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George Pratt Cinema Oral Histories (1958)

In 1958, George Pratt (1914–1988), a film historian and assistant curator of film at the George Eastman Museum, began interviewing many of the celebrated Hollywood stars and directors whom he met at the museum’s Festival of Film Artists ceremonies (later called the George Eastman Award). These contacts led to further interviews with some of the biggest names in early Hollywood. Among his subjects were the famous silent-era comedians Harold Lloyd (1893–1971) and Buster Keaton (1895–1966); legendary silent stars including Mary Pickford (1892–1979), Gloria Swanson (1899–1983), and Lillian Gish (1893–1993); and the groundbreaking directors Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959), Rex Ingram (1892–1950), and Frank Borzage (1894–1962). These oral histories offer intimate details of filmmaking during cinema’s earliest decades, as well as a rare opportunity to hear the voices of many silent-era stars whose careers peaked before the sound era.

Gilbert Anderson +

Gilbert Anderson

Biography

Born: 1880, Little Rock, AR, USA
Died: 1971, Pasadena, CA, USA

Born Maxwell Henry Aronson, Gilbert M. Anderson was an actor, director, writer, and producer. He is widely recognized as the first motion picture cowboy hero, starring in hundreds of westerns throughout his career, many of which he wrote, produced, and directed himself. Lesser known is his key role as co-founder of the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, one of early cinema’s most important motion picture studios.

At the age of eighteen, Anderson relocated to New York City, where he worked as a newspaper vendor and photographer’s model while pursuing a career as a stage performer. In 1903, Anderson met Edwin S. Porter, head of motion picture production for the Edison Manufacturing Company’s New York studios. Porter cast Anderson in the groundbreaking adventure short The Great Train Robbery (1903), in which he played several roles. The success of Porter’s film convinced Anderson that his future lay in the burgeoning motion picture industry. After appearing in several additional films for Edison, Anderson moved to the Vitagraph Company of America, where he directed his first short, Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (1905). Relocating to Chicago, Anderson wrote and directed several films for the Selig Polyscope Company before co-founding the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company with inventor and filmmaker George Kirke Spoor in 1907.

While Spoor remained in Chicago to deal with the business side of the company, Anderson traveled, writing and directing hundreds of films on location in Colorado, Texas, and California. Among the most popular of Essanay’s shorts were the western adventures starring Anderson himself, now billed as “Broncho Billy,” cinema’s first cowboy star. Anderson’s involvement with Essanay came to an end in 1916, one year after a 1915 US Supreme Court decision upended the Motion Picture Patents Company, of which Essany was a member. Anderson produced several stage plays in New York City before returning to film as a director and independent producer. By 1924, after producing a series of films featuring the English comic actor Stan Laurel—including Laurel’s first appearance with Oliver Hardy in The Lucky Dog (1921)—Anderson once again retired from motion pictures.

A significant figure in cinema history, Anderson fell into obscurity until 1957, when he was awarded an honorary Oscar as “a motion picture pioneer, for his contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment.”

Leo Carrillo +

Leo Carrillo

Biography

Born: 1880, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Died: 1961, Santa Monica, CA, USA

Stage and film actor Leo Carrillo is today best remembered for his role as Pancho, Duncan Renaldo’s sidekick in the popular western television series The Cisco Kid (1950–56). Carrillo was also a political cartoonist and a committed conservationist for whom the Leo Carrillo State Park in Los Angeles County is named.

Born into a prominent Los Angeles-area family whose roots stretch back to the colonization of the California territory by the Spanish, Carrillo studied at St. Vincent’s College (later Loyola Marymount University) before briefly working for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late 1890s. Pursuing a career as an artist, Carrillo moved to San Francisco where he worked as an illustrator at the San Francisco Examiner. An adept mimic with an ear for languages and dialect, Carrillo appeared in amateur stage productions before graduating to vaudeville and touring the Orpheum Circuit. Carrillo eventually made his way to New York City, where he appeared in the 1915 revue Fads and Fancies. In 1916, producer Oliver Morosco cast Carrillo in the play Upstairs and Down, and in 1917, he appeared as the lead in the popular comedy Lombardi, Ltd., which ran for two straight years.

