In the 1910s and 1920s, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood was a Canadian named Gladys Marie Smith. We all know her better as Mary Pickford.
Pickford was as Smart As They Come regarding the movie industry. In 1916, she was the first actress to sign a million dollar contract ($10,000/week plus half the profits of her films). She co-founded United Artists in 1919 with Charlie Chaplin, director D.W. Griffith, and her future hubby Douglas Fairbanks.
As impressive as these accomplishments are, they don’t necessarily make her America’s Sweetheart, as she was dubbed. A person needs to see her on film to see why she was so beloved.
Therefore, let’s take a look at Mary in the comedy-drama The Hoodlum (1919).
The Hoodlum features a young girl, spoiled Beyond Belief, who lives with her wealthy but not-entirely-ethical grandfather (Ralph Lewis). When her father, “a sociological writer”, returns from Parts Unknown, Pickford decides to live with him at his new address on Craigen Street.
Poor Mary! She doesn’t realize that Craigen Street is in the Slums, and that her sociological father (T.D. Crittenden) can’t support her in the manner to which she’s Become Accustomed.
At first, it’s a rough ride for our gal. For example, she hates the smells in the apartment building, and she won’t help with domestic chores.
Plus, her Better-Than-Thou views aren’t winning her any friends. Neighbours make fun of the way she talks, and they note her expensive wardrobe. (They may be poor, but they ain’t stupid.)
Her father gives her excellent advice: In order to fit in, you must dress and talk like the Locals. So Mary decides to Get Over Herself and embrace her new life.
Before the film has ended, Mary’s character will learn the true value of friendship and community, and will discover a terrible secret about her family.
She will also show us why she was named America’s Sweetheart.
Here are five of the reasons moviegoers (still) adore Mary Pickford:
The camera loves her. Like any actor with Star Quality, she carries the film and makes it look easy.
She’s funny. She’s not afraid to be the object of ridicule, even if that means being pitched into mud, and that endears her to us.
She’s a natural actor. There’s nothing forced or staged about her movements.
She supports The Underdog. In The Hoodlum, Mary realizes what it means to suffer – truly suffer – and it motivates her to help her neighbours.
She gives an audience their money’s worth. We’ve not yet seen a Mary Pickford film where she “Phones In” her performance.
Because today is Silent Movie Day, we hope you’ll indulge in some popcorn and a Mary Pickford film – and if that film isThe Hoodlum, so much the better.