The Art of Mary Pickford (1925) 🇬🇧

February 17, 2024

Then you think of her as a pioneer, a captain of the film industry, a glorious tradition, a kind of glittering figure-head of legend. And then you come back and think of her as just Mary again.

by E. R. Thompson

You remember her films, one after the other, in a long, happy series, “The Foundling,” “Little Pal,” “Poor Little Peppina,” Daddy-Long-Legs, “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Dorothy Vernon” and all the rest of them. You look right back into the years and see her pictures there still. But you do not remember her parts in them, you may not even remember the names of them, you certainly do not remember the acting in them; you remember — just Mary.

She is the thing that matters, the abiding thing; her art, if you think of it at all, is an afterthought.

Yet that art which has brought Mary Pickford through the years, through the childhood and struggling immaturity of the kinema, made a legend of her, kept her simple and unspoilt, is a very delicate and wonderful thing.

It is all the more delicate and wonderful because it is forgotten. To have a world know her and care for her as, not a great artist, not a great tragedienne but “just Mary” is a triumph of art. Only the true artist can hide his art so completely.

For years the name of Mary Pickford has been a household word in two continents. To men and women of every class, every occupation, every rank of life, she has stood for something real and beautiful. Before her coming the kinema was a cheapjack thing. She was one of the first to bring nobility into it; quite the first to send it out to revolutionise the world. This little girl from Canada was the screen’s real prophet. And unlike most prophets she had honour, in her own and every other country.

Chaplin  [Charles Chaplin] and Mary Pickford are the only stars there have ever been whose appeal is universal — to all ages, all classes, all nations. There were pictures of Mary in many a French dug-out during the war. There are pictures of Mary in many a typist’s office. There are pictures of Mary in some of the best houses in England.

And the greatest dramatic actress the world has ever known, Eleanor Duse, on her last American tour, gave the tribute of the cosmopolitan stage to this star of the motion picture screen. “I will not go to California,” she said, “unless you can promise me that I shall see little Mary Pickford.”

What is the secret of this universal appeal?

Mary Pickford is no actress.

She cannot be considered in the same breath with Pauline Frederick, Pola Negri, and Nazimova [Alla Nazimova]. Even the dramatic powers of a Norma Talmadge or a modern Gloria Swanson dwarf hers into insignificance. The nearest she ever came to fine acting was as the dun, gentle Dearest in Little Lord Fauntleroy. But she will be remembered with affection when all these others will have been forgotten. Why?

For a very simple reason.

Because, remembering her, every man Jack and woman Jill will be remembering, unconsciously, a little bit of himself.

“The secret of the art of Mary Pickford lies in the response which she evokes from the people who watch her. By endless work and skilled technique she has freed herself from every scrap of artifice, of obvious effort, that might come between her thought and the receiving thought of the audience.

And then, having established a clear connection, as it were, she proceeds to play upon all the chords of memory and dream. Her appeal is individual, intimate. She has in her a little of every man’s mother, a little of every woman’s child. She stands for happy things past and happy things to come; for a hundred freaks of school-days, a hundred hopes of homes and firesides in the years ahead.

There is no one like Mary for making you smile and swallow down something foolish in your throat, glad of the darkness round. There is no one like Mary for rousing the chivalry in you. But it is your own memory that really makes you smile, the pathos of your own thought that touches you.

There are stars who perfect and use their art to put the characters of others before you on the screen. There are stars who perfect and use their art to put their own characters before you on the screen. Mary Pickford alone has perfected and used her art to put you before yourself on the screen. And that is why her appeal is world-wide.

The Art of Mary Pickford (1925) |

Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, September 1925


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