Seventy years before Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand would gain reputations as powerful forces to be reckoned with in the various facets of film-making, Mary Pickford claimed contractual rights to the final cuts of her films, as well as approval of directors, by the time she was twenty-five. In his biography of “America’s Sweetheart,” Scott Eyman explores the phenomenon that was Mary Pickford’s screen career, presenting it as a “fortuitous coming together” of a person and a moment in history.
Pickford’s screen character--that of a plucky, decent child/woman--fit nicely with popular literary taste at the turn of the century, which placed “nearly equal stress on Christian morality, patriotism, and virginity.” This “mythic American archetype” fed on Pickford’s own psychological needs. Born Gladys Louise Smith, demonstrating a serious frame of mind as a child (by ten, she was doing the family budget), she made her stage debut at age six. Billed as the “Baby Wonder,” she endured mediocre melodramas and physically grueling touring schedules; in these “mean years” were the roots of her parsimony and her legendary wariness in business. Also from these years, when she became the family breadwinner, Pickford would develop an “emotional backlog” of childlike playfulness and innocence from which to create her signature film roles. These roles, including Pollyanna, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, mirrored Pickford’s own mix of resilience, sentimentality, sense of victimization, and spunk.
Pickford also had a gift for “bonding with the mass audience"; this bond also entrapped her, preventing her from transcending her public image. Typecast by her fans, she fell out of fashion in the Jazz Age, with its shift toward urbanity. Pickford...
(The entire section is 420 words.)