Carrillo continued to alternate vaudeville engagements with Broadway productions well into the 1920s. He made his transition to motion pictures just as the industry was making its transition to sound. Carrillo’s filmography begins in 1927 with a series of Vitaphone Varieties, short films which drew heavily on vocally trained New York City stage talent to exploit Warner Bros.’ revolutionary Vitaphone sound system. Carrillo went on to appear in dozens of films for a variety of studios before first appearing as Pancho in the 1949 film The Daring Caballero at the age of 68. Carrillo would appear in five additional Cisco Kid films before co-starring in the 1950s television series.

Though essentially retired from film and television after the series ended, Carrillo remained an active advocate for preservation and conservation until his death from cancer in 1961. He was married to Edith Shakespeare Haeselbarth from 1913 until her death in 1953.

Lillian Gish +

Lillian Gish

Biography

Born: 1893, Springfield, OH, USA
Died: 1993, New York, NY, USA

One of American cinema’s earliest bona fide film stars, Lillian Gish first acted on stage as a child in 1902, at the Little Red School House in Rising Sun, Ohio. From 1903 through 1904, she toured in Her First False Step with her mother, the stage actress Mary Robinson McConnell Gish, and her younger sister, Dorothy, who would also achieve renown as a movie star. In 1912, Gish made her film debut in the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company’s An Unseen Enemy, directed by D. W. Griffith. Gish starred in an additional eleven films by Griffith that year, and went on to appear in productions by the Majestic Motion Picture Co., often under the direction of Christy Cabbane. In 1915, Lillian and Dorothy Gish costarred in D. W. Griffith’s epic—and controversial—The Birth of a Nation. Though condemned for its inflammatory racist content, the film was one of the most popular motion pictures of the era, and Lillian continued to work with Griffith in Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1921). After making two films with director Henry King for Inspiration Pictures in 1923 (The White Sister) and 1925 (Romola), Gish joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). At MGM, she was granted nearly complete creative control over her films, which included La Bohème (1926), The Scarlet Letter (1926), and The Wind (1928).

Gish left MGM in 1928 after a perceived decline in her popularity. During the 1930s, she appeared in very few films, preferring to focus on her career in theatre. Gish returned to the screen in 1942, and in 1947 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Duel in the Sun (1946). Other noteworthy supporting roles during this period include Portrait of Jennie (1948) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). Gish continued to act in films and made a number of television appearances well into the 1980s, and she appeared in her final film, The Whales of August, in 1987. Gish received a special honorary Academy Award in 1971, a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute in 1984, and was twice the recipient of the Festival of Film Artists award (now the George Eastman Award), in 1955 and 1957.

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James Wong Howe +

James Wong Howe

Biography

Born: 1899, Taishan, Guangdong, China
Died: 1976, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Born Wong Tung Jim in the Guangdong province of China, James Wong Howe was a cinematographer whose career spanned nearly sixty years and included over 130 films. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers in American film history. Wong emigrated to the United States at the age of five and grew up in Pasco, Washington, then Oregon, where as a teenager he briefly considered a career as a boxer. In 1916, Wong relocated to California, first to San Francisco, then, in 1917, to Los Angeles, where he worked a series of menial jobs, including delivery boy for commercial photographer Raymond Stagg. Howe was eventually hired by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, where he was put to work collecting the scraps of film stock that accumulated on the camera room floor before assisting cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff as a slate holder. The amusing sight of young Howe, cigar in mouth, slate in hand, soon attracted the attention of director Cecil B. DeMille, who took him on as a member of his permanent staff. From 1917 to 1922, in addition to assisting Wyckoff and fellow cinematographer Henry Kotani, Howe also worked as a second cameraman, operating an additional camera alongside the head cameraman in order to produce an second negative for foreign distribution.

