American Experience: Season 17, Episode 6

Mary Pickford (4 Apr. 2005)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, History
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Title: Mary Pickford (04 Apr 2005)

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Episode credited cast:
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Tino Balio ...
Himself - Film Historian
Jeanine Basinger ...
Herself - Film Historian
David Belasco ...
Himself (archive footage)
Malcolm Boyd ...
Himself - Friend of Mary Pickford
Herself (archive footage)
Kevin Brownlow ...
Himself - Film Historian
Himself (archive footage)
Robert Cushman ...
Himself - Film Historian
Amelia Earhart ...
Herself (archive footage)
Scott Eyman ...
Himself - Biographer
Himself (archive footage)
Victoria Flexner ...
Kathryn Fuller-Seeley ...
Herself - Film Historian
Himself (archive footage)


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Well Done Yet Disappointing Telling of the Pickford Legend
20 February 2012 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This well-done documentary on the life and career of the greatest female star of the silent era (by far) is quite good but frankly should have been much better. It's biggest flaw is it's absurd A STAR IS BORN type spin, trying to make a tragic spin on Pickford's life, following the lead of author Scott Eyman (who is among the interviewees) in his mediocre biography, telling us "she lost it all" and was "forgotten". She hardly lost it all - she was a multi-millionairess throughout her adult life, a very active presence at United Artists into the 1950's, and remained a very well known name to the general public right up to the end of her life even if generations of Americans hadn't seen her in any films. Pickford hadn't lost her audience, simply a new generation had come along, the same as would happen to any other actress with time.

Pickford certainly wasn't "the first has been" as this film alleges - not only were there many silent superstars who immediately tanked upon their first talkie release (Pickford had a fairly successful sound career for about five years) but there were quite a few silent mega-legends whose careers didn't even make it out of the silent era. While Douglas Fairbanks was certainly the love of her life, the movie downplays the quite successful marriage to Buddy Rogers and the stardom of first husband Owen Moore (a fairly big name in the 1910's and one whose chemistry with Pickford it's quite palpable in their films together, which are just brushed off quickly here). Yet perhaps the nadir is the ageist take on Pickford's appearance (on film) at the 1976 Academy Awards as if the world in unison was "horrified" at seeing a octogenarian on their television screens (actually it was pretty much just select Hollywood journalists with this opinion, the rest of the world no doubt was of the opinion that an 84-year-old is not expected to look or speak like the clock had stopped decades ago.)

The highlight of the film is some truly extraordinary and rare candid film footage throughout Pickford's life. And she sounds terrific in a 1975 audio recording that one wishes had been used more in the production. The many clips from her early short films should had been identified though their inclusion is much appreciated. The pace of the film is brisk and Laura Linney's narration is superb even if she is on occasion made to read some fairly purple prose. Ultimately though one is saddened the writers and producers decided to go for a melancholy rather than triumphant spin on the career of the motion picture phenomenon.

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