Jack Pickford

Last updated

Jack Pickford
Pickford, c. 1916
John Charles Smith

(1896-08-18)August 18, 1896
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedJanuary 3, 1933(1933-01-03) (aged 36)
Paris, France
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
OccupationActor, director, producer
Years active1909–1928
Parent(s) Charlotte Hennessy
John Charles Smith
Relatives Mary Pickford (sister)
Lottie Pickford (sister)

John Charles Smith (August 18, 1896 – January 3, 1933), known professionally as Jack Pickford, was a Canadian-American actor, film director and producer. He was the younger brother of actresses Mary and Lottie Pickford.


After their father deserted the family, all three Pickford children began working as child actors on the stage. Mary later became a highly popular silent film actress, producer and early Hollywood pioneer. While Jack also appeared in numerous films as the "All American boy next door" and was a fairly popular performer, he was overshadowed by his sister's success. His career declined steadily due to alcohol, drugs and chronic depression.

Early life

John Charles Smith was born in 1896 in Toronto, Ontario, to John Charles Smith, an English immigrant odd-job man of Methodist background, and Charlotte Hennessy Smith, who was Irish Catholic. [1] As a child he was known as 'Jack'. His alcoholic father deserted the family while Pickford was a young child, leaving the family impoverished. Out of desperation, Charlotte allowed Jack and his two sisters Gladys and Lottie to appear onstage, beginning with Gladys, the eldest. This proved a good source of income and, by 1900, the family had relocated to New York City and the children were acting in plays across the United States.

Due to work the family was constantly separated until 1910 when Gladys signed with Biograph Studios. By this time, his sister Gladys Smith had been transformed into Mary Pickford (Marie was her middle name, and Pickford an old family name). Following suit, the Smiths changed their stage names to 'Pickford'.

Soon after signing with Biograph, Mary secured jobs for all the family, including the then-14-year-old Jack. When the Biograph Company headed west to Hollywood, only Mary was to go until Jack pleaded to join the company as well