America’s Sweetheart, Rollins’ Friend

Mary Pickford ’52H (1892-1979)

Actress Mary Pickford was one of the biggest stars of silent films.  She was also a trailblazer:  the first actress to start her own studio, a co-founder of United Artists studio, and one of the five founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  A self-made millionaire who thoroughly learned the financial side of the movie business, she also acquired a reputation for being a shrewd businesswoman.

The woman known as “America’s Sweetheart” was actually born in Toronto, Canada.  A working actress from the age of five, she had only a few months of formal education, but a great deal of talent and ambition.  In 1906 she announced, “I’m 13 and at the crossroads of my life,” and set out for Broadway.  She opened there in late 1907.

Though it was a step down for a theater actress, she began making films for Biograph in 1909, appearing in 74 productions in two years.   Her image was one of goodness and innocence, though the characters she played were also often feisty, independent, and rebellious.  By 1914 she had become so popular with audiences that she was dubbed “America’s Sweetheart.”  Two years later, she was earning $10,000 per week.

Mary Pickford, wearing her famous curls, in the late 1910s (image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mmemarilyn/4692857094/ )

By the time she came to Rollins in early 1952, Mary Pickford had been retired from films for almost 20 years.   The citation for her honorary Doctor of Humanities degree emphasizes her charitable work with the Motion Picture Relief Fund (an organization she founded to help actors in need), the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and a number of other institutions.

Mary Pickford with her Rollins degree.  President Hugh McKean is second from the right.

While at Rollins, she appeared in the College’s Animated Magazine, speaking on “The Audience Contribution to Art.”  In her talk, she compared the warmth of the audience to that of the sun, and said that actors “must not deprive the audience of its greatest joy by failing to leave something to the imagination.”  She also toured the Mills Memorial Library with President McKean (below).

After this visit, Miss Pickford continued to support the College and the library for a number of years.  She sent an autographed copy of her newly-published memoir, Sunshine and Shadow, to the College in 1955.  She also joined the Book-A-Year Club to establish endowments for library materials to be purchased in her name and in memory of her brother, Jack.  Writing to Miss Pickford in March 1960, Hugh McKean told her she was among those people “who seem to carry genuine affection for Rollins in your hearts.”

Below: Miss Pickford’s inscription in her autobiography and a Book-a-Year plate commemorating her brother



Mary Pickford seldom left her home in Beverly Hills after 1965, not even to receive an honorary Oscar in 1976.  She died in 1979.

To see examples of Mary Pickford’s films, visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pickford/sfeature/sf_vault.html .  For more information about the Book-a-Year program, please see http://www.rollins.edu/library/give/givebay.html .

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

1 thought on “America’s Sweetheart, Rollins’ Friend

  1. Hugh McKean used to talk affectionately about Mary Pickford’s interest in Rollins and her continuing support of the Library, which was obviously the result of her visit to the campus and Hugh’s charm. Another favorite was Lillian Gish, an Animated Magazine contributor, who at 92 came back for the 1985 opening of the Enzian theater. Her visit was a great compliment to Hugh McKean, John Tiedtke, and Rollins. And then, of course, there was Greer Garson, but that’s another story.

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