Movie Star – A Look at the Women Who Made Hollywood – By Ethan Mordden (1983) PDF

Little Mary Pickford’s fans didn’t want Shakespeare in the first place, and they must have been thinking, Who needs this? Where’s our righter of wrongs? Where’s our comic? This is what went wrong with Little Mary’s four sound films: the contemporary Mary is not what her following wanted, and the few moments of the old fighting, comic Mary are wrong for the 1930s. And the oddest thing of all is: she knew this.

Mary Pickford

It’s the characters that mark the major changes, changes that were under way throughout the 1920s, when Little Mary was still the biggest thing in cinema and when Gish, through the presentation of her commitment, could play nun and harlot, then Renaissance dame and industrial-age slavey, and make us accept them all as variants on one all-basic vision of womanly wisdom and beauty and balance. Virtually behind their backs, movies turned around, as the culture did.

Gish went back to the stage, but Pickford stayed put at Pickfair. Her marriage to Fairbanks was ailing; from The Taming of the Shrew on, their ability to tolerate each other’s incompatible qualities was blunted, and at length Fairbanks’ affair with Lady Sylvia Ashley, much touted in the press, made reconciliation impossible. Pickford divorced Fairbanks and married Buddy Rogers, her co-star in My Best Girl and, all things considered, a better consort for America’s Sweetheart than Fairbanks. Rogers was America’s Boyfriend, Fairbanks America’s Big Man on Campus, his ego constantly chafing against the wide reaches of his girl’s celebrity. Mary and Buddy remained active in Hollywood doings, and in the mid- 1930s she proposed to try a radio show, Parties at Pickfair, in a variety format like that of Louella Parsons’ Hollywood Hotel. But Parsons discouraged great stars from appearing, and such was her power that this in effect canceled Pickford’s show. That was the new Hollywood: jackals owned it. No wonder Little Mary ended up a bedridden recluse sipping gin. Griffith, too, drank his wretched life away. But Gish, the most formidable of actresses, stayed so busy and vital that eventually Hollywood needed her all over again.

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A Good Little Devil – 1913

A Good Little Devil – 1913

A Good Little Devil – 1913
Theatre Republic, (1/08/1913 – circa. 5/1913)
Opening Date: Jan 08, 1913
Closing Date: May 1913
Total Performances: 133
Produced by David Belasco
Written by Rosemonde Gerard and Maurice Rostand; Book adapted by Austin Strong
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  • Cast:
    Mary Pickford – Juliet
    Ernest Truex – Charles MacLance
    Augusta Anderson – Lady Molineaux
    Wilda Bennett – Queen Mab
    Raymond J. Bloomer – Hon. Percy Cusack Smith
    Claire Burke – Titania
    Charles Castner – John
    Dennis Cleugh – The Solicitor from London
    Edward Connelly – Old Nick, Sr.
    Edward Dolly – Sandy
    Louis Esposit – Jock
    Amy Fitzpatrick – Miss Letterblair
    Georgia Mae Fursman – Thought-From-Afar
    Gerard Gardner – Wally
    Etienne Girardot – Old Nick, Jr.
    Lillian Gish – Morganie
    Laura Grant – Marion
    Edna Griffin – Viviane
    Arthur Hill – Rab the dog
    Edna M. Holland – Lady Ralston
    Ernest Lawford – A Poet
    Iva Merlin – Betsy
    Harold Meyer Neil
In 1914 was released a silent film starring Mary Pickford (her first feature-length film), produced by Adolph Zukor and Daniel Frohman, and distributed on a ‘State’s Rights’ basis. This film is essentially lost, with only one of the five reels surviving.

They went to New York, presently, took rooms and set out to find a theatrical engagement. Their hearts were set on Belasco. They knew that William J. Dean—the same who, ten years earlier, had rehearsed little Dot so strenuously—was associated with Belasco. Dean was their white hope. They found him at the Belasco Theatre. He remembered them . . . who wouldn’t?

He took them into Mr. Belasco’s private office—a weird place, full of statuary, all in white summer dress—introduced them, and left them there.

