10 Fascinating Facts About Mary Pickford

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Happy 126th birthday to Mary Pickford! We might not pay her movies much mind these days, but there's no question that Hollywood wouldn't be what it is today without her contributions. Here are a few facts about the woman who originated the "America's Sweetheart" title.

1. "AMERICA'S SWEETHEART" WAS ACTUALLY CANADIAN.

Born Gladys Louise Smith, the woman who would become known as "America's Sweetheart" was originally from Toronto and was part of a surprisingly large number of people from the early Hollywood days from up North. Others included her brother Jack Pickford, Norma Shearer, MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, Marie Dressler, and Fay Wray.

2. SHE WAS PART OF AN ACTING DYNASTY.

Long before the Baldwins or the Arquettes, there were the Pickfords. The siblings toured the U.S. with their mother, acting in some not-so-great companies. In 1907, Mary decided that if she didn't land a role in a Broadway play by the end of the year, she would quit acting and pursue a more lucrative career. She got a job on Broadway that summer.

By 1909, Pickford was appearing in 51 films a year. By 1910, she had signed a contract with Biograph Studios. She made sure her brother and sister were signed as well, starting with then-14-year-old Jack and closely followed by Lottie, who was just a year younger than Mary.

When Mary signed her first $1 million contract in 1917, she again made sure her family got their own contracts as well. Jack was one of the first Hollywood "bad boys" but died at the young age of 36 from "multiple neuritis which attacked all the nerve centers." Lottie suffered a very unexpected heart attack and died at the age of 43.

3. SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED BY "TALKIES."

Mary Pickford in the American comedy film 'Kiki' (1931)
United Artists, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Pickford was unimpressed with "talkies" and famously said, "Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus DeMilo." She was right on a personal level—once talkies took off, Pickford's acting career went rather stagnant. But that didn't mean she was done with show business.

4. SHE CO-FOUNDED A MOVIE STUDIO.

Mary co-founded United Artists along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks (before he was her husband). Although she did this in 1919, while she was still acting, she really got into producing with United Artists when she retired from acting in 1933. She sold her shares in the company in 1956 for the now-shockingly low price of $3 million.

5. SHE WAS JOAN CRAWFORD'S MOTHER-IN-LAW.

Pickford's stepson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., married Joan Crawford in 1929. Which must have made for some interesting family gatherings.

6. SHE AND DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS WERE LEGENDARY HOSTS.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks at their home Pickfair.
United Artists, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The dinner parties at Pickfair, the enormous mansion Mary shared with husband Douglas Fairbanks, were absolutely legendary. The guest lists read like someone's fictional "if you could invite 20 people to dinner..." list. Just a few of the people who supped at Pickfair include Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Jack Dempsey, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Crown Prince of Japan. It wasn't uncommon for foreign dignitaries visiting the White House to request an invitation to Pickfair as well.

7. SHE CAUSED A SCANDAL WHEN SHE CUT HER HAIR.

Mary was really close to her mom. She played an integral role in her children's success and even served on the United Artists board later in life. Because her mom was so entwined in both Mary's personal and professional lives, Mary took it quite hard when Charlotte died of breast cancer at the age of 55, but reportedly also felt liberated of her previous "little girl" persona. Famous for her long curly locks, Mary sort of pulled a Britney Spears (really, Britney pulled a Mary) and had them shorn off to a shockingly short length. People were stunned; she was so associated with her hair that the trim was front page news for The New York Times. She received hate mail from fans who felt as if they had been personally betrayed.

8. SHE WAS A PHILANTHROPIST.

At the end of WWI, Pickford helped found the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help needy actors. And in 1932, she started the "Payroll Pledge Program," where people in the industry pledged to give half of a percent of their earnings to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. There have been many industry veterans over the years who are glad she did: eventually the fund evolved to include the Motion Picture Country House, where they could go to retire even if they didn't have the funds to pay for it.

9. SHE WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO LEAVE HER HANDPRINTS AT GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATER.

Along with Fairbanks, she was the first person to leave her handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Although legend has it that Norma Talmadge was really the first (she supposedly wandered through the wet cement unwittingly and gave Sid Grauman the idea). If that's true, and not just a nice Tinseltown tale, then you can amend that statement to say that Mary and Douglas were the first to record their prints on purpose.

10. SHE WAS MORE THAN 40 YEARS INTO HER CAREER WHEN SHE MADE HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE.

Although she appeared in hundreds of movies, Pickford didn't make her first television appearance until 1953. She presented Cecil B. DeMille with the Best Picture Oscar for The Greatest Show on Earth at the first-ever televised Oscars.

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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