Tuesday, September 16, 2014

MARY PICKFORD: THE LATER YEARS

If you are talking about the pioneers of the film industry, many people would have to talk about Charlie Chaplin or D.W. Griffith. In that early era of American film, as was the norm in society as a whole, women were not allowed to be the leaders. However, one of the first woman pioneers in film was silent screen star Mary Pickford. Known as "America's Sweetheart", Pickford was so powerful in Hollywood that she could dictate her roles, her movies, and everything about her career. It was very rare for a woman to have that power in the early days of Hollywood. Mary Pickford, however, disappeared from film, and left the business at the height of her fame to become an elusive legendary figure.

When she retired from acting in 1933, Pickford continued to produce films for United Artists, and she and Chaplin remained partners in the company for decades. Chaplin left the company in 1955, and Pickford followed suit in 1956, selling her remaining shares for three million dollars. On June 24, 1937, Pickford married her third and last husband, actor and band leader Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. They adopted two children: Roxanne (born 1944, adopted 1944) and Ronald Charles (born 1937, adopted 1943, a.k.a. Ron Pickford Rogers). As a PBS American Experience documentary noted, Pickford's relationship with her children was tense. She criticized their physical imperfections, including Ronnie's small stature and Roxanne's crooked teeth. Both children later said that their mother was too self-absorbed to provide real maternal love. In 2003, Ronnie recalled that "Things didn't work out that much, you know. But I'll never forget her. I think that she was a good woman."

 After the love of her life, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, died in 1939 Mary withdrew and gradually became a recluse, remaining almost entirely at Pickfair and allowing visits only from Lillian Gish, her stepson Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and a few select others. The Political Graveyard reports that Mary Pickford Rogers was a candidate for presidential elector on the Republican ticket of Dewey-Bricker in 1944. She did appear in court in 1959, in a matter pertaining to her co-ownership of North Carolina TV station WSJS-TV. In the mid-1960s, Pickford often received visitors only by telephone, speaking to them from her bedroom. Buddy Rogers often gave guests tours of Pickfair, including views of a genuine western bar Pickford had bought for Douglas Fairbanks, and a portrait of Pickford in the drawing room. A print of this image now hangs in the Library of Congress. In addition to her Oscar as best actress for Coquette (1929), Mary Pickford received an Academy Honorary Award for a lifetime of achievements in 1976. The Academy sent a TV crew to her house to record her short statement of thanks - offering the public a very rare glimpse into the fabled Pickfair Manor. On May 29, 1979 Pickford passed away at the age of 87. She was a forgotten icon of a legendary era in Hollywood history...

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