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America's Canadian Sweetheart

For the week of Monday, September 11, 2017

On September 11, 1921, the film Little Lord Fauntleroy, starring Mary Pickford (née Gladys Louise Smith) was released. Clever camera angles and double exposures let her play both Lord Fauntleroy and his mother! Pickford was one of the film industry’s first international celebrities and appeared in more than 50 feature films.

Mary Pickford was a pioneer in all aspects of film-making. She popularized the close-up and developed more natural looking acting, make-up, and lighting techniques
© Library of Congress / LC-USZ62-113150

Mary Pickford was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1892. She first performed on stage in Toronto at five years old. As a child, she supported her family by working the theatre circuit in southern Ontario and the eastern United States. She also appeared on Broadway until the early film company Biograph hired her in 1909.

As her stardom rose, Pickford demanded and received a salary equal to her male colleagues. At 23, she formed her own film company under Famous Players, which gave her control over scripts, casting, and directing. Pickford encouraged women to take a leadership role in business and co-founded the production and distribution company United Artists in 1919. Among the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pickford also co-formed the Motion Picture Relief Fund in 1921. It provided health and social services to film professionals.

Pickford was a talented actress who took on a wide variety of roles, but she was perhaps most remembered for portraying children. The transition to “talkies” upended the entire film industry; nonetheless, she appeared in four talking films and won an Academy Award for best actress in Coquette. She retired from acting in 1933, but remained a devoted philanthropist and continued producing films for United Artists.

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D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks signing the United Artists contract. Lawyers Albert Banzhaf and Dennis F. O’Brien stand in the background
© Library of Congress / LC-USZ62-137195

In 1976, three years before her death, Pickford was awarded an honorary Oscar for her contributions to the development of cinema. Although she lived in the United States, she was a proud Canadian and flew the Maple Leaf flag outside her home. In 1999, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and, in 2006, she was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

Cinema was a cultural touchstone for Canadians and impressive theatres like the Eglington Theatre National Historic Site were constructed to attract viewers. To learn more, see The Show Place of Toronto, Canada’s First Movie Palace, The Golden Age of Theaters, and The Granada, A Theatre of Dreams in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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