At the time, Howe supplemented his income by taking publicity stills for Hollywood actors. In 1922, while photographing actress Mary Miles Minter, Howe devised a method that enabled her pale-blue eyes to register on orthochromatic film. This technical feat earned Howe recognition throughout the studio, and with Minter’s support, he soon graduated to head cameraman. With a reputation for innovative lighting techniques and creative camerawork, Howe became a much sought-after cinematographer.

In 1928, Howe traveled to China to shoot documentary footage for what he hoped would be his directorial debut. The film was never completed, and when Howe eventually returned to Hollywood, he found the industry radically changed by the advent of sound motion pictures. Howe attempted to reestablish himself by shooting the Japanese-language film Chijiku wo mawasuru chikara (1930), the first feature film to depict the lives of second-generation Japanese immigrants in the United States. (Howe also co-directed and co-produced.) But it would be Howe’s work on Howard Hawks’s The Criminal Code (1931) for Columbia Pictures, and William K. Howard’s Transatlantic (also 1931) for the Fox Film Corporation, which would reestablish Howe’s reputation as one of the motion picture industry’s preeminent cinematographers. In high demand once again, in 1933 Howe moved from Fox to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, then signed to Warner Bros. in 1938. Howe shot 26 films for the studio, and earned five Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography.

When his contract with Warner Bros. expired in 1948, Wong returned to China, this time to film an adaptation of the Chinese novel Rickshaw Boy. Political unrest made the production too risky and it was ultimately canceled, though some of Howe’s footage would surface in The Rickshaw Boy, a 1981 documentary by his protégé, Peter Yung. Howe returned from China to once again find his career derailed: In 1947, he had been named as a communist sympathizer during a hearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and was now effectively “graylisted.” After shooting Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House for RKO in 1948, Howe had trouble finding work until 1950, when he was hired by director Samuel Fuller to film the Vincent Price western The Baron of Arizona.

In 1954, Howe directed his first English-language feature, Go Man Go, a sports biography starring Dane Clark and Sidney Poitier, and featuring the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1958, Republic Pictures released The Invisible Avenger, a compilation of episodes from a never-aired television series based on the popular radio show The Shadow, one of which had been directed by Howe. Howe won his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1956 for The Rose Tattoo and his second in 1963 for Hud. In 1957 Howe was among the recipients of the George Eastman Museum's Festival of Film Artists award (now the George Eastman Award) given in recognition of his contribution to the art of film. During the 1960s, in addition to working on such striking films as Seconds (1966) and Hombre (1967), Howe taught cinematography at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. He finished his final film, Funny Lady starring Barbara Streisand, in 1975.

Despite his enormous contribution to the American motion picture industry, Howe could not become a US citizen until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed 1943. Anti-miscegenation laws also prevented legal recognition of Howe’s marriage to author, poet, and journalist Sanora Babb, whom he wed in Paris in 1937 (morals clauses in Howe’s studio contracts also prevented the couple from living together). The marriage was finally recognized in 1948, when the laws were declared unconstitutional in the State of California and overturned.

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Buster Keaton +

Buster Keaton

 

Biography

Born: 1895, Piqua, KS, USA
Died: 1966, Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Buster Keaton, born Joseph Frank Keaton, is best known as a silent film comedian whose deadpan expression earned him the nickname the “Great Stone Face.” In addition to acting, he was a director, producer, and screenwriter. Keaton began performing on stage at the age of three with his parents, who were comedians in medicine shows and vaudeville. Billed as the Three Keatons, the act involved physical, knockabout comedy and daring acrobatics which were often elaborate and dangerous, earning them nationwide popularity on the vaudeville circuit. Keaton remained with the family act until he was 21, when he relocated to New York City.

