Mary Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield
While this biography has a lot of information about America’s first silver-screen sweetheart, I found it lacking in many ways. For one thing, it seems to skip over a lot. At the beginning of the book, it goes on for about 50 pages saying how nobody in the family wanted to turn to acting, but they had to because they were so poor, and they made good money, which they needed because they were so poor, and it made them feel better about taking jobs as actors because they really needed the money.
After that section, once Mary Pickford enters “flickers,” it gets much more bearable. However, it still skips a lot. Her relationship with Douglas Fairbanks comes up sparse. They spend an entire chapter about their growing distance between each other, and their eventual divorce. There’s little tidbits about them before getting married, and a few lines about their marriage, such as “they held hands during dinner,” which is nice, but that can’t possibly be their entire relationship. After their divorce, they each remarry, but it’s said that they would sit by a pool together, sometimes holding hands, without going into further detail about what’s going on, what other people (including their respective spouses) thought about this, and treats this as though it’s perfectly normal behavior. When it talks about United Artists, it’s impossible to know what’s going on if you don’t have prior knowledge to the situation the artists and studios were facing when it came about.
For a book subtitled “The woman who made Hollywood,” there’s really not a lot of Hollywood, either. There’s a small bit about movie-making in New York in the early to mid teens, and then there’s the formation of United Artists (which, again, was really lacking in the details), and then there a brief section about the transition into talkies, which didn’t so much describe Hollywood’s transition, but almost exclusively Mary’s transition and that of her studio. It’s hard to understand a person without knowing the world that they lived in. The only thing we begin to understand is the tragedy of Mary Pickford, falling as so many of the other silent stars did, without feeling the full weight of the situation.
And lastly, and perhaps what bothered me most about this biography, was the fact that the author puts Pickford on a pedestal. Everything she does is wonderful and she can do no wrong, and when she does do wrong, it’s always excusable in some way, shape, or form. Like when she had an affair with Fairbanks when they were both married to other people. It was okay because her husband was mean to her. And it seemed like every movie she made had some fault such as faulty direction or one of the other actors refused to reshoot a scene.
This book makes it seem more like, instead of the woman who made Hollywood, Mary Pickford was really just in the right place at the right time, which outside of that novel I’m not really sure if that is an accurate conclusion because, as I said, this book doesn’t do much justice to anyone. She was there when movies got their start. She was the first actor who had their name revealed to the public at a time when people watched movies based on the studio it came from. Overall, I’m not very impressed with Mary Pickford, or this book, but it sparked my curiosity enough to look forward to watching some of her movies to see if I form a different opinion of her. Besides, the Mary Pickford cocktail is delicious.