In preparing for a presentation today on early film history I was reviewing some notes and came across one of my favorite quotes from Mary Pickford’s autobiography Sunshine and Shadow. It’s part of a letter written to theatre mogul David Belasco by director William de Mille concerning young Mary’s decision to start making movies:
She says she can make a fairly good living at it, but it does seem a shame. After all she can’t be more than sixteen or seventeen and I remember what faith you had in her future; that appealing personality of hers would go a long way in theater, and now she’s throwing her whole career in the ash-can and burying herself in a cheap form of amusement which hasn’t a single point that I can see to recommend it. There will never be any real money in those galloping tinytypes and certainly no one can expect them to develop into anything which could, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be called art.
It makes me smile because of course not only did Mary Pickford make “real money” in the movie business she was also renowned for her artistic contributions and became more successful and influential through cinema than she (or Belasco or de Mille) could possibly have envisioned. Then there is also the realization that those “galloping tinytypes” became not only a valuable form of artistic expression but a mode of cultural and commercial domination around the world. Who would have thunk it? Who knows what the future will bring? Our where it will lead us? As individuals or as a society?
– Jennifer Dean