Great idea for a thread!
I thought I'd bring this over (from the 'earliest films - 1949'-thread) to this thread, as it fits the theme better.
Bob-Holland wrote:Also a few titles I have never seen before, like the '17 version of Tom Sawyer. Would love to see it.
I confess to being a huge jack Pickford fan, despite not many of his films surviving. As has been said many time, he lived in his sister's shadow (and probably in her liquor cabinet too!), but he was a fine actor and one who could be extremely likeable and vulnerable onscreen. I recently saw In Wrong from 1919, in which he really is at his best in a slight rural tale. Such a great talent, such a tragic life (albeit partly his doing).
Tom Sawyer is actually available on DVD - for now. Unknown video who produced the DVD is no more, so I'm guessing that the 7 currently in stock on amazon are probably the last. http://www.amazon.com/Tom-Sawyer-Little-Mary-Sunshine/dp/B0006PWM7I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328753360&sr=8-1
This post made me want to find out more about Jack Pickford. Man, what a life this guy must have had ...
'Tom Sawyer' was followed by 'Huck And Tom'. Another title for my to-see list.
Were there ever any docu's made about him that you know of?
I found this interesting article about Sawyer:http://jackpickfordisaluteyou.blogspot. ... -1917.html
Huck and Tom is sadly a film that none of us will ever see, as it is a lost film. The sequel to that
film, Huckleberry Finn, from 1920, was recently restored by George eastman House and broadcast late last year on TCM in the States. It is floating around on the internet as a torrent somewhere, or can be viewed on the Eastman House website via a videostream. A documentary called "In Mary's Shadow" has been made about Jack, but is reasonably sanitised - the Pickford estate (like Mary Pickford herself) is very careful on what gets sanctioned and what doesn't:http://www.aandfproductions.com/jackpickford.html
I admit that, when my PhD is finished, I would very much like to write the first jack Pickford biography. He was a fine actor and one that deserves more recognition than he gets, and it would be wonderful to finally find out the truth about his life
I gave a short paper on Pickford at a mini-conference-type event last year, and reprint my paper here (warts and all). It was used as a cue for a vocal presentation, so it is what it is, basically, rather than a finished product. But reprint it below for those that are interested.
JACK PICKFORD: THE MAN WHO HAD EVERYTHING...AND LOST IT
Jack Pickford – actor, director, alcoholic, drug user, womaniser, criminal and all-round scamp. Born in 1896, Jack was the brother of Mary Pickford, the queen of Hollywood during the 1920s while her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, was the king. Jack entered the film industry in 1909 and featured, mostly in small roles, in a series of short films under the helm of such directors as D W Griffith. His big break came in 1917 when he played the title role in William Desmond Taylor’s film adaptation of Tom Sawyer, which was so successful that a sequel, Tom and Huck, was made the following year. By 1918, when he joined the armed forces, Jack had married former Ziegfeld girl and rising star of the screen, Olive Thomas, a young woman who shared Jack’s love of fun, alcohol and, allegedly, drugs.
Whilst in the armed forces, Jack found himself involved in the running of a scam in which he helped others avoid military service. He was court-martialled, although his dishonourable discharge was changed to medical discharge when he turned state witness in the subsequent trial:
Still Jack made a number of films following this, including the funny Man Who Had Everything (available from Grapevine video) and In Wrong, a charming rural drama from 1919:
In 1920, with their marriage on the rocks, Jack and Olive travelled to Europe in the hope that the trip would help them to patch things up. It didn’t. After an alcohol-fuelled evening of partying, Olive drank a bottle of medication prescribed to Jack for the syphilis he had also supposedly passed on to his wife. She died a few days later. Unsurprisingly, speculation grew that Olive’s death was suicide or even murder, although Jack always protested that it was simply an accident. The following year, William Desmond Taylor, Jack’s friend and director of two of his biggest hit films (Tom Sawyer and Tom and Huck), was found murdered. His murder is still unsolved.
Jack married twice more, both times to former Ziegfeld girls and both times unsucessfully. He continued making films throughout the 1920s with his career only fading out in 1929 following the advent of sound – although his lifestyle, unpredictable behaviour and premature aging were probably as much to blame as the change to the film industry. Jack’s health deteriorated rapidly over the next few years and he died in 1933, aged just 37.
