ON THIS DATE in 1907, a fifteen-year-old Canadian actress named Gladys Louise Smith became Mary Pickford. A nearly destitute stock player, she got her biggest career break when a big-time Broadway producer named David Belasco cast her in The Warrens of Virginia, a Civil War tale that debuted on December 3, 1907. Belasco insisted, however, that she change her name from the mundane Gladys Louise Smith to the more glamorous Mary Pickford.
After 380 performances in The Warrens of Virginia, Pickford starred in Belasco’s A Good Little Devil. She then appeared in a series of Hollywood films before a 1914 movie called Hearts Adrift made her a star. For more than a decade, the tiny (a fraction over five-foot tall) actress was the biggest female star in Hollywood. “America’s Sweetheart” helped organize United Artists in 1919, married the dashing Douglas Fairbanks in 1920 (her second marriage), and won the second Academy Award for best actress for 1929’s Coquette.
Pickford retired from films after 1933’s Secrets. She lived much of her later life in seclusion and died in 1979 at the age of eighty-seven.