Audio Recordings & Transcripts

We have restored a series of interviews Mary Pickford gave over the years revealing her thoughts, opinions and memories at different stages of her life. Some, such as Mary’s appearance on Edgar Bergan’s radio show, are just for fun, whereas her longer interviews with the likes of film historian and archivist George Pratt, are lengthy reflections on her life and career.

All of the interviews here are in audio format as well as transcribed in the hope that they will be useful to researchers.

Mary Pickford Audio Interview About the Academy

This interview was conducted by Erskine Johnson on March 10th, 1947

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Erskine Johnson

Mary Pickford…


Mary Pickford

Talking pictures could have learned a lot from silent pictures, especially the value of not talking so much.


Erskine Johnson

I’ll be back with the stories behind the headlines and today’s Hollywood confessions in just a moment.

Record Static noise – typewriter chimes in.


Erskine Johnson

America’s Sweetheart. I’m not going to introduce today’s guest because you all know her so well. Lets just say it’s nice to hear from America’s Sweetheart again. May we wish to thank the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences for making it possible. If it hadn’t been for attending their awards ceremony in Hollywood, Thursday night, Mary Pickford would still be in New York City.


Mary Pickford

Oooohhhbrr, lets not think about New York, Erkstine. I have to go back there after the ceremony. I love the city but, as a Californian, I simply freeze there in the snowy winter.


Erskine Johnson


Alright Mary, we’ll make you happy. We’ll talk about the Academy. Remember one day, I was up at Pickfair, you told me the Academy was practically born there.


Mary Pickford

Yes it was. Fred Niblo and Conrad Nagel came over one evening to talk about the idea. Then later, several of us had meetings at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to formulate organization’s hands (?) There were all of 25 of us, Erskine.


Erskine Johnson

And before long, Oscars were being awarded for outstanding services to the Motion Picture industry. In 1930, you received an Oscar as the best actress of 1929, in the picture, Coquette.


Mary Pickford

I never will forget that night, Erskine.


Erskine Johnson

Mary, just to make the ladies happy, I don’t suppose you can try to remember what you wore that night, could you?


Mary Pickford

Why, I do remember. A gown, A Jean Tatou model of pink tool with trimming and paper rose sequins. With it I wore a little tubelero (?) also trimmed in sequins. And uh, oh yes, I wore my hair very short.


Erskine Johnson

Because you had cut it for the role of Norma in Coquette. Something unintelligible about the reporters – needs audio clean up.


Mary Pickford

That was the reason exactly.


Erskine Johnson

You know, I’d like to go on asking you stories about the Academy and its work in the past Mary, but I the Pickford thoughts are always in the future. So, let’s pretend it is 1952, Academy Award time. Tell me, what’s happening, Mary.


Mary Pickford

Well, if my dreams come true, we would be talking about the Academy’s National Theatre.


Erskine Johnson

The National Theater?


Mary Pickford

Well, uh, actually,the United States National Theater in Washington, working closely with Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Units like stock companies would be sent all over the country. The theater would be sort of a mecca for established motion picture actors and actresses, and of course, those in the theater too. At regular intervals, they can return to the stage in a National Theater play.


Erskine Johnson

That would certainly help the ambitious —- (?) of tomorrow too.


Mary Pickford

Oh, Erskine, I have another dream which involves you. When that dream comes true, the Academy will work with the colleges. A board of Academy experts will pass upon a girl who has outstanding ability in drama classes, or a boy with unusual promise in photography, or, or a young writer who is talented. When qualified, they, um, when they are found qualified, the students will be given a year’s work in a motion picture studio at a present (?) pay.


Mary Pickford

That would certainly cover every phase of the motion picture industry I think.


Mary Pickford

From acting to design, from film cutting to directing.


Erskine Johnson

And I suppose too that would be especially helpful to these shy boys and girls who need a little push in the right direction.


Mary Pickford

Oh, everyone needs that push, Erskine. Why look at Clark Gable. He played bit roles for years before being discovered. I say let’s help the youth. And, what better way than through a respected organization like the Academy.


Erskine Johnson

You know, I guess the Academy has done a lot of growing in its short life, Mary. So, let’s hope it grows up to fulfill those dreams of yours. Before I forget, I meant to ask you, what do you think is the biggest problem the Academy ever tackled?


Mary Pickford

The change from silent films into sound pictures. Most people didn’t realize it, but Hollywood was practically in a state of siege during the transition. Everyone was bewildered, panic stricken. The Academy assembled all the technicians in the industry. They exchanged ideas and knowledge. Out of that exchange, sound pictures got on an even keel to replace the silent pictures. (chuckles) A little too much, I think.


Erskine Johnson

Well, now Mary, you don’t want silent back, do you?


Mary Pickford

No, of course not. But, I think there’s too much talking and not enough action in pictures today, Erskine. People go to the movies to escape to lose themselves in other lives. How can their imagination have full play when everything is done for them on the screen? Every emotion becomes a spoken word. Motion pictures patterned themselves too much after the restrictive area of the stage where so much emphasis necessarily must be on dialogue. The camera is a living medium with an almost unlimited range, and should be allowed the fullest latitude in story- telling. In other words, Erskine, let the movies move.


Erskine Johnson

And there I agree with you. Talkies can be much too talkie. I’ll bet a lot of movies goers are applauding your feelings. Speaking of movie-goers, Buddy Rogers told me your son Ronny likes to go to the movies. Has daughter, Roxanne arrived at the movie-going stage yet?


Mary Pickford

Not quite, but I’m looking forward to the comments. Children can certainly be surprising. For example, my niece Gwynne’s little girl Susan, put me in my place not long ago. She’s two-and-a-half and unconsciously I used baby-talk with her. Not the correct maybe, but also unconsciously she asked —— (?) “um, what is it you wanted me to do Aunt Mary?” ohhh, no more baby talk for Aunt Mary.


Erskine Johnson

Now that we have that resolution of yours, Mary, how about that Hollywood confession?


Mary Pickford

Well, as you know, Erskine, as a die-in-the-wool American, I’m always warning my countrymen to always take pride (?) in what is theirs, But, in one case I would like to see a foreign nation take something from us. I’m looking forward to the day when England wins several Oscars, on the basis of merit, of course. That would mean the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences had become the great international institution we want it to be.


Erskine Johnson

And thank you very much for that Hollywood confession, Mary Pickford and for being our guest today. I’ll see you at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences presentation ceremony Thursday night, and good luck for those dreams for the Academy’s future. I’ll be back with more Hollywood news in just…




Mary Pickford on the Edgar Bergen Show – Radio Broadcast February 1948

Mary was a guest on the Edgar Bergen radio show in February of 1948 and was “interviewed” by both Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy.

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CHARLIE: Oh well, I am just not appreciated around here. Dirt under the feet. That’s all I am. (laughter) They’ll learn. They’ll learn, I’ll show ‘em. 

DON: Why what’s bothering you now, Charlie? 

CHARLIE: Oh you know very well, Don, you know I am not a man, I am not a man who asks for much. Do I? 

DON: What do you mean you don’t ask for much? 

CHARLIE: Oh, all right then I ask but I don’t get much. (laughter) 

DON: What’s on your mind now, Charlie? 

CHARLIE: Well to put it briefly, I want a word with Mary Pickford. Haven’t spoken to her since oh, let me see… oh it’s a long time. 

EDGAR: Yes. You mean you’ve never talked to Mary Pickford? 

CHARLIE: Well, that’s a long time isn’t it? (laughter) Maybe Mary Pickford wants to meet me. 

EDGAR: Oh I am sure she does. She is probably crazy about you. 

CHARLIE: Yeah well are you one or you think you are? 

EDGAR: Is that so? 

CHARLIE: Yes. Of course I don’t want you to spread this around but she just married Buddy Rogers on the bounce. 

EDGAR: Oh now, really. (laughter) 

CHARLIE: Yes she did. 

EDGAR: On the bounce, how can you say that? 

CHARLIE: Well as soon as she met Rogers she gave me the bounce. (laughter) I think she married Buddy just to spite me. Girls will do it, you know. 

EDGAR: Yes, yes, come now, Charlie…. 

CHARLIE: We used to be very good friends, Ms. Pickford and I. I will never forget the first time we met. I think it was in India. (laughter) I was returning wounded from a pig sticking. (laughter) 

EDGAR: Wounded from pig sticking? 

CHARLIE: Yeah. I got stuck by mistake of course. (laughter) 

EDGAR: Oh yeah. (laughter). 

CHARLIE: Was it Bombay or was it Calcutta? 

EDGAR: Probably neither one. 

CHARLIE: I think it was, yeah. (laughter) Now let me see. Yes, we were both houseguests of the Maharajah and the Maharani and their lovely daughter the Maharah-rah. (laughter) 

EDGAR: Maharah-rah? 

CHARLIE: Yeah, college girl. 

EDGAR: Oh I see. (laughter) 

DON: Edgar, this is too good. I must tell Ms. Pickford. 

EDGAR: Yeah, that’s a good idea, Don. Now just repeat Charlie’s remarks about her. His embarrassment might teach him a lesson. 

CHARLIE: Oh, isn’t that sweet? True pals, true pals. If I am lying may someone stick a knife in my back. Is there anyone back there? No, no! (laughter) 

DON: Ms. Pickford, have you ever seen this young lad before? 

MS. PICKFORD: Oh yes, hello, Charlie my dear boy. I am so glad to see you again. 

CHARLIE: Do you really know who I am? (laughter) 

MS. PICKFORD: Of course I do. I just want you to know how very much I have enjoyed your carefree wit. 

CHARLIE: Oh my wit, eh? Well meet my other half here, Mr. Bergen. (laughter) 

MS. PICKFORD: How do you do and what does he…what does Mr. Bergen do, Charlie? 

CHARLIE: What is he? Oh ha, ha, ha oh boy I have often wondered. (laughter) 

EDGAR: Well really, Ms. Pickford, I do very little but I do try to make a gentleman of Charlie. He handles the truth rather carelessly. He was giving us a tall story about having met you in India. 

CHARLIE: Well it was, I was all… 

MS. PICKFORD: Charlie, how could you say a thing like that? India indeed! Now you know very well it was Baden Baden and, let me see, and then again in Pago Pago. 

CHARLIE: Of course, of course. Indeed, indeed. (laughter). I get it. Double talk, huh? (laughter) Oh, come, come. Let’s talk about those days. Won’t you sit down, Ms. Pickford? 

MS. PICKFORD: Why yes. Thank you, but where? 

CHARLIE: Well Bergen’s other knee, you know. (laughter) We just use him around here to sit on. (laughter) 

EDGAR: Yes, really Charlie.. 

CHARLIE: Did you have a pleasant trip from Honolulu on the China Clipper, Ms. Pickford? 

MS. PICKFORD: One of the most glorious adventures of my life, Charlie. The China Clipper is simply marvelous. 

CHARLIE: Oh it is nothing. Really, really nothing. Wait till you see my plane. The McCarthy Clipper. 

MS. PICKFORD: I didn’t realize you were a flyer, Charlie. 

CHARLIE: Oh yes indeed. I am a born flyer. I fly by instinct. 

MS. PICKFORD: How splendid. 

CHARLIE: Yes, the last time I flew by instinct I was lost for 24 days. (laughter) 

MS. PICKFORD: I was perfectly fascinated by the instruments on the China Clipper. 

CHARLIE: Oh it is all very simple. I have some of them on my plane too, you know. 

MS. PICKFORD: And all of the various levers too. 

CHARLIE: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. Every one. I am a lover of levers. I have a lever for oil, a lever of gasoline, a calf’s lever…oh no … (laughter) and a lever for coffee. 

MS. PICKFORD: Now Charlie, coffee doesn’t make airplanes go. 

CHARLIE: No, but it keeps Bergen and me going. (laughter) Mary, wouldn’t you like to fly with me sometime? 

MS. PICKFORD: I’d love to. 

CHARLIE: What say a trip to Mexico City in the moonlight? 

MS. PICKFORD: Marvelous. 

CHARLIE: Would you, dear? 

MS. PICKFORD: Oh I am thrilled to think of it. 

CHARLIE: Oh what fun we would have, eh lambie-pie? (laughter) 

MS. PICKFORD: Just we two? 

CHARLIE: Yes, precious…all alone 

MS. PICKFORD: No, mmm.. I don’t think I can, Charlie. 

CHARLIE: You can’t. It’s too late? Why? 

MS. PICKFORD: You see, Buddy already knows all. 

CHARLIE: But how could he? How could he? You were going to… you mean you told him? 

MS. PICKFORD: No, but he is listening in this very minute. 

CHARLIE: Oh. Oh my, oh my, oh…. (laughter) Oh, Mrs. Rogers, just as good for all of us isn’t it. (laughter). Only fooling, Buddy. (laughter). What sort of a fellow is Buddy? 

MS. PICKFORD: Oh very tall. 


MS. PICKFORD: Six feet two 

CHARLIE: Oi-yo-yoi 

MS. PICKFORD: And too, too jealous. 

CHARLIE: That’s too, too terrible. (laughter) That’s my station. Toot, Toot. 

George Pratt Interviews Mary Pickford – 1958, Part 1

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PRATT: It is possible that 7 would be better here. 

MARY: Try the other one. 

PRATT: Yours? 

MARY: Uh hmm. 

PRATT: Machine. Uh, it is possible that 7 would be better here. 

MARY: Might can try the other one. 

PRATT: Yours? 

MARY: Uh huh. 

PRATT: Is it a Wallenbeck? Or.. 

MARY: All I know is that he is quite a genius about this and I thought Momma, Lottie and Jack ought to be with us. 

PRATT: Oh yes. Isn’t that nice? 

PRATT: Would you comment about those stills please, Ms. Pickford? 

MARY: Well I have to admit I don’t recall making the pictures but that is no wonder because you see we made on an average of two pictures a week. We spent generally the first three days in the studio doing the interiors and the next three days in Ft. Lee or someplace in New Jersey and of course if it rained, very often as many as three or four pictures would pile up… that is as far as the interiors were concerned until such a time as we could go out and finish them in the open. No I don’t recall this picture. I do… pardon me…. 

PRATT: Pardon me, but I think… oh yes this is called The Test. 

MARY: The Test? 

PRATT: This is an early Biograph and let’s just say it is Arthur Johnson and Charles Craig. 

MARY: That’s right. 

PRATT: Yes. 

MARY: And, uh Arthur Johnson as you know was the great hero of the Biograph Company. He was one of seven sons of a minister. The other six sons followed in their fathers’ footsteps and became ministers. But, that darling Arthur Johnson was considered the black sheep because he disgraced the entire family not alone by going on the stage but actually appearing on the Galloping Tintypes as we were known then. And, that looks like Dorothy Bernard to me. My gracious! You know anytime that a person is supposed to have money they always had palms. Do you notice that? 

PRATT: Yes and I think I notice the same palm stand in both of these stills. 

MARY: Oh I am sure you….yes that is right. 

PRATT: (laughter). 

MARY: And, well you know the studio….of course you have heard about the studio…was a ballroom originally in this old mansion on 14th Street and it was circular. And overhead were these blue lights, Cooper Hewitts and banks of them and sometimes they would break and, oh, the quicksilver. What is that called? Hmmm, mercury. The mercury would run out and I would…I was still a little girl enough to gather it up and play with it. And you know, it would break up into particles and then would all run together. And if you put a gold ring or anything in it, it immediately became silver and it was ghastly. Everybody looked as though they had been dead, well for some time. It was very unattractive. Lips were purple and it took me some time to get accustomed to it. It was depressing. It had no banks, no Cooper Hewitts until later on. You only had two dressing rooms, one for the men and one for the women. But it sufficed. Our dressing room or rather our wardrobe was downstairs and I being the littlest of the company always had to be pinned into these big dresses. Of course they didn’t want to change them. We had a wardrobe mistress but if they made them to fit me they wouldn’t fit Florence Lawrence or Marion Leonard or any of the other women in the company. So I had to always keep my back turned away from the camera in order that the safety pins would not photograph. Now, let’s see what other ones are here. 

PRATT: Here’s one from the same film and I believe that was…..was that Billy Quirk? 

MARY: Yes. And I think I recall now, my memory is refreshed… now how do I say that directly. Refreshed, (laughter) refreshed. I think I try to make him jealous by having him think that I had had a male visitor. So I smoked this large black cigar and blew the smoke all over the furniture and the drapes. And everybody, including Mr. Griffith was very concerned since I didn’t smoke then and as a matter of fact still do not, and especially, cigars and pipes, that I was going to be deathly sick. Well it took most of the afternoon to get the scenes and to everybody’s amazement, and to my great relief, I wasn’t sick at all. But my first and last encounter with a cigar. 

PRATT: Was it some kind of a tar-like secretion that was supposed to show on the chairs and the drapes…. 

MARY: No. 

PRATT: As a result of the smoking? 

MARY: Nope. No I don’t think so. I think it was just that it was the smoke, the smell of the smoke. 

PRATT: Now, here is a series here in which you wear a black wig. 

MARY: Oh yes. Well again we find Billy Quirk and James Kirkwood and I in the black wig. I am evidently the maid in the house, Mr. Quirk was holding up some long gentleman’s unmentionables. (laughter) And Jimmy is very much upset about the whole thing. 

And another scene here in the parlor and the lace curtains, which takes me back to my own childhood and the overstuffed furniture. It is amazing what they were able to do in a little space like that ballroom. And isn’t it too bad that it wasn’t….when they tore down the mansion….that that wasn’t kept. I am sorry about that. I wish I had the foresight to do something about it. If not anything else one or two of the marvelous mantle pieces in the mansion. Beautiful circular staircase and we used to show our dailies, that is our…the work of the day before up in one of the master bedrooms that was all cleared out and I recall so distinctly the first time Lionel Barrymore saw himself on the screen. We were doing Friends. And he and Mort Sahl were a couple of gamblers and I was the lady of the evening. I am sure my mother has never saw that picture. Never knew anything about it or she never would have permitted me. But I wasn’t too naughty. It was only slightly suggested that I was a naughty girl because I was living over a saloon and that was the extent of my naughtiness. And Barrymore turned to me and poked me with his index finger and he says “Little girl, tell me am I really that fat?” I thought, well if I pretend that I didn’t hear him maybe he won’t ask it again. But he said, “little girl, tell me the truth am I really that fat?” And I said “I am terribly sorry Mr. Barrymore, but you are”. He said, “That does it! No more beer for me.” And he immediately took off 20 pounds. (laughter) Now what is the other series? 

