A picture that was published with an obituary about film star Mary Pickford in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Post was accompanied by an incorrect caption. The caption should have identified the photograph as one of Miss Pickford and her third husband, Charles (Buddy) Rogers, taken on their arrival in London in 1955 to start a European holiday. CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture 1, In "Taming of the Shrew," left, Mary Pickford appeared with her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. UPI; Picture 2, Above, she is shown with Buddy Rogers, her third husband, at the time of their engagement in 1937. AP; Picture 3, At top right, she is holding the special Oscar awarded her in 1976 in recognition of her "unique contributions to the film industry." AP; Picture 4, At right, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Buddy Rogers share spotlight with Miss Pickford in 1978 at showing of documentary on the first superstar. UPI
Mary Pickford, who became "America's sweetheart" as the first great Hollywood film star, died yesterday at Santa Monica Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif., following a stroke. She was 86.
She lived until last Friday at "Pickfair," the legendary mansion in Beverly Hills, which she bought with Douglas Fairbanks, her second husband. A member of her staff said Charles (Buddy) Rogers, her third husband, found her ill in her bedroom and that she was taken to the hospital at that time.
In recent years, Miss Pickford had withdrawn almost entirely from the glittering scene which she once dominated so completely. But in March 1976, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of which she had been a founder, awarded her a special Oscar "in recognition of her unique contribution to the film industry and the development of film as an artistic medium."
"I'm overcome," she said in remarks that were filmed at "Pickfair" and shown at the public presentation of the Oscars that year. "I'm amazed. I didn't know that people remembered me."
Indeed they did remember. In more than 200 films, including 52 full-length features, she was the brave little girl whose hair hung down in golden ring-lets. She was scarcely five feet tall, but she never gave up when times got bad. She was funny and sad, tough and vulnerable innocent and ingenious, and she always won out in the end.
Howard Koch, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said that Miss Pickford's death "is a great loss to Hollywood. She was the only living legend of what we're really all about. I wish we could make the kind of movies she used to make, innocent love stories."
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her second husband's son by his first marriage, described her as "the most famous woman who ever lived."
That judgment echoes a profile of Miss Pickford written by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer in their history, "The Movies," published in 1957.
"For twenty-three years, Mary Pickford was the undisputed queen of the screen," they wrote. "For fourteen of those years she was the most popular woman in the world. She was literally what she was billed: America's Sweetheart."
Although her success as a star was matched by her success as a businesswoman, Miss Pickford apparently regarded it as a phenomenon that might prove as transitory as the fame of so many of her contemporaries. She never forgot the poverty of her early years.
"I've always been scared to death," she once said. "I've always felt that everything was luck, and that every year is my last and so I'd better make it good . . . Chance plays so important a part in an actor's life . . . He needs that lucky break in life more than a writer does, or a producer, or a director."
In 1909, when she already had 10 years of experience in road shows and one Broadway production, she began making movies for the great D. W. Griffith. She earned $40 a week.
Her first starring role was "The Violin Maker of Cremona." Her first real hit was it "hearts Adrift" in 1914 and it catapulted her to stardom. Within little more than a year, she was vice president of her own production company.
In 1919, she joined Griffith, Douglas Fairbands and Charlie Chaplin in founding United Artists. The purpose of the company was to enable the founders to keep the enormous profits their films made.Miss Pickford's income in her best years was estimated at more than $1 million. In recent years, her worth has been estimated at anywhere from $30 million to $50 million.
In 1928, she won her first Oscar for her performance in "Coquette." It was her first talking film and one of her greatest successes.
If money is measure of stardom in Hollywood, she became a superstar just before her friend and future business partner, Charlie Chaplin. Unlike Chaplin, however, she was uncertain about the enduring value of her own films.
Miss Pickford owned her own films. She was asked in the 1950s why she did not release them again for viewing on television or in theaters.
"It would be unfair to the woman who was," she replied. "Why should I try to compete with . . . the beauties of today? They have the advantages of better lighting, better make-up, better photography and better costuming. And those knee-lengths would look pretty silly, wouldn't they?"
In recent years she changed her mind and her films have had a vogue in Britain, France, Spain, Germany and elsewhere. They were the subject of a series at the American Film Institute at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1976.
Film historian Kevin Brownlow once wrote of her:
"Mary Pickford was essentially a comedienne . . . Her films were almost always comedies. The light episodes being laced with genuine pathos and much excitement. The character of Mary Pickford was an endearing little spitfire. She was delightful; she projected warmth and charm. Whenever a situation got out of hand, she would not submit to self-pity. She would storm off and do something about it . . . Her playing was completly naturalistic."
Especially during the 15 years of her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, from 1920 to 1935, Miss Pickford was the queen of Hollywood society as well as of film-making. The legend of the Pickford-Fairbanks romance was enhanced by Fairbanks' vow never to spend a night away from her, even on location.
When they were divorced in 1935, it was a major news story.
The only film Miss Pickford ever made with Fairbanks was "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1929.Her role in that picture was a departure from her usual character and it met with less critical and popular success than other Pickford vehicles.
In an interview at the time she received her special Oscar in 1976, Miss Pickford said, "I'm grateful that I remember all the good things. The rest has been forgotten."
Miss Pickford was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 8, 1893. She was christened Gladys Mary Smith. Her father, John Smith, died when she was about 4 years old. Her mother, Charlotte Mary Catherine Smith, was an actress in stock companies. She also took in sewing to keep her three children (Lottie and Jack were Mary's younger sister and brother) in food and clothes.
The tiny Mary got her first stage role at the age of 5. By the time she was 8, she was playing leading roles in productions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and similar plays.
"I never had a real childhood," Miss Pickford said years later. "What I had, I lived on the stage, playing little girl roles. It wasn't all bad, though. There was lots of laughter and we were together and we always had enough to eat."
In fact, Mary, her mother, and her sister and brother all played roles in traveling melodramas. "The Fatal Wedding" was one and "East Lynne" was another.
In 1906, Mrs. Smith decided to change the family name to Pickford and it was under this name that all four appeared in "Edmund Burke." Mary later changed her name from Gladys Pickford to Mary Pickford.
She said years later that her days on the road, in which she came to be her family's chief financial support, had been among the most important in her life in terms of learning how to act.
In 1907, she talked her way into the first rehearsal of "The Warrens of Virginia," a play being produced on Broadway by David Belasco. She got a part and made her Broadway debut on Dec. 3, 1907.
In 1908, she was married briefly to Owen Moore, then a well-known actor.
Although she stopped appearing in films in the 1930s, Miss Pickford remained active as a producer. She retained a one-third interest in United Artists until 1956, when she sold it. She also had several other production companies.
In 1937, two years after the end of her marriage to Fairbanks, who died in 1939, she married Charles (Buddy) Rogers, a band leader and former movie star who had been one of her leading men. In addition to their film investments, they had extensive holdings in California real estate and in broadcast properties.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. said yesterday that Miss Pickford had become a virtual recluse because she had been very, very ill the last several years, had got terribly, terribly thin and couldn't see very well." She just didn't want to see any one but her family and couple of old friends, like Lillian Gish."