by Eileen Whitfield ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1997
A capable account of the life and times of one of the greats of the silent-movie era. Combining emotionally subtle, naturalistic acting with a sweet, wholesome demeanor, Pickford was one of the world's first film stars. For more than a decade she reigned as ""America's Sweetheart,"" starring in such silent classics as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917) and Pollyanna (1920). As Whitfield relates, her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks in 1920 attracted the kind of attention and adulation normally reserved for royal weddings, and indeed, the two were often referred to as Hollywood's ""royal couple."" Our age might be celebrity-obsessed, but the devotion paid to Pickford seem almost unintelligible today. This doggerel verse from the New York Dramatic Mirror, cited by Whitfield, was all too typical: ""Silent enchantress! Are any as blind to you/As not to feel the glad charm of your art?/Time spare the youth of you, fortune be kind to you,/Queen of the Movies and queen of my heart!"" Reluctant to break from the image that had made her so successful, Pickford continued to play adolescent girls--and sometimes boys--into her late 30s. Then sound was introduced, and though she'd been theater-trained, she just couldn't make the transition successfully. Her last years were straight out of Sunset Boulevard (for which she auditioned), as she took to drinking and reclusively shut herself away in her mansion. Whitfield, a film critic for Toronto Life, does a thorough but unexciting job of chronicling Pickford's career, from her desperately poor childhood in Canada (she went on the stage, originally, to help provide for her family) to her reluctant debut in films to her key role in founding United Artists. Sadly, many of Pickford's films have vanished. Any record of these losses, even an unremarkable one such as Whitfield's, thus ought to be valued by those who care about film.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997
Page Count: 410
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
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