In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mary Pickford

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Interviews
  • Preservation of Films
  • Douglas Fairbanks
  • D. W. Griffith
  • World War I
  • Fame and Stardom
  • Pickford and Her Directors
  • Hollywood
  • The Theater
  • Feminist Criticism
  • Spirituality
  • Pickford’s Writings
  • Fiction

Cinema and Media Studies Mary Pickford
Christel Schmidt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0166


Mary Pickford (b. 1892–d. 1979) was Hollywood’s first great movie star and one of silent film’s most influential figures. She was a film actress, producer, scenario writer, and cofounder of United Artists. Affectionately known as American’s Sweetheart, the Canadian-born Pickford began her stage career at the age of seven. She appeared in mostly second- and third-rate productions, but won a small role in David Belasco’s 1907 Broadway production The Warrens of Virginia. In 1909, after years of struggle, she took a job in one-reel shorts for film director D. W. Griffith at the Biograph Company. Within a few years she achieved an unprecedented level of popularity. In features, her fame shot even higher through her work as feisty young heroines in Tess of the Storm Country (1914), Rags (1915), and other films. In 1916, the star (just twenty-four years old) parlayed her box-office appeal into a groundbreaking contract with the Famous Players studio. The agreement gave her a weekly income of $10,000 and her own production company, among other perks. Three years later, she joined Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Griffith to form United Artists, Hollywood’s first independent distribution company and a venture that gave her complete creative and financial control over her work. In 1920, she married Fairbanks, and the pair became cinema’s most venerated couple. As Hollywood’s royals, they ruled the movie colony from Pickfair, their Beverly Hills mansion; invitations to their parties were coveted by the elite within the industry and beyond. Throughout most of the decade, the couple was inseparable, and remained at a personal and professional peak. They even co-owned a studio, making their prestige productions on adjacent lots. Their inevitable decline at the box office coincided with the arrival of talking pictures in the late 1920s. Pickford made four sound films, and received an Oscar for her first talkie Coquette (1929). In 1933, she retired from film acting after appearing in over two hundred films in her twenty-four years onscreen.

General Overviews

An enormous amount was written about Pickford during her career as a movie star, but few valuable appraisals of her life and work were written in its aftermath. Brokaw 1932 summarizes the actress’s career and her cultural influence as it faded. Three decades passed before Wagenknecht 1962 offered his nostalgic reminisces of Pickford and her films. Walker 1968 discusses the star’s on- and off-screen personas in detail. Croce 1997 looks back at Pickford’s career and its aftermath. Corliss 1998 introduces Pickford to a new generation of film enthusiasts who know very little about her contributions to the movie industry. Basinger 1999 tries to clear up popular misconceptions about the actress’s work. A website maintained by the Mary Pickford Foundation offers basic information and images. Schmidt 2012 is an examination of Pickford’s life, career, and legacy by noted film archivists, historians, and scholars.

  • Basinger, Jeanine. Silent Stars. New York: Knopf, 1999.

    Pickford’s enormous popularity and her celebrated marriage to Douglas Fairbanks are discussed.

  • Brokaw, Clare Boothe. “Mary Pickford: The End of an Era.” Variety (August 1932): 18–19, 51, 53.

    Brokaw gives an often cutting assessment of the actress’s appeal, persona, and cultural influence during the early 20th century.

  • Corliss, Richard. “Queen of the Movies.” Film Comment (March–April 1998): 53–62.

    In-depth and insightful discussions of several Pickford features are included in this review of Whitfield 1997 (cited under Books).

  • Croce, Arlene. “Golden Girl: The Return of Mary Pickford.” The New Yorker (22 September 1997): 130–132, 134–135, 138.

    In a critical assessment of Whitfield 1997 (cited under Books), Croce considers Pickford’s work and its relevance to modern audiences.

  • Mary Pickford Foundation. Mary Pickford.

    General information about Pickford’s life and career, as well as photographs, is available here.

  • Schmidt, Christel, ed. Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

    Fourteen essays and over 240 images, most from Pickford’s personal collections at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Library of Congress, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, appear in this anthology.

  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Movies in the Age of Innocence. Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1962.

    Pickford’s impact on the first generation of moviegoers is recalled.

  • Walker, Alexander. Sex in the Movies: The Celluloid Sacrifice. Baltimore: Penguin, 1968.

    The noted film critic documents Pickford’s efforts to avoid typecasting and appear in more mature, sophisticated parts.

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