PRATT: It is a Biograph of film from 1913.I believe your brother Jack appears in that. Could you tell us what sort of parts he used to play with Biograph? 

MARY: Well, the poor little darling, you know, he being small and slender had to double for the girls and whenever anyone was supposed to fall off a balcony or off a horse, it was Johnny who did it. And he didn’t get the stunt money, you know, that they get today. They get I believe 150-200 dollars a stunt. Jack got five dollars a day. Well in this picture I see him and he is very handsome. He was about, I don’t know what age he would be there, certainly in his early teens. And he is wearing a page uniform and I think that young and beautiful lady in the background, with her profile turned to us, and pearls in her hair, is Mabel Normand. She hadn’t come into her great calmness at that time. I am very glad to say I discovered her. 

PRATT: Oh, tell us about that, Ms. Pickford. 

MARY: Well she was seated by the camera and I can see her as well as it were yesterday. She had on a charming little sailor hat, and although she couldn’t have been more than, I don’t know, 17 or 18, she wore a spotted veil. And I thought she was one of the loveliest things I had every seen. So I went over to Mr. Griffith and I said did you see that pretty girl beside the camera? He said no. Well I said walk over there and take a look at her. I said I think she has the sweetest little face. So, that afternoon she played an extra and became a member of the Biograph and of course Mack Sennett discovered her and she did all of the Sennett comedies with him, with the exception of one and they had a quarrel and she refused to appear in the picture. It was something about a fish. 

PRATT: Something about a fish? 

MARY: (laughter) They nearly lost me by a fish. I tell you we would play in the hot California sun for three days with the same fish. We never wanted to look at one again. But everybody in the company, that is all of the girls, were asked to play this part. Mabel’s, and they all refused. It was a split reel and we felt ourselves above that, the dramatic actresses. So I felt so sorry for Mack Sennett that I said, all right, I will do it. So that was the story of the fish. 

PRATT: You anticipate my next question, Ms. Pickford. I was just about to ask you if you were ever directed by anyone except Mr. Griffith at Biograph? 

MARY: No. 

PRATT: There was just one film you say which Mack Sennett directed? 

MARY: That was the only one. 

PRATT: Were you every directed by….was his name Paul Saul or …. 

MARY: His name was Powell but it wasn’t Paul. 

PRATT: No, it wasn’t Paul. It would be Eric Powell. It was the other fellow. I’ll think of it directly… 

MARY: Yes, I often think, you know I am going back over the Biograph days. I try to remember his name. Paul Lucas, no that wasn’t Paul Lucas. Wilfred Lucas. 

PRATT: Wilfred Lucas. 

MARY: He married Bess… Frank Powell, that’s it. No, I think I left the company before he started directing and then Christy Cabanne, I believe directed later. But I was only that once. 

PRATT: The one you were directed by Mack Sennett? 

MARY: That’s…. 

PRATT: Otherwise it was always…. 

MARY: Always, even with split reel, Mr. Griffith directed. 

PRATT: I wish you would comment about this review of a December 1911 film of yours called Love Heeds Not the Showers. It says in one instance when Little Mary stood close to the camera and we saw a very good portrait of this very popular player. Now this is nearly a year previous to the close-up that you have mentioned in Friends. 

MARY: Well I am sure that that was an accident. I am quite sure. Because the day that Mr. Griffith decided to make a close-up, I think I have told you before that the camera was always stationary and was on a platform and could be raised and lowered by a steel shaft that had teeth in it. But it was never done at that time and Mr. Griffith said to Billy Bitzer his cameraman, he said, “Come on, Bitzer, let’s have fun and move the camera up close to Pickford.” You know he always called his leading women, in fact, everybody by their last name. It was a… just one of his little eccentricities. He didn’t mean any offense of course, and I was very excited about the idea. And I said, “Mr. Griffith, don’t you think that I should put on a fresh makeup?” and he said, “Yes, I think that would be a good idea,” and then the following day when we saw the rushes the exposed film of the day before… and he called out on the dock and he said, “Pickford, what do you think of that?” I said, “Well Mr. Griffith, I believe you will do more of that but I do think I made a mistake in putting on so much makeup around my eyes and heavy lipstick.” He said, “Yes, you will have to tone that down the next time.” It is amazing in looking at these pictures how the flood of memory comes back and how touching it all is. 

PRATT: Ms. Pickford, there was a Biograph film that you made called A Beast at Bay, in which according to the review, you drove a car lickety split down a hill. Do you remember that? 

MARY: I certainly do. And there was a train keeping up with me and I drove 50 miles per hour which would be equivalent to 150 today. And my poor mother, standing on the roadside, praying out loud. I mean she was so terrified and of course I wasn’t very good at driving at that time and this was an old car as I recall and open, you know. It had no top and that was made out here in California. And it was right alongside the railroad track and I was racing the engine. I believe as I recall it I won out. 

PRATT: I am sure you did. 

MARY: (laughter) If Mr. Griffith had anything to do with it I did. 

PRATT: Now let me see. Let’s skip ahead to the period when you were with Famous Players and we would like to know if Mr. Carter photographed the films of yours which he directed, acting as both cameraman and director. 

MARY: Well he directed me in…as I recall it… in… I don’t know whether he did A Good Little Devil or not. He may have. That was my first picture and one of the worst that I ever made. 

PRATT: Really? 

MARY: You see Famous Players were doing nothing but famous plays. And Famous Players and the ambitious woman I used to be would never have accepted the idea of being put in class B. I didn’t find that out until years later. The class A, were people like Minnie Maddern Fiske, Lily Langtry, James O’Neill, Sarah Bernhardt, and I was just a youngster and… but I had grown-up ideas and I was sold along with the play of A Good Little Devil together with the rest of the company and we did the picture in the daytime, morning until six, went home and got a quick dinner and then went on to the theatre. But Mr. Belasco insisted that all of the dialogue be read and it was deadly. The result was just terrible. And before it was over Mr. Daniel Frohman, Charles Frohman’s brother who was president of the Famous Players at that time, sent for me and I went up to his office and he signed me to 14 weeks. That was all during the summer and I was supposed to go back and do the road show in September and did you know that Claire Boothe Luce, our distinguished Ambassador, was my understudy? 

PRATT: No, I didn’t know that. 

MARY: Well I didn’t until many, years after and she told me herself. And her mother said, well I think Mary is much too healthy and you will never have the opportunity of playing that role and I think we had better resign. Which they did do. And the next fall I was taken ill and the doctor would not allow me to go on the road so my understudy actually did play the blind Juliet in A Good Little Devil. So then I went on with Famous Players and it’s possible that Porter did direct me in A Good Little Devil. 

PRATT: I wonder if you would discuss the two versions of Tess of the Storm Country and express your reasons for preferring the first version? 

MARY: Well, now let me see… Porter directed me in that you know? And also in Hearts Adrift which came before Tess. And I absolutely put my foot down and said I would not do Tess. He asked me to come down to studio. Why they put up with me in my youth, I don’t know? Or perhaps even in my old age, I don’t know. (laughter) I said, No, Mr. Porter, I won’t do it. He said what is your idea? Well, I say, I play a barefooted girl in Hearts Adrift and I want to dress up now. I don’t want to play another ragged girl urchin. He says this is a great story. I said I don’t care how great it is. I don’t want to do it. I said I am tired of this kind of a role. He said, will you do me a favor take it home and read it and if you feel the same way tomorrow morning then I will agree with you. I went home and I couldn’t put the book down. In fact I couldn’t wait until the next morning. I called him at the hotel and I said, Mr. Porter, you are so right and I was so wrong. I just love Tess and of course it was one of my great successes. And I might add that it moved me out of class B into class A. Because Mr. Zukor later told me that, of course we didn’t see at that time, we couldn’t see our rushes. I didn’t see the picture until I got back to New York. But he told me that Tess of the Storm Country came along at a time when he was bankrupt. He had put up his own life insurance. He had pawned his wife’s diamond necklace but never once did he ever tell anybody in the company that he couldn’t pay their salaries. That is the kind of man Adolph Zukor is and why he deserves the great success and why he is still one of the leading figures of our industry. 

PRATT: You seem to have a warm spot in your heart for the first version of Tess though rather than for the second? 

MARY: Well I don’t know. It seemed to me that the first Tess was more spontaneous. Of course she was… I don’t know. She was more Tess to me than the second. Maybe it was because I had lived the role twice and we had become more precocious. It wasn’t the same enthusiasm. Well I will tell you the difference for instance. Seven years, the entire cost of the original Tess was $10,000.00. That included Mr. Porter’s fare out here, that of his secretary and her husband, my mother, myself and my salary the entire cost. Seven years later I paid Famous Players or rather at that time Paramount, because they had combined, you know Lasky and Famous Players and became Paramount. I don’t wish to sound mercenary but it is indicative what happened to the industry in seven short years to a production that cost $10,000.00 for everything, story rights included. I paid Paramount $50,000.00. 

PRATT: That is amazing. 

MARY: Isn’t that amazing! 

PRATT: Yes it is. 

PRATT: I wonder if you will tell us a little about Emmett Williams, one of your early camera men. The reason I mention this is that I have a notice here dated May 1916 in which it said Emmett Williams is dead and he was known in the profession as a cameraman who worked with Mary Pickford. Miss Pickford thought so much of his work that she would have no other photographer make her pictures. 

MARY: Oh, he was a charming young person who was very young and sort of reddish-gold hair. I can see him before me now and he had a great future. But he died of an ulcerated tooth. It went to his brain and he died and then we all felt terribly about it. 

PRATT: Do you remember, Ms. Pickford, which of your films he might have photographed that they have been…were they The Eagle’s Mate, Such a Little Queen, Behind the Scenes, some of those along in there? 

MARY: Yes I would say he made all of them. 

PRATT: Yes, Mistress Nell and Fanchon. 

MARY: Yes, Fanchon the Cricket. 

PRATT: Dawn of a Tomorrow? 

MARY: Yes. 

PRATT: Little Pal, Rags, Esmeralda. 

MARY: I think he died before Esmeralda. Little Pal, you know I did that. That was the only other picture I did twice. Little Pal was burned in a fire in 1920 and… was it 20? No, it must have been earlier. 

PRATT: Yes, it was earlier. I believe it was around 1916. 

MARY: That’s right. And I can’t tell you how I felt when I saw the studio like this one big bonfire and knowing that there were my films in the safe hanging on the wall. Dawn of a Tomorrow was destroyed and Little Pal and I just missed the fire by about 15 minutes. I had been in the studio and I had watched some scenes being made and I had gone into my dressing room and taken off a pearl pin that I had on. And I got in the car and I said to my mother, I want to go back and get that pin. Mother said, oh don’t bother about it. And we were at the Knickerbocker Hotel having dinner. Jim Kirkwood and Mr. Zukor and his son Eugene had been with us and they had gone down somewhere on Long Island to see a prize fight. And mother and Kirkwood and I remained on the balcony and I heard the fire wheels go down Broadway and I said mother the studio is on fire. And mother said no, that Irish imagination of yours carries you too far at times. I said, mother I know that the studio is on fire. I just know it. And they kept going like mad down Broadway. And I said, Jim, I wish you would get up and find out. He came back and said, yes, the studio is on fire! And he said, I have got to get Mr. Zukor. So we go to the taxicab and tried to find him and he finally did. And mother and I were standing outside watching this fire when he came to 21st Street… 26th Street and I was crying and he said, Sweetheart Honey, and this was always his title for me, he said, don’t cry. He said be would grateful to the Lord that none of us were in that fire. And I didn’t tell him how nearly I was in it. And it was a loss, do you know, and it had the big elevator, only one elevator and we felt that the cutter was caught in the fire. As it was we only lost the poor little dog. The studio dog. That… Mr. Zukor was very brave and he said to Jim Kirkwood at the Astor Hotel that night, he said Jim, I promised you a raise it starts as of next Monday. And Jim said no, I don’t want any. He said you are going to take it. But that is the kind of a man Zukor was. 

PRATT: I wonder if you would comment a little about Madame Butterfly in this picture and thanks to you we have a print of this in Eastman House collection and I think that Mickey Neilan played opposite you, didn’t he? 

MARY: Yes he did and I went to Mr. Zukor and I knew that Mickey was potentially a great director and I asked him if he would engage him. I said he can be an actor and he can also be the director and he is only getting $150.00 a week and you would be saving money. And he says “Sweetheart Honey, let somebody else discover him and we will pay him double after.” And he said it will be cheaper in the long run. So then when I came west my brother Jack said to me, grab Mickey Neilan. He had just done The Bottle Imp. Do you remember that? Do you have that? 

PRATT: No we don’t. I wish we did. 

MARY: Sessue Hayakawa. So Mickey did my first picture… no, not my first picture on the coast because I did two with Cecil DeMille, A Romance of the Redwoods and The Little American. And then Mickey made Rebecca and The Little Princess. And Amarilly of Clothes-line Alley and let’s see, what else. M’Liss and Stella Maris, he made five all in a row. 

PRATT: I wonder if you would comment on this review of Esmeralda which I think is very interesting because it indicates how audiences in sophisticated New York, even this heat of the summer of 1915, would stand in line and stand up once I got inside the theater. Standing room only. This is a review of Esmeralda and it says, “Little Mary packs the aisles and throws the announcer,” who must have been outside the theater, “into hoarse despair. A most remarkable performance on a hot summer’s night.” And then it says, “Pickford pictures differ from all others in one important way, this having to deal with a matter of script treatment. A bit of foresight that aims to give photo fans every bit of pleasure than it derives from the treasured features and looks of this diminutive favorite. Not even the least important scene may be omitted. Little Mary must enter a door, just close it from the inside and mount the stairs and repeat the performance with her access to her room and did Mr. Kirkwood fail to allow her to fall down the stairs or to show her in at least one close-up every 100 feet. Every fondly critical standee would be able to tell at once where her director had made its vital error.” (laughter) 

MARY: That’s nice. You know I never read that. In fact you know much more about my career than I do. (laughter) 

PRATT: Tell us about working with Jimmy Kirkland. Will you? 

MARY: Well he is a charming individual. A wonderful sense of humor and was a very close friend of my brother Jack, although old enough to be my brother’s father. They played like youngsters together and my mother was very fond of him. He was always welcome at our house for dinner. Any time he saw fit to drop in he was not critical of me and our working together and that is a strange thing, you know, that I freeze up if I think someone is critical of me. I just can’t laugh or cry. I am devastated. I lost 18 pounds in three months when I was unhappy with IMP. To such an extent the doctors thought I was tubercular and advised mother taking me back to the states. And I broke the contract. I was able to break it because when I signed it I wasn’t of age and the court called me an infant. And, I only had three months to go but I felt if I had to work three days more with that company that I’d die and Carl Laemmle wrote me the most beautiful letter. It was a special delivery letter and he said how sorry he was to hear this thing and anyone who made my life a misery to me, they had only got my side of the story, of course I didn’t tell them. Neither did mother. Evidently some friend of mine in the company had told him and he said that he would dismiss any of it. But naturally I didn’t want anyone to lose their job and so I went with Majestic. And, that was an unhappy experience. Went to Chicago, the weather was so cold there and the studio was impossible and I started the film and never finished it. That later became Triangle. You know Ince, Griffith and Sennett. And then I went back to my beloved Biograph and oh, was I happy! When I stood in front of that camera with the beloved D.W. Griffith in back of it and Billy Bitzer and all of my friends, it was just like heaven. 

PRATT: Tell us about leaving Biograph for the second time. 

MARY: Well I decided there was no future for me or any trained actress in pictures. For the very real reason that my dear friend Mae Marsh had never been in the theater and never had any picture experience and she was awarded the plum for a picture called The Sands of Dee. It’s based on a poem by Kingsley and he kept… Mr. Griffith, during the whole time out here kept dangling this plum in front of our eyes. That was Dorothy Bernard, Mabel Normand, Blanche Sweet, and myself. And they joined the company. The most diffident and little sweet self-effacing personality. It wasn’t jealousy or envy on my part it was just cold reasoning. And when we all refused to do this, Man’s Genesis, I think it was called. And we had to wear a grass skirt. Well it is so modest I am sure Queen Elizabeth of England or any queen could wear it in great dignity (laughter) and not be at all embarrassed. When I think of the bikinis I have seen on the Riviera but I didn’t want to have bare feet and bare legs. I hate to admit this but as a child they put cotton stockings on me to go bathing, and sneakers. And the most awful little cotton dresses with sailor collars and all of the children and women, that is all of the girls and women, dressed like that so you can understand why I was outraged to put on a grass skirt. Of course it had a top naturally, but when I refused Dorothy Bernard, Blanche Sweet, Mabel Normand, they all said, well if Mary won’t do it we won’t do it. Mr. Griffith got on his high horse and galloped all over the place and said in a very loud sonorous voice, “Very well, young ladies, if you will not cooperate with me I will not cooperate with you, and Miss Marsh is now going to play The Sands of Dee,” and she did. And furthermore she did it beautifully. We all came out of the dark room, the projection room, and really heartedly congratulated her. But I began to think it over and talk it over with my mother and I said if an inexperienced girl can come in and do that then a trained actress is wasting her time. I am going back to the theater. And I told Mr. Griffith that I was going and he said…don’t be silly. He said, you know, you have disgraced yourself. No self-respecting Broadway producer would have anybody who has been in pictures, motion pictures. I said, I am going with David Belasco and he thought that was very funny. Well, when I went to New York I still had this in mind and I called up Mr. Dean, William Dean, David Belasco’s manager, because I wanted Mr. Belasco to see Lena and the Geese, a picture that I wrote and appeared in. It was running at the old Herald Square theater. The Biograph used to show only in two places a week for one day each. That was the Crystal Palace on 14th Street, owned by Mr. Zukor by the way, and the other was the Herald Square theater. So I thought if he saw this picture, of course in the meantime I had grown up, because when I left The Warrens of Virginia I was still a child. My curls down my back. So Mr. Dean said where in the world have you been, Betty? Well Betty was my name on the Warrens of Virginia. I was Betty Warren, written by William DeMille and a very distinguished cast of Broadway players. And I was afraid to tell him. I said, oh well, I said I’ve…you know I have been to California. I didn’t tell him any fibs but I sort of evaded it and he said, well what are you doing? I said, why nothing. He said, speaking of Mr. Belasco, he said the governor has been looking all over for you. Where have you been hiding? Then I confessed that I had been in pictures. Well, he said, how long will it take you to get down here? Oh, I said I will take the subway home and be down within 20 minutes. So I got down there. But, on the phone he said, Betty do you still have your long curls? And I said, yes sir. Well, he said, hurry up and come on down. So when I got there I was wearing high heels, he said kick those off and he said take the pins out of your hair. And he said I want you to hide behind that piece of scenery over there. So, then he said don’t make a sound. And, the stage of course was empty. The pilot light was there and it was all very eerie and very wonderful if you have ever been in the theater. There is nothing like it, you know. And I heard him…the governor saying, but he said, you know Dean, you shouldn’t have disturbed me. I was working on the first stack and time is short. And he said, I know governor, but he said this is something that you want very much, he said, and I found it. He said it is a surprise. He said what is the surprise? He says, well you look around that piece of scenery there and he said you will find it for yourself. So he looked in and he said, oh no, it isn’t true. Is that Betty? And I said, yes sir and he reached in and took my hand and pulled me out and tears came in his eyes. He said why my own little Betty. He said where have you been hiding? He said we have looked everywhere for you. I said, well sir, I said I’ve uh… And Dean said she has been a naughty little girl, governor. He said a very, very naughty little girl. He said what have you been up to? What did you do? Well I said, you see sir, I have been in moving pictures. He said, Oh no! Not that! Well, I said, I have given them up for good. I said I don’t want to ever go back! He said well, that is better. He said I’ve got big ideas for you. He said are you under contract? I said no, sir. He said well would you be available, he said, to do a wonderful part? It is by Rostand, you know his wife and son and it was called as I said before, A Good Little Devil. And it is for the role of the blind Juliet. And he said would you be able to start Monday morning? Ten o’clock rehearsal? I said yes sir and he said, then it’s a bargain. And he said you talk business to Mr. Dean. I said my mother always does that. And he said, William, get Betty the part, the role. So we went away and came back and, near the cupboard, I can see it now covered with blue paper. And it was quite voluminous and it was quite a large part. It was co-starring and I thought, well the first thing I must do is to go down to Biograph and oh I had a lump in my throat all the way down in the subway from 44th street to 14th and I walked in to the studio and Mr. Griffith was rehearsing and I very meekly said, “Mr. Griffith?” He said, “Don’t interrupt. You know that is a rule here that nobody is to interrupt me when I am rehearsing.” Well I said. “It is important, Mr. Griffith.” He said, “Nothing is so important as this rehearsal.” And I started to go and he said just a moment, because I had tears in my eyes. He says “What’s wrong with you?” He said, “Why do you bedevil me like this?” I said, “I am not, Mr. Griffith, I am just trying to tell you goodbye. I am leaving.” He said, “You’re leaving…where?” I said “Here.” Oh he said, now really. He says this is a hot day and I am very tired. I said no, it is the truth, Mr. Griffith. I said here is the role. I am going with Mr. Belasco and I start rehearsals Monday morning at ten with your permission. And he looked at me and then tears came in his eyes and he said, “Rehearsal dismissed.” And he said, “You know, I am going to miss you terribly.” But he said, that is where you belong anyhow. And he said you belong in the theater, you grew up in the theater from the time you were five years of age and I am very pleased and very proud. And if there is anything in the world I can do to help please let me know. He said, well today is Thursday, we still have Friday and Saturday. He said let’s make a last picture together. And I said I would be delighted and the last picture was The New York Hat. 

PRATT: Did you have any qualms about your ability to go back onto the stage and in effect could you tell us a little about this? Your feelings…. 

MARY: I have never been sanguine in my life before an audience or before a camera or before a microphone. Never! And naturally being away for three years from the theater I was frightened to death and you know I was born in Canada and at that time had rather a harsh “R” and I had to say “garden” several times and we had a stickler of a dialog director and he stopped me and had me repeat this five or six times and there were fine actors like Ernest Lawford, an Englishman whose diction was perfection and that worried me. Not that I am ashamed of my Canadian accent, I am not, only that it is soft and garden, garden is harsh. I had to say, “With my little gold scissors.” And you know that I… every time I would say I was so afraid I couldn’t say “scissors.” And it is true. I think all actors will tell you that there is one line in every play that terrifies a person. And I was frightened to death of the opening night in New York. And I recall so vividly that the… Mr. Belasco didn’t have music. They had a big stick and I think that they used it in the time of Shakespeare. Three times they hit the stage with a stick and then a little tinkley bell tinkled three times. Then the curtain slowly rose. And I had to come on as this blind Juliet and open the act and I thought, wouldn’t it be awful if I would open my mouth and no sound would come out and I was longing to say mi, mi, mi, mi. The scene was still there but there was an electrician putting a scrim over a light and I was embarrassed to say it before him. And all I could do was to stand there and say my prayers and I came on the middle of the stage and to my great delight, out came my voice. It didn’t sound nervous and I am grateful to say that…well his name was Atkin Davies I think. All actors were critics. All actors in New York were in terror of him. Because he was ruthless. And he said if my performance and my diction had been learned in moving pictures it would seem advisable to send some of the Broadway actors to the Biograph to learn how to speak properly. (laughter) But I think the credits went to the very severe gentleman who made me say “garden” probably, I don’t know, a hundred times over and over. 

PRATT: Ms. Pickford, we have now stepped through a good many of your early Famous Players films and I would like to talk a little bit about the Artcraft period and would you tell us about The Poor Little Rich Girl. There is a fight scene in that that intrigues me greatly. 

MARY: Well, of course we took the spirit of The Poor Little Rich Girl rather than the latter and the very distinguished French director, Maurice Tourneur, who took life seriously and thought children should behave themselves and couldn’t see eye to eye with Frances Marion my great friend, nor with me. We wanted this mud fight. Gwendolyn goes on a rampage because she has been forced. I think the whole thing began when this nasty little girl says “My mother says your mother has a bee in her bonnet.” And I said, “That is not true. It’s a bird,” and she pinches herself and screams, “Gwendolyn pinched me.” Of course I didn’t, but I got even with her. It was a tea party where all of the ladies and the children are there so I take a large raspberry tart and as she is going to sit down I put it carefully under her and of course she screams. My mother is annoyed. Her mother is annoyed and my mother says, “You go upstairs, Gwendolyn, get your best party dress and give it to your guest.” So with that I tear upstairs, lock the door, throw out all of my clothes, shoes, hats, fur coats and not alone that but kick off my shoes that I am wearing and take off my dress and I am standing there is my fairest waist, panties and underskirt. Then I open the door and the governess is there and the little girl that has raspberry jam all over. And in the meantime all of these little hoodlum youngsters, of course they think that these beautiful clothes are sent from heaven. And they are all on roller skates and they grab up these things and fly away with them. 

With a result that my mother says, all right if that is what you do with your beautiful clothes from now on you are going to dress as a little boy. To get even with that I’d go down into the conservatory and they are cleaning off the big lily pond. Of course we are very, very rich people supposedly, and the gardener’s son is there and he doesn’t like me and I don’t like him and the fight starts. 

PRATT: Excuse me Ms. Pickford, the first thing you say is, “My name is Gwendolyn and I am a boy.” (laughter) 

MARY: Well my heart was broken you see when they made me put those things on until I looked at myself in the glass and thought well that is not too bad after all. There might be possibilities in this. With that I go down and start the fight and Tourneur said oh no, no, no. He said, “This is terrible. I won’t have anything to do with it.” He said, after all I have had a dignified career. He said, I don’t approve of the naughtiness of the American children. He said the French children are not permitted to behave like that. But I said, “I am an American child in this picture. I am not French.” He said, I will have nothing to do with it. So Frances Marion who was very beautiful and still is turned her charms on. No, he wouldn’t do it. So I said, well please Mr. Tourneur, not even to make me happy? And if you don’t like it when you see it on the screen then cut it out. But, please take it. So he did and it remained in the picture. 

PRATT: And that is a very wonderful scene too. I wonder if you would comment a little about making The Little American. Did you recall, for instance, that Ramon Novarro plays an extra, one of the soldiers in it? 

MARY: No, I don’t remember that. Of course there were a great many extras and it was a very difficult picture to make. The sinking of the Lusitania and we were in the cold water not alone in the studio but we went down to the bay of San Pedro at night and I don’t swim and I was out on a raft and oh, it was cold! And a lot of people were hurt sliding down the outside of the boat, you know. And Jack Holt was in it. Raymond Hatton. Oh a great many names that probably I don’t recall. 

PRATT: Tell us a little about Stella Maris please and especially Mr. Zukor’s reaction to it. 

MARY: Well I was going down to Del Mar. That’s about, oh I guess 125, 135 miles south of Los Angeles and it’s towards San Diego. We didn’t have good roads in those days so we didn’t use a motor car, only rarely, and I bought a book called Stella Maris at the station and read it on the way down and I was fascinated. But, I loved the character of this little Cockney girl called Unity Blake. Stella Maris was an interesting figure but to me sort of, I don’t know, sort of wishy-washy compared to… you wouldn’t say that but I think by comparison she was. She was negative compared to Unity who was this poor little miserable orphan and so ugly but had this wonderful sense of humor. Didn’t feel a bit sorry for herself and has had such a terrible life and then this woman who takes her wants her to be a…well a slavey and she is a dipsomaniac and Unity goes out to shop and puts the basket down, look in a window and these boys come along and steal the basket and she has to go home and confess that the basket has been stolen and this woman gives her a beating with a hot poker. With the result that Unity Blake is taken to the hospital. Adolph Zukor arrived in California while I was in the ward. All bandaged up. One eye bandaged up and one arm bandaged up in this funny little old-fashioned flannel nightgown on and I got out of the bed and went over to greet him. And his face was a study. He said what is this, Sweetheart Honey? Who are you and what are you doing? Well Mr. Zukor, I said, you see I am playing this little character called Unity Blake. He said you look awful. Well I said, I am supposed to look awful. Well, he said, this is going to be terrible. He said wait till the exhibitors see this. But, I said I play another girl in it, you know. A rich girl with curls. But, he said, why? Why are you doing this? Well, I said, “You are going to like it when you see it on the screen.” I said besides she dies. He says, she does? He says when is she going to die? I said I die next week. He said you can’t die too soon for me. He says that is Unity Blake of course. He said I hope she… can’t you make her die a little quicker? I said, oh no, no. No she has got to die next week and… but he was pleased with the result and it was, I think, one of my most successful pictures. 

PRATT: A very sad film. I am going to step back a little and ask you something about Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Would you discuss the making of that? I love that circus sequence. 

MARY: Oh I loved Rebecca. I loved the place where she knows she wants to sell the soap because it was part of my own life. I remember collecting covers of a cigarette or some cigarette. I should be able to remember the name. 

PRATT: It wasn’t Sweet Caporal was it? 

MARY: I think it was Sweet Caporal and why, I am sure my mother didn’t know what I was doing. I picked them up out of the gutter. I picked them up anyplace to get my aunt a clock. A brass clock. Well you know she wanted to get a lamp didn’t she? 

PRATT: Yes. 

MARY: Standing lamp. 

PRATT: That’s right. 

MARY: Well that’s that flying scene. I had a harness on. I tell you my ribs were so sore I couldn’t sleep the first night. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. You remember I was flying around holding on to his mane with my feet way up in the air and I was flying after my… holding on to his tail and that is where we discovered ZaSu Pitts. Discovered her in Pleasanton you know and she was… that was her first picture. 

PRATT: Oh, my and then she made The Little Princess. 

MARY: Well that was the one that followed and she played my friend in that. 

PRATT: That is a very touching performance that she gave. Now let me see when you made a film called M’Liss I had the impression from the still that she must have gone on location for that. Didn’t you? 

MARY: I was just talking about that the day before yesterday. I went up to Idyllwild to make that picture and Tommy Meighan was playing with me, you know and then, what was his… Robert… umm… 

PRATT: Theodore Roberts. 

MARY: Theodore Roberts played my father and it was a lovely performance he gave. Do you remember when he cried and I cut the hen’s tail off to put in my hat? (laughter) Her name was Henrietta. (laughter) And remember she laid an egg a day that gave him a bottle of whisky. Because of course it was the gold rush time and eggs were very scarce and he could trade an egg for a bottle of whisky. And he felt that I had irreparably ruined his income by cutting off the tail, which wasn’t the truth because it of course was very sharp scissors and didn’t hurt the hen at all. And I said to him… he was crying and I said, “fashions is fashions, besides the bird’s moltin’.” (laughter) And he made a pair of pants for the hen, if you recall. And I sewed it on the hand. And Tommy Meighan said to me, oh I just read a wonderful book last night, Mary and I said what is the name of it? He said Limehouse Nights by Thomas Burke and I said I would love to read it. So he gave it to me and then a year later. It may have been more than a year. I was doing Daddy-Long-Legs and Mr. Griffith, D.W. Griffith was at the old Triangle Studio where I was working and he had joined United Artists, or had he? No, I don’t think he had at that time. I think he made this picture before and he was able…. 

PRATT: That was released again. 

MARY: Yes, that is right. So he said do you have any ideas. Well I said I read a great story but it would take a lot of courage to do it. He said what is it? I said it is a series of stories, Limehouse Nights and is called The Chink and the Girl. He said I will get it tomorrow. It turned out to be Broken Blossoms. 

PRATT: I had never heard that before. I am glad that you recorded that for us. Now let’s see, I think you mentioned Daddy-Long-Legs. I wish you would tell us a little more about that. 

MARY: Well I had decided that I wanted complete control of my pictures. And I had done three very bad pictures with a very charming individual, that met with a very cruel death. That was William Desmond Taylor. The pictures were called Captain Kidd Jr., How Could You Jean? and Johanna Enlists. I said about, How Could You, Jean? It should have been called How Could You, Mary? 

PRATT: (laughter) 

MARY: And I was really slipping and I was being very obedient to Mr. Lasky and Mr. Zukor. And then I started becoming restless and I said to mother, we have got to get some good material. As you know Shakespeare said and I think there is nothing truer in the world but the play is the thing. No great actor could make a poor play but a great play might make a good actor. So mother went back to New York and she bought Pollyanna and Daddy-Long-Legs. Well I went to Mr. Zukor and my contract was up and I said I wanted to do those two pictures. I wanted to come back to gain the lost ground and he didn’t want to give me complete control. And in the meantime First National had been making me offers and were willing to put up money in advance and Mr. Zukor, I am not saying anything out of school, because Mr. Zukor has told me this himself, without mentioning the member of his family who was a charming individual, said to Mr. Zukor, let her go. Let her go to First National. That way you will accomplish two things, you will cure her swelled head and she will ruin First National. And she will come back, she will behave herself. Well, you know, I was a young girl and maybe they thought I was too headstrong and he said well honey, he said, we’ll go along being partners but he said we have to have supervision. Well I had never gainsaid him I mean, those three bad pictures proved that. So I said alright, Mr. Zukor. No, that was in the morning. He said I will think it over. Come back after lunch. I went back and he said, well honey I can’t meet these terms. I said I’m sorry. He said I’m sorry too. I said well you know where I am going. He said I can imagine. So I went up to… it was J.D. Williams, was his name. I think there was a man called Schwalbe too, wasn’t it? 

PRATT: Yes. 

MARY: And mother of course was there. Mother always talked terms. All I did was to say I am willing to join your company and here is my hand. I went back to the Knickerbocker Hotel and called Mr. Zukor at the office and I said I have done it. And there was a long silence and then he said, well God bless you Sweetheart Honey and I started to cry and he started to cry and said I can’t talk anymore. I said I can’t either. That was the end. And he had almost I think a superstition about me. Because he said to me down at the Alexandria Hotel, he said if you ever leave me I am finished with the star system. I am going out after theaters. And that is what he did. But you know I wasn’t that good that I should change his view point but I had been with him and he looked upon me, well like a daughter and we had happy times and sad times together and well, he didn’t give up the star system exactly but he certainly built a tremendous empire in Paramount and it still is. 

PRATT: And for First National you made three films. Daddy-Long-Legs, The Hoodlum and Heart o’ the Hills. 

MARY: That’s right. Well you see Artcraft, I don’t know whether I recorded this before and how Artcraft was formed. You see in 1915 I had my own company. I owned 50% of it. Mr. Zukor, unlike the contracts that are today, the stars get their money whether the producer goes broke or not and I don’t approve of that. I don’t think that is right. I think that they are partners. They ought to take a chance along with them. Mr. Zukor got dollar for dollar with me and when that money, and of course mine was advanced in the way of a drawing account against my 50% and then it stopped and Mr. Zukor got a like sum and then we split 50/50 after that. But I was dissatisfied because I felt my pictures were not getting a commenced return as they should. And I remember the day as though it were yesterday. I was going home from the 26th Street studio and I lived up on 91st Street and Broadway and I passed the Strand Theater. I saw a double line at the box office for one of my pictures. I don’t really recall which one it was at the moment. This is all good luck and I hope you don’t think I am boasting. 


MARY: Please don’t because so many things are responsible for a great career. Luck, being there at the right time, being helped by the right people. I don’t think any one individual has the right to take the credit of so great a career as was mine. And I am very sincere about that. The following week I went by again at the same time, the same day and there was no one at the box office. So I went almost I think up to 72nd Street or even further and I thought, now that is funny. I am going back. So I went back and bought my ticket, went in. You could have shot a cannon off on the main floor and I thought, well maybe they are up in the balcony. I went up there and there was nobody in the balcony. So I went back and I was hungry and tired and I went home and I said, Mother that is strange. I said why? Well she says I guess the public just doesn’t care for that type of picture. That’s all. So the next morning I went in to Mr. Zukor’s office and I said, Mr. Zukor would you mind telling me how much money you got from my picture last week? He said why? Well, I said, I am your partner. I would like to know. He said I don’t think you ought to bother your curly head with that. Well, I said, I’ve got to learn business sometime, Mr. Zukor. May I see. He took out the book. He said $3000.00. And I said while the books are open what are you getting for the picture this week? He gave me a funny look. He said $2800.00. Why? I said, nothing. So that night I said to mother the next time around. The next contract around, that’s going to stop. So the next January I said Mr. Zukor, I want my picture sold separately. He said you are going out on a limb by yourself. I said that is exactly where I want to be. He said well supposing that you get some bad pictures. I said you can tear up my contract any day. If I am not making money for you I don’t want to stay and if I am making it I want a reasonable share of it. I don’t want all of it but I want a reasonable share and I want a chance. I don’t want to fly on someone else’s kite and I am not going to have them on mine. So Artcraft was formed. And the contract read that any of the stars or producers that were distributed through Artcraft would have to be approved by my mother, my lawyer and myself. With the result that DeMille, Hart and Douglas Fairbanks came. Their pictures were handled and were distributed by Artcraft. But then at the end of the second year when I saw the pictures like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and four pictures like Romance of the Redwoods were only getting a world gross of $20,000 difference, I said there is something wrong someplace. So then is when I demanded the things I did and I was refused. And this is amusing, Al Kaufman who was, poor darling, passed on, recently. He was Adolph Zukor’s brother in law and we were very close, very friendly. He was studio manager and I could tell him anything and he would confide in me. They said well Daddy-Long-Legs that will be really the worst picture of the year. When she is out there all by herself we will all go down to see it. Of course Al was delighted. I am sure Mr. Zukor was too. But, the relative advised him to let me go. Al Kaufman said he just looked green that night because that was, I think, the tops up to that time of any picture I had ever made, far superior to the next two. But before Daddy-Long-Legs was finished someone, and I think it was Louie B. Mayer, said, they were going to form an organization. All of the big companies, it was then Metro, First National, Paramount, and other big companies. Where they controlled the producers, there were no producers in those days. It was just stars and directors and writers. And they would tell us where to post them verbatim, where we were going to head in. And if we didn’t like it we could lump it. So Douglas came to me. I had just had a very severe case of influenza. It was the time, you know, of the great epidemic and I said well, why don’t we do what I tried to do with Artcraft and failed. Why don’t we get our own company? So he talked to Chaplin. He talked to Griffith and Hart was originally in there you know. But he wanted a guarantee and the four of us couldn’t see guaranteeing him or anybody else. We were out on our own, willing to do our own part in the way of putting up the money for the distributing company and also financing ourselves. And that was a big leap because First National had advanced me $250,000.00 and in the case of Daddy-Long-Legs, $270,000.00 because I had paid so much… I still owe them Pollyanna you see. And so when we said we didn’t feel that we should guarantee each other and we all stand on our own, Hart backed out. This was early in January. I think we all decided, we signed papers between each other on the 19th of January, 1919 and I don’t think the papers were finalized until April. And then Douglas Fairbanks said in order to have an obligation, a common obligation number one, and number two to impress the industry that we mean what we say and that we intend to go ahead we ought to get a very big name. So we discussed several prominent individuals and we finally decided on William G. McAdoo who had married as you may recall President Wilson’s daughter and he had just resigned. No, he wasn’t he was Secretary of the Treasury I think. So we gave him a fifth of the company of the stock and I think a salary of $75,000 a year and a man by the name of Guy Price who really did all of the work and we finally bought Mr. McAdoo out at the end of the year. And so we were in business. 

PRATT: Then United Artists was off with a bang with Pollyanna wasn’t it? 

MARY: No, I think Douglas was the first. I think His Majesty the American wasn’t that the first? 

PRATT: Yeah, you’re right. 

MARY: And then I had to finish my First National contract. I had yet to make the other two pictures. 

PRATT: The Hoodlum and The Heart o’ the Hills. 

MARY: Yes and I started in September to make Pollyanna and I think it was January 1920 and then there was another flurry of influenza on the very day that Pollyanna opened. And of course appealing to children it was a great blow. Because you know the theaters… a lot of the theaters were closed. And then parents would let them go out and they were in a crowd. Chaplin didn’t come in for some time and Griffith’s first picture, I believe was Broken Blossoms. And he had to buy it I think from First National, because he had made it. I am sure that was it. And then Charlie to our great disappointment didn’t make a picture for us. Of course he was tied up with First National too. But instead of making a picture with himself co-starring he made one with Edna Purviance and Adolphe Menjou, for The Woman of Paris. 

PRATT: Which was the Rosita as one of the two most famous lost films? 

MARY: Well I promised you and I may be bad at other things but not breaking my promise. I promised you that. And I promised you all the stills that I have and all the photographs if you wish to have them sent back to Eastman House and have them copied and together with that picture of the Great D.W. 

PRATT: And we are going to have a print of Rosita aren’t we? 

MARY: Oh yes. But maybe you won’t want it when you see it. 

PRATT: I am…Quite to the contrary. (laughter) 

MARY: You know that picture and also, what is the other one I disliked myself in so terribly? 

PRATT: And… 

MARY: Well, you know… 

PRATT: Secrets? 

MARY: No. 

PRATT: Dorothy Vernon? 

MARY: No. No, what was that other one. Never did I like a picture in its entirety you know. I just cringe at some of the things I have done and I look upon it as quite impersonally. Like That Girl, you know, or That Woman. Well now she is pretty good. 

PRATT: That woman is ruining my reputation. (laughter) 

MARY: (laughter) And disturbing my years that I should be… that I should be having a little peace and quiet. She comes romping out on the screen and disturbing me. 

PRATT: I think one of the most beautiful films you ever made was The Love Light. I was particularly impressed with the exterior scenes in that one. Would you tell us a little about making that? 

MARY: Well we went up to Monterey, you know. The peninsula there around that wonderful golf course, Cypress Point. Can we stop this now? 

PRATT: Yes. 

George Pratt Interviews Mary Pickford – 1958, Part 2

By 1958, when Mary was interviewed by George Pratt at Pickfair, she had been working for some time with the George Eastman House. Pratt, in those days before the internet or easy access to early magazines and newspapers, was renowned for collecting bits of information on films and actors that allowed him – and others – to connect the dots of silent films. As you can see from this interview, Pratt knew his films and his filmmakers and it is all the more revelatory because of his knowledge. Subjects discussed (by time code) compiled by George Eastman House »

Read Transcript »

MARY: You know in looking back over this recording it may sound rather harsh. My dealings with Mr. Zukor and maybe other business associates but it must be borne in mind that an actor’s life at best is very short-lived. One of many things can happen to him. Loss of health, but the greatest menace, of course, is the loss of popularity and so he must make hay while the sun shines. And wanting my pictures to be sold to the exhibiters individually was fair and right. I did not want to be sold along with eight or ten ordinary pictures that the exhibiters might not want. In fact, very often flatly refused. I don’t say that Paramount or any company that I was associated with deliberately undersold me, but it is impossible in a world-wide organization to control the salesmen and you could understand to the salesman’s point of view. He is given a quota on each and if he walks into an exhibiter and says “I have ten pictures here that I want to sell you” and the exhibiter said “no, I don’t want the ten. I only want the two top ones.” Well naturally the salesman cannot go back to his superior and say that I only sold the two successful ones. With a lift of the eyebrow, with a little gesture he might say the following, “Well, I know you are my friend and I am yours. You have got to help me out in this thing. I cannot go back and say I have failed. But you take care of these eight pictures and I will be reasonable with the two that you want.” That in a nutshell is what I try to avoid and only partially, even with my own company was I able to do so. It goes on today and of course there is tremendous loss to anyone that is fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to have a great success. And it requires tremendous vigilance on the part of a producer to see that his product is safeguarded against this menace. And it is interesting to note after all of these years that the industry now is emulating the original idea of Artcraft. Pictures sold individually. The actors, actresses, great producers forming their own companies and seeing to it that the pictures are fairly and properly sold, exhibited. I have never been of the opinion nor am I now that any one individual should, well, attempt to take all of the profits. I think everybody should have a share. I think that we all need an incentive and then with taxes such as they are today, the tax, well the capital gains tax is the only hope of putting money away for our children for our future and our old age and I am well aware of that fact and it makes me, I wont say laugh exactly because it was no laughing matter. Since this was not for public consumption and is for history, for the Eastman House, I may seem a little bit indelicate when I say that I received a million, 40,000 dollars for two years work. And of course that was when a dollar was a dollar, not twenty-five cents as it is today. They say, “oh Mary you made your big money before taxation.” I had one year, 1916, but in 1917 I paid the government out of the million, rather the 520,000 dollars I paid $250,000 tax. Then I had earned 40,000 dollars in 1916 and Mr. Zukor asked me to accommodate him by putting it over into 1917 which of course I agreed. Well the government said, although I had earned it in ’16 I had to pay the tax in 1917 and the result was that of that $40,000 I paid 27,000 dollars tax which left me 13 and I hope that anyone who is interested in my career, which was of course amazing but not nearly as amazing as the people of today. For example, for that million forty thousand dollars I made 13 pictures. A certain star today, very handsome, a male star is demanding $750,000 for one picture. And when I got the $10,000 a week, Mr. Zukor shared dollar for dollar with me. In other words my $10,000 a week was a drawing account against my 50% of the profits. When the profits… that were realized then Mr. Zukor got his $520,000 and then we split equally. But of course Mr. Zukor, unlike myself had other pictures in the company, other interests, whereas I only had one. So that also must be taken into account. I am proud of the fact that I paved the way for my fellow artists but I regret that they are not more generous with the people that are putting up the money and running a tremendous risk because today when you are putting in millions of dollars and you don’t know whether you are going to get it back or not. I think that anybody who is going along with the producer should bear a little of the risk. (That’s all right.) Mr. DeMille told me the other day; I sat next to him at a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He told me that the picture cost, the great Ten Commandments, the last one he made, $13,500,000. But he said if it were made in the United States it would have cost $50,000. But it is expected to do $100 million dollars in gross and you know what that darling has done, he has given it all to charity. He is not touching one penny of it. The company gets back his $13, 500,000 and if I recall correctly, 40% was given to Mr. DeMille’s Foundation. Now there’s a great man. In his late 70s and when they talk about us here in Hollywood they omit such wonderful people like DeMille. He is one of the finest metaphysicians I have ever met. He knows the Bible from cover to cover and I doubt that he is… I am sure that he is just as conversed with all of the great philosophical and metaphysical books and works as he is of the Bible. He is a great credit to us and I knew him of course when I was a little girl and with each year he has grown in stature and I am very proud that I may call him a friend. He wrote me, or for me, a tribute in my book the… not Why Not Try God. That was another book. No, Sunshine and Shadow and to know that the great Cecil B. DeMille thinks so kindly of me is really heart warming and something to be very, very proud of. 

PRATT: Thank you for this very stirring summing up, Ms. Pickford. After this I almost hesitate to bring you back to 1921. But would you tell us about an instance involving Gertrude Astor during the making of Through the Back Door? 

MARY: Oh, yes I remember how beautiful she was and I am no doubt still is beautiful. I haven’t seen her in many years. But it was always my custom to remain off the set when other actresses, especially in their first scenes, were performing because I was not a lone actress but you see I was producer as well. And anybody my size at that time weighing 98 pounds, I don’t know why I should frighten them but seemingly I did. So the director called me. This picture was titled Through the Back Door and I am sorry to say I wrote it myself. Yes, but I never took credit for any of the things I wrote because it was enough that I was producing and acting in them and I used my grandmother’s name, Katherine Hennessey, most of the time. Course I had help you know in the scenario but the idea was mine originally and I worked also with the writers. But to go back to Ms. Astor, the director called me in the dressing room when he said Ms. Pickford we are in great trouble. He said “Ms. Astor has been on this one scene, a close-up, at the telephone since nine o’clock and it is nearly twelve and I don’t know what to do with her. Frankly I don’t know. Will you come over?” So I walked on the stage and the look she gave me, if I had been a lion I am sure it would not have terrified her more and why I don’t know because I had certainly be polite and kind as I knew how, so I conferred with the director and I said “now I want you to alert the cameraman and the electricians because I am sure you are going to get your scene.” So, I walked over to her and put my arm around her shoulder and I said, “I know exactly how you feel.” She said “I just can’t cry Ms. Pickford, cannot cry!” Well, I said, “I’ve been in that same position and I know just how you feel.” And I knew she wanted me to help her in some way and felt well self-pity probably is the best approach. So, I said “of course we will have to do the scenes over, that you have already photographed but,” I said, “that’s all right.” That happens you know. But I said “I just feel terribly to have to take you out of this role.” I said “that we will do everything we can to protect you. Through the press in every way.” But I said “you knowing it and it was the truth also.” It was the truth because there were enough people on the set that would have spread the story all over the place because in those days and today it is a small village you know and you know the industry as a family knows what is going on. When I told her that we would have to replace her she started to cry! And she wept, and of course the camera started grinding the director was pleased and she was pleased and I was too. And she came over and gave me a very tearful, very wet embrace and kiss and says, “Thank you for helping me. I couldn’t have done it without you.” 

PRATT: Did the dual role in Little Lord Fauntleroy give you a great deal of trouble working with the double exposures and so forth? 

MARY: Yes, because you see it wasn’t worked out as it is today with all of the mechanical improvements. For instance, with Cedric, Little Lord Fauntleroy, kisses his mother dearest. I think it took something like three or four seconds on the screen. It took me 24 hours to accomplish that seeming miracle of kissing my own cheek Ms.Pickford. (laughter) 

PRATT: And now we come to a film that is very close to my heart and would you please speak of Rosita as if it was one of your favorite films. (laughter) 

MARY: Well now you ask me the impossible. 

PRATT: (laughter) 

MARY: I promised you and I will keep that promise, that you may have a copy of it. That is if I have it. I may have it. I am sure I do. And I trust that it is in good condition. Well I was approaching that time where I could not; at least I felt so, continue in the role of a little girl. This was back in 1922. I had already done the second Tess of the Storm Country and I wanted to do a grown-up role. I wanted to do an adult woman. I had seen some of the work of Ernst Lubitsch. I think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Didn’t he direct that? 

PRATT: No but he directed Pola Negri in Madame Du Barry. 

MARY: Well Madame Du Barry… but there was another one he did too. But we were getting some very fine pictures from Germany. So I negotiated with him and succeeded in having a contract signed and I sent him, before signing the contract, the story of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall and he agreed to do it. In the meantime when he was on the high seas I went to the stadium here, the Veterans Stadium, without mentioning the general’s name, it was quite a big gathering and this man got up. He was the head of the Legion of Honor and he made one of the most intolerable, intolerant and intolerable speeches I had ever heard. He said that they were bringing a German singer to this country. Now mind you this was four years after the war. He said they are bringing this German opera singer to this country. He said why? We have plenty of Americans who sing just as well and better? And he said I would, and I am quoting him verbatim. “To God that you men out there who fought in the World War wouldn’t meet the Kaiser’s son because it is said that he is coming here too and to shoot him dead.” Well, my blood ran cold. I thought he is going to turn on me and say to me, to the audience, there sits a traitor. Why is she bringing Ernst Lubitsch here? Are there not enough American directors? Are there not enough directors of our allies that you must bring an enemy here? Then I began to get really hot under the collar. And I thought well, if he does point to me I am going to say well, “General sir, the war is over and since when has art a boundary line? This is a great man. This is a great director and will be something for the industry, not alone the United States, but the world to be proud of. Certainly, I am bringing him here. And I am really shocked that four years after the war that I should have to sit here and listen to such intolerance and to such bigotry and such ignorance.” Unfortunately, I was not called upon. I had to eat my speech and leave the platform without every having to defend the people that wanted to reach hands across the ocean and to bring together a beautiful result and I had then and still do great respect and admiration for Ernst Lubitsch. He was not a soldier. Even if had he been or if I had been we couldn’t help the war we had to do what our countries told us to do. But I went away from there so shaken and so nervous that I sat down and discussed it with my mother, which I always did, because she was a very wise woman. And she said, well I think probably it is best for everyone concerned that there be no fanfare for Ernst Lubitsch’s arrival. So, his attorney, who happened to be Chaplin… Charlie Chaplin’s attorney, Nathan Burkan, and he went out on the pilot ship, met Lubitsch, took him off the ship, and it might be funny unless it… to me it is almost tragic. I want to cry when I think of it. Here is this German coming to the United States for the first time and he had gold teeth in the front of his mouth, and he had on peg-top trousers and he had lemon, banana yellow boots, and shoes. So, the first thing Mr. Burkan said to him, he said “you have got to get rid of those shoes.” He said “why? I bought them in Berlin. Very expensive!” He said “I know, but we don’t wear them in the United States.” And he said “those trousers, the peg-top. He says the finest tailor in Berlin.” He said “I am sorry Ernst,” he said “no.” And he said “I am going to get my dentist to take out those gold teeth and replace them with porcelain teeth.” He said “now you are going too far” and of course he spoke with a very broad German accent. But anyhow all three things were accomplished. And poor Ernst Lubitsch arrived in Hollywood not knowing what kind of a demon I was and at that time we had a very dear friend of Douglas Fairbanks and mine, a great writer who wrote My Lady’s Dress, Milestones, Kismet, Edward Knoblock who spoke beautiful French and just as perfect German. Of course Ernst only had a very few words in English. So I remember I met him out on the lot and I said “welcome, Mr. Lubitsch, welcome to California. Welcome to our studio. I am very proud that you came over” and I took his hand and he shook it and he was very naturally being an artist, very sensitive and he was deeply hurt and he shook my hand and threw it away as though as though it were a hot potato and he went away with Knoblock. He said “mein gott”, he said, “she is cold!” And Knoblock said “oh no, she is not.” He said “yeah, she is cold. How can she be an actress and be so cold?” Because of course he was smiling at his teeth being taken out and naturally losing his shoes and his trousers. Then few days later I saw him going through this wheat field, that is now all built up, where Douglas had built the castle for Robin Hood. And he was swimming through it with all of these wild gestures and I said, “to my mother, there goes trouble.” I got back to the bungalow and Knoblock came in. He said “Mary, I am sorry to tell you, but Lubitsch will have nothing to do with Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.” Well, that was a blow in the face. I had spent 250,000 dollars on the story and preparation and that would be over a million dollars today. And I said “well, that’s too bad.” So, I said “will you ask him to come in and talk to me.” And “I said I’d like to be alone with him.” So, he came in and he was white and his hands were perspiring when he shook hands with me. And I said “I hear you don’t want to do Dorothy Vernon” and he said “nein, not for a million dollars.” I said “Alright, Mr. Lubitsch,” I said, “I wouldn’t go against your good judgment.” I said “what is the matter with the story?” He said “too many qveens,” he meant queens, not enough qveen’s, I won’t do it! What he meant was that the story of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth of England was so great a story in itself that there was no room for Dorothy Vernon and that is what he meant, too many queens and not enough queens. Well I said… “As terribly disappointed as I am, I see your point of view. But, let’s not get excited about it. If you don’t want it, I am sorry but let’s try to find another story.” So in the meantime he had been going around the world with his hands crossed in back of him and he was perspiring so but he left a festoon of little, he was a small man you know, and had little fat hands and they were wet and left a festoon of his hand marks around my freshly painted dove-gray wall and I kept watching that and I really believe I was more disturbed about those hand marks than I was about Dorothy being turned down. So, he went out to Knoblock, who was waiting anxiously outside. He said “mein gott, now I know she is cold.” He said, “an actress,” he said, “she took it, she took it standing up she didn’t say one word” and Knoblock said “oh no, she is disturbed but he says you don’t know American actresses.” He said, “they save their acting for the stage and the screen.” (laughter) “No,” he said “no she is cold, she can’t act. “He says I am telling you she can’t act.” He said, “why don’t you wait until you get her before the camera and then you will see.” So, weeks went by, weeks went, and nothing would… well he tried for instance, to get me to do Faust and I regret that I didn’t do it. But my mother heard him from the other room say, “this Ms. Pickford is the svenes where you strangle the baby. He meant this is the scene where you stvangle a baby.” So, when he left my mother, who never interfered with me. The business was her department and mine was the artistic. Of course, I always consulted her. Outside of being very strict with me about being perfectly moral and never doing anything salacious or suggestive, she never interfered. So, she said “what did he say? Isn’t Faust, isn’t this child illegitimate?” I said “Yes, Mother” and she said “he is suggesting that you strangle your illegitimate baby?” Well, I said “mother he is a European.” She said “you are an American. You are a Canadian. You are an American. You are an English-speaking woman. I absolutely forbid you doing that picture. And I have never said that to you before and hope I will never have to do it again.” I said, “Alright mother, I won’t do it.” Well, of course Lubitsch hit the ceiling, when I didn’t give him the reason for it. I just said “I didn’t want to do it.” Well finally I should remember. It’s a classic story that Rosita is based on. 

PRATT: (inaudible) 

MARY: No, it’s uh, no… it’s a very famous… it’s a classic. But, what Lubitsch tried to do was to reform. You see he had, well again being a European, he liked to do naughty and suggestive things. He tried to be as moral as he knew how and I tried to be slightly naughty. And I have always felt that the result was pretty terrible (laughter) I hope I am wrong. I think that the costuming, I think the décor, I think the sets are magnificent and so was the photography. I didn’t like myself as Rosita. I couldn’t accept it and then Lubitsch and I, while I tried to give him full rein, I said I have never interfered with a man’s prerogative. I don’t think that a woman should do that. Of course, being a producer I could… I had to in my dressing room or in the office say there has to be one supreme head and when it comes to an issue I am that head. So, he got so excited, he said Knoblock, “vat is dis?” So, he explained it to him in German. He said “nein, not for a million dollars. Not for one million dollars.” I had walked out after I said it. I said “Mr. Lubitsch, I will never interfere with you on the set, I will never gainsay you, I will never criticize anything you have to say or do, but it if comes to an issue, after I have to put the money up and it is my career. And I will be glad to arbitrate it. I would be glad to bring in a person that you and I both respect but you are not the court of last appeal and I must say this before we start. I have gone along with you. I have spent $250,000 on Dorothy Vernon and I have shelved it. This is the story you want to do.” So, when I left the office he tore every button, and I mean every button off of his clothing. And that was before zippers, if you know what I mean. (laughter) And I mean that. Not only that but he pounced on Edward Knoblock’s papers, some of which he had no copies, and tore them into a hundred pieces, through them in the air, danced around, and said “he was going back to Germany.” But Knoblock, who was a very persuasive individual, said “that I was within reason. He knew me well and I would not be unreasonable and that he was being very foolish” with the result that we went ahead and made the picture but it wasn’t easy for me. There was one scene with Holbrook Blinn where he’s the king and he is supposed to say, “Rosita, where is the dagger?” So Lubitsch, being an actor himself, which I think is a great mistake for a director ever to be an actor. Because they visualize themselves in all of the male roles and they are no good for the female roles. So he came up to me… no, he said to Holbrook Blinn, he said “now,” he said, “I want that you should say to her, Rosita, vere is the dager? Vere is the dager mit the yewels?” Where is the dagger with the jewels? So, Holbrook Blinn, who had a fiendish sense of humor, looked at me with a perfectly straight face and said, “Rosita, vere is the dager mit the yewels?” Well of course the result that I started to laugh. In a dramatic, terribly dramatic scene. Lubitsch said, “Stop!” To the camera. Why is it to laugh please, Ms. Pickford? Well I said “I don’t know I feel silly this morning, Mr. Lubitsch. Please be serious! Come now, you say vere is the dager mit the yewels. Please come!” We took the scene about ten times until I said “please, please, Holbrook, don’t do that to me anymore.” He is getting very angry. 

He will throw the camera at me next. We finally got the scene without the dager mit the yewels. This went on all through the picture and well, I don’t know. I think it was my fault and not Lubitsch’s and so I am turning it over with great reluctance to Eastman House and when you see it, be tolerant with me. And know that I was trying to be as naughty as I knew how and he was trying to be good and well, we just didn’t seem to get together, but I was very proud of the fact that I was able to bring him to this country. There was no bad effect. I mean no one criticized him nor me and I am glad that that poor general who was sick in the head I think. Somebody must have, in the vernacular of the ports, must have conked him. And if they didn’t they should have. (laughter) So that is so much for Rosita. 

PRATT: Ms. Pickford, wasn’t there some talk of some project around this time of Charlie directing you in Mademoiselle de Maupin? Didn’t he himself want to direct you in a mature part? Do you recall anything about that? 

MARY: No. You are asking about Charlie Chaplin. 

PRATT: Yes. 

MARY: No. Oh back in 1916 his brother Sid came to New York just about the time I was doing Poor Little Rich Girl and Charlie had an idea called Bread. And he wanted to work. He wanted to co-star with me. And believe it or not I was highly insulted. I thought that pie-throwing individual, because he wasn’t considered the great artist that he became later. He offered me the same salary I was getting, $10,000 a week for four weeks. But I thought, what in the world would I be doing with a man of his caliber? And I said I am sorry, I am not a comedienne. Tell your brother that I thank him and I don’t think I could be relieved of my contract anyhow. But that is the only time that there was any talk of Charlie directing me. 

PRATT: Well then you went ahead and finally did make Dorothy Vernon. 

MARY: Yes I made it with Mickey Neilan and it was a very… I liked doing it. Because of course I love England and I happen to know Lady Diana Manners who was the direct descendant of Dorothy Vernon. Uh hmm. You see John Manners…. 

PRATT: (inaudible) 

MARY: Uh hmm, see Dorothy married… Dorothy Vernon married John Manners. And Lady Diana Manners was the… I don’t know how many generations and I went to the Haddon Hall and I can’t tell you what a thrill it was after having reproduced it on the lot. 

PRATT: And then came Little Annie Rooney. 

MARY: Well that was an amusing story. Already people were grumbling and not liking what I had done. They didn’t like Rosita. They didn’t like too much Dorothy Vernon. It was a disappointment. It was a very expensive picture and so I thought well, I have to go back to the little girl whether I like it or not. So, I remember walking around the sets and if you have every been around sets you know what a lonesome sort of a haunted place it is. New York streets, the Bowery, Fifth Avenue, small-town churches and deserted. Nobody there. And I thought, well what in the world am I going to do? And the inner voice said well, you are part Irish aren’t you? I said that I am. Said well, who do you know that is Irish? I said I know Mabel Normand. Said all right now, you are the producer of Mabel Normand’s next picture. What would you do about it? I said well, I’d certainly get something Irish. Like what for instance? Well I would get a very Irish title like oh… Little Annie Rooney. I said to myself that’s it! Little Annie Rooney. We wrote the story. Maybe it shows today. When we got here on the lawn and one more week, because we were pressed for time, in order to get a good release of the proper time of the year and there was about six or eight of us, sat around, we had sandwiches sent out. We’d start at nine, work until five or six and Little Annie Rooney was the result. 

PRATT: Who was in the group, Ms. Pickford? That wrote the scenario. 

MARY: Tim Whalen, who has now passed on who turned out to be a very good director. And a man by the name of O’Neill. They were gag men, you know. And there is another man whose name I don’t recall. There were three gag men. Hope Loring and Louie Lighton and the director was Bill Beaudine. 

PRATT: Then Bill Beaudine and you worked on another film that became immediately afterward called Sparrows, and that one the great favorites? 

MARY: That was my story too. 

PRATT: Oh was it? Did you originally call it Human Sparrows? Is that where…. 

MARY: Well that was… they called it that in England I think. Human Sparrows. 

PRATT: I always worried about you in the scene where you were crossing over a clump, I mean a limb which was sinking. 

MARY: Well do you know that I did it three… six times? 

PRATT: No, tell us about that? 

MARY: Well there were about, I would say, in all about a dozen alligators. And you know the most vicious ones are the young ones around 60-75 to 85 years of age. The older ones are sort of sluggish, but the young ones can kill you with their tails if they don’t bite you, you know. They can ugh… and I said I wouldn’t go over it unless I could do it. It was a plank. About oh so wide, would you say 5 inch, about 6 inches, and a rough plank. I had to go over in my bare knees and carry this, I weighed at the time 100 pounds, and the baby weighed 33 pounds. So, she half…a third of my weight. So I said I would go over with a doll to see if I could hold on and it was torture with bare feet and bare knees and the weight. Of course, the doll wasn’t as heavy as the baby and she had no fear of the alligators. My name was Mama Mollie if you remember. 

PRATT: Yes, yes 

MARY: And she would point at them as though they were kittens and she said, “Ah, a-gay, Mama Millie, a-gay” and she put her full weight on me and oh, I would be so tired at night. My back, she was strapped on my back, you know. So, Douglas Fairbanks heard about it and he was a very gentle charming person. But he came down there like a wild wounded bull! He was so angry with everybody on the set for allowing me to do this. Why, he said, “don’t you know you can do that in double exposure? Do it without the alligators underneath and put the alligators in after, with a double exposure.” Which happened, but I actually went over those 12 alligators six times. And that’s the truth. 

PRATT: That was the real thing? 

MARY: That was the real thing! 

PRATT: Then after this came My Best Girl and I think around that time you must have met Buddy around then. 

MARY: Yes, I did. That was a grown-up story in that also I collaborated on. Because it was very difficult for me to find stories. In fact, it still is. It amuses me. All the years ago people were always complaining they couldn’t find material. And do you know that one of the either Kresses or Krinskys married a girl in the five and ten cents store? Right after we made the picture. And then the song came out, you know, “I Married a Billion Dollar Baby in the Five and Ten Cent Store.” Well Buddy was and still is a country boy. And he had just come from… he was with Paramount. He had already done Wings and one or two other pictures. He was in college when some friend of his father in Olathe, Kansas suggested Buddy to Paramount for their school. They had about a dozen young people, pardon me..and they asked him if he would take a test. Well he didn’t want to do it because he was afraid that the boys in his fraternity house would make fun of him. He’s a Phi Psi. He was going to K.U. and he won the scholarship. And he went back to New York and went through the paces. I don’t know all what that they taught him and Hope Loring, the one that helped me on, she also helped on My Best Girl, she and her husband, said “I saw a young man last night.” I think he was at the Mayfair Club and she said “I had taken the liberty of asking him to come up and see you.” Well at the time I was undecided between Buddy and a man called Donald Cook. So, the two of them made the test. And the consensus of opinion was that Buddy should play the role. And then I knew him off and on for ten years before we were married. I met his family of course. I knew Mrs. Rogers. Judge Rogers was a probate judge in Olathe, Kansas and just the nicest American family that anybody could meet. 

PRATT: I think just before perhaps making My Best Girl, or perhaps at the same time while you were working on it, you did a little bit in a Fairbanks picture called The Gaucho. Didn’t you play the Madonna in a few seconds of this this? 

MARY: It was a very sweet compliment I thought. I… the very tiring scene. I stood on this pedestal. It was my own idea. It was in color you know, and I wanted blue and white and they just got material and the wardrobe mistress pinned it on me and I couldn’t sit down. And you know I stood on that pedestal until my feet and legs were so numb I didn’t know that that could happen to you. But they had to pick me down. They had to pick me up and put me on the floor and unpin me and I couldn’t move. But I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful compliment. 

PRATT: Yes it was very lovely sequence. And that reminds me to ask you if you were in the habit of playing bits in each other pictures in those days? 

MARY: No, I just played a bit for let’s see, who was it? It wasn’t Mary Astor. It might have been. Who played in… was it The Gaucho? No, The Black Pirate. 

PRATT: Well that was Billie Dove. 

MARY: Billie Dove, That’s right. Well she went away and I put a black wig on and turned my back and the last scene in the picture Douglas threw his arms around me and kissed me. 

PRATT: And that’s you. 

MARY: That was I. (laughter) 

PRATT: (laughter) And not Billie. 

MARY: No, and then Douglas pinch hitted for my brother in law, Allan Forrest who married my sister Lottie and she too you know was in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall and he… we wanted a big muscular athletic back and my ex-brother-in-law didn’t happen to possess that among other gifts. He was a very handsome man and so Douglas sat in for him. 

PRATT: (laughter). Turnabout is fair play. 

MARY: That’s right. 

PRATT: Then now we come to Coquette and for Coquette I believe you received an Academy Award and this is still a most impressive performance believed to have screened quite recently at the Dryden Theater, three times I believe. Could you tell us a little about tackling the problems of working with sound? 

MARY: Well naturally I think my voice is too young for my age and it was then. Of course, I can change it if I am conscious, if I am, now that I am thinking, I am not thinking of my voice. But if I were trained to do it, course, with being in the theatre and strangely enough when I project my voice it takes on greater volume. That’s from my training in the theatre. I don’t speak in my throat, but I was frightened to death and when they took, of course it was on records first, you know. And the playback, I went over the Paramount to make this test and I turned to someone. I said “I don’t sound like that.” I said, “that sounds like a pipsqueak’s voice.” I said “that is terrible!” (laughter) I said “do I sound like that?” And they said “yes”, but I said “that’s impossible. It sounds like 12 or 13” and they said, “oh no, it’s quite good.” “Oh,” I said “it’s horrible.” Right then and there I decided I wasn’t going to do Coquette but they talked me out of it. And now of course I had seen that great performance of Helen Hayes in New York. She is a superb actress and her diction is just wonderful. And of course I couldn’t help but compare my voice with hers. Then I went ahead and of course, you, I think, knowing my career, as well as you do that I would cut my hair off. I wanted to be free of the shackles of curls and playing little girls and I thought that was one step toward it. Course, I had the most indignant letters, insulting letters 

PRATT: (laughter) 

MARY: And I go well if that’s all that after all these years in a lifetime and the theater and motion pictures. It was a bunch of 18 curls that’s keeping me on the screen it’s about time I retired. And another thing that happened then that nearly broke my heart was to say goodbye to Rosher, Charlie Rosher. You know that he wouldn’t, if there was a shadow on my face it wouldn’t matter if I were there with the King of England or the Queen of England. He would stop grinding the camera. His devotion to me was so great that he wanted me to be perfect at every moment and you know when it came time to say goodbye to him, I didn’t have the courage, the backbone, to face him. I left him a letter, and in this letter, if I recall correctly, I said “I’m determined to give a performance in this. It is a terrifically dramatic role. I will have to cry a lot. I expect my nose to be red and swollen, my eyes swollen.” I said “tragedy is an ugly picture. It is an ugly mask, as you know the mask of tragedy is not attractive. And even the most beautiful songster, when he is quarreling, when he’s frightened makes unattractive sounds.” I said “I intend, I don’t care how I look, I am going after the Oscar and I want to give a performance for a change and I don’t want to look like something on a candy box or a Valentine. And I cannot do it unless I am allowed full liberty.” Well I went out shopping with my mother and went back to the bungalow and Charlie was pacing the floor. And, oh, he was so upset and he said “he never expected anything like that from me and it seemed as though I didn’t appreciate all of the devotion and the great contribution he had made to my career.” But I knew that he would interfere. He’d stop the camera at the wrong moment. He had done it before and you know when you get to a certain pitch, may take a scene ten times, twenty times, it will be one take and that will be perfect. And if somebody stops you then it’s gone. 

PRATT: Yes. 

MARY: Like the time that Valentino walked on the stage when I was doing Little Annie Rooney. The scene where I think my father’s come home and it’s a fellow officer to tell me that my father is dead. I never did get that scene right. I could have killed myself, I couldn’t rise to it because I was a 12-year-old girl until he walked on. Valentino and his friend from South America. I was glad to see ‘em, but I tried to get back into that scene, I couldn’t do it. I was Mary. I was not Annie. I walked up and down outside in agony and had the whole studio waited for me I must have kept them waiting an hour, an hour and a half. I never got back into the mood. I tried to do it but I was Annie when he came in. And that’s what I felt about Charlie. Because once or twice he would stop grinding and I said what’s the matter, Charlie? He says there is an unattractive shadow across your nose. Well I didn’t weaken. I went right ahead with it and we still remained friends. I love him. I respect him. I admire him and I think he returns all of that. 

PRATT: I am sure he does. He speaks very, very highly of you. Now we come to The Taming of the Shrew and I don’t think you were too happy with that one, were you? 

MARY: No, I wasn’t happy with it. In the first place. Shakespeare requires a great deal of study. It takes tremendous control of breath and Shakespeare should be thought. All great Shakespearian actors think it. And the more they think it the better their diction. The better they are able to project what to the modern world is almost a foreign language. But, my performance was a spitting kitten. (laughter) It was. It was little kitten with (hisses), you know I wake up in the night (laughter) and the encounter with Petruchio when he says “Good morrow, Kate,” and I said “Kate, Kate, they call me Katherine who do speak of me.” Now I am not doing myself justice but if I had it to say today I would say, “Kate, hssss, groan, Kate. They call me Katherine! Who do speak of me.” Maybe that isn’t good enough either. But you know the bellows, it is the stomach. Everything comes from the stomach. Laughter, tears, hatred, everything comes from the there. In the deep towers of Tigris, she could… And when she gets into a temper she should be very quiet, would come near me and I will scratch your face off. But I had none of that. I was breathing from the chest up and not from the stomach. I photographed fairly well, yes. On the other hand I think Douglas gave a magnificent performance because he studied Shakespeare from the time he was seven and it takes a flair. It takes gestures, has to be broad. You have to fill the whole stage or the screen. And that comes from practice and I wasn’t fair to myself when I took Katherine on. I thought I would be torn to pieces in London but I wasn’t, I deserved to be. Oh, I think so. Well you know I have not allowed it to be, although it is a talking picture. I haven’t allowed it to be shown on TV. Because I don’t think it’s fair to myself. I am not going to ask the Mary of today, or the Mary of yesteryear rather, to compete with the actresses of today. That isn’t fair to her. And you know I look upon her as my daughter. She worked hard that I might retire and live in security. And I have to protect her memory now. 

PRATT: Do we mention Kiki and Secrets or don’t we? 

MARY: Well Kiki, I loved doing but they were outraged at me for going around in my step-ins which I assure you was quite respectable. A bikini I could understand but it was triple-lined with chiffon. I was fairly under-dressed but of course she did stay in a man’s apartment on the sofa overnight and that was shocking to the admirers of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Poor Little Rich Girl. You didn’t like it either? 

PRATT: No, (laughter) I am just saying I am one of the admirers but I am not shocked at Kiki (laughter) 

MARY: Well I am sure Kiki would be as tame as Pollyanna today. (laughter) It was, perhaps it was a little light. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it in years. I would like to see it again. Unfortunately for Secrets it opened on the Bank Holiday in 1933. It opened in 25 cities on the very day the Bank Holiday was declared. I think there are moments in Secrets that I am quite proud of. I think the baby’s death for instance. There was one bad thing about Secrets, the transition from the middle-aged woman to the elderly woman was badly done. That’s the greatest fault… one of the greatest faults in it. The montage of them going west is one of the finest I have ever seen that I had nothing to do with. A man by the name of Hoffman did it. And I think if it is one of the most beautiful pieces of craftsmanship I have ever seen of these covered wagons and the rain and the sandstorms and the hardships of these people one on top of the other showing how the west was won. And I don’t think that Leslie Howard was a happy choice, but we couldn’t help it. We could not imagine him conquering the desert. It should have been a Gable type, you know. But unfortunately, you either just have to take what is available at the time and while he is a… to my way of thinking, one of the supreme artists ever to appear on the screen. He was miscast. That was another fault of the picture. There goes a phone, will you excuse me a second? 

PRATT: Yes ma’am. 

Mary Pickford / CBC Audio Interview

Mary Pickford Interviewed by Tony Thomas of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at Pickfair

May 25, 1959

Read Transcript »

Tony Thomas:                         Miss Pickford, in Canada we’ve always taken delight in the fact that America’s Sweetheart was a Canadian. Now just where did you come from?

Mary Pickford:                        I was born in Toronto, Canada, and so was my father, and my mother.

TT:                                          Whereabouts in Toronto?

MP:                                         On University Avenue.

TT:                                          Have you seen it lately?

MP:                                         No, it’s torn down now.

TT:                                          Because University Avenue is a big, wide thoroughfare of office blocks and hospitals and things.

MP:                                         Do you want me to tell you how I feel about it?

TT:                                          Please do.

MP:                                         Oh, I’m very sad about my old Toronto.

TT:                                          Yes?

MP:                                         Mmm-hmm. You know, I used to ride down on my bicycle right from Young Street down to Queen and I didn’t have to pedal at all. You know, there’s quite a little hill there.

TT:                                          Yes, you wouldn’t notice it today. Of course, nobody ever rides a bicycle down University Avenue.

MP:                                         Well, I did, you know. When I went back even after the trees had been taken down in the bicycle path, I told the newspaper people how I loved my bicycle and when I was photographed in front of the house where I was born, there stood a bicycle.

TT:                                          (Laughing) What was Toronto like in those days? I suppose it was quite quiet and provincial.

MP:                                         We used to have you know horses, naturally, and I still bear a scar that uh… coming down University Avenue and turning west, I think, on Queen, I got right in front of a pair of horses. And I had to put the brakes on the best I knew how, and I gouged my ankle and I still have the mark there. I like it, you know.

TT:                                          What, the mark?

MP:                                         Yes.

TT:                                          It gives you something to reminisce about.

MP:                                         Oh yes, and you know, I think at least once a month I dream that I’m back again in Toronto. Up in Queen’s Park, High Park, up north on Young Street…

TT:                                          Tell me, what kind of a family was yours? What did your father do and how many Pickfords were there?

MP:                                         Well you see, my father’s name was Smith.

TT:                                          Oh, Smith.

MP:                                         John Charles Smith. And I get the name of Pickford from my mother’s people. My father’s people were born in England and came up the Saint Lawrence River. Grandma Smith went to Toronto when she was six years of age and attended the Methodist church, the same church for eighty years.

TT:                                          Quite a record isn’t it? Eighty years.

MP:                                         And when she was eighty-six she retired and died at the age of ninety-one. And my grandfather Joseph Smith also was born in… Liverpool, I think. Grandma came from London, and my mother’s people were Irish. They came from Tralee, County Kerry.

TT:                                          That’s where the rose came from, isn’t it?

MP;                                         (Laughing) We’re the black Irish, you know. The dangerous kind. You look like a black Irishman yourself.

TT:                                          I’m a black bushman.

MP:                                         Oh, sure you are.

TT:                                          How many brothers and sisters did you have?

MP:                                         I had one brother, Jack. When I loved him very much I called him Johnny, when I didn’t like him so well I called him Jack. And then I had a sister, Lottie. They were both younger than I, and my mother and father were also born in Toronto. So you see, I’m a real Torontonian.

TT:                                          Now, where did the interest in the theatrical life come into being as far as you’re concerned?

MP:                                         Well, it was a matter of economics. None of my family on either side ever were in the theater, in fact they disapproved of it heartily. Grandma, being a very strict Methodist of course, didn’t believe in the theater or dancing or anything like that. But when my father died I was four years of age, and mother was left with the three of us and her paralyzed mother, so she had five mouths to feed. And when my father died, they had used up all of their savings for doctors. Even sent to the States as we called it – do you still call it the States in Canada?

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         You do?

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         Well, so we came to the States after my father died but that… I’m going ahead of myself. When father died, mother had nothing but her furniture and so, after a very sad time, we were all dispersed. My brother was in one house, my sister in another and I in another. I don’t know where my poor old grandma was because mother… well, she was so terribly upset about my father’s death she wanted nothing to do with anyone she’d ever known until my brother, Jack, became ill and they said to her, “Do you know, Lottie,” – that was my mama’s name – “that little Johnny is very ill and needs you?” And that did more than all the doctors and all the medicine for my mother. She realized then she had no time for sorrow, and so we were reunited. And mother sewed very well. She was reared a Catholic in a convent… she didn’t remain in the convent, she went there during the day, and they taught her to sew. So she became a seamstress and made dresses for the people of the neighborhood, and rented out our master bedroom, and never to anyone but to a woman. One day, a man came to the door and said he wanted to rent our bedroom, and mother said, “Oh no, I’ve never rented to a man.” He said, “Well, I’m a married man. I’m sure you’d like my wife. May I bring her to see you?” Mother said, “I’d be delighted to meet her,” and with the result that they took the bedroom. Well, he happened to be the manager, the stage manager of a company then called the Valentine Stock Company, and he said, “Mrs. Smith, we’re putting on a play next week that requires children. Would you allow your three babies to appear in the school room scene?” Mother said, “Gracious, no! I wouldn’t allow my children to meet actresses – why, they smoke!” He said, “Well, some of them do smoke but not all of them, Mrs. Smith.” And he said, “I assure you that the ladies and gentlemen of this company are just as nice as any of your friends.” He said, “As a matter of fact, they’ve been together many years… it’s like a family.” He said, “Come down with me tonight backstage and if you find anything that is unpleasant or anything that you wouldn’t like, then I agree with you.” So mother went to the theater that night and of course they were charming and nice people. You know, in our profession there are good, bad and indifferent, but these people happened to be very nice, so mother agreed with the result that I became a member of that company.

TT:                                          How old were you then?

MP:                                         Five. Five years of age. Lottie was a year younger and Johnny two years and a half.

TT:                                          That’s a very early start in the acting profession.

MP:                                         Oh, there are some that have been carried on the stage, you know. (Laughing)

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         I remember it as though it were yesterday, and I just loved it. You see, I think… I don’t know where I got this ham blood in me. Certainly it must… yes, I do know. John Pickford Hennessey, that’s where I got it from. He was the only one in my ancestry as far as I know that loved the theater. You see, that’s where I got my name of Pickford. His mother’s name was Elizabeth Pickford and she was born in England, so you see I’m predominantly English.

TT:                                          Well now, were you on the stage at the age of five?

MP:                                         Yes, forever after.

TT:                                          (Laughing) But what about schooling? Did you go to school in the day and work at night?

MP:                                         No, as a matter of fact I think I only went to school about three months.

TT:                                          Only three months schooling?

MP:                                         Well, my mother taught me and I am self-taught. I got the best books I could find and I have a very good ear and a splendid memory, I am grateful to say. And do you know that they say I speak fairly good French?

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm.

MP:                                         I learned that too, but I was taught that. But mother was, as I said, convent-bred and had a splendid education and I worked from the time I was five until today. I’m still working.

TT:                                          When did you feel that you had really arrived in the theater? At what age were you established?

MP:                                         Well, not actually until I’d had three or four years in motion pictures. And as a little girl I was playing in these dreadful melodramas. Do you want to hear some of the names of them?

TT:                                          Please.

MP:                                         (Laughing) Well, The Fatal Wedding, Wedded But No Wife, The Child Wife… I wasn’t the bride, however… In Convict Stripes… oh, there were some worse names than that. Lottie the Sewing-Machine Girl, I didn’t happen to appear in that. But these were rip-roaring melodramas.

TT:                                          These were early silent motion pictures?

MP:                                         No, they were stage plays.

TT:                                          Stage plays? Oh. And all in New York, I suppose?

MP:                                         Oh no, oh gracious no, we were on the road. My poor little mother, she was my size, about five feet, you know, and she had traveled for nineteen weeks of one-night stands.

TT:                                          Did your mother ever reconcile herself to the fact that you were in the theatrical profession, which she seemed to dislike so much?

MP:                                         Oh I think she got over it, yes. She even appeared on the stage herself.

TT:                                          Did she?

MP:                                         Yes, and was very good too. My mother could mimic any accent. She was a much better actress than I ever thought I’d be.

TT:                                          Well, of course, only you can say that. We wouldn’t know.

MP:                                         No, mother had real talent. And the night that she appeared in The Fatal Wedding and you see, she told a fib and that was the unforgivable thing in our family – for anybody to tell a fib. And she said she’d had experience, so we were sure that God would reach down out of heaven and grab my mother up. So the three of us knelt down and prayed that they wouldn’t find out.

TT:                                          And they didn’t?

MP:                                         No.

TT:                                          Well, I won’t tell anybody.

MP:                                         Don’t you tell. (Laughing) No, we… you know, I’d send Lottie or Jack or I’d go myself to find out how mother was doing. If she would forget her lines, you know it’d be a terrible thing to do, but she didn’t and nobody found out that she had told a fib.

TT:                                          Well, Miss Pickford, when did you first become associated with motion picture work?

MP:                                         Well, I was fifteen years of age and we needed money as usual, and mother, to my great unhappiness and I would say almost annoyance – because you know my mother was a goddess to me, her word was law – and when she said to me, “Gladys,” because that’s my… you know, I was baptized Gladys Marie… and she said, “Gladys, what about trying those motion picture studios?” I said, “Oh, mama. Not that!” “Well,” she said, “It’s better that than to be separated this summer.” So very reluctantly and maybe belligerently I went into the Biograph Company, hoping that they wouldn’t see me enter. This was a disgrace, you know.

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm?

MP:                                         Oh, definitely.

TT:                                          Tell me, where were the picture studios in those days?

MP:                                         Well, the majority of them were in New York. One was in Brooklyn, the Vitagraph Company was in Brooklyn. Then there was the Lubin Company, Edison, Thanhauser, Biograph, and… what is the name of… Ruben, Lubin? There was a company in Philadelphia, and there was another in Chicago, that was Broncho Billy’s company, they were there. Nobody was out here at that time in California. And you know that the exteriors were very important. They aren’t anymore because they take these process shots, you know. I could be walking through the Sahara Desert and stay right here in this room, because they shoot the desert first and then they put the live figure in front of it, but then it was very important. And I might add, and I hope the Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles don’t hear me, but we had no smog in those days.

TT:                                          The smog came after?

MP:                                         No, it came later.

TT:                                          You were saying that you went into motion pictures almost with a chip on your shoulder. Well, how did you first get your work?

MP:                                         Well, as I entered the Biograph studio – and it was a big, old mansion with a beautiful winding staircase, a circular staircase, marble floor – and out of the opposite door, a swinging door that led to the studio proper, which was a ballroom, came the one and only D.W. Griffith, David Wark Griffith. And he looked me up and down and I resented it very much. I thought, here’s one of these awful people that work in motion pictures, and he said to me, “What do you want?” I said, “I’m looking for work.” He said, “What experience have you had?” Well, this was adding insult to injury. I said, “Only ten years.” He said, “You don’t look that old.” Well, I said, “I am. I’m fifteen years old.” Well, he said, “What did you do last?” I said, “I just came from the David Belasco Company.” He said, “That’s good enough. Come with me.” So he put on my makeup, the first motion picture makeup I ever had, and I want to tell you, I looked more like Pancho Villa…

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         I did, you know he put enormous black eyebrows on me and in those days we used to wear chalk-white makeup, and our eyes and our mouths were greatly exaggerated. Of course we had no sound, so pantomime was the order of the day and naturally when one waves the eyebrows that’s very important, you know, in an emotional scene, but I would never do that. Mr. Griffith used to argue with me and I said, “No, sir. It’s not natural and I won’t do it.” And he… I since have wondered why he put up with a naughty little girl like I was, but he did.

TT:                                          Well, you got your start then through the great D.W. Griffith.

MP:                                         I was trained by him, and I’m so very, very grateful to him.

TT:                                          Well, he appears to be the major legend of Hollywood, the greatest man in pictures. Why? What was his quality?

MP:                                         Well, he had tremendous imagination. In those days they didn’t have what they call a cut-back, for instance showing you downtown in Los Angeles and showing me up here at Pickfair. They didn’t have that switch-back, you know?

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm.

MP:                                         And also, he… well, I think the first close-up was made of me in a picture called Friends with Henry Walthall and Lionel Barrymore. And he… oh, many, many mechanical things like irising down or irising in, you know, or fade-out. All these things came from D.W. Griffith. He was a bad actor himself.

TT:                                          Well, do you feel that most producers are frustrated actors?

MP:                                         Oh, definitely. I should… I would think so. He had a beautiful, sonorous voice and he could’ve been a singer, but when he started to act he used to frighten me because you know he exaggerated things so. And the Pathé Company, the French actors, were greatly admired by us, I mean all the Americans, and he used to try to make me do things and I just wouldn’t. I said, “No, I think if I feel it enough,” this is my mother’s training, she said, “If you feel something very, very much, your hands, your feet, every part of your being will respond to that thought.”

TT:                                          What do you think was your first really great motion picture?

MP:                                         Well, let me see. Do you mean in the very old days?

TT:                                          Yes, the one which I think would establish you as America’s Sweetheart.

MP:                                         You’re very nice. You know, I’ve never accepted that title. (Laughing)

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         It’s too complimentary. I’ve never thought that… but I do appreciate it. Well, I would say that… Tess of the Storm Country.

TT:                                          That was… wasn’t that about the beginning of the First World War?

MP:                                         Before.

TT:                                          Before it, then? Oh yeah.

MP:                                         You know I’m getting to the age now where I’m very proud of the stripes on my arm. (Laughing)

TT:                                          (Laughing) Service stripes.

MP:                                         Yes. It was in 1914 that Pop Grauman, he was the father of the fabulous Sid Grauman, you know Million Dollar Theater?

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         Chinese Grauman? He put the name outside, and it didn’t take… well, it took many years for it to catch on. But that was given to me in love and I’m so, so pleased about that. If it had been dreamed up by a press agent I wouldn’t have liked it, but this came from the heart of someone who was really fond of me.

TT:                                          What was it like making pictures in those days? From what I’ve seen today it looks like extremely exacting, hard work. In those days, was it fun or was it just as difficult?

MP:                                         Everything’s fun when you’re young.

TT:                                          And everybody felt that way then, did they?

MP:                                         Oh, I think so.

TT:                                          What was the spirit and the atmosphere of the silent picture…

MP:                                         Well, it was exciting and we were pioneers in a brand-new medium of art and… well, as I say when you look back and think on your childhood, everything… well, I don’t know about that either. I think sorrow can be very great to the very young. But I was terribly ambitious. You see, I was the father of the family and I wanted security for my people and I didn’t know anything but work. I never went anywhere, I didn’t buy clothes, I had no jewelry or… oh, my first extravagance was a car.

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         And I loved my car. It was called an M… let’s see… EMF. And Johnny Pickford said, “Even Mama Fell.”

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         And “Every Morning Fix it.” You could just know what kind of a brother I had.

TT:                                          Sounds like a typical brother.

MP:                                         And you know, years before that I said, “Oh, I’m not worried about being poor. One day I’m going to have a beautiful automobile.” So when I’d come home from work, from the Biograph, Johnny would say to my sister Lottie, “Look out the window and see if Mary has tied the Stanley Steamer to the hydrant.” And “Lottie, get out of the fun seat, I want to sit there myself.” So they’d bring up chairs and pretend they were in the Stanley Steamer.

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         One day my cousin, one of… the Irish side, we were on 42nd Street and Broadway and I was appearing with Cecil B. DeMille at the time, The Warrens of Virginia, and this birdcage, glass birdcage went by and splashed mud all over my cousin’s one and only Sunday dress. You know, for years I used to say my “Sunday dress,” you know that was my best dress, and she would say, “Now look at those old hens.” She said, “We’re younger and prettier than they are and they splashed me with mud.” I said, “Never mind, Mamie,” I said, “We are going to have a beautiful car one day. We’re going to come by this street and maybe we’ll splash somebody.” She said, “Pardon me, Mrs. ‘Astorbilt,’ but your tiara has slipped.” And then years after, we did go by and she said, “Mary, do you remember that day?” I said, “What day?” And she repeated the story. I said, “I knew it!” I was… we were in a beautiful Cadillac. So you see that I had the feeling that I would have all these things, but of course it was a goal and I believe we always have to have a goal no matter what it is. But of course the material things now don’t mean so much to me.

(Pause of silence)

TT:                                          Well, in reviewing your career, may we assume that the twenties were the greatest era in your career?

MP:                                         Yes, I would say so.

TT:                                          This is when they were making really fine pictures at the end of the silent era.

MP:                                         Well, I’d say anywhere from about 1914 on up to about 1930.

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm. Tell me, when did you first meet Charlie Chaplin?

MP:                                         I met him in 1912 and I didn’t… well, I didn’t realize what a great genius he was at the time. I remember seeing him at the old Levy’s Café, do you know anything about that?

TT:                                          No.

MP:                                         It still exists. And my companion said, “There’s Chaplin.” And I turned around and I expected to see a middle-aged man, of course I was very young, and here was this black-haired man that looked more like a violinist, and delicate hands and sensitive face. And the waiter came along and opened a transom and let a lot of dust down onto his head and into the soup. And the waiter was very apologetic and said, “Sir,” I could tell from the pantomime, “May I get you another bowl of soup?” And Charlie just waved it away, he said, “No.” That was the first time I ever saw him. And then one time, later, there was a big ball given at Long Beach and he and a man called Pathé Lehrman who was a Biograph actor, he had been – I was out of it then, I was with Famous Players, Paramount, you know, that became Paramount later – and Charlie Chaplin took off his shoes and was imitating J. Warren Kerrigan, did you ever hear of him?

TT:                                          No.

MP:                                         You didn’t?

TT:                                          No.

MP:                                         Well, he was the Clark Gable of the day, or the Brando, or any… he was the… one of the great stars. And I thought it was very undignified. Now I can think it funny, but I didn’t think so then. (Laughing) And Pathé Lehrman introduced Chaplin to me and he gave me what my mother used to call a “cold fish hand,” you know, sort of limp and kind of cold. But I was completely disgusted with his behavior. It wasn’t naughty, it was very funny. They were imitating this very handsome… Charlie was playing my part, you see, and Lehrman was Kerrigan. And that was my first meeting with Chaplin.

TT:                                          Well, what do you feel about Charlie Chaplin today?

MP:                                         Well… that’s quite a question. I think he is, or was rather, the greatest comedian that the world has ever known.

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm.

MP:                                         I think he changed the mask of comedy – he put a mustache on it. I think it’s too bad that he destroyed the little man with the big feet.

TT:                                          The Little Tramp?

MP:                                         That’s right.

TT:                                          You think he became too grandiose?

MP:                                         No, I think he got tired of the little man and then tried to be a statesman or a politician or something that doesn’t… I think he descended. He never should have played Hitler, for instance. He could have gone on until he was ninety years of age playing a Little Tramp. He personified everything that is… well, miserable all over the world. He was a poor little human being, but had the philosophy to overcome all of the things that attacked him. And then when he became Hitler, and a murderer in Monsieur Verdoux, and the last one I haven’t seen…

TT:                                          A King in New York?

MP:                                         No, and I don’t intend to.

TT:                                          Limelight?

MP:                                         Limelight I was sad about. I didn’t want to see Charlie as an old man, and I regret it very much, and as I said to you the other day, in destroying that Little Tramp, it’s quite possible that the Little Tramp in turn will destroy Chaplin.

TT:                                          How about Charlie as a person? Is he embittered, mad at the world?

MP:                                         Well, you see I haven’t seen Charlie in eight years. But I think he’s terribly hurt from what I hear. Of course, he has a lovely wife, he has six… eight beautiful children.

TT:                                          He certainly has made a contribution to the world in several ways. (Laughing)

MP:                                         (Laughing) And I’m sure that they’re going to be talented babies. Of course Charlie Jr. I love, I don’t know much about Sidney. I saw Sidney in the theater and he gave a magnificent performance, and I think… you know, he’s just like an English squire, country squire.

TT:                                          I think you could tell us more about the great Douglas Fairbanks than anybody. When did you first meet him?

MP:                                         I met him at Elsie Janis’s. Now you probably don’t know her either, but she was a great star in the theater. She was… well, I’d say the most successful theatrical child and when I was getting eight dollars a week, she was getting seventy dollars a week. And the Torontonians will probably recall Shea’s Theatre on…

TT:                                          Oh, yes. Yes, you may be sad to know that it’s been pulled down.

MP:                                         Well, it won’t be pulled down in my memory. I can see it now and can see Elsie, and she was called the sweetheart of the American troops. She went right up to the front to entertain them, wonderful entertainer, wonderful mimic. And I went out to her house, let’s see… it was called Philipse Manor, and they claimed that George Washington stayed there, and that was the first time I met Douglas Fairbanks. I had seen him in the theater in A Gentleman of Leisure.

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm.

MP:                                         And to tell you the truth I wasn’t impressed by him.

TT:                                          Why?

MP:                                         Well, maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, I don’t know. (Laughing)

TT:                                          (Laughing)

MP:                                         But I thought he was too exuberant.

TT:                                          That was his trademark almost, his abundance of energy.

MP:                                         Well…

TT:                                          His vitality…

MP:                                         Well, I was intolerant and maybe not in a happy mood that day, it was cold, it was November and… well, he had just come into pictures. He had been a big star in the theater. He was contemporary of Barrymore.

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         Jack. He and Douglas were always together on Broadway, in different plays of course, and that was my first meeting with him. And… Elsie and he and Owen Moore started out together and they said, “You stay here, Mary, and we’ll be back.” And I said, “Oh no you don’t,” so I went after them. And I had on some beautiful new shoes that cost me fifteen dollars – well, that’s like seventy-five today, you know – and they were white kid, and Elsie called back, she said, “Don’t ruin your lovely shoes, you’d better go back to the house.” Well, I had different ideas and I started across this creek. I was walking on this log, and I got in the middle of it and of course it was a freezing cold day and I was frightened to go back or go forward and Douglas said, “Do you mind?” And he came across the log and picked me up in his arms and put me safely on the other side. I didn’t think it was romantic, I just thought it was a polite gesture. It was only after in years that I saw that that was the beginning.

TT:                                          You did get to like him?

MP:                                         Rather.

TT:                                          Yes. (Laughing)

MP:                                         (Laughing) As the English say. Oh, he was a wonderful person, you would have loved him. He was a little boy always, and he was just in life as he was on the screen, and do you know, he never, never used a net or a wire or what we call a double? Everything that you saw him do on the screen he did himself.

TT:                                          You mean he was like that around the house?

MP:                                         Oh yes. He’d have you out there on the lawn or up there, you know the water tower up there, he’d probably in the next hour have you up climbing that.

TT:                                          Yes?

MP:                                         Yes.

TT:                                          Did he never run out of energy?

MP:                                         No, never. He was just as he always was, and I’m grateful, you know, that he didn’t have a long illness. He went quickly. And I had a cousin who loved him very much and he said about Douglas, he said, “No matter how many people were in the room, when he left the room was empty.” This was after he died. And he said that he was like an arrow in full flight.

TT:                                          All the time, I suppose?

MP:                                         All the time.

TT:                                          But isn’t that very hard on the heart, that super abundance of energy?

MP:                                         Well, I would imagine so. He played as many as fifty-four holes of golf a day, and then he invented a game called “Doug” that was between badminton and tennis. The racquet was heavier than a tennis racquet or than a badminton racquet, and the bird was, the bird was heavier than the badminton.

TT:                                          I see. Well, what did he die of?

MP:                                         Heart.

TT:                                          Did he realize he had this condition?

MP:                                         No, I think he thought it was indigestion.

TT:                                          Miss Pickford, when did you and Mr. Fairbanks form your own motion picture company?

MP:                                         In 1919.

TT:                                          What was the name of it then?

MP:                                         United Artists.

TT:                                          Oh it still is?

MP:                                         Mmm-hmm.

TT:                                          Didn’t Chaplin have something to do with that as well?

MP:                                         Yes, he and D.W. Griffith and Douglas and I formed the company.

TT:                                          It seems to me that in 1919 you made a picture in which they wanted you to appear with bedbugs. I was reading an anecdote in a magazine the other day.

MP:                                         Oh, I think they’re mistaken about the bedbugs. I did appear with twelve New York sewer rats. Griffith said that I was so crazy that if he set the house on fire and put me on the roof and he said to me “jump” I would.

TT:                                          You would?

MP:                                         Yeah. You know, I’m very obedient in some respects. That rat thing was terrible. You know that the directors are typed just like actors or writers. Some of the directors have no sensitivity where women are concerned; they cannot direct a woman. Lubitsch was one of them. Ernst Lubitsch.

TT:                                          The Lubitsch touch.

MP:                                         Well, he only… he was a frustrated actor himself, and he didn’t know how to direct a woman. But Marshall Neilan was the tops to my way of thinking and Griffith. Now C.B. DeMille couldn’t direct a woman.

TT:                                          When did you first meet him?

MP:                                         I met him when I was thirteen years of age. He played my brother. There were four, supposed to be four children. It was The Warrens of Virginia, and his brother William wrote the play and David Belasco produced it. We remained good friends ever after that. I made two pictures with him, The Little American and A Romance of the Redwoods, that was in 1917.

TT:                                          I was… been wondering about this. The stars of the silent era seem so remote to us now. What were they like in behavior? Were they more flamboyant and remote than they are today, the stars of this era?

MP:                                         They were more remote, but I wouldn’t say more flamboyant.

TT:                                          We get the impression that they all lived in castles…

MP:                                         Oh no, that’s not true…

TT:                                          And that they were never seen in person.

MP:                                         That’s so… you mean, not actual castles?

TT:                                          Well, huge mansions.

MP:                                         No.

TT:                                          They lived a sort of a life of… in a never-never-land.

MP:                                         Well, that may be true. But we certainly didn’t advertise what breakfast food we had in the morning and things like that.

TT:                                          Yes, the movie stars today seem to be more businesspeople, they’re less colorful, I think. You can meet them and you’re not quite as thrilled.

MP:                                         Only because we have tremendous competition today. We had no TV, we had no radio, we didn’t have airplanes, we didn’t have long-distance phone, we didn’t have the world at our… on our breakfast tray. What’s happened yesterday in London or even this morning in London, it’s photographed and we have it in our morning paper. Well, that wasn’t so in those days. We just… we had the motion picture industry, we had the theater, and what motion pictures did to the legitimate theater, TV now, in turn, has done it to motion pictures. I, in my short life, well comparatively short life, have seen the birth and the death of motion pictures.

TT:                                          You think the motion picture has died?

MP:                                         Mmm-hmm.

TT:                                          But why should it?

MP:                                         Because of the competition. You know, you can see the old motion pictures that are just as good as some of them… and better than today. And why should people leave their house?

TT:                                          But you can see a picture so much better on a big screen in a comfortable theater than you can on a box in your living room.

MP:                                         Mmm, that’s true. But it’s very expensive, and you have to face the fact that at one time there were 17,000 theaters. I don’t know what the number is today, but… it breaks my heart to go by them and see them bowling alleys and skating rinks. Certainly the motion picture will always be there, but I believe that when paid TV comes in, and I’m sure it’ll be less expensive than going to the theater, then it’ll be the real death knell of motion pictures.

TT:                                          Getting back to the stars of the silent era, is it true that people in those times earned fabulous salaries and that there were no taxes?

MP:                                         That’s not true. I paid fifty percent of my salary and that was 1917. We went into the war, that is the Americans did, in April of 1917 and it was retroactive. My $10,000 a week has shrunk to nothing at all compared to… who was it that I heard?

TT:                                          Marlon Brando is supposed to be getting a million or something like that.

MP:                                         Was it? No, I read the other morning that he was going to get a million and ten percent of the gross.

TT:                                          That couldn’t be matched in the old days, could it?

MP:                                         No. (Laughing) And it’s impossible for people to keep money today, unless of course it’s capital gain. And that’s what you were asking me a little while ago. Well, now the actors have managers, which we didn’t have in those days, and investors, and they have to do it because the life of an actor, the average actor, is very short. And of course if he’s disfigured, if he gets… becomes ill, or if he loses an arm or a leg, or… they’re like doctors. I maintain that doctors and people who make big money for a short period of time, that should be taken into consideration.

TT:                                          Well, Miss Pickford, when did you stop making motion pictures?

MP:                                         (Laughing) I stopped in 1933.

TT:                                          Why?

MP:                                         Well, you see I was my own producer. My first independent picture was Daddy-Long-Legs. Maybe it’s my Irish blood, I don’t know, I guess English are also rebels, but I didn’t… you know, it’s very hard for actors. They… those that haven’t anything to say about the kind of roles they’re going to play and the type of picture they’re going to make, and then they die out. The producers of course can get another actor, but an actor can’t get another career. And so I wanted to make my own pictures and I did, but it was too hard for me to be a producer and an actress. You see, when everybody else went home, I had to approve of sets, costumes, sign checks, and when my mother was alive I never attended to any of the business. She passed on in 1928, and I retired five years later…. actually, about four years later because it was the beginning of 1933. It was just too much for me. You see, the average actress goes home if she’s had an emotional day. If she’s wise, she’ll just take a cup of soup or broth and go to bed at six o’clock. But there I’d be at the studio until eleven at night and back the next morning at six, and it was just… I couldn’t take it.

TT:                                          Well, let’s talk about the Mary Pickford of today. What are your activities?

MP:                                         Well, meeting charming people like yourself.

TT:                                          Thank you.

MP:                                         I have a record that I want to make for Columbia University. Well, of course there’s real estate, bonds, securities, and then there’s the civic things and then my charitable work.

TT:                                          I’ve heard a lot about your charitable work, and I was told I shouldn’t mention it to you, but I understand you do quite a lot of that.

MP:                                         Well, I don’t think I deserve any credit for that. You see, the world’s been wonderful to me – people have been wonderful to me – the least I can do it to try to pay it back in a small way, any way I can. And I love the very young and the very old. In fact, it’s awfully hard, you know, I’d like to be a Barbara Hutton or a Miss Duke. I’d like to have tremendous wealth that I could… because every, everyone that comes to you, you know, every charity deserves consideration and moral and financial support, but of course I’m relatively the poor little rich girl.

TT:                                          (Laughing) Tell us about this wonderful home you have, Pickfair. When was this built?

MP:                                         Well, I don’t know actually what year it was built. It was a shooting lodge at one time. The quail still come here.

TT:                                          Mmm-hmm.

MP:                                         And red fox… not so much today, and coyotes, and they used to come way out in the country. There was only one house between us now here, sitting looking out there at the Pacific – only one house, the Danzinger house that is now the Bel-Air Hotel. And there were no roads to the beach. You know, Sunset didn’t exist in those days. And Douglas bought it I think in 1919, and then he had, you see this wide hall here?

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         This was… the door back there that leads into the service quarters, that was the front door.

TT:                                          Yeah.

MP:                                         And then he built on this rest of the house, the living room and the bedroom, that section upstairs. And then in 1932 before the Olympics, he built the guest house.

TT:                                          Well, how many rooms do you have in Pickfair now?

MP:                                         I think about thirty-eight.

TT:                                          That must take rather a large staff to maintain.

MP:                                         Nobody can afford it anymore. (Laughing) We used to have sixteen, I think we have about eight now.

TT:                                          How about the grounds? How many acres?

MP:                                         We used to have thirteen, but when they wouldn’t allow us to keep cows and horses anymore we subdivided the lower part. I think we have about four acres.

TT:                                          They are beautifully kept. You were mentioning some while ago that you might turn Pickfair into a museum.

MP:                                         That’s what I hope.

TT:                                          Is there a strong possibility of doing that?

MP:                                         Well if I may. You know, Beverly Hills is very strict. Maybe the neighbors wouldn’t like it.

TT:                                          Well, if you ever do it’ll be the most sumptuous museum I’ve ever come across because it’s so beautifully designed, and you have such a wealth of lovely things.

MP:                                         Well, that’s nice.

TT:                                          Books and paintings and china ware… These paintings on the wall of this room, these are Rodin originals, are they?

MP:                                         They are, yes.

TT:                                          Where did you acquire those?

MP:                                         I got those in New York. It was a student of Rodin and he had, I think originally he had something like forty, and I was able to get about twenty-eight of them.

TT:                                          What other treasures do you have that are outstanding?

MP:                                         Well, you can see the cabinet there.

TT:                                          Yes.

MP:                                         Rose quartz, jade, Peking glass, and ivory, and then I have some very rare books, and of course, the furniture. I have in the dining room original Adam chairs. I shouldn’t own them because they’re so delicate, and when I see some of my guests teetering on them, I nearly faint.

TT:                                          (Laughing) The thing that interested me most about your house is the room downstairs, the Western room. Now, someone was telling me that the bar is from the real Wild West, is that true?

MP:                                         Well, it came around the horn in 19… let’s see, in 1849.

TT:                                          1849?

MP:                                         Mmm-hmm, the Gold Rush, and it’s one solid piece of mahogany. And the story goes that when it was in Placer, California, the judge, if he got thirsty, they’d go down and continue the trial at the bar.

TT:                                          (Laughing) Do you ever use that room for anything other than a showpiece?

MP:                                         Oh yes, we start parties off there, you know and people, if they come in and they’re feeling very, you know, sort of dressed up, in ten minutes, you know, everybody’s having a happy time. You know, it’s a playroom.

TT:                                          Yes, it has relics from the Wild West. I was wondering if Mr. Fairbanks’ things were down there, a gun belt and a hat and chaps and a whip and things?

MP:                                         Yes, those are his. And the Remingtons.

TT:                                          The original Remington paintings. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. They’re beautiful.

MP:                                         They were originally, they were illustrating I think it was Cosmopolitan stories and I… of course, those are going to a museum too if I don’t turn… if I’m not able to turn this into a museum. And you know I want the proceeds to go to the Motion Picture Relief Fund.

TT:                                          Well, I think we should let you go now because we’ve taken up so much of your time.

MP:                                         No, I’m so happy, you know, to meet Canadians and I hope that you will convey to the Torontonians my fond memories, my affection for them. I’m very, very proud of being a Canadian, and when I’ve been asked “Which country do you prefer?” I say, “Well, I don’t know,” I say. “England is my grandmother, Toronto, Canada is my mother, and the United States is my husband.” So give them my love.

TT:                                          I will do that, and we’re very proud of you.




Mary Pickford / Jack Linkletter Audio Interview

Art Linkletter’s son, Jack, interviewed Mary at the world premiere of the John Wayne film Hatari! at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on June 19th, 1962. Here, Mary discusses a few of the many charities that were important to her and reminisces about her movie career. Special thanks to Phil Gries for this historical treasure.

Read Transcript »

JACK:                                     Hi, you are attending a Hollywood premiere and this is Jack Linkletter at the Egyptian Theatre for the glittering opening of Howard Hawks’ Paramount Production Hatari! starring John Wayne. This is a charity event headed by this great lady of motion pictures, Mary Pickford. And I have a date with her in the lobby for one of her rare television interviews. Ms. Pickford began her theatrical career at the age of five in Toronto, Canada. In 1909 she made her screen debut as a bit player. Known as America’s Sweetheart, she skyrocketed into stardom in such classics as Pollyanna, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Coquette. And tomorrow at the airport we will meet co-stars Red Buttons, Elsa Martinelli and Bruce Cabot and the star who is arriving right now is Mr. John Wayne himself. We will be back with Mary Pickford in just one minute.

We are in the lobby of the Egyptian Theatre and we are at the latest Paramount picture premiere of Hatari!, Howard Hawks’ motion picture and John Wayne starring. Both of which are superfluous at this moment because I am with one of the sweetest and greatest ladies in motion pictures and I am talking about Mary Pickford. And while you are not in Hatari! fighting rhinoceros or anything of that nature I do want to talk to you…one because of your tremendous background in show business and second because you are related to this picture in many ways. In fact she was being very sweet and just a minute ago was saying, you know I never do interviews. I don’t want to do interviews. I don’t like to do interviews but I am doing it because what you are going to talk to me about. And that is that Mary Pickford is the Honorary Chairman of the Hollywood People for Africa.

MARY:                                    Friends of Africa.

JACK:                                     Now can you tell us a little bit what this committee does?

MARY:                                    Well it’s Meals for Millions and also medical supplies. And the medical supplies go through this group that distributes them in Africa. And you probably know that the conditions over there are very bad. My husband Buddy Rogers and I were there a year ago. We were in Kenya and you cannot imagine the poverty and the misery of the people in Africa. And so I think it is a great opportunity for all of us, myself included, to be here tonight.

JACK:                                     Now this, I should add, is a charity premiere of this motion picture and that the people coming here, everything is going to this foundation.

MARY:                                    Directly, yes.

JACK:                                     And it is supported by Hollywood show business people?

MARY:                                    Well yes, partially so. It is free contributions, you know.

JACK:                                     With everybody.

MARY:                                    Well anybody who wishes to have a heart big enough to help these poor little starving, neglected babies.

JACK:                                     When did you first become aware of this…on your trip to Africa, was that….?

MARY:                                    Well I was invited to join and this particular group here tonight was formed at our house at Pickfair.

JACK:                                     Oh, really!

MARY:                                    Yes.

JACK:                                     Well the wonderful house of Pickfair, up on the hill. I know that there are many things that you have very strong feelings about. Another one is that I know that you have been disturbed over this country’s treatment of elderly people and you want a lot of changes in this area. What are some of these?

MARY:                                    Well you know I look upon elderly people as old babies.

JACK:                                     Old babies?

MARY:                                    Yes. Because the young ones have an opportunity in the future. They can become the president of the United States. Most elderly people….

JACK:                                     Especially the young ones. (laughter)

MARY:                                    Well that is what I mean. The young babies but the old babies their lives are over and a lot of them are poor and forgotten because… well their family or their friends have died. They may have been frugal and put their money away in their youth and middle age for a rainy day and along comes inflation and the shrinking dollar and where are they?

JACK:                                     And what are you suggesting?

MARY:                                    Well I am for… I belong to that group of people for the senior citizens. We don’t call them elderly or old anymore you know. They are senior citizens. I am for the ones with inadequate income. Now take Bunker Hill. Our Bunker Hill, they condemned those houses where the rents were reasonable. Those elderly people had no place to go because the rents in the newer places had blown up out of all reason. Now I am for those people. I can understand why the people that defeated, I mean the politicians who defeated Proposition 4, which was the housing for the inadequate income group, the elderly. They claimed that the people from all over the nation, the elderly, would pour in here. Well I can see why they had something there. But they could put teeth in this law to protect us. You know I am for the taxpayers all over the United States.

JACK:                                     Well you have been one and a big one from awhile back.

MARY:                                    I try not to think about that.

JACK:                                     It was a wonderful story and I don’t know whether I just heard it or whether it is true or not but you at one time adopted an 82-year-old man. Now is that true?

MARY:                                    Yes it’s true.

JACK:                                     An 82-year-old baby as you would call him.

MARY:                                    Yes.

JACK:                                     And what prompted this?

MARY:                                    Well his family had neglected him and he was in a home here and he was lonely and he heard me state that this was a group of women. I said I don’t think it is enough to give them a bed for sleeping and food and to supply a church. They need love. They need attention. And I think we should take them out for a ride in our car. We should remember their birthdays and the holidays and send them postal cards when we go away. So when I came out of the meeting room he said would you adopt me? So I said yes I will.

JACK:                                     Proving that you practice what you preach.

MARY:                                    Well I would go and take him out and we would discuss old things of old world. He was from Russia and so we talked about… you know he was a very wise man and I learned much from him.

JACK:                                     I am going to have stop for just one minute. Then I would like to talk and make me a little wiser by telling me a little bit about your early career and things I know that people would be fascinated…

MARY:                                    You are so young, are you interested in that?

JACK:                                     I am fascinated. We are at the Egyptian Theatre for the premiere of Hatari! and inside the theater of this charity premiere are hundreds of people who are donating to the group that Mary Pickford is the honorary chairman of and that is the Hollywood Friends for Africa. We talked about that and right now I would like to talk about your early, early life. Because this is of course part of Hollywood’s lore. As I remember reading was that your father died when you were very young. I think it was four.

MARY:                                    That’s right.

JACK:                                     But what else can you tell us of your early childhood?

MARY:                                    Well we didn’t have much money. In fact we didn’t have any but I had a wonderful mother and I had a sister Lottie and I had a brother….

JACK:                                     A brother by my name.

MARY:                                    Jack.

JACK:                                     Jack, that’s right.

MARY:                                    And we had lots of fun. And I was saying today when I look at the beautiful cars I remember the days when I walked miles to save five cents. I am not going to forget those days either.

JACK:                                     And going way back to those days what was it… do you remember what age you first made a professional appearance?

MARY:                                    Five.

JACK:                                     Five and do you remember where?

MARY:                                    Yes. Toronto, Canada.

JACK:                                     And what was it?

MARY:                                    It was called The Silver King and I played a nasty little girl.

JACK:                                     A nasty little girl.

MARY:                                    Oh a mean little girl!

JACK:                                     A bad seed.

MARY:                                    Oh absolutely!

JACK:                                     And now let me jump up to your Academy Award which was Coquette, which was fantastic. What in looking back at you career was some of your other favorite roles?

MARY:                                    Oh I had several. I loved Tess of the Storm Country. I think she was my favorite. Then there was Daddy-Long-Legs, The Poor Little Rich Girl and let’s see what else, Lord Fauntleroy. Right, the only time I played a boy. I think it was funny…..

JACK:                                     You couldn’t get away with that very often.

MARY:                                    I did too! Well not often.

JACK:                                     Not very often.

MARY:                                    I shouldn’t say it but I don’t see any reason for it anyhow. I never understood why a woman should have to play Chanticleer, but I weakened and I played the mother in….

JACK:                                     You did well.

MARY:                                    Well, I hope so. I played the mother and the son.

JACK:                                     By the way talking about playing boys and you, you had the long curls. When did you cut those off?

MARY:                                    Right before Coquette.

JACK:                                     Right before….

MARY:                                    Because I was tired of playing little girls and I couldn’t go on until I was 90 playing little girls. You know so I had to….

JACK:                                     I don’t know, maybe you could. (laughter) In your early films you were known as just very simply as Little Mary. Producers were reluctant, weren’t they, in those days to…

MARY:                                    They didn’t want us to become spoiled you see so they gave us fictitious names. I was….

JACK:                                     Why didn’t they want you to be so… what do you mean spoiled?

MARY:                                    Well they thought that we would become self-important and that we would want a raise in salary so they called me Dorothy Nicholson in England. The English gave me that name. So when the mail came to the Biograph Company they just destroyed it. And then I left them and went with, which is now Universal International. Then they started advertising me as Little Mary. So that was the first time.

JACK:                                     Boy, they’ve uh, I guess they made a mistake by giving the people the names and publicizing them because look what stars are doing today.

MARY:                                    Don’t blame that on me. (laughter)

JACK:                                     No, no, no, not at all but do you think this is threatening our industry? Look at our papers and our magazines they are full of the salary demands and the bad behavior of our top stars.

MARY:                                    I am not one to criticize but I wonder, I question myself why the people, why the stars want a million dollars when they can’t keep it. They are in the 93% bracket. Now will you answer me. You are young and smart, why do they want to do it?

JACK:                                     Well I guess because that is the only way they can get $100,000.00. (laughter)

MARY:                                    No, they don’t even get that. They get $90,000.00.

JACK:                                     $90,000.00

MARY:                                    Well why can’t they give the poor producer a break instead of breaking his back?

JACK:                                     Very good point.

MARY:                                    I am not for that.

JACK:                                     I am not going to argue the point because I yet have there is get my first million dollar picture. I am waiting though. Patiently.

MARY:                                    Well you just keep on. (laughter) You’ll get it.

JACK:                                     The United States got very excited a while back when you announced that you were going to come out of retirement to do a motion picture, The Librarian, I think it was with Stanley Kramer and then you said no.

MARY:                                    I said no.

JACK:                                     Why did you change your mind?

MARY:                                    It was controversial. I only said I would do it because I was so fond of him and I think he is, if not the most brilliant producer of today, but one of them anyhow.

JACK:                                     Of course everything he does is controversial so why would you consider it in the first place?

MARY:                                    Well, I didn’t retire that long ago to come back and make trouble for myself. You know when my household and my family disagreed on it and said that a comment…

JACK:                                     Was it about burning of the books, wasn’t it? The Librarian.

MARY:                                    Burning of a Communistic book.

JACK:                                     Right.

MARY:                                    And uh, right after that there was quite a to-do and I refused to do it. That our President Eisenhower, they were burning books and he was against it. But, I don’t think it is my prerogative or any entertainers to preach.

JACK:                                     So you are against these movies with messages?

MARY:                                    Oh, people can read a book if they want to or listen to the radio or look at television but when they pay their good dollars to go in and see a movie they want to be entertained. And I have never done anything… I’ve never preached. I am not… important enough to do that.

JACK:                                     You believe that when someone goes to a movie it should be for sheer entertainment.

MARY:                                    Absolutely. And if they get a message out of it, well and good, but not to deliberately go out to teach. We are not teachers. We are entertainers. And Stanley Kramer said I am surprised at you. He said I thought you were a courageous individual. He said there you were in the ring and the bell rang and you wouldn’t come out of your corner. Well that hurt my feelings. But I did the right thing. I didn’t like the picture when I saw it.

JACK:                                     And then you say you are an entertainer not a preacher and yet you certainly back things with all of your conviction like we have talked about for elderly and for Africans…

MARY:                                    That’s different. Now that is my…

JACK:                                     You are not doing it on the screen?

MARY:                                    No, that is my personal private life. Not my professional life.

JACK:                                     This is a distinction.

MARY:                                    I am retired now and if I have a conviction and if I think you are doing something you shouldn’t do I will say now look, Jack, I think you are mistaken. And I will come to you as your friend and say you can take it or leave it but I think you are making a mistake. You would do the same with me.

JACK:                                     I hope so. You know you have some wonderful opinions about things and one thing I would like to bring up and see what your reaction is to it today. About forty years ago I guess it was, if I know my history correctly you and Chaplin and Fairbanks and Griffith, D.W. Griffith, organized the studio called United Artists.

MARY:                                    No, it was a releasing corporation. It was sort of an agency.

JACK:                                     That became United Artists right?

MARY:                                    No, it was always United Artists in the beginning. But you see each one of us financed our own pictures and produced them.

JACK:                                     Sort of an amalgamation then?

MARY:                                    Nobody had anything to say. I couldn’t say anything about the others, the three men. I couldn’t tell them what to do or what not to do.

JACK:                                     There was a lot said about the fact that you people did this. In fact one critic very strongly said now they… you know what it is… the asylum is now in the hands of the inmates.

MARY:                                    No he said worse than that. He said maniacs.

JACK:                                     Oh did he? (laughter)

MARY:                                    Yes.

JACK:                                     I am softening it. But now this is being said about stars today who are going into production and doing their own movies now. Looking back at it with history in mind, do you agree with this statement?

MARY:                                    In certain instances yes.

JACK:                                     Of stars taking over the production of…

MARY:                                    I think so. But on the other hand when studios say you are going to play that type of picture, Mary, and I say I will not play a lady of the evening. They say all right we will suspend you. You go off salary. I’d say all right I am not going to do a picture that I think is questionable morally. I won’t do it. So I have a right to say it is my life, my career and I don’t think the studio has a right to do that and so therefore we formed our own companies so we could make the kind of pictures we wanted to make. Good bad or indifferent. Successful or failures.

JACK:                                     You were putting your own career on the block?

MARY:                                    I will… my career and my own money. I wasn’t asking anybody else to… and another thing speaking of money the producer shared dollar for dollar with me. I got the money first and he got is secondly and then we split 50-50. Now I think that is fair.

JACK:                                     That’s interesting. Then there are a lot of things that have happened to stars and of course the days when you were married to Douglas Fairbanks and an invitation to your Pickfair home was the big gala thing in Hollywood and society… in the industry today there is really no one who has reached this type of position of glamour and so forth. Now do you feel that this has hurt motion pictures?

MARY:                                    No. Nothing hurts a good picture.

JACK:                                     I am talking about the stars. Are the stars today… I’m saying, and you correct me if you think I am wrong, that there isn’t the aura about stars today that there was about you and the big stars?

MARY:                                    Well, you see in the old… in those days we didn’t have the television. We didn’t have radio. We didn’t have airplanes. We didn’t have the sputniks. We didn’t have the picture that happens tonight in London and you see it in tomorrow’s paper. On the wires. Well the stars of today have too much competition. We didn’t have that competition. We had the entertainment world right in our hands like that. But it behooved us to make good pictures. Three bad pictures like three strikes and you are out.

JACK:                                     That’s true, very true. But yet the stars today are trying to put an image across that they are like the person next door where in your day….

MARY:                                    I don’t think that’s right.

JACK:                                     You are against that.

MARY:                                    Yes.

JACK:                                     That’s what I thought…

MARY:                                    And I don’t think that it is the public’s affair or particularly interested what kind of breakfast would they eat.

JACK:                                     Well now come on, you are going to hurt our show because a lot of…

MARY:                                    Well that’s all right. (laughter)

JACK:                                     You say what you believe and that is true.

MARY:                                    Well I mean I don’t think that… I think that there ought to be a little secrecy. A little curtain in front of the people, of the actors. I don’t think they should be seen in public in too brief costume. You know I am old-fashioned. And with bare feet and all of that. I don’t like that.

JACK:                                     Well I want to thank you very much for just letting us have a little peek behind your curtain because you are a wonderful woman.

MARY:                                    Don’t you think I am such a terrible prude, but I think people are disappointed when they love a star, not to see her at her best.

JACK:                                     Well you are at your best and I thank you for being your best with us.

MARY:                                    You are kind of cute yourself, Jack.

JACK:                                     Oh cut it out. My wife is very jealous. We thank you and we will pause and be back in one minute.

Collector’s Choice presents 453 hours of television programming, audio recorded from live, taped and filmed television broadcasts of the 1960s. Many of these 858 different programs audio taped when originally telecast are lost or unattainable and only the audio portion remains from this bygone era, the silver age of television.” This interview with Mary Pickford is from the “Here’s Hollywood” series and was audio taped when it originally aired in New York on WNBC, channel 4. July 23, 1962