Eager to leave vaudeville, Keaton was soon hired by Broadway impresarios Lee and Jacob J. Shubert to perform a solo act in their theatrical revue, The Passing Show of 1917. However, Keaton’s chance meeting with the hugely popular film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle quickly led to an invitation to visit Arbuckle’s Comique Film Corporation at producer Joseph Schenck’s film studios on East 48th Street. (In addition to Arbuckle’s Comique Film Corporation, Schenck’s multilevel complex also housed the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation and the Constance Talmadge Film Corporation. It was here Keaton met the third Talmadge sister, Natalie, whom he would marry four years later.) There, Keaton made his motion picture debut in Arbuckle’s 1917 slapstick short The Butcher Boy. Later that year Arbuckle and Keaton relocated the Comique unit to Long Beach, California, where they continued to make popular shorts.

In 1922, after Arbuckle’s career as a star comedian abruptly ended in the wake of a highly publicized scandal involving the death of actress Virginia Rappe, the Comique was renamed Buster Keaton Productions. Though the production unit was still owned by Joseph Schenck, Keaton was given complete creative control over his films. He soon transitioned away from the short-film format and began writing, directing, producing, and starring in feature-length films. Between 1923 and 1928, Keaton released on average two feature films per year, beginning with Three Ages in 1923, and including The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), and The General (1926).

In 1928, Keaton’s contract with Joseph Schenck was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Though his films with MGM remained commercially successful, Keaton struggled with a loss of creative control, and alcoholism and turmoil in his personal life soon took their toll. In 1932, Keaton’s nine-year marriage to Natalie Talmadge ended in divorce, and he was fired from MGM the following year.

Despite these setbacks, Keaton continued to work fairly steadily. He spent a number of years recovering from alcoholism and worked hard to rebuild his career. Throughout the 1930s, Keaton acted in several short comedies for Educational Pictures and, later, Columbia Pictures, and he returned to MGM as a gag writer. During the 1940s, he performed in feature-length films of variable quality and budgets, often in supporting character roles. By the end of the decade, however, his perseverance and hard work began to pay off: Keaton started appearing in more prestigious productions, such as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and he made self-referential cameos in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Charles Chaplin’s Limelight (1952). Keaton was also in numerous television programs, commercials, industrial films, stage productions, and even an Italian circus.

Keaton continued to regularly appear in films and on television throughout the 1960s, as a new generation of critics and audiences, attuned to his unique brand of deadpan, existential comedy, rediscovered his earlier silent work. In 1955, Keaton was among the first honorees to receive the George Eastman Award. Keaton received an honorary Academy Award in 1959, and in 1960 published his autobiography My Wonderful World of Slapstick.

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Frank Lloyd +

Frank Lloyd

Biography

Born: 1886, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Died: 1960, Santa Monica, CA, USA

Director, producer, screenwriter, and actor Frank Lloyd began his career as a singer and stage actor in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s, but relocated to Canada in 1909. There, Lloyd worked as a construction engineer and a member of a traveling theatrical troupe. While performing in Los Angeles, Lloyd was invited to visit a movie studio. Impressed, he quit the troupe and embarked on a career in motion pictures. Lloyd settled in Hollywood in 1913 and was given a two-year acting contract at Universal Studios. Lloyd’s interests soon turned to writing and directing. Between 1917 and 1919, he directed numerous films for the Fox Film Corporation, including an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities in 1917, before moving to Goldwyn Pictures for the Bolshevik-revolution romance The World and Its Woman (1919). In 1922, Lloyd left Goldwyn for First National (which became part of Warner Bros. in 1928), where he remained until 1931, though during this period he also directed several films for Paramount, including Children of Divorce (1927) starring Clara Bow. While at First National, Lloyd specialized in period dramas, including The Divine Lady (1929), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director.

During the early 1930s, Lloyd briefly returned to Fox where he found critical and commercial success directing Cavalcade (1933), for which he won a second Academy Award, and the time-travel fantasy Berkeley Square (1933). In 1935, Lloyd worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directing Mutiny on the Bounty, which won the Best Picture Oscar for 1935 and is widely considered his finest film. Lloyd continued to work throughout the 1930s and early 1940s at Paramount and Columbia Pictures before serving in the 13th Air Force Combat Camera Unit during World War II. Following the war, he retired from motion pictures until 1955 when he made his final film, The Last Command.