In this paper, I will explore how the scandals associated with Jack were reported at the time in publications as different as Photoplay and The New York Times. The latter publication is surprising in the way that it handled the scandals, using more of a tabloid approach than one might expect from such a respected newspaper. By examining these articles I will show how Jack Pickford could be regarded as one of the first, if not the first Hollywood celebrity to suffer what we might call today “trial by press” or “trial be media”. The fact that he was still making films nearly a decade after the suspicious death of his wife should be our first indicator that such events were treated vastly differently ninety years ago to how they are now. After all, Michael Barrymore’s career was effectively over when the body of Stuart Lubbock was found floating in his swimming pool. Jack was not a prolific actor, however, making normally just one or two films a year during the 1920s – compare this to the 13 that Clara Bow starred in during 1925 alone. Despite this, Pickford was never relegated to particularly minor films. In 1925 he starred in Waking Up The Town with Norma Shearer and The Goose Woman, a film co-starring Louise Dressler based on a real-life murder case. 1926 saw him in the ensemble cast of The Bat, the first film version of the Broadway hit old dark house thriller, and in Brown of Harvard which also starred William Haines. His final silent film was Exit Smiling in 1927, a huge flop on release, but even this was blamed on the lack of comedic skills of Beatrice Lillie rather than on Jack (and is now highly thought of!)
One of the most surprising things that one can see when looking at film magazines of the 1920s is the way in which the scandals such as those surrounding Jack Pickford were rarely covered. Whereas today scandal makes up the majority of many celebrity magazines, this was not the case during this earlier period. From my own point of view, this was unexpected. One of the things I intended to talk about today was how the likes of Photoplay covered the story of the death of Jack Pickford’s first wife, Olive Thomas, who died in Paris in 1920. However, upon examining the magazines from 1920 and early 1921, I realised that the event was barely mentioned at all. Photoplay simply published a full page photograph of Olive Thomas along with three lines of text stating that the photograph was in tribute to Thomas who had recently died of accidental poisoning. It would be difficult to imagine a fan magazine being so reverent about a suspicious celebrity death now. However, in the case of Pickford at least, it was left up to the broadsheets such as the New York Times to cover the events in more detail – and to encourage speculation.
Pickford had already made the newspapers a couple of years earlier due to his involvement in a bootlegging racket, a story in which he was dealt with somewhat unsympathetically. Therefore it is no surprise that the newspaper appears to have come to its own conclusions about his involvement in his wife’s death. The first mention of the events of Olive Thomas’s poisoning appear in a short article on September 8, 1920. At this point, Thomas was seriously ill. The paper states that Thomas was suffering from “mecurial poisoning” and that “the closest secrecy veils the affair” and “outside nurses have been engaged”.
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Two days later, on September 10, a headline tells us “Olive Thomas Near Death”. Again the article seems intent on stirring up speculation as to how the poisoning happened. The article states that “as she has been unable to talk since she took the poison, Miss Thomas has not been able to explain how she came to make the mistake of drinking from the bottle which was clearly marked”. It’s clear from the repeated querying of how the poisoning came about and the supposed secrecy of the affair that the newspaper is going to make more of this in the coming days and that, despite any facts that may surface in the future, their stance is going to be that there is some form of cover-up. This, in many ways, is surprising. Although over the next few years Hollywood was rocked by scandals which would indirectly lead to the introduction of the Production Code in 1934, the death of Olive Thomas was the first of these and so one can only presume that the suspicions that had been aroused by the incident were caused by the fact that naughty boy Jack Pickford was the husband of the deceased.
On September 11, the day after Thomas’s eventual death from the poison, the New York Times contained a much longer article which seems to divulge the information that the paper seems to have had from the outset. The headline of this story tells us that “Paris authorities investigate the death of Olive Thomas” while the subheading tells us that that “police seek evidence on rumours of drug and champagne orgies”. Again there are hints that within the story that Jack Pickford was not an innocent in the affair. While the police were investigating what the paper calls “cocaine orgies”, they apparently had not yet interviewed Pickford who was “not receiving visitors” and, according to a physician, was “in a very bad state of health”.
