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Film History: How Mary Pickford Helped Create United Artists

Film History
Mary Pickford, an inspiration in the film industry. Photo Source: Kate Gabrielle, CC BY 4.0, via Flickr

The United Artists Corporation is a well-known American studio for films. It was founded on February 5, 1919, with actress Mary Pickford playing a major role in its creation. Her part in bringing the prestigious United Artists studio to life is why she is a woman who inspires.

Who was Mary Pickford?

Mary was an actress who starred in several Canadian and American films. She was born on April 8, 1892 in Toronto and passed away May 29, 1979. Major films she starred in include Sparrows, Coquette and Poor Little Rich Girl. In addition to acting in movies, she also produced some projects and wrote screenplays. Her reputation was as “America’s Sweetheart.”

Over the course of her acting career, she moved from silent films to sound ones; it was a time of major change in the film industry. The last movie she acted in was Secrets, which released in 1933. In 1976, she won an honorary Oscar for her amazing contributions to motion pictures.

How Mary Pickford Founded United Artists

What I admire about Mary Pickford is that she was savvy and bold in business at a time when few women were doing so. Also, while she was successful in acting, she desired to branch out with roles behind the scenes, such as producing films and also helping create United Artists. That is not only commendable now but even more so when you realize the period in which she was alive.

film history
United Artists contract signature 1919

Mary Pickford and director D.W. Griffith decided to create a company to protect their films, giving themselves full control over their projects. This company, called United Artists, was the one they then created, along with famous British actor Charlie Chaplin and Pickford’s husband Douglas Fairbanks, who was also an actor. They all joined likely to enjoy similar artistic freedoms over their works. United Artists quickly became popular, largely due to its famous founders starring in its films. By 1960, Mary and all of the other original partners had sold their shares in the company.

Since its origins, United Artists has become legendary in Hollywood. Its films have been nominated and won for many Academy Awards. For example, the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Best Picture in 1975, and Rain Man took Best Picture prize in 1988. It has transferred hands quite a bit, being bought by MGM in the 1980s and then by the bank Credit Lyonnaise in 1992. Today, United Artists has been reorganized under MGM ownership and is known for creating artsy films, such as Capote in 2006.

I am pleased that the founding of such a renowned company as United Artists had a pivotal role by female Mary Pickford. I admire how she continued to break the mold of what is expected by women, as well as reach for her dreams!

Who is a woman in the film industry that you admire, and why?

Related read: How Michelle C. Smith is advocating for Stunt Performers to gain more recognition in the film industry.

28 thoughts on “Film History: How Mary Pickford Helped Create United Artists”

  1. That’s a great post, Christy. Glad i stumbled across it. Isn’t it interesting how many women were influential in the film industry of that era — but no one knows about it. Well done. Hugs.

    1. Krall has has sold more than 6 million albums in the US and over 15 million worldwide. On December 11, 2009, Billboard magazine named her the second Jazz artist of the 2000–09 decade, establishing her as one of the best-selling artists of her time. To date, she has won five Grammy Awards and eight Juno Awards. Krall also produced Barbra Streisand’s album Love Is the Answer, released on September 29, 2009.

    2. Christy Birmingham

      Thanks Maria for telling me more about Krall, who is a local superstar here as she comes from a place close by where I live. As for your mention of Barbra Streisand, now THAT is a legend in the music world! I appreciate your shares here and the wonderful ways you expand on the points. Thank you!

    1. ‘S Wonderful” is a popular song composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics written by Ira Gershwin. It was introduced in the Broadway musical Funny Face (1927) by Adele Astaire and Allen Kearns.

  2. Great post, Christy, and empowering, too! I had heard of her, but wasn’t familiar with all she’s done…my favorites in the industry are Barbra Streisand (vocal talent, especially, but also acting and directing), Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock! Not only are they talented, but they portray strength and perseverance as good role models for all women, not just in the film industry, but generally speaking…♥

    1. Christy Birmingham

      GREAT choices for strong women, Lauren! Thanks for sharing them here as I may just feature them here one day! Meryl Streep is brilliant acting out strong female characters, for sure. Hugs.

  3. Very inspirational, Christy! Great post! I love Meryl Streep and admire her very much, too. Jane Fonda and Patty Duke shouldn’t be left out either! ♥♥♥ ;^)

  4. Great post! My favorite female actresses are Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep. I also have favorite Canadian performers but they are singers and composers (Neil Young and Joni Mitchell)

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Ohhhh Joni Mitchell YES! Thanks for the beautiful choices of other women too – sending hugs!

    2. I only have 2 albums of Joni Mitchell, “Court and Spark” and “Miles of Aisles”. And from Neil Young I only have a few songs from him that I like. One of my favorite from Joni is “For Free”, which talks about street artists and the commercialization of art in general, (the lyrics of this song are so poignant to me), she is a great poetess, musician, painter, well she’s so gifted in many areas. I send you For Free here

  5. Great spotlight Christy! I didn’t know Mary was Canadian. And imagine starting United Artists in those times. Not to mention, it was always much harder for Canadians to get into the movie and music industry for decades, let alone back then. :)

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Hi Deb, Yes, Canadians have not had it easy in the film industry! Thanks for adding to the discussion with your perceptive comment :)

  6. Hi Christy, Thank you very much for sharing this spotlight… I didn’t know Mary Pickford, but just for pictures… Did he work with Charles Chaplin?… Her face made me think of the female protagonist in the movie “The Artist”. Have you seen it… It is beautiful.
    Sending you hugs and wishing you a great weekend ahead, Aquileana :P

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Hi Aqui, I have not seen “The Artist” but I hear it is wonderful! It really is a throwback type of film and so different than the other types we have now (which is why I think it won Academy Awards!). I am glad I was able to introduce you to Mary Pickford here. I wish you a wonderful rest of your Tuesday! :)

  7. Fascinating, Christy! Thank you for this very informative post. Mary Pickford was definitely ahead of her time.

    Some people in the entertainment industry I admire include the Reverend Della Reese, Susan Sarandon and Jamie Lee Curtis. Della because of her positive messages in shows like Touched By An Angel. Susan because of her work to help many important causes around the world. And Jamie because she is down to earth and refuses to dye her gray hair :) All three have made strong contributions to the industry and seem like genuinely awesome people.

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Oh G, your mention of those three women in your comment is wonderful! Thank you and I agree that they all are both fascinating and positively impacting the world! I hope to feature them in future posts. Hugs to you!!

    1. Christy Birmingham

      So glad you found this post helped you learn more about film and the role of this remarkable woman! Thanks, Rolly!

  8. I’ve always adored the story of Mary Pickford. She is a true inspiration.
    Christy, due to my work, i have met many women in the film industry. From actors, to directors, to producers and combinations of the three. I admire so very many women in the industry that it is quite hard to select just one. I have been more than inspired on many occasions, and I have also been swept away by women working the technical side of the camera… Hair, Make-up, Wardrobe, Grips, Gaffers, Continuity, Craft Services, Transportation, Locations, Production Designers and on and on, the Film Industry has in general been open to women. :-)
    Wonderful post! Thank you for keeping on inspiring!

    1. Christy Birmingham

      Resa, I am so glad you have met many wonderful women in the industry! I count you among the inspiring women I know! Indeed, you are quite right to point out the people working so well behind the scenes too – it’s all part of the teamwork that leads to project success! Thanks for the support, my dear friend!

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