Saturday, June 2, 2012

Still fighting for Hollywood - Mary Pickford

Ms. Pickford's been in Los Angeles news a lot lately.  First West Hollywood gave the go-ahead for CIM corporation to tear down her first studio, The Motion Picture and TV Fund Nursing Home almost went under, and now the Pickford Film Institute has been entirely defunded.

The "American sweetheart" was pretty much unstoppable after DW Griffith gave her her first film role in 1909.  Acting in 51 films that year, by 1912 she was the most famous actress in the world. She was also one of the first women to write, direct, and produce films.  She may have played the virginal, sweet faced innocent on the screen, but she was a razor-sharp buisnesswoman who pretty much ran the industry in the early 1900's. The fact that she almost single handedly built this town via her philanthropy and job-creating projects leaves me scratching my head a little when I think about how the city seems to have forgotten what she did for this place.  You would think especially Hollywood would better preserve the legacy left behind by the first mega stars that paved the way for just about everyone here.  Her name is on numerous buildings but most people you ask have no clue who she was, and to me that shows that something is seriously lacking here. I read a story the other day that they are planning a biopic about her - what took so long?

I wasn't here when Pickfair was demolished (the HORROR!) but it makes me wonder what will be deemed unnecessary to keep in the future.  is Musso and Franks next?  Graumans is owned partially by the same company that just demolished Pickford-Fairbanks Studios, is it next to go? The Roosevelt?  Or what about those beautiful theaters downtown, half of which are sitting empty - will the United Artists building be next to come down?

The saddest thing about the Pickford Institute's defunding is that it was the last bastion formally paying homage to Pickford both by keeping her story alive and by continuing her charity to the community by providing film classes and history lessons to kids, and offering grants for schooling.  I get a little angry when I think how they've torn down her home, her studio, parted out United Artists, ruined the health care program she set up for the industry, and are now letting the education programs go, for what?  To bump a politician's salary?  To build ugly modern buildings on sites where Hollywood was literally born?  And where are all the stars that wouldn't have had the glitz and glamour to be drawn to if not for her and the greats from her era? She wouldn't have let them be forgotten or eradicated from the history books.

To me, Pickford is one of the most important figures in Hollywood's history.  Even today it's still a boys club and to accomplish what she did over 100 years ago is both impressive and fascinating.  What can we do to ensure future generations learn about her and the other important players from her era? It seems this city is so interested in making and hoarding money it's forgotten it has to massage it's roots every now and then or it's surely going to wither and die.  And I don't mean they need to pump out more remakes.  They need to remember what made the movies an institution to begin with, and go from there.

You can sign the petition to try to keep the institute going here:


  1. One encouraging sign is that ACE Hotels has purchased the UA building downtown and is preserving the theater and are very interested in the history. Slated to open in Fall 2013. The Mary Pickford Institute did indeed lose all our funding except for the income generated through our Mobile Film Classroom programs. We are still up and running, albeit on a very lean budget. Thanks for the link to our petition.

  2. Thank you for making a distinction between remakes and true reverence for the accomplishments of the past. I got the chills when you mentioned the joint ownership of Grauman's. I'd love to say there's no way anyone would ever try to touch it, but things just keep getting crazier, so I don't rule anything out anymore. I think that the best that can be done for Mary now is that the people who know of and treasure her legacy best be given the resources to keep her memory alive. As far as I can see, the MPI is the only organization with that structure already in place. If it is thriving, and helping people, then why let it go? It isn't practical.

  3. By the way--thanks for contributing! Thought-provoking piece.

  4. Manon im so happy to hear that about the UA building!

    KC With tourism slowing on the blvd I am absolutely terrified for all those beautiful buildings, especially the Pacific Theater. They are already trying to put high rises at the base of the Hollywood Hills, I honestly dont understand where the city planners get their ideas.

  5. Mary is so much in the news today. One can only hope that heightened awareness of her and her importance will lead to greater preservation. Thank you for a great post.

  6. Amazing! Mary has called the attention a lot recently, and I really wanted to be there trying to stop the demolition, like the Chinese guy in front of the war tanks in a famous picture :)
    Her legacy must be kept!
    I'm also in the blogathon, with a review of Sparrows.

  7. She was a good woman to think of others. She should be remembered some how.