Even so, there seems little likelihood of the husband of a victim of poisoning not having been interviewed by the police within nearly a week of the initial taking of the poison. Yet, according to the New York Times, he still hadn’t given his version of the events to the authorities, something which is very hard to believe. Surely with a suspicious death such as this, he wouldn’t have had a choice and would have been taken in for questioning, if only for a formality. Just a few days later, the autopsy on Thomas had taken place and the newspaper reported that Pickford and his friends had already left for London.
Jack Pickford did give his own account of the events to the Los Angeles Enquirer. To say that his comments are understated is to put it mildly. In the article he said: "...We arrived back at the Ritz hotel at about 3 o'clock in the morning. ... Both of us were tired out. We both had been drinking a little.” One would always assume that someone in Jack’s position would play down the amount of alcohol and/or drugs that had been taken but to try to get away with “we had been drinking a little” probably did him no favours and certainly made his story considerably less believable, especially with the fact that the police had already said that they were investigating various parties that had taken place that night as part of their enquiries. Pickford carries on: “She was in the bathroom. Suddenly she shrieked. I jumped out of bed, rushed toward her and caught her in my arms. She cried to me to find out what was in the bottle. I picked it up and read: 'Poison.' It was a toilet solution and the label was in French. I realized what she had done and sent for the doctor. Meanwhile, I forced her to drink water in order to make her vomit. ... The doctor came. He pumped her stomach three times while I held Olive. .... She didn't want to die. She took the poison by mistake. We both loved each other since the day we married. The fact that we were separated months at a time made no difference in our affection for each other. ... She kept continually calling for me. I was beside her day and night until her death. The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. .... She was kept alive only by hypodermic injections during the last twelve hours. I was the last one she recognized. I watched her eyes glaze and realized she was dying. I asked her how she was feeling and she answered: 'Pretty weak, but I'll be all right in a little while, don't worry, darling.' Those were her last words. I held her in my arms and she died an hour later. .... All stories and rumors of wild parties and cocaine and domestic fights since we left New York are untrue...” Pickford’s obviously sanitised and, in places, saccharine account of the events could have done him no favours, especially as both he and Olive were well-known hell-raisers in Hollywood who were notorious for their appetite for partying.
One would assume that, after the funeral, the story would peter out. This is indeed the case, but it was to raise its head virtually every time Jack Pickford found himself in the newspaper in subsequent years. Two years later, in 1922, Pickford re-married, this time to fellow widower, Marilyn Miller whose husband had also died in a car accident, also in 1920. On May 28, 1922, the New York Times declared in a headline “Marilyn Miller to Marry Jack Pickford”. The story consists of 5 paragraphs, two of which are about the forthcoming wedding, with the final three being about Jack’s scandals. The paper reminds its readers that Pickford’s first wife died of “bichloride mercury poisoning, having taken the poison in her hotel apartment following a night of gayety in Montmartre” before adding that “Pickford was asleep in the next room at the time and was awakened by her cries”. This seems a rather unsubtle way of suggesting that parts of the story are still missing. The readers are left wondering why Pickford wasn’t in the same room as his wife? Were they not sleeping together? Was the marriage already on the rocks? The story finishes by raking over the issue of Pickford’s court martial in 1918, stating that he “turned state’s evidence in the exposure of the graft and bribery ring in the Third Naval District”. The paper went on to fuel extra speculation as to the state of Jack’s first marriage in a story from July 1922 in which it states that Olive Thomas left everything to her Mother, with nothing going to her husband.
There is an apparent preconception (which still lingers on today) that Jack only had a career because he was the sister of Mary Pickford. Whether or not this is true we shall never be able to completely determine, but we do know that Jack had appeared in a huge number of short films prior to the mid-1910s when Mary was at the pinnacle of her fame, and not just at the studios at which Mary herself was making films. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Jack didn’t get all of his work through Mary’s stardom, at least in the early years of his career. Following the death of Olive Thomas, Mary did finance a couple of the movies which he directed, and yet Jack’s own status rose again during the mid-1920s. Most explanations for his relatively low output of acting work is that he had become depressed and disinterested. The real reason is something we shall probably not know unless a full biography of him is written at some point in the future which has access to letters and diaries etc.
