Mary Pickford, the prominent star with the exuberant smile, bubbly personality and the curly ringlet hair was the epitome of female virtue during the silent era of cinema. With her delightful charm and immaculate screen presence that she exuded, Pickford had been enchanting audiences worldwide for decades.
It was these traits and the abundant of juvenile roles that she portrayed on screen that led to her being labelled as “America’s Sweetheart”. This epithet was indeed true; Mary Pickford had the ability to be convincing as a mischievous and feisty child of eleven or a witty and loving girl of the same age when in truth she was in the stages of adulthood in real life.
By 1919, Pickford was deemed one of the most influential figures from the motion picture industry, and along with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks she helped form United Artists, America’s independent film production company.
Before her considerable accomplishments came to the fore, her star status exalted in 1916 when Mary Pickford attained creative control over her work and signed a contract with Adolph Zukor. Shortly after she was cast in the role of ten year old Gwendolyn in The Poor Little Rich Girl, a successful vehicle that was directed by Maurice Tourneur and produced by Adolph Zukor.
The Poor Little Rich Girl first came to life when future actress Viola Dana starred in the 1913 play by Eleanor Gates. The Broadway show garnered critical acclaim and was adapted to the screen four years later by Frances Marion with Pickford playing Dana’s role.
The films plot is simple and very much realistic in the sense that it follows the path of many sheltered children who reside in households with parents who work or are engaged in other activities and in return display a lack of affection or little time for their offspring.
This is the case with Gwendolyn, played by Mary Pickford. As a ten year old child, Gwendolyn should be spending time outdoors associating with other kids her own age. Instead she is trapped in her commodious dark house with wealthy parents who are too involved in their daily activities to even realize that their daughter is craving for their love and attention. With their opulence Gwendolyn’s responsibilities are left to the abominable and incompetent maids who don’t care about the child’s happiness, and because of their selfishness they even go as far as stopping Gwendolyn from interacting with the local children.
The Poor Little Rich Girl marked an ounce of distinction in the career of Mary Pickford. Not only did it furnish her with a higher popularity rating, it was the first time that she played the role of a little girl in adulthood. This tradition would continue on with Mary portraying an array of juvenile characters. At the time of filming Pickford was 24 years old, which meant that special techniques were used to make her appear smaller than what she actually was.
The films main attraction is Mary Pickford in a star studded performance as ten year old Gwendolyn. Considering that she was 24 at the time she was filming this, she is able to perfectly execute a convincing portrayal of a lonely little girl who yearns for her parents devotion. without their guidance and in a state of boredom, Gwendolyn gets herself amid all kinds of mischief, whether it’s devilry in the bathroom or mud fights, Mary Pickford is captivating to watch in these troublesome situations, but all in all she’s a combination of witty, amiable and frolicsome.
Apart from a stellar performance by Mary Pickford, the film exhibits a unique illusionary dream sequence that resembles the main premise of The Wizard Of Oz. Instead of the whole story being a dream, Gwendolyn goes into fantasy dreamland towards the end of the film when she is given a lethal dose of medication that puts her into a comatose sleep and is fighting for her life. Considering that the film was made in 1917, the cinematography used to create this fantasy world is masterfully mesmerizing, and only the films director, Maurice Tourneur could pull this off to such effect.
Maurice Tourneur was a prolific director during the silent era of cinema. With his prowess he was able to create a moody ambience that is abounded by expressive shadows and large rooms to really accentuate the loneliness of Pickford’s character.
The Poor Little Rich Girl is wholesome family entertainment that is guaranteed to send sparks flying with it’s proliferating whimsicality.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1991.
The film was short in Fort Lee, New Jersey. This is where motion pictures evolved before moving to Hollywood.
Gwendolyn: ” I don’t want to be shut up, in that old car! I hate riding! I hate the chauffeur! I want to walk on my feet!”
Gwen’s mother: “Mother is very busy to-day, dear. We’ll try to have a little chat, to-morrow.”
Gwendolyn: “Why do my to-morrows never come?”
Title card: “So they punished the poor little rich girl, for wanting to be a free little poor girl.”
Mary Pickford: Born Gladys Louise Smith on April 8th, 1892 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Died: May 29th, 1979 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 87.