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Mary Pickford was a Canadian-American motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Known as "America's Sweetheart", "Little Mary" and the "girl with the curls", she was one of the Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood and a significant figure in the development of film acting.
In consideration of her contributions to American cinema, the American Film Institute named Pickford 24th among the greatest female stars of all time.
Mary Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith at 211 University Avenue, Toronto, Canada. She had two younger siblings, John Charles, called "Jack" and Charlotte, called "Lottie", who would also become actors.
Mary's mother, having worked as a seamstress while separated from her husband, began taking in boarders. One of these was a theatrical stage manager. At his suggestion, Gladys (age 7) was given two small roles, one as a boy and the other as a girl, in a stock company production of The Silver King at Toronto's Princess Theatre. She subsequently acted in many melodramas with Toronto's Valentine Company, finally playing the major child role in their version of "The Silver King" and capping her short career with the starring role of Little Eva in their production of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
By the early 1900s, theatre had become a family enterprise. Mary finally landed a supporting role in a 1907 Broadway play, The Warrens of Virginia. David Belasco, the producer of the play, insisted that Gladys Smith assume the stage name Mary Pickford.
Pickford said, "I played scrubwomen and secretaries and women of all nationalities ... I decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible, I'd become known, and there would be a demand for my work." She appeared in 51 films in 1909 – almost one a week.
By 1916, only Charlie Chaplin, who reportedly had a similarly spellbinding pull with critics and the audience, slightly surpassed Pickford's popularity. Each enjoyed a level of fame far exceeding that of other actors. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Pickford was believed to be the most famous woman in the world, or, as a silent-film journalist described her, "the best known woman who has ever lived, the woman who was known to more people and loved by more people than any other woman that has been in all history."
In 1930, Mary Pickford was awarded the Best Actress Oscar during the 2nd Academy Awards ceremony.
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