Canadian Gladys Smith in 1916- the most famous and highest paid actress in the world, aka Mary Pickford

Canadian Gladys Smith in 1916- the most famous and highest paid actress in the world, aka Mary Pickford
Photo Credit: Library of Congress-wiki commons

History: June 24,1916, Canada’s record breaking “million dollar” actress


America’s Sweetheart- was Canadian

In 1916, most women still hadn’t the right to vote and were barely considered as anything more than housewives, or perhaps secretaries (although that was changing slightly with the war effort). However, on this date, Gladys Louise Smith, a Canadian, signed one of the single most lucrative contracts in the world at that time.

Her father died while she was still very young and her widowed mother began taking in boarders at the family home in Toronto. At the suggestion of one of them, a theatre stage manager, Glady’s was encoureged to take on bit parts on stage starting at the tender age of 4,

She went on to act in many bit parts in plays around Toronto.  The theatre soon became a family enterprise involving mother and siblings.

Originally known as the Girl with the Curls, the Biograph girl, or Blondilocks, Canadian Mary Pickford would become one of the most influential figures in Hollywood's silent film era
Originally known as the Girl with the Curls, the Biograph girl, or Blondilocks, Canadian Mary Pickford would become one of the most influential figures in Hollywood’s silent film era © Handy Co. Library of Congress

They began touring with third rate theatrical companies in the US. In 1907 after landing a part in a Broadway play, it was suggested she change her name to Mary Pickford

She later began playing roles in Nickleodeon films and realized that the silent films were easier than the theatre and paid more.

D.W. Griffith of Biograph films realized the potential of the young girl with the curls to attract audiences and actually paid her even more, at $10 per film, double the usual rate for actors.

When the Biograph crew moved from New York to Los Angeles for the longer filming days and better weather, she went along.

Although actors were not given credits, she was quickly recognized by audiences and cinemas would capitalize on her popularity by announcing the film was with “the Biograph Girl”, or “the girl with the curls” or Blondilocks”.

Throughout the next couple of years her popularity and fame grew.

Studio portrait of mary Pickford in 1920
Studio portrait of mary Pickford in 1920 © Alfred Cheney Johnston from the Alfred Cheney Johnston Collection- U.S. Library of Congress- cph.3b2

By 1914, her name was featured above the movie on theatre marquees and whe sought and was given more pay raises based on the films profits, something extremely rare.

Dubbed “America’s Sweetheart” by a producer in 1913, her fame was such that only Charlie Chaplin surpassed her popularity and worldwide recognition, and even then not by a great deal.

Hollywood’s first million-dollar contract

On June 24 1916, after intense negotiation, feature film producer Adolph Zukor of Famous Players later Paramount, agreed to almost unprecendented contract of a two-year guaranteed million dollars plus full authority over her films and a cut in profits, making her the highest paid actress in the world.

An astute businesswoman, when that contract expired she formed an independent company, United Artists, with Charlie Chaplin, eventual husband and star Douglas Fairbanks, and producer D.W. Griffiths.

Mary Pickford in Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove (1934), her only film appearance in Technicolor
Mary Pickford in a brief cameo in “Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove (1934), her only film appearance in Technicolor © wiki commons

She continued to produce and perform in her own films which only increased her popularity.

However the arrival of sound- the “talkies”- eventually was her undoing and now in her thirties, could no long play the coquettish young girl roles that had made her popular. She retired from acting in 1933 but continued to produce films until she and Chaplin sold theri shares in United Artists in the mid 1950’s.

Afterward she became a semi-recluse in her Hollywood mansion until her death in May 1979 at age 87.

Pickford was also instrumental in organizing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the inaugural Oscar awards that took place that year. (See: Why the Oscars are Called the Oscars) In 1929, she took home the statuette for best actress for her role in “Coquette.” Pickford also notably received a lifetime achievement award from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1976.

At the height of her popularity it was said she was the one of the most recognizable figures in the world, and certainly the best known woman in the world.

Although she had become an American citizen with her marriage (her second) to Douglas Fairbanks in 1920, In later years she had said she wanted to die as a Canadian and her Canadian citizenship was renewed, giving her dual citizenship. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale California along with her mother, brother and sister.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Arts and Entertainment, International

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1.’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3.’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.