Lloyd was one of the co-founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and served as its president from 1934 to 1935. In 1957, Lloyd received an award at the George Eastman Museum’s second Festival of Film Artists (now the George Eastman Award) for his contribution to the art of film.

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Hal Mohr +

Hal Mohr

Biography

Born: 1894, San Francisco, CA, USA
Died: 1974, Santa Monica, CA, USA

Harold Leon Mohr was a pioneering cinematographer whose career began in the earliest years of the Hollywood studio system and continued well into the television era. Mohr became interested in cinematography at a young age and learned the technical skills of photography while employed as a photofinisher for portrait photographer Otto Boyer. As a teenager, Mohr constructed his own camera with which to shoot local events, including the 1911 groundbreaking ceremony for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Other early motion-picture projects included the 1913 short The Last Night at the Barbary Coast, directed by his friend and future Hollywood producer Sol Lesser. At the age of nineteen, Mohr wrote, directed, filmed, edited his first film, Pan’s Mountain (1914), under his own short-lived production company Italia America Films, though the film was never released. (In a 1954 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Mohr claimed it was the first US film to feature a camera mounted on a moving dolly.)

Mohr’s Hollywood career began in 1915 at the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, where he worked as a film cutter before graduating to assistant director. In 1917, Mohr filmed the Harold Lloyd short The Big Idea for Hal Roach’s Rolin Film Company, before leaving to serve in the photography section of the US Army during the First World War. Following the war, Mohr remained in Paris for a year, familiarizing himself with European cinematographic techniques. Returning to the US in 1919, Mohr worked for a number of smaller production companies, including the American Lifeograph Company of Portland, Oregon, before serving as cinematographer for such major studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., and Paramount Pictures. Notably, Mohr was the director of photography on Warner’s The Jazz Singer (1927), the first film to feature synchronized music and speech.

In the late 1920s, Mohr worked with such émigré directors as Michael Curtiz and Paul Leni, and through them, helped introduce European-style Expressionism to American film. Mohr was among the first cinematographers to explore the full potential of deep-focus photography in such films as Bullets for Ballots (1936) and The Green Pastures (1937). Mohr won his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1936 for A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), becoming the first and only Oscar recipient to ever win on a write-in vote. In 1944, he won a second Oscar for his work on Phantom of the Opera (1943). Shortly after filming Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), Mohr transitioned to television, filming such television programs as I Married Joan (1952–55), Life with Father (1953–55), and The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1960–61). Mohr would eventually return to feature filmmaking, working with such maverick directors as Don Siegel and Samuel Fuller in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In addition to serving as head of the Cinematographers Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for over twenty years, Mohr was a three-time president of the American Society of Cinematographers (1930–31, 1963–65, and 1969–70). In 1957, Mohr was a recipient of the George Eastman Museum’s Festival of Film Artists award (now the George Eastman Award) for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Mohr was married three times, first to Winifred Ursula Aileen Gocher (m. 1920–25), then to actresses Claire Delmar (m. 1926–29) and Evelyn Venable (m. 1934–74).

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Ramon Novarro +

Ramon Novarro

Biography

Born: 1899, Durango City, Durango, Mexico
Died: 1968, North Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Ramon Novarro was a motion picture, stage, and television actor who rose to fame as a leading man during the 1920s and 1930s. Like Rudolph Valentino, Novarro was promoted as a “Latin Lover” and sex symbol by Hollywood studios. Born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico, Novarro and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1913 to escape the Mexican Revolution. After working a series of odd jobs, Novarro began appearing in motion pictures in 1917 as an extra and bit player. His first really noticeable role came in 1921 when he appeared as a dancer in A Small Town Idol. In 1922, director Rex Ingram—whose Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) had recently catapulted Valentino to superstardom—cast Novarro in a key supporting role in The Prisoner of Zenda. Novarro continued to work with Ingram on four additional films, including Scaramouche (1923), in which he appeared in a starring role. Following the release of Scaramouche, Novarro became increasingly popular. His most memorable role was as the title character in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). Novarro continued to find success as a leading man throughout the late 1920s, acting in several films including Ernst Lubitsch’s The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and Across to Singapore (1928).

