Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mary Pickford and David Belasco -- June 2, 2012
Library of Congress
This is my post for the Classic Movies – Mary Pickford Blogathon.  Check out Classic Movies for more great articles. 

Mary Pickford was America's greatest celebrity and best-paid woman.  David Belasco, theater director, producer and playwright helped her reach those heights.

Mary Pickford, born Gladys Smith in Toronto, was three when her drunken father abandoned his family.  To support herself and her  three children, Gladys' mother began to take in boarders.  One of her boarders got seven year old  Gladys a part in a production by a Toronto stock company.  Gladys quickly became an accomplished actress.

David Belasco, born in San Francisco, had worked in every aspect of the theatrical business and had become the greatest producer in America.  Gladys ducked out of a rehearsal for another show and somehow talked her way into an audition with Belasco.  He gave her a supporting role in his new production, The Warrens of Virginia, written by William C de Mille.  Belasco insisted that Gladys change her name to Mary Pickford.

This ad, from the 03-December-1907 New York Tribune, is for the opening of the play.

The Warrens of Virginia was a great success and Mary stayed during the Broadway run and subsequent tour.  Needing work after the play closed, she visited a movie studio, the American Biograph.  She met some success there, working with director DW Griffith.  Mary became popular, but Biograph did not publicize its actors by name.  In late 1910, seeking more money and publicity, she signed a contract with the Independent Motion Picture Company, IMP, which became the foundation of Universal.  Unhappy with the quality of IMP's product, Mary went back to the Biograph and Griffith.

Mary billed by name and popular sobriquet, Little Mary.  From the 14-May-1912 Bemidji Pioneer

In late 1912, David Belasco brought her back to the stage to play in A Good Little Devil.

The play was a great success.  Click on the ad from the 29-December-1912 Washington Herald to see Mary's name.

Miss Pickford and Ernest Truex Praised for Characterizations. 

The realism of David Belasco runs riot in the staging of "A Good Little Devil," seen at the New National Theater last night, and this, together with the amusing and at times poignantly moving scenes depicted and the excellence of the acting makes the offering one of the most remarkable of the season, even if "A Good Little Devil" is neither dramatic flesh, fish nor fowl.

In this French fairy play by the wife and son of Edmond Rostand, there are scenes and lines of true poetry and scenes also of low comedy which excite, correctly enough, the greatest amusement, although their inclusion prevents the "Good Little Devil" being as artistic and coherent a whole as "Peter Pan" and "The Bluebird."

Mechanical Devices Are True To Nature.

When the staging of a new play is by Belasco, it is certain to challenge interest. Obviously, in putting on the stage a tale in which fairies play a part, Mr. Belasco had opportunity to revel in new devices and to gratify fully his passion for microscopic imitation of nature. Nor has he been slow to seize that opportunity, perhaps conscious the while that the rats which climb up on the bedstead of the little boy in the attic, the cat, the squirrel, the friendly deer, and the devoted collie dog in the garden of the blind girl, together with a hundred other stage effects, and objects will please at the theater those for whom the most finished acting and the most delicate poetry are as invisible as was the whole physical world to the heroine of this particular play.

As for the acting -- "A Good Little Devil" contains in the cast some of our best actors. There is Ernest Lawford, the first Captain Hook In "Peter Pan," whom one enjoyed again as the bookworm in "Love Watches," and last year as the outcast In "Passers By," a play which unfortunately did not come here.

Then there is William Norris, whose stage career is one of the strangest in America. A dozen years ago one saw Norris playing Pepe in Boker's "Francesco, da Rimini" with Otis Skinner, and playing the malevolent jester who betrayed the lovers to the elder brother like an actor who should devote himself to nothing but the greatest roles.

Norris' Acting Of Beldame Good.

Since then one has seen Norris as the amusing comedian in a half dozen musical comedies, and now he appears acting an old woman, a beldame who abuses fearfully the "Good Little Devil," her grandson, so that the fairies come to console him in his rat-infested attic.

This, by the way, is one of the loveliest scenes the stage here has known for some time and is one of the highlights of the play. The miserable, unhappy boy, a believer in fairies, is visited by the radiant beings of another world who come to console and cherish this suffering mite of humanity.

Yet more interest attaches to the acting of Mary Pickford than in any other player on the stage. No such poignantly appealing figure has one seen in a long, long time than the blind little girl in her garden, waiting wistfully for her young lover, than this helpless child as characterized by Miss Pickford.

Moving Picture Actress Depicts Heroine Wonderfully.

Miss Pickford, as has been announced recently, is a recruit from the moving picture world. The moving picture studios will mourn her loss but it is the gain of the legitimate stage. Either Miss Pickford knew it herself or Belasco taught her, but I there was less suggestion of the overacting common to the moving picture play in her performance last evening than of any other player on the stage.

The other of the principals Is Ernest Truex, playing the title role. Truex, whose acting gained steadily in strength of appeal throughout the performance, portrayed his part so well that many went home believing him
just a little boy. 

"A Good Little Devil." in tabloid, tells of a boy persecuted by a miserly grandmother, a believer in witchcraft, who sent him away o a terrible school where boys are sometimes beaten to death. This "Good Little Devil" as he is called because he is both good and bad like most boys, is in love with a little blind girl who dwells in a garden.

The first act takes place in the grandmother's home, the main room and the attic above, both scenes showing at once. The second act is in the girl's garden. The third in the old house again, but years later. The boy now grown to manhood, has come back forgetful of his childish sweetheart and all else that was young and noble in his soul.

Meeting Of Boy and Man Develops Powerful Scene.

But his young self appears to him.  It is another actor who plays the grown-up character and the boy who appears as the youthful soul of the grown-up man of the world is the original player. This sceno is a powerful one as played.

Mr. Lawford plays an unsympathetic part and it was interesting to watch his audience being won over to like the Poet, something of an unworldly weakling, a character generally held up to ridicule on the stage and therefore not received in the beginning with much friendliness. Mr. Lawford is also the chorus of the play and he reads the prologue and the epilogue as but few could.
The Washington Times, December 31, 1912

Mary decided that she preferred acting in films, and signed a contract with Famous Players, the forebear of Paramount.

One of the movies that Mary made with Paramount was a production of A Good Little Devil.  Belasco appeared as himself. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

During this time period, when The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 happened... many known stage performers (including David Belasco) relocated to the new developing Upper Theater District of present day Broadway. Another area... Known as Fordham (Bronx), also came very close to rivaling Broadway. Along with the forming of "The Bronx Opera Company" that same year... the building of what would be The Bronx Opera House and Theater, along with The Edison Studio and Biograph Studio in Fordham, became an attractive location for the early movie industry. As a Member and later, President of The Bronx Opera Company, Belasco, kept a eye on this new medium. Breaking away as an Actor, from The Edison Studios, Director, DW Griffith was looking for talented child star. The timing of Gladys Smith(aka:Mary Pickford), could have never been better and young Mary, dit the bill, as others like Dorothy and Lilian Gish, Mabel Normand, and others would flex their skills in front and behind the stage and screen. By the time World War I arrived, The growing film industry took it's place and many never looked back.

Edward Moch (aka:Alfred Cota)

*A Younger Cousin to all mentioned and not mentioned.