Think of some of the most famous partnerships in Hollywood. Immediately, the obvious ones come to mind; Lucy and Desi, Hepburn and Tracy, Bogart and Bacall, Lucas and Spielberg. But what if I were to tell you there was an influential duo who set the bar high in the silent film era? That this duo was surprisingly not between two men or two Hollywood studios but between two of the most powerful women at that time? Perhaps the most powerful women in film history?
This film duet was female screenwriter, Frances Marion and silent film actress, Mary Pickford. Frances Marion was the highest paid screenwriter of her day, even amongst her male colleagues. Mary Pickford was “America’s Sweetheart” of the silent screen. They were first formally introduced by Mary’s husband Owen Moore. It was during the production of The Foundling(1915), a film based on a scenario written by Frances herself, that Mary and Frances began to develop a close relationship, both personally and professionally. Each realized the strengths of the other could complement their individual careers. Frances was well-read and knew the popular stories, and Mary had the ability to bring those stories to life in cinema. An important project for both was an adaptation of the popular play “Poor Little Rich Girl,” with Mary in the title role.
Though that script required of the lead actress to be twelve years of age and Mary was twenty-four, Frances decided it was important to hire the actors by height and use different camera angles in order to make Mary believable and the script work. This decision defined Mary’s career in terms of the films she would continue to play. While on set of “the Poor Little Rich Girl,, assistant-director Clarence Brown, observed that the pair created a “spontaneous combustion.” After the film’s commercial success, Frances became Mary’s “exclusive” writer. Mary highly regarded Frances’s talents and very often, in interviews, attributed her success in film to Frances’ works, even calling her the “pillar of my career.” “Pollyanna”, “The Love Light”, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, “The Little Princes,” were among the nineteen films spanning their collaboration. In 1932, Frances also penned “Secrets”, the last film of Mary’s career.
During their relationship, they were virtually inseparable. They lived and worked together; arrived and left set together. They were witnesses to each other’s weddings and with their new husbands, they honeymooned together in Europe. They were so symbiotic that they were able to dually ghost-write the syndicated newspaper column, “Mary Pickford’s Daily Talks.” While each received accolades for their work and went through a few too many marriages, their friendship lasted more than 50 years. Frances passed away in 1973. Mary passed away six years later.