Novarro transitioned to sound films during the early 1930s, including a number of musicals, and he appeared alongside Greta Garbo in the successful Mata Hari (1931). With his popularity waning, he left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1935. He continued to act in films and on television, typically in small roles or cameos, through the 1960s, earning a living off his real estate investments. In 1968, Novarro was murdered in his home during a failed robbery.

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Roy and Marjorie Overbaugh +

Roy and Marjorie Overbaugh

Biography

Roy Overbaugh
Born: 1882, Chicago, IL, USA
Died: 1966, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Marjorie (Greenwell) Overbaugh
Born: 1894, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Died: 1989, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Roy Overbaugh was a cinematographer best known for his work on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and The White Sister (1923). Following an early interest in photography, Overbaugh began working in motion pictures in 1910 at Chicago’s American Film Manufacturing Company, popularly referred to as “the Flying A.” In 1911, Overbaugh followed the Flying A’s newly formed western unit to California. Headed by director Allan Dwan, the unit settled first in San Juan Capistrano, then La Mesa, before moving in 1912 to what would become its permanent location in Santa Barbara. That year, Overbaugh was promoted from camera assistant to cameraman. Overbaugh went on to work for several other studios, including the Triangle Film Corporation, Fox Film, and the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation, for which Overbaugh shot its first production, Panthea (1917). In 1919, Overbaugh filmed Erstwhile Susan for Realart Films under director John S. Robertson, with whom Overbaugh would become closely associated.

In 1920 alone, Overbaugh shot four films for Robertson, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Throughout the decade, Overbaugh would continue working with Robertson, both in the United States and England, where he would also shoot films for Herbert Wilcox (Nell Gwynn, 1926) and Graham Cutts (Confetti, 1927). Overbaugh would also shoot a number of noteworthy films for director Henry King, including The White Sister, which was shot on location in Italy.

During the early 1930s, Overbaugh worked on several sound films, including Tod Browning’s Outside the Law (1930), but by 1934, he began having difficulty finding work and largely retired from motion pictures.

Roy Overbaugh met his wife, Marjorie Greenwell, on set at the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara, and they married in 1916. Greenwell was an extra, stand-in, and stunt person; a skilled swimmer, she was often hired to do water stunt work for the studio. Though listed as a cast member of the 1915 Flying A film Wife Wanted, most of her credits are undocumented. Following Roy’s retirement, the Overbaughs left Los Angeles and settled permanently in Santa Barbara.

Mary Pickford +

Mary Pickford

Biography

Born: 1892, Toronto, ON, Canada
Died: 1979, Santa Monica, CA, USA

Mary Pickford was a hugely successful actor and producer whose wide-eyed, golden-curled screen persona earned her the sobriquet “America’s sweetheart,” but also belied her central role as one of early Hollywood’s most important figures. She was one of the industry’s first bona fide stars, appearing in nearly sixty feature films and over a hundred shorts, and she quickly gained unprecedented control behind the camera as well. At the peak of her career, Pickford ranked among the richest and most famous women in the world.

Born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Canada, Pickford began performing on stage at the age of seven, two years after her father’s accidental death left her family in financial straits. She soon joined a Toronto stock theatre company, and her mother and two siblings also took up acting. Together they toured the US, often performing in lower-tier productions with second-rate companies. In 1907, Gladys was hired by Broadway producer David Belasco, who suggested she change her name to “Mary Pickford,” and cast her in a supporting role in the play The Warrens of Virginia.

In 1909, Pickford also began appearing in motion picture shorts as an extra for the American Biograph Company under director D. W. Griffith. That year, she acted in over forty Biograph shorts, including Griffith’s The Violin Maker of Cremona, the first to feature Pickford in a starring role. The film co-starred Owen Moore, a Biograph regular whom Pickford would secretly marry in 1911. Though actors were not credited either on-screen or in advertisements, audiences quickly came to recognize Pickford, and Biograph began promoting her as the films’ main attraction, dubbing her “the girl with the golden curls” and capitalizing on her popularity.

