While researching in the San Francisco History Room’s Historical Photo Collection for the current exhibition Shhhhh! Silents in the Library, I discovered this little gem.
Here we see two images of Mary Pickford, taken at least thirty years apart. On the left she is shown as at the height of her career, with her trademark curls and the angelic smile that contributed to her reputation as ‘America’s Sweetheart.’ On the right, she appears as she did in the year of this 1951 press release. The caption states, “Mary Pickford announced today that she’ll end her 19-year retirement from the movies to make a one-picture comeback in a film titled ‘The Library.’
Though the film was announced, it was apparently never shot. This made me curious for an explanation. In 1950, United Artists Corporation, the company Mary Pickford co-founded with Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin in 1919, was in dire financial trouble. Perhaps the film was announced in an attempt to stimulate public interest in UA films, but the financing fell through? By early 1951, while the corporation’s finances remained poor, Mary Pickford brokered a deal and “signed over effective control of the company to Arthur Krim,” thus freeing herself from the financial burden. Perhaps this relief made room for acting again. Undoubtedly the success of Sunset Boulevard in 1950 factored. Gloria Swanson, also a silent film icon, made her comeback and met rave reviews in the role of Norma Desmond, a role Mary Pickford had also considered.
I had hoped to get a quick answer directly from the silent film expert, Kevin Brownlow, at a book signing last Sunday where he was speaking as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Unfortunately, I was not the only person there wanting a bit of his experise. So, while I did not get a chance to get an answer, I did hear Kevin Brownlow's marvelous presentation about his monumental restoration project of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. For the first time in almost 30 years this restored, five and a half-hour Napoleon will be screened, with a new orchestral score, and for the first time with a three projector system to properly serve Gance's 'polyvision' Tricolore.