A story based on the history of Hollywood - entry for Writer's cramp
|May 29, 1979
She was many things to many people, but, to me she is my childhood personified, will always be.
I was just eight when I first met Mary Pickford. My family had recently moved to California. Hollywood was still small even though my father was a big star. Hollywood was just growing taking advantage of the war in Europe and lack of movie productions there. Many moved in to LA, like us, to make use of the long days and great outdoors for a fast paced movie production. Hollywood grew unbelievably and Europe could never catchup.
I was in our living room, on the carpet, arranging the railroad to run my favourite toy train and she walked in. It was 1917 and I had already watched ‘The Poor Little Rich Girl’ and even had cried watching it, feeling for her.
The girl with the golden curls came straight to me and said Hello, and I was awestruck by her confidence, and her warmth. She was small, at under five feet and I took her for the eleven-year-old girl that she played on screen and invited her to join me in my play. She happily did. Her eyes glittered with joy as our train traversed the ups and downs of the track. We hit it off instantly.
I remember meeting her multiple times at our home and the homes of my father’s friends around that time. I always liked her company. It seemed she liked mine too. This connection was never lost over the years.
Very soon, our household was taken by storm when my mother came to know that America's Sweetheart was also my father’s sweetheart. We all strained through the lengthy divorce and I moved to New York, California, Paris and London with my mother, and I hated it being a lonely boy, but I could never hate her. Neither could I blame my father. She was the virtuous but fiery girl next door that every American fell in love with. Also, they were so good together. Wherever they went, people were crazy for them. They were referred to as Hollywood royalty. I admired them, from a distance. I had often visited Pickfair, the couple's mansion in Beverly Hills.
It was just wonder that I felt when I came to know that she was already married for few years before my father met her. The Irish man did not treat her well and she had also gone through an abortion. My heart bled for her, when I learnt about her childhood in Canada and how she reached the film industry.
Probably due to her lack of a normal childhood, she enjoyed making the pictures where she played the little girl. Whenever I visited them, I always stayed at their guesthouse and not at the mansion. The mansion was where she was the Hollywood star, and business magnet. The guesthouse was where she was real, my playmate and friend; where she even attempted to be motherly to me. “Come let us play” she said or “Tell me what happened since we met last.” She was probably close to me than her own two adopted daughters. I always felt that she was stuck in her lost childhood for life and never wanted to grow out of it. She was always a child inside and probably this prevented her from being a great mother.
A lot was happening in her own life. She, along with my father, Charlie Chaplin and D W Griffith formed the independent film production company United Artists, through which she produced and distributed movies as she chose. She was the biggest star then whose popularity only matched by Charly Chaplin. She together with Charlie Chaplin and a few other co-stars were instrumental in the sale of Liberty bonds while bombshells destroyed Europe. Crowds considered her a powerful symbol of Americana and she sold five million worth of bonds with one speech. She received Oscar for Best actress, but many felt it was not deserved.
“Do you think so too?” she had asked me, disheartened. I did not. To me she was the best actress ever in the world.
My father remained her fan throughout his life, and cherished all her letters till the end, even though their marriage lasted only about fifteen years. Both were fiercely independent and successful people, and they could not reconcile their differences. Both regretted this inability and confided in me. My father mentioned that he felt like a Joker, letting her go from his life. I still keep a portrait of hers with a kitten on her shoulder. I always felt that she was like a kitten. As adorable, as independent, as fierce and as delicate.
She was the silent siren. Her career started fading with the arrival of sound in movies. “Adding sound to movies is superfluous” she told me, and there was no correcting her. From then, it was going south for her. She married again after the divorce with my father, and adopted two children, but she was slowly becoming a recluse, and alcoholic. Myself and a few other close friends were the only people she met. She remained a guiding light of my life and she was the one who inspired me to become a Naval officer in the World War II. Hollywood continued to be in awe of her and she received the honorary Academy Award three years ago. She remained at Pickfair, alone, she who was the Queen, once upon a time in Hollywood.
“I think God made a mistake” she told me once “He should have sent me to your father as his daughter. He would have made such a great father and you an adorable little brother.”
Today, I heard the news of her demise. She was at the hospital in Santa Monica, California, following a cerebral haemorrhage. I was waiting to hear about her recovery, but here I am at loss.
Good bye, dear friend, step mom and… sister.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr