Mary Pickford: My Own Story (continued)

The Ladies' Home Journal, September 1923

 This is purely wishful thinking on Mary's part. In fact, her public wanted nothing more than for Mary to continue in her "little girl" roles. In 1925, she asked the readers of Photoplay to suggest roles for her to play. The result? Cinderella, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, and The Little Colonel. Mary was bitterly disappointed. Through my mail and the editorials of the press I have received countless requests to essay a mature role. With this is mind Faust was seriously considered and prepared; but when the scenario was completed the character seemed much too tragic for me to attempt at this time. People do not expect such a somber story from me, and to jump at once from the parts I have taken to that of Marguerite in Faust is altogether too abrupt a change to make. Adapting and modifying this famous classic to meet my needs was of course out of the question. Incidentally, I am looking forward to doing one tragedy in the not too remote future – Romeo and Juliet.

In my as yet unnamed picture I feel that I have the best cast that has ever been associated with me. Mr. Holbrook Blinn, whose greatest recent success has been in his performance in The Bad Man, is devoting his days to the portrayal of the king in our production while going on with his stage play in one of the Los Angeles theaters at night. Irene Rich is to impersonate the queen and George Walsh the hero. I take the part of a little street singer, one of four children of a poor family. While I still play the part of a young girl, it is a distinct departure from the little-girl roles with which I have been associated in the past. I wear my hair up throughout the production with the exception of one scene.

Give Up the Little-Girl Roles?

I seem to be leading myself voluntarily to that question which I have been asked so many times by others: Am I going to grow up? I would be grieved to think that I am giving up the little-girl roles forever. They have been so closely associated with my career and have meant so much to me that so long as I feel that I can play them convincingly, I shall hope to return to them from time to time if the proper story offers itself. I have always considered the story the principal thing and my own role in it as of secondary importance. Perhaps the reader will have difficulty in believing this, but I mean it quite sincerely.

Sometimes after a hard day's work it depresses me when I realize that our pictures, in which we strive so hard for real artistic achievement, may not last very long. I feel confident that the whole method of picture making will change so much in the next ten to fifteen years that the ones we are doing now will be hopelessly antiquated then.

Just at present the thing that the screen lacks most is stories. The classics have been done and so has contemporary fiction. Many of these can be done over and much better than they have been, but situations and stories which have been done require new treatment, and the screen needs urgently, in addition to stories, people who can give the old material new methods of treatment.

People Want Truth and Beauty

I do not know where the future writers of the screen are to come from, but I think that they will probably come from within the industry. Many novelists and playwrights have been attracted by the opportunities of the pictures. It is not only a financial opportunity, but the unlimited scope and wide stage obviously permit that many things which cannot be done in the theater be put upon the screen. Then, too, the pictures afford a chance to blend several of the arts – story-telling, painting, acting and, in exhibition, music – certainly a fascinating opportunity for any creative artist.

Mary and Doug with their dog, Zorro, who "bit anything that moved." One of our difficulties in getting stories today is that our following is so large that it is difficult to please them all. A story must, for these vast audiences, be simple, and yet, if it is too elementary, a large part of the audience will be several jumps ahead. No magazine or newspaper ever had a circulation so large as the clientele we must play to. It is as if we were trying to edit a magazine which has the purposes and scope of ten or twelve different special-appeal publications rolled into one. We are for the household, for the children, for the fiction lover, for the person who wishes to see only fact, for the person who wants a little scandal and for the mind which is tired and must be entertained in spite of itself. If our picture has simple truth and beauty we can hit most of these people; but simplicity, truth and beauty are not acquired readily.

Our friends and sometimes we ourselves want to do subtler things in the pictures. We are picture-wise and plot-weary, but if we lost sight of our public we would turn out pictures that would appeal to a limited few.

The simple story is, I am sure, the best for our purposes, and I believe that oftenest the public will respond to the Cinderella plot or the type of story in which the poor or neglected girl gets her chance and gets to the top. I think that the pictures have too often gone away from this idea and have had too many supposedly grand persons and too many butlers and footmen. The story of the small town or the characters that give the spectator the feeling of kinship are, I am certain, not only the most successful but the most enduring.

It is constantly said that the news pictures or records of actual happenings are the most interesting things that the film offers. I think that this is often true, but I believe that this quality of authenticity which is lacking in many of our picture dramas could be obtained if there were greater preparation. It has been found that, except in a few cases, better work can be done right here in California than by sending a company of actors to the actual location of the story. There is little use sending a company, for instance, into a tropical country where the buildings are all white and the glare from them in the sun will preclude the chance of good photography.

But if authors were to set the locale of a story that was to be filmed next year or the year after, a great deal of material, a knowledge of types, architecture, customs, and even photographs could be obtained which would be of tremendous help and give a reality that does not now exist. It is foolish for authors to sit in Hollywood studios and write of sweat-shop or slum conditions in New York.

It would seem to me that one fairly good guess as to the future of the pictures would be that they would be like Nanook of the North. The man who took this went up and lived with the Eskimos for about two years. He obtained pictures of actual everyday existence.

The screen must reveal life much more than the stage. A woman could not play Rostand's L'Aiglon in the pictures. You cannot take a young man and put a gray wig and a beard on him and get him to play an old man in the theater. The flat, painted scenery of a green wood will not satisfy the motion-picture world.

While at Biograph Mary played young girls, young mothers, young wives, prostitutes, virgins, Mexicans, secretaries, and Indians. Mary saved her on-screen kisses for behind-the-screen kissing with co-worker Owen Moore, later her first husband. While the screen demands realism, it does not want the realism that is taken for real because it is unpleasant. I started out to do clean pictures not because it would prove advantageous from a financial point of view, though it usually does, but because I had a natural aversion for anything risqué. When I first went to the Biograph Company, I told Mr. Griffith that I would not allow anyone to kiss me, that I thought just as much affection could be recorded without those long-drawn-out kisses.

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