Posted 11 December 2007 - 10:13 PM
In the Pickford biography by Eileen Whitfield, the author makes an excellent point about the reputation and "memory" of Pickford's silent films.
Pickford's final film was in 1933, and she made only 5 talkies out of nearly 250 films. Depending on your definition of "feature," she starred in maybe 25 features from the mid-teens to the late 20s. Although many of her films were tremendous blockbusters (rivaling the box-office power of Chaplin, Fairbanks, Swanson, etc.) by 1933 silent films were already relegated (generally) to the heap of passe art, and many of Pickford's biggest hits hadn't been seen in a decade.
The other dynamic that helped destroy Pickford's reputation is the rise of Shirley Temple about the same time that Pickford disappeared from the screen. Temple played a little miss fix it just as Pickford often had, Temple wore girlie clothes and blonde curly hair, Temple also played a character that healed hearts, etc. 30s audiences went crazy for the little girl the same way audiences had for Pickford in the teens. Except Temple was a little girl, while Pickford had been a young adult. On one level there was something more "honest" about Temple in the minds of 30s audiences (even though she played much older than her years).
The final nail in Pickford's reputation was when the studios started putting Temple in cloying remakes of Pickford's great hits (REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, DADDY LONG LEGS (as CURLY TOP) THE LITTLE PRINCESS, POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL, etc.). What audiences had forgotten was that Pickford's films, as well as her characterizations, were never cloying, sugary tripe as Temple's were. Temple's films were basically aimed at kids (family entertainment); Pickford's films were always aimed at an adult audience.
While "modern" audiences always think it's peculiar that Pickford played "little Mary" for so long; it seems more peculiar that Temple played worldly-wise characters that were way over her head. Temple doing "adult" dances charmed the 30s, but it looks pretty smarmy now.
The final straw (one that thankfully never broke a camel's back) was that at one point when Temple was 13 or 14 there was a plan for her to remake STELLA MARIS! The mind boggles at the thought.
It was not until Pickford's death in 1979 that her films were rescued (she almost destroyed them all), restored, and SHOWN. Thankfully her reputation has been (partially) restored for her remarkable and complex performances in great films like STELLA MARIS. Pickford in her prime was a dynamo who acted, produced, cast, and sometimes even wrote and directed her own films. She had almost total control over her features, a truly remarkable fact, considering her era.
Mary Pickford acted in her first film in 1909! Let's hope there is some big BIG centennial film festival planned to help audiences rediscover this great star.