The Pittsburgh Post takes all of the speculation on his career and personal life a stage further when it reported on Pickford’s death in 1933, which ironically took place in the same Paris hospital as that of Olive Thomas. The relatively lengthy article almost becomes a memoriam for Thomas, who seems to be of more interest to the Pittsburgh Post simply because she originated from Pittsburgh. However, the article seems particularly cutting when it comes to Jack, referring to him as a “one time film star” and “brother of the famous Mary”. In comparison, the article refers to Thomas’s “brilliant but short” career. Almost a column is then given over to a summary of Thomas’s rise to fame ending with an almost bizarre account of the poisoning incident that killed her. According to the newspaper “she stumbled in his (Jack’s) bedroom following their return from a night of gaiety and said ‘I’ve taken poison, goodbye Jack’”. It then refers to her suicide, when the official ruling was accidental death.
Both The New York Times and The Pittsburgh Post seem to be intent on linking Jack with the death of his wife, whether by implying that there was a cover up as to how and why the poison was taken in The New York Times or the suggestion that he must have had been part of the reason for her suicide in The Pittsburgh Post. This seems to be an early example of what we might call “trial by press”, something which has become more and more prevalent over the last ninety years most notably perhaps with regards to the child molestation trial of Michael Jackson and the aforementioned Michael Barrymore story. With regards to Jack Pickford, the allegations are implied rather than stated outright, almost as if the newspapers were testing the waters as to how much they could get away with in this area. All of that changed rapidly over the next couple of years with the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the death of movie star Wallace Reid due to drugs and the manslaughter trials of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, a comedian second only to Chaplin in the popularity stakes in the 1910s. Arbuckle was accused of raping and causing the death of Virginia Rappe, a struggling actress, at a booze-fuelled party. There were literally hundreds of newspaper stories about Arbuckle, the party and the morals of Hollywood in general. There were three trials, the first two of which were inconclusive. The third trial ended in acquittal, with the foreman of the jury reading a statement which said: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him... there was not the slightest proof produced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.” However, it was too late, Arbuckle was a broken man and was effectively banished from movies by William Hayes. He attempted a comeback in 1932, but died the following year – the same year as Jack Pickford.
Arguably, Arbuckle is still more remembered for the scandal than for his popularity. The same can certainly be said for Jack Pickford, who is still regularly accused of benefitting from his sister’s fame and of being implicated in some way in the death of Thomas. A recent biography of the actress is particularly (and rather viciously) damning of him. In the 2007 book, Michelle Vogel writes that “Jack wallowed in a world of alcohol- and drug-induced self-pity and grief (or was it guilt?) for two and a half years after Olive’s death.” She goes on: “There were so many unanswered questions surrounding the lead up to Olive’s death and Jack held the answers to most (if not all) of them. Unless he had ice water running through his veins, the weight of that burden would have been difficult to endure without the help of a bottle of something stronger than lemonade”. One can only assume that such vindictiveness was influenced by the reading of contemporary newspaper stories and gossip columns. Her rather unprofessional prejudice is perhaps at its most cutting in her next comment: “When you analyse the few years that Jack had to live after Olive’s death, everything, on every level, began to fall apart for him....The old saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ seems to be extraordinarily appropriate when it comes to the life of Jack Pickford”. Harsh words.
This was the first scandal to rock the modern celebrity world. Many more have followed, from the Fatty Arbuckle case to the Michael Jackson case, and from the revelations of Rock Hudson’s private life to the murder of Ramon Novarro at the hands of two hustlers the aging actor had taken back to his house. Looking at these articles, it appears that, from the very beginning, the newspaper industry has been of the opinion “we can put you on a pedestal, and we can knock you down again”, something that we have seen time and time again in recent years. What’s more, as Michelle Vogel’s biography of Olive Thomas goes to show, once the suspicions and scandals have been made public, it is almost impossible for a celebrity to shake them off, even three quarters of a century after their death.