A Silent Star Goes Digital

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by Leonard Maltin
September 12, 2012 1:00 AM
4 Comments
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One of the silent screen’s most important stars (and pioneering producers) is being celebrated on an innovative new website. The Mary Pickford Foundation has just launched www.marypickford.org, following a program held in her honor at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Pickford Center on Monday night. The Mary Pickford Foundation has distributed $20 million in charitable gifts and donations over the past thirty years to a variety of worthy institutions, but its newly-appointed stewards are determined to use modern means (like the Internet) to reach out to students and scholars with an eye toward making Mary Pickford better known and appreciated in the 21st century.

Elaina Archer, Director of Archive and Legacy, and Cari Beauchamp, Resident Scholar, are no strangers to Mary and her work. Elaina managed the Pickford film library for five years and has produced a series of excellent documentaries on various aspects of film history (including one called In Mary’s Shadow: The Story of Jack Pickford). Cari has written a number of fine books including the biography of Mary’s closest friend and ally, screenwriter Frances Marion (Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood).

They consider the current incarnation of their website to be a work in progress, but it already offers a handful of interesting articles, rare film clips, and more. I’m especially taken with their explanation of why Mary’s signature has become the logo of the Foundation:

“Mary Pickford’s many friends were often the recipients of notes: her thank you’s, sympathy cards, apologies and general news were almost always written on distinctive note cards, outlined in teal blue and then signed with the same color ink. Her signature was unique as well, with the big loop on the M and the smaller loop at the top of the P. Whether you were a friend or a fan requesting an autographed picture, you knew it was her signature at a glance.

“And she was proud of her signature. She had been perfecting it since shortly after she became Mary Pickford, changing her name as a teenager from Gladys Smith at the urging of New York theatrical impresario David Belasco.

“Of course, Mary signed more than notes, letters and photographs. She also signed contracts – million-dollar contracts – and by the time her signature reached the bottom of the page, many a mogul had been challenged as never before.”

This is the kind of site you’ll want to bookmark and visit on a regular basis to see what’s new. And in November, the Foundation is releasing a collection of Pickford films on DVD and Blu-ray through Milestone Films: The Poor Little Rich Girl, Sparrows, andThe Hoodlum.

As evidence of their mandate to spread the gospel of Mary Pickford, Milestone’s advance press release explains,

“The Rags & Riches Collection marks the first-ever release designed to introduce younger viewers to the pleasures of silent films. Each film includes a short intro featuring a group of kids who discover a treasure trove of old films in an attic and learn about film history in the process. They also feature a separate audio track with spoken intertitles and explanations to help them enjoy the experience even more!”

Anything that stimulates interest in silent films gets my enthusiastic support. I wish the Mary Pickford Foundation many years of success.

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4 Comments

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  • James M. Knuttel | September 13, 2012 8:07 PMReply

    Steve Devorkin, I second your comment. Leonard, you REALLY SHOULD talk to Hugh Munro Neely about this. Contact me and I'll introduce you to him.

  • Steve DeVorkin | September 12, 2012 11:53 PMReply

    ...and like the old Hollywood story, they claim credit for the work of others. IMDB Hugh Murno Neely and see how many of thier projects were his.

  • Rob W | September 12, 2012 7:00 PMReply

    I have the Rags To Riches DVD, and it sensibly offers the option of watching the films without the kid-friendly introductions for those of us who already know and appreciate silent films.

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