Happy Birthday, Mary Pickford

"You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down."
.– Mary Pickford


This may be the year of the Female Entrepreneur, but today's women aren't the first to enter into business. Let us not forget the trail blazers and fire brands that came before. One such woman was Mary Pickford.

An astute businesswoman, Pickford became her own producer within three years of her start in features. According to her Foundation, "she oversaw every aspect of the making of her films, from hiring talent and crew to overseeing the script, the shooting, the editing, to the final release and promotion of each project." She demanded (and received) these powers in 1916, when she was under contract to Zukor's Famous Players In Famous Plays (later Paramount). Zukor also acquiesced to her refusal to participate in block-booking, the widespread practice of forcing an exhibitor to show a bad film of the studio's choosing in order to also show a Pickford film. In 1916, Pickford's films were distributed, singly, through a special distribution unit called Artcraft. The Mary Pickford Corporation was briefly Pickford's motion-picture production company.[2

In 1919, she increased her power by co-founding United Artists (UA) with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her soon-to-be husband, Douglas Fairbanks. Before UA's creation, Hollywood studios were vertically integrated, not only producing films but forming chains of theaters. Distributors (also part of the studios) arranged for company productions to be shown in the company's movie venues. Filmmakers relied on the studios for bookings; in return they put up with what many considered creative interference.


United Artists broke from this tradition. It was solely a distribution company, offering independent film producers access to its own screens as well as the rental of temporarily unbooked cinemas owned by other companies. Pickford and Fairbanks produced and shot their films after 1920 at the jointly owned Pickford-Fairbanks studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. The producers who signed with UA were true independents, producing, creating and controlling their work to an unprecedented degree. As a co-founder, as well as the producer and star of her own films, Pickford became the most powerful woman who has ever worked in Hollywood. By 1930, Pickford's acting career had largely faded.[19] After retiring three years later, however, she continued to produce films for United Artists. She and Chaplin remained partners in the company for decades. Chaplin left the company in 1955, and Pickford followed suit in 1956, selling her remaining shares for three million dollars

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