12,000 Aussies send their love to ‘Little Mary'
Canadian-American silent film star Mary Pickford was one of the world’s most popular movie stars during the First World War. In 1914 12,000 Australian fans signed an autograph book for her and contributed to a presentation silver cup. This film clip shows her reacting with bashful charm as she receives these tributes while filming in Hollywood.
'Always human, lovable, and impulsive': that’s how the Sydney Sunday Times described Mary Pickford’s character in the title role of Tess of the Storm Country when it opened in July 1914. Those words also describe how Australian audiences saw Pickford herself. Around this time, Australian newspapers sometimes even identified Pickford as Australian.
JD Williams, of the JD Williams Amusement Company, promoted Tess by harnessing Pickford’s star power. Audience members signed ‘the largest autograph book in the world’, and each paid one penny into a fund for a ‘typically Australian’ present for Pickford. Sydney’s Lord Mayor signed first, then popular stage performer Muriel Starr.
The idea was so appealing and successful that it was copied in country areas. Goulburn’s Empire Theatre initiated an ‘Empire Album’ and gift subscription.
This film clip shows Millard Johnson, the American-based film buyer for Australasian Films, and his wife Lily Gibson. The Johnsons met Daniel Frohman, a producer at Famous Players Studio in Hollywood, and presented Mary Pickford with a bouquet, the autograph book containing 12,000 signatures, and a silver 'Loving Cup' engraved with kangaroo and Australian motifs.
She was filming The Stepsisters (released as Cinderella, 1914), and was dressed for the ball. Her director James Kirkwood filmed the presentation, as Pickford responds with girlish pleasure, lowering her eyes bashfully and saying, 'I thank you, Australia. You have, indeed, made me the Proudest Girl in America.'
The resulting film was returned to Australia, although it is not clear when it was screened.