Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Mary Pickford as Written by Frances Marion
Claus Tieber

Last modified: 2010-05-28


Mary Pickford is still seen as an actress who portrayed little girls in a harmless and quite conservative way. Although research about her increased in the last few years, as an effect of the releasing of a number of her films on DVD, the amount of articles or books about the star is still limited.

Two film historians who first began looking at Pickford in a different way are John Tibbetts and Kevin Brownlow. In their works they have both emphasized that in fact the number of films in which Pickford played little girls was limited. As important as these works are, a reconstruction of Pickford’s image, based on her films and archival material, still remains to be done. Such construction has to begin by differentiating between Pickford’s on and off-screen image. Whereas in her films she played optimistic, happy, but rather passive characters, as a filmmaker and a public person she was portrayed as a successful businesswoman, almost an example of the so-called “New Woman.”

Both her film roles and her public image were highly influenced by screenwriter Frances Marion. Not only did Marion write the screenplays for some of her most successful films, and directed her in one, she also wrote the daily newspaper column that Pickford signed under her own name: “Daily Talks.”

In my paper I want to analyze the patterns of Pickford’s filmic characters (those written by Marion, and those written by other screenwriters), as well as some of her columns. In this way it will become clear how Pickford’s two contrasting images were in fact related, and how her audience looked at this relationship, how they looked at her star image and acting style. I thus aim at offering a more accurate reconstruction of Pickford’s images than those which are still dominating, by emphasizing aspects of her image (social consciousness, gender issues, historical definitions of childhood etc.) that have so far been overlooked, but certainly deserve further investigation.

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