After a brief departure from the studio between 1910 and 1912, Pickford left Biograph for good in 1913. Now working exclusively in motion pictures, Pickford joined Adolph Zukor’s new Famous Players Company, where she appeared in her first feature-length film, A Good Little Devil (filmed in 1913; released in 1914). Pickford’s popularity grew greater with each release, and by 1916 her international fame was surpassed only by that of Charles Chaplin. Pickford helped establish Zukor as a major Hollywood producer, and her unprecedented contract—and salary—with Famous Players granted her full authority over the films in which she starred. In 1916, she founded and served as vice president of her own production unit, the Pickford Film Corporation.

Pickford joined First National Exhibitor’s Circuit in 1918, and, a year later, founded United Artists with Griffith, Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks, whom she married in 1920, less than a month after obtaining a divorce from Moore. Under United Artists, Pickford formed the Mary Pickford Company, an arrangement that allowed her to produce and distribute her own films, including Pollyanna (1920) and Rosita (1923), both of which grossed over one million dollars each. In 1929, she appeared in her first sound film, Coquette, which won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Despite her success with Coquette, her popularity began to wane as the sound era progressed. She acted in her final film, Secrets, in 1933, after which she concentrated on writing and producing, as well as serving as vice president of United Artists. Pickford and Fairbanks divorced in 1936, and a year later, Pickford married actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers.

Later in life, Pickford focused on her business ventures and charitable activities, eventually withdrawing to Pickfair, her private estate. In 1955, she published her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow, and received from the George Eastman Museum a Festival of Film Artists award (now the George Eastman Award). A co-founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927, Pickford received an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to film in 1976. In 1979, Pickford died of complications following a stroke.

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Alice Terry +

Alice Terry

Biography

Born: 1900, Vincennes, IN, USA
Died: 1987, Burbank, CA, USA

Born Alice Frances Taafe, Alice Terry began her career in motion pictures at the age of 15, when, in order to help support her family, she was hired as an extra by producer-director Thomas Ince in 1916. Later that year, Terry, credited as “Alice Taafe,” graduated to a supporting role in Ince’s Not My Sister, directed by Charles Giblyn and starring William Desmond Taylor. Terry returned to working as an extra for a variety of studios, including Vitagraph and Famous Players-Lasky; in 1917, she appeared in First National’s Alimony, alongside another uncredited extra, Rudolph Valentino. Discouraged, insecure, and ambivalent about acting, Terry took a job in the editing room at Famous Players-Lasky, until her sensitivity to the splicing-cement fumes forced her back in front of the camera. In 1919, Terry was hired as an extra in Universal Pictures’ The Day She Paid, directed by Rex Ingram, whom Terry had first met in 1917. Ingram again cast Terry as an extra in Metro Pictures’ Shore Acres (1920), but a lead late that year in Ingram’s Hearts Are Trumps would transform both Terry’s career and her persona. For her first starring role, Ingram convinced her to wear the platinum blond wig that would become her trademark.

Terry’s marriage to Ingram in 1921 coincided with her rise to fame as leading lady in his films The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), and Scaramouche (1923). Though considered Ingram’s protégé, Terry was not directed exclusively by her husband; throughout the 1920s, she appeared in films by Henry King, Victor Sjöström, and Reginald Barker. In 1924, Ingram and Terry moved to France and established a studio in Nice, where Ingram could have greater artistic control of his films. Ingram and Terry would make their last six films abroad, including The Magician (1926), The Garden of Allah (1927), and The Three Passions (1928).

Though Terry continued to act in Ingram’s films, in the late 1920s she began working more frequently behind the scenes as an editor and director, often filling in for Ingram when he was unable to work. In 1933, Terry was credited as co-director on Ingram’s final film, Baroud. She and Ingram retired from filmmaking following its release. By 1935, Terry and Ingram were once again living in California, where Ingram died in 1950. Alice Terry died in Burbank in 1987.