Now that we at the Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education have finished moving to our new address: 9415 Culver Blvd., Suite 8, Culver City, California 90232, we can finally begin to think and write about new things. Manon Banta, our Director of Education, has some exciting new projects planned for the fall. For my part, I greatly enjoy answering questions about Mary, her life and her movies. Our email addresses and telephone number remain the same, so you can send your questions about Ms. Pickford to firstname.lastname@example.org . Anything I can’t answer myself, I’ll refer to our “brain trust” of Pickford experts that includes a number of prominent historians and Pickford biographers.
Something I’ve wanted to do for some time now is write about Mary Pickford-related landmarks and locations in the Los Angeles area. So today we’ll start what I hope will become a series on “Pickford Places.”
The other day I was driving north up Beverly Drive into Mary Pickford’s hometown. As I have many times before, I passed the monument that stands on the traffic island at the triangular intersection of Olympic Blvd., Beverly and Beverwil Drives. I know some folk who have passed this monument for years, without ever realizing who and what this fascinating little monument commemorates. So to help fill everyone in, I decided to stop and take some pictures.
The monument is 30 feet high, with a base that was reported to be of marble, but looks to me more like polished granite. On top of the rectangular base is an octagonal column of the same stone, with bronze bas-reliefs of figures on each face of the column. Above the column is a high pole topped with what is reputed to be a 14-carat gold multi-pointed star. Spiraling elegantly around the pole is a bronze sculpture of a filmstrip with sprocket holes.
It’s the filmstrip that catches the eye of the casual observer sees as he drives by. I have often wondered how many of the thousands of people who pass by this corner repeatedly, have ever stopped to learn to story of this monument and the fascinating people who are depicted on the column below the soaring film strip sculpture.
If you approach the monument from the south you will see an inscription on the base that reads: “IN TRIBUTE TO THOSE CELEBRITIES OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY WHO WORKED SO VALIANTLY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF BEVERLY HILLS AS A SEPARATE MUNICIPALITY – ERECTED 1959”.
On each face of the eight-sided stone column you will find depicted: seven actors (in costume) and one director, over reproductions of their signatures and the name of a representative motion picture that each made. The honored individuals are:
Will Rogers, who appears dressed as his character from Lightnin’ (1928)
Mary Pickford, dressed as Tess of the Storm Country (1914 and 1922)
Douglas Fairbanks, as he appeared in The Iron Mask (1929)
Harold Lloyd, dressed from Why Worry(?) (1923)
Tom Mix, appearing in Hard Boiled (1926) – here misspelled as “Hardboil”
Fred Niblo, director of Ben Hur (1925)
Rudolph Valentino, in The Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse) (1921)
Conrad Nagel, in Glorious Betsy (1928)
I have to admit that the first time I viewed the monument up close, I was disappointed that the image of Mary Pickford, wearing her fisherman’s gear from the 1914 version of Tess of the Storm Country, didn’t look a little more like… well… Mary Pickford. Most of the other stars featured on the monument are a little more readily recognizable. Still, I appreciated the care that was given to honoring the role that became a landmark for her career that she ultimately filmed the story twice.
As I looked around the entire monument I found myself wondering why it had been erected at all? So far as I knew, Mary Pickford had nothing to do with the founding of the city. Beverly Hills was incorporated as a city in 1914, the same year Tess of the Storm Country was released, but Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks didn’t begin remodeling the former hunting lodge in the hills that would become Pickfair until 1919; just about everyone else on the list came later. So what was the work these industry leaders performed “so valiantly” that it earned them a monument erected in 1959!?
I’ll tell you about that in my next post.