On this day in 1911, one of the most popular stars of early Hollywood, Mary Pickford, marries fellow actor Owen Moore (1886-1939). Known as “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford was the first true movie star. Before Pickford, movie studios avoided identifying individual actors by name, for fear they would demand higher wages.
Pickford was born Gladys Smith in 1893. Her father, a laborer, was killed in a work-related accident when she was five. She helped support her mother and two younger siblings with her vaudeville act as “Baby Gladys.” At age 14, she won a lead role on Broadway and adopted her stage name, Mary Pickford. Two years later, she signed with Biograph for $40 a week.
Pickford appeared in many silent films, starting with The Violin Maker of Cremona, Her First Biscuits, and more than a dozen other films in 1909, working at a similar clip over the next few years. Pickford’s golden curls soon won attention from movie audiences, even though they didn’t know the actress’s name. A shrewd negotiator, Pickford hopped from studio to studio, boosting her salary each time, and was soon billed by name. At age 18, she married Moore, her first husband. By 1912, she was earning $500 a week at Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Company. Four years later, her salary had grown to $10,000 a week, with a $300,000 bonus, plus her own production company, The Mary Pickford Co. Pickford exercised veto power over her films and had her pick of scripts, directors, and co-stars. She typically played young, innocent girls but occasionally branched out: In 1929, she shaved her trademark curls and played a flapper in the talkie Coquette, for which she won an Oscar.
Pickford divorced Moore in 1920 over his alleged alcoholism and, just three weeks later, married Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks had been her partner, along with Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith in United Artists Corp. since the previous year. As a wedding present for Pickford, Fairbanks bought an estate boasting 22 rooms on 18 acres and Beverly Hills’ first swimming pool. The couple dubbed the property “Pickfair.”
Pickford retired from acting in 1933, but continued to be a powerful movie producer and influential Hollywood force for many years. She and Fairbanks divorced in 1936, and she married actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers the following year. She remained a partner in United Artists until 1953. In 1975, she received a special Oscar for her contributions to American film. She died in 1979.