Today is August 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you know the future is yet in your power?” People who navigate the chaos understand the words of American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” One such young girl that kicked ass was Mary Pickford.
Mary Pickford was born Gladys Smith in 1892 in Toronto, Canada. After her father was killed in an accident, Gladys became the family’s main breadwinner by performing in the theatre. She was seven years old and with drive and determination her ambition would take her to Broadway and famed producer-director David Belasco, who changed her name to Mary Pickford and gave her a part in “The Warrens of Virginia” when she was 15 years old.
In 1909, at 17 years of age, when Pickford was between stage engagements, she approached director D. W. Griffith at the Biograph Company in New York and asked for work in moving pictures. She had no intention of working permanently in the new medium but hoped the income would tide her over before she went back to Belasco and the stage.
In 1913, after a run on Broadway in “A Good Little Devil,” Pickford made a definitive break from the stage by signing a motion picture contract with Adolph Zukor and the Famous Players Film Company. The year 1913 marked the dawn of the feature motion picture, and Pickford was about to become its biggest star.
In 1914, Pickford’s Tess of the Storm Country, the story of a fiery young woman fighting for the underclass, caused a sensation. The extraordinary reaction made Pickford an international star and created fan worship that had never been witnessed. In turn, this success gave Mary Pickford incredible bargaining power. In 1916, Pickford had negotiated a contract that gave her a $10,000 a week salary, 50% of her film profits, and her own production company. Pickford would sign off on every aspect of her productions, from the script to the director. She was even known to have had a hand in editing.
In 1919, when she was twenty-seven years old, Pickford co-founded United Artists, the first independent film distribution company, along with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her future husband Douglas Fairbanks. The reaction from studio bosses is summed up by the oft repeated line, “The inmates have taken over the asylum” and it was not a smooth road, but they found the success that was most important to them because they totally controlled their own product.
She would eventually go on to serve as one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a founder and first vice-president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In 1932, before the creation of the Screen Actors Guild, Mary spearheaded the Payroll Pledge Program which financed the Relief Fund by deducting one half of one percent from the salaries of those making over two hundred dollars a week. A decade later, she was there with shovel in hand to break ground for what would be the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.
Mary Pickford was a multifaceted pioneer of early cinema. She was a talented performer, a creative producer and a savvy businesswoman who helped shape the film industry of today. Pickford navigated the chaos by demonstrating her future was in her power time and again.
As director D.W. Griffith said about Mary in 1928: “She has tremendous driving power in her … and a most remarkable talent for self-appraisal. She never ‘kids’ herself. The thing that most attracted me the day I first saw her was the intelligence that shone in her face. I found she was thirsty for work and information. She could not be driven from the studio while work was going on. She was – and is – a sponge for experience.”
In the words of journalist Herbert Howe in a 1924 Photoplay, “No role she can play on the screen is as great as the role she plays in the motion picture industry. Mary Pickford the actress is completely overshadowed by Mary Pickford the individual.”
Mary Pickford once said “The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.” Time and again she navigated the chaos of life and her career by believing the future was in her power. Do you?
If you do not believe the future is yet in your power, why is that? What events have transpired in your life that have caused you to lose faith in your future? Can you identify specific people who have had an impact on your inability to believe in your future?
How long have you held on to this belief that your future rests in the hands of others? If you said aloud “my future belongs in the hands of Person A” how does that sound to your ears? Is that something you can fall asleep to? Or, are you the type of person who falls asleep to the belief that ‘life’s a bitch, and I am going to kick ass since the future is yet in my power?’ The choice is yours.