Lillian and Dorothy were distinctly frightened. Each tried to propel the other in the direction of the great man. Belasco himself used to tell how each in turn got behind, to push the other forward, until they had backed halfway across the room. When the interview finally began, he told them he was putting on a fairy play, called “The Good Little Devil,” and that Mary Pickford and Ernest Truex were engaged for the leading roles. Neither name was familiar to them.

Gladys Smith had become “Mary Pickford” the winter before, but they had lost sight of all the Smith family. Belasco said further that he needed one more fairy, and that he would engage Lillian for the part. It was a small part, but the best he had.

Lillian was delighted, Dorothy disappointed but not discouraged. They visited other managers, and some agencies. They decided to look up Gladys Smith, to see what could be done in that direction. Sure enough, the telephone book had it: “Biograph Co., n E. 14th St.”

“Hello, hello! Is this the Biograph Company?”

“That’s right. What’s wanted?”

“We’d like to speak to one of your actresses, Gladys

Smith.”

“Sorry—no such person here.”

“But we saw her in a picture of yours, in Baltimore.”

“What picture?”

” ‘Lena and the Geese.’

“Oh, that was Mary Pickford.”

“Oh—oh, all right—can she come to the telephone?”

So that was who she was—Gladys … so much the better. Gladys, who was now Mary, came to the telephone, and after a brief period of wild greetings and inquiries, arranged to have them come to the studio. (Life and Lillian Gish – Albert Bigelow Paine 1932)

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On January 8, 1913, A Good Little Devil had its first night at New York’s Republic Theatre and was favorably received by critics and audiences. The New York Times gave the play a rave, praising its mixture of the real and the fantastic. The reviewer had special praise for the “beautiful picture child” Mary Pickford, whose “diction is so good that it suggests the ‘movies’ as a desirable place for some of our actors to improve their elocution.” This was rare praise indeed from a critical establishment still laboring under strong prejudice against the movies. Lillian Gish was mentioned merely as part of the “alluring group of fairy maidens.” Mary Pickford, already famous for her work in films, was featured in all the reviews and articles, often with the beguiling photograph of the “beautiful picture child.” Maybe the movies were not so demeaning after all, particularly when compared to the lowly status of a fairy maiden in Belasco’ s company. Lillian decided to put on a play of her own for Belasco. She pretended to be ill. Her alarmed producer, perhaps fearing a lawsuit over her fall to the stage, was willing to send Lillian to Florida to recuperate but opted for California instead when he learned that she had an offer from Griffith. Lillian often recited the story of her weakened condition, brought about by excessive economizing on food so that she could share more of her salary with Dorothy and her mother—the principal reason for her defection from Belasco and A Good Little Devil, she confessed to Nell. Written early in the morning of the very day of her Broadway opening, this letter captures the mixture of idealism, practicality, and ambition that is at the core of Lillian’s character.

… (it is now 3:30 in the morning of Wednesday) and I have just returned from a dress rehearsal. We open tonight and every thing has to be just so; we rehearsed until 4:30 yesterday morning. Nell, I don’t know how to thank you for what you have offered me. You both can’t know how wonderful it is to have someone offer me a home and how I would like to follow the desire of my heart and come to you but I can’t big brother and sister I can’t, because I have to make my way in this world from now on, and also help mother and Dorothy. Mother has worked all her life, surely it is my turn now. I feel that I have had a very good start in “this life of sham” because I have started with the best, Belasco, and he has been lovely to me. But as I am offered more money with the Biograph and the three of us can be together I think it is better for me to play sick here and go out there, now don’t you think so? You must understand how I feel, tell me, don’t you know Nell? The picture you painted for me in your letter tonight made me cry because I was reading it in my dressing room and I happened to glance up at a mirror and there I sat, all false, with paint and cosmetics covering my face and it came to me what a distance it was from my life to yours. You both have the real—true happiness of life—may God bless you with the hearts to appreciate it.

Lillian was torn by conflicting desires and responsibilities: lonely for her mother and sister, perhaps not feeling her best, exhausted by the tour and the rehearsals, unhappy with her small role in the play. Somewhat melodramatically, she begged Nell’s approval of her decision to play sick in order to be released by Belasco. Twenty years later she was still embarrassed by the ruse. Although much of the letter was cited in the Paine biography, the parts about “more money with the Biograph” and shamming illness were deleted.

— Charles Affron — (Lillian Gish, Her Legend, Her Life)

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