Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Traces of Mary Pickford's "The Library" Found in The Library

source: San Francisco History Room - San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

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.

For those wanting to read more, the library owns numerous silent film histories by Brownlow, and many works on Pickford, including Brownlow’s gorgeous volume, Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend.

Behind the Mask of Innocence by Kevin Brownlow (University of California Press,1992).

David Lean: A Biography by Kevin Brownlow (St. Martin's Press, 1996).

Hollywood, The Pioneers by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1979).

Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart by Scott Eyman (D.I. Fine, 1990).

Mary Pickford, Comedienne by Kemp R. Niver (Locare Research Group, 1969).

Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend by Kevin Brownlow (Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1999).

Napoleon, Abel Gance's Classic Film by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1983).

Napoleon [videorecording] [Images Film Archive, Inc.] (MCA Home Video, 1989).

The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1968).

Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield (University Press of Kentucky, 1997).

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