Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 95

Mary Pickford: The Little Girl Who Called the Shots In 1920, twenty-seven year old Mary Pickford played the title role o f a child in two films, Pollyanna and Suds, both released by her own production Company, United Artists. At the time, she was the most famous actress in the world, affectionately dubbed “Am erica’s Sweetheart,” not by a public relations firm but by her fans. She was the highest-paid woman on earth, and she had already been married, divorced, and married again, first to actor Owen Moore and then, following a passionate extramarital affair, to the dashing swashbuckler star, Douglas Fairbanks, with whom she lived at their fabulous Pickfair mansion. Still, on screen she acted the child. The New York Times, in its review o f Pollyanna, raised the issue o f Pickford’s little-girl persona, saying, ‘“ Why doesn’t M ary Pickford grow up?’ The question is answered at the Rivoli this week. It is evident that Miss Pickford doesn’t grow up because she makes more people laugh and cry, can win her way into more hearts, and even protesting heads, as a rampant, resilient little girl than as anything eise. She can no more grow up than Peter Pan. When she stops being a child on the screen, she’ll probably just stop . . . But that time is a long way o f f ’ (quoted in Basinger 38). Although Pickford played a variety o f mature roles in her long and distinguished career, she is best known for her cheeky-without-being-treacly child or adolescent performances in films such as Cinderella (1915), Little Pal (1915), Rags (1915), The Poor Little Rieh Girl (1917), The Little American (1917), Rebecca o f Sunnybrook Farm (1917), A Little Princess (1917), M ’Liss (1918), Daddy Long Legs (1919), Heart O ’ the Hills (1919), Pollyanna (1920), Suds (1920), Through the Back Door (1921), Little Lord Fauntieroy (1921), Tess o f the Storm Country (1922), Little Annie Rooney (1925), and Sparrows (1926). As Raymond Lee notes in The Films o f Mary Pickford, she played “a child most o f her reel life” 20 It seems curious today that the most powerful actress in the world—beautiful, talented, sexy, and highly paid— would continue to play child roles well into her thirties and that her audience would demand that she do so. Certainly, one can attribute this to regressive gender roles and attitudes in what Edward W agenknecht called “The Age o f Innocence.” However, another explanation for the popularity o f