary’s first “talking picture” feature Coquette premiered on April 12, 1929, which would earn her an Academy Award for Best Actress the following year.

Her brother, Jack, died on January 3, 1933, at age 36, in Paris and her sister, Lottie, died on December 9, 1936, of a heart attack.

On June 24, 1937, Mary married Charles “Buddy” Rogers (1937-1979). They adopted a son in May of 1943, Ronald Charles Pickford Rogers and a daughter, Roxanne Pickford Rogers, in 1944.

Her autobiography Sunshine and Shadow was published in 1955.

In 1956, the Mary Pickford Charitable Trust began and was later renamed the Mary Pickford Foundation.

Her films are housed at the Library of Congress, she hoped they would be of interest for future generations. In January of 1979, Mary placed her memorabilia collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences library to establish “The Mary Pickford Collection”, allowing for use by students and scholars.

Mary Pickford passed away on May 29, 1979 after having suffered a stroke.

During my research, I did find where there have been several years of an event called the “Annual Mary Pickford Celebration of Silent Film” with some years in collaboration with other entertainment-related organizations. Due to all the restrictions of this past year, I don’t think that it took place this time around. The event may be something to watch for in the future if that is of your interest.

If you would like to learn more about Mary or the Mary Pickford Foundation, see their website at: marypickford.org

Until next time…

RELATED BLOG STORY LINKS:

Intro to my blog

Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

Radio Star Bess Johnson: Fan Letter

RESOURCES:

Britannica; History of Film; britannica.com/art/history-of-the-motion-picture/The-silent-years-1910-27; Accessed 21 March 2021.

Cinema Treasures; cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/rhode-island/west-warwick;
Accessed 21 March 2021.

Library of Congress; Film, Video; Barnes, J. D. , Cast, et al. The Great Train Robbery. prod by Porter, Edwin S. Uction, Camera United States: Edison Manufacturing Co, 1903. Video; loc.gov/item/00694220/; Accessed 20 March 2021.

Library of Congress. Life of Thomas Alva Edison; Biography; Articles and Essays; loc.gov/collections/edison-company-motion-pictures-and-sound-recordings/articles-and-essays/biography/life-of-thomas-alva-edison/; Accessed 21 March 2021.

Mary Pickford Foundation; marypickford.org/mary-pickford-chronology/; Accessed 19 and 20 March 2021.

The MetroPostcard; Metropostcard.com/publishersk.html; Accessed 20 March 2021.

Photography & The American Stage; broadway.cas.sc.edu/content/otto-sarony; Accessed 20 March 2021.