This day, April 8, 2012, is Mary Pickford’s 120th birthday. So it seems fitting to release a sort of “State of the Union” assessment of her amazing legacy as an actress, producer, and businesswoman.
As a woman, Pickford is distinctive in that she was able to become a hugely successful actress without having to accentuate her sexuality. This is remarkable for any era, not the least for the time of Theda Bara, Pola Negri, and Gloria Swanson, when “vamps” seemed to reign supreme. Yet Mary Pickford became more famous than any of these accomplished women, working with her innate charm, determination, and sprightly humor, so that she became know to all the world as “America’s Sweetheart.”
Pickford was a forward-thinker, and while many have noted her comments, made at the time when “talkies” had become the rage, that she might wish to have her silent films burned upon her death, it is well to remember that during her lifetime she collected her films, buying many of her early Biograph negatives, and bequeathed her best negatives and prints to the Library of Congress. While 80% or more of films from the silent era are today considered lost, it is important to remember that some 75% of Pickford’s films survive.
We are proud that the Mary Pickford Institute has been involved in so many screenings of Pickford films in the last year, from Ramona (1910) at Rancho Camulos in Ventura County, California, to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm(1917) at Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, to Amarilly of Clothesline Alley (1918) with the Fort Collins Symphony in Fort Collins, Colorado. Our research library has played host to dozens of guests while our website continues to attract hundreds of queries and thousands of visitors annually. Our goal is to improve the website significantly over the next 12 months. This coming summer our distributor, Milestone Films, will finally release our new 3 disk set, on blu-ray and on DVD, that will include Ramona (1910), The Poor Little Rich Girl(1917), The Hoodlum (1919), and the newly restored and tinted version of Sparrows (1926), with some wonderful bonus features, including special options aimed specifically at introducing silent films to younger audiences.
None of this would be possible, of course, had Ms. Pickford not started the Mary Pickford Foundation in 1958. That organization, in turn, started our independent 501(c)3 non-profit, the Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education in 2002, for the specific purpose of promoting film preservation and disseminating Mary’s legacy to the world. We’ve had a few bumps along the road. By far the biggest bump, however, happened on March 1st of this year, when the Foundation abruptly ceased all its funding for our organization. Since that date, the Foundation has received calls and letters asking them to reconsider. We have provided them with the results of our MPI Office Survey, that indicated a strong public desire to see the Institute maintained as an open research library that also offered classroom instruction in film making and film history, with new releases of restored films and innovative public presentations of these marvelous treasures for everyone to enjoy. If you have not already signed our petition to the Foundation, I hope you will do so:
When we reach 1,000 signatures on our petition, we will present it to the Foundation, and further proof of public support for our programs.
Many people have asked me why the Foundation has engaged in this unprecedented change of plans. The only communication we have received on this issue, suggests that the Foundation thinks that the value of our programs is outstripped by the cost to the Foundation of their support. In their new plans they have made no commitment to film preservation or to new film releases on home video. We disagree with these ideas, but we have been given no chance to explore the issue or effectively defend our work. Additionally, we have been told by Foundation president Henry Stotsenberg that he wishes to reduce the number of “Pickford projects” to no more than two a year. One project would help US veterans, while the other would be related in some (undefined) way to Pickford’s film legacy… perhaps a “Pickford Festival” with a few of her films mixed with other classic Hollywood fare. Mr. Stotsenberg evidently feels that putting most of their available money into just two projects will have a “bigger impact” than our current programs. Again, we respectfully disagree.
The Pickford Foundation has discontinued more than just our Institute. In recent years they stopped their annual contribution to the Jewish Home for the Aging, one of Mary’s oldest charitable traditions, and they have stopped their annual scholarship to a film preservation student offered by the Foundation through the Association of Moving Image Archivists for the last nine years. So we are not alone in our plight.
Please make no mistake, the Mary Pickford Institute will continue, even if our activities may be limited for a time. We have no intention of quitting the field.
We sincerely hope that the Mary Pickford Foundation will reconsider this new direction, and restore funding to the Institute and to these other programs. For those of you who have already signed our petition, we humbly thank you. Should the Foundation continue to turn a deaf ear, we hope that your support may convince other potential donors of the value of our work.
Let’s remember the great determination and generosity of our founder, and celebrate her birthday on April 8th. Mary wouldn’t give up, and neither will we!
Happy birthday, Mary. We’re here for you!