The FIR Vault

MARY PICKFORD’S DIRECTORS

By • Aug 10th, 2013 • Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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Except for the many Mary Pickford pictures D. W. Griffith directed, two Cecil B. DeMille directed, the two by Sidney Olcott, and the one by Ernst Lubitsch, it is usually thought that “America’s Sweetheart” directed the directors of her films when she did not direct the pictures themselves.

Miss Pickford does not agree. “I always took an active interest in my films from beginning to end, from the script to the editing and titling,” she says. “I tried to learn everything I could about making motion pictures. But I always felt the need of a good director, and I relied upon my directors. They were hired for what they could contribute – new ideas, ways to make my pictures better. They weren’t expected to ‘yes’ me, and I insisted they use their initiative and authority. Being my own producer, I could have directed my own pictures, but I never wanted to. I’ve had some of Hollywood’s best directors and they didn’t need anybody’s help.”

Fifty-seven years have passed since she first went to work for D. W. Griffith at Biograph and it is now difficult, if not impossible, to assess truly the Griffith-Pickford relationship. Both she and he have become legends, and legends consist of fiction as well as of fact. Definitive biographies of Griffith and Mary Pickford have yet to be written, and her autobiography, “Sunshine and Shadow”, contains only a few candid glimpses of the great director.

At their first encounter she thought him boorish and hateful, for he was not impressed by her previous work on the stage for David Belasco. He called her acting wooden and told her she was too fat, and shocked her prudish sensibilities by asking her to dinner.

Other squabbles followed. She complained when the best roles went to Griffith’s favorite actresses, and he tried to make her jealous by comparing her unfavorably to Lillian Gish and Blanche Sweet. Once he lost his temper when a scene was not going well and gave her a good shaking, whereupon she bit him, as her sister Lottie pulled his ears from behind. The quarrels usually resulted in her quitting, and a contrite Griffith apologizing.

Her salary was another cause of controversy. In 1910 she refused to go to California with the Biograph company unless Griffith raised her $10 a week. He called her bluff by threatening to take Gertrude Robinson in her place.

Moore soon went back to acting

Despite all this, they seem to have gotten along reasonably well, and often had stimulating arguments about movie technics. She felt he let his casts overact; he was impressed by her intelligent interest in every aspect of moviemaking. “I used to watch him at work for hours,” she said later. “It was fascinating, especially when he’d come up with some exciting innovation. Whenever he would say ‘What do you think, Pickford?’ I felt complimented, yet I believe he didn’t really care what others thought.”

In 1910 she broke with Biograph and signed with Carl Laemmle’s IMP Company when Laemmle offered her $175 a week. At the time, however, a fan magazine said she did it because “Griffith told her every step to take, every gesture to make,” and would not allow her to add the slightest interpretation of her own.

During the first eight months of 1911 Miss Pickford starred in a dozen pictures for IMP – THEIR FIRST MISUNDERSTANDING, SCIENCE, IN THE SULTAN’S GARDEN, et al – but it was not a happy time. Her mother was furious over her secret marriage to her leading man, Owen Moore, and much of the filmmaking was done under primitive conditions in Cuba, where Laemmle, on the leanest of budgets, had gone to evade the rights of the Motion Picture Patents Co. Moore did not get along with director Thomas H. Ince, whose motion picture career had begun only a year before (cf. FIR, Oct. ’60), and soon ran afoul of the Cuban authorities by beating up an Trice assistant. He had to be smuggled back to the US.

Ince was finding his way

Ince’s talent was then in its formative stage and Miss Pickford is noticeably reticent when discussing him. One gets the impression she considered him of ordinary ability. “I never thought the IMP films were particularly good,” she says, “but audiences seemed to enjoy them.” Years later, at the height of her fame, she was quite upset when these films were repeatedly reissued to cash in on her popularity. Her opinion of Ince may have been influenced at the time by Moore’s dislike of him. Later Miss Pickford and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks, became close friends with Ince and were mourners at his funeral.

On the expiration of the Laemmle contract Miss Pickford worked briefly, for $225 a week, at Majestic Pictures, a new company that was under-financed and torn by internal dissension. George Loane Tucker, a promising young actor and director at IMP, was hired away by Majestic to direct her in The Courting of Mary (’11), and Owen Moore, at Miss Pickford’s insistence, was later given the opportunity of directing several of her other Majestic films. Moore was drinking heavily, was abusive and sarcastic on the set, and was openly resentful of Miss Pickford’s growing popularity. He soon resumed acting.

Griffith asked Pickford to dinner

Ince’s talent was then in its formative stage and Miss Pickford is noticeably reticent when discussing him. One gets the impression she considered him of ordinary ability. “I never thought the IMP films were particularly good,” she says, “but audiences seemed to enjoy them.” Years later, at the height of her fame, she was quite upset when these films were repeatedly reissued to cash in on her popularity. Her opinion of Ince may have been influenced at the time by Moore’s dislike of him. Later Miss Pickford and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks, became close friends with Ince and were mourners at his funeral.

On the expiration of the Laemmle contract Miss Pickford worked briefly, for $225 a week, at Majestic Pictures, a new company that was under-financed and torn by internal dissension. George Loane Tucker, a promising young actor and director at IMP, was hired away by Majestic to direct her in The Courting of Mary (’11), and Owen Moore, at Miss Pickford’s insistence, was later given the opportunity of directing several of her other Majestic films. Moore was drinking heavily, was abusive and sarcastic on the set, and was openly resentful of Miss Pickford’s growing popularity. He soon resumed acting.

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