Mary Pickford was born Gladys Marie Smith in Toronto, Canada to John Charles Smith who was the son of English Methodist immigrants and Charlotte Hennesy who was an Irish Catholic. As a result, she was baptised with both churches but was ultimately brought up a Catholic. Her father left her family and died three years later from a cerebral haemorrhage due to heavy drinking.
Her mother worked as a seamstress and took in lodgers, which led to Mary winning a big part in the Princess Theatre's production of 'Silver King'. By the start of the 1900s, Mary and her two siblings Jack and Lottie were acting and touring America by train appearing in plays. After living in poverty for six years, she claimed she would wait one more summer to lead a Broadway role before quitting.
In 1906, the siblings supported the Irish American singer Chauncey Olcott in the Broadway play 'Edmund Burke' and in 1907, Mary landed a supporting role in the Broadway show 'The Warrens of Virginia'. It was at this time that she took the stage name Mary Pickford. After the run finished she was out of work again until she took a screen test for the film 'Pippa Passes' which she didn't get but the director D W Griffith was impressed by her.
Pickford’s film career began in 1908, when she met D.W. Griffith, head of Biograph Studios. She began working at Biograph with her friends, Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Griffith specialised in films featuring the "damsel in distress" stereotypes, and both Gish sisters played it to perfection. When Mary felt Griffith was paying more attention to the Gishes than to her, she left Biograph.
At this time, she also married actor, Owen Moore. The marriage didn't last, however, because on a war bond tour during World War I, Pickford met a man who was to have a profound effect on both her personal and professional life. Douglas Fairbanks was the biggest male star in Hollywood and he and Pickford married in 1920.
It was at this time that, along with Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and her former boss D.W. Griffith, Pickford helped found United Artists, a studio that was to allow filmmakers to have total artistic control over their films. It also allowed artists and writers to control their own financial futures. Her decision to help found United Artists would eventually make Mary Pickford a millionaire several times over. She was not as lucky in her personal life, and she and Fairbanks divorced in 1929.
Though Pickford won an Oscar that same year for a "grown-up" role in 'Coquette', audiences never really accepted her as an adult, and she retired in 1933, finally marrying Charles "Buddy" Rogers, an actor and musician, in 1937. In 1976, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Mary its lifetime achievement award. She was known to drink to excess in her later years and Mary Pickford died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 87, in April 1979.
Pickford was internationally famous and is seen as a watershed in modern celebrity as her fame was triggered by moving images. She is also considered to have been one of silent film's most important performers and producers, while her contract demands helped shape the Hollywood industry. In light of all this, the American Film Institute has named her as the 24th greatest female star of all time.