Mary Pickford tends to be best-remembered for being one of the most famous actresses from the silent film era. However, it is important to note that she was a very capable businesswoman as well, which was particularly notable because she operated in what has been described as a very "cutthroat" industry in a time when women faced even more of a systematic disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts. Combined, these two roles ensured that Pickford would have a lasting impact on the world of entertainment, which is so extensive that it can be missed by those who see it as nothing more than the way that things are. Something that is far from the case.
What Was Mary Pickford's Career Like?
For those who are unfamiliar, Pickford came from an impoverished background, not least because her father John Charles Smith had abandoned her mother Charlotte Hennessey and the rest of their family. Eventually, one of the family's boarders suggested that Pickford, who was still called Gladys Louise Smith at the time, and her sister Lotti play a couple of small roles on the stage. Something that led to the entire family heading out on the road for the sake of making a living by playing with third-rate companies in third-rate roles.
In time, Pickford decided to spend one more season searching for a lead role on Broadway before retiring from acting to do something else if she failed. As it turned out, Pickford didn't get the lead role that she wanted, but she did get a supporting role in a Broadway production, which was where she picked up the stage name of Mary Pickford. Following the Broadway production, she went on to audition for a role in a silent movie, where she failed to secure the role but nonetheless managed to catch the interest of the director D.W. Griffith. Griffith was so impressed with Pickford's performance that he agreed to pay her $10 a day plus a guarantee of $40 a week versus the $5 day that was standard for most actors and actresses at that particular studio.
From this point forward, Pickford's career began building up momentum. This was helped by her conscious choice to appear in as many roles in as many movies as she could, which was intended by Pickford to raise her profile. Said strategy worked, which is why Pickford became one of the first actors and actresses to have her name featured in a prominent manner in the marketing for movies. Moreover, Pickford's productiveness enabled her to become one of the most famous women in the entire world in the 1910s and 1920s, which came with not just sky-high pay by the standards of the time but also considerable say in how her movies would be made.
Eventually, Pickford's acting career came to a stop because of the introduction of movies with sound. The success of the "talkies" came with a change in prevailing tastes from ingenues to more vampish heroines, which combined with Pickford's advancing age to produce a decline in consumer interest. However, Pickford's influence didn't end there because she was one of the co-founders of the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio as well as one of the co-founders of United Artists, which is still operating in the present day albeit under very different circumstances.
How Did Mary Pickford Change the World of Entertainment?
Pickford was a very successful figure at a time when the film industry was still in its infancy. As a result, she was able to have a profound impact on the film industry as a whole, so much so that her influence can still be seen in various places. For example, while Pickford was far from being limited to roles as ingenues, she is credited with being the actress who defined the archetype. Furthermore, Pickford was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which should be best-known to most people for being the organization that hands out the Oscars on an annual basis. Never mind the fact that she was the winner of the second Oscar for Best Actress ever handed out. Finally, Pickford played an important role in the transformation of film actors and actresses into the celebrities that they are in the present day, though in this regard at least, she was far from being alone.
Written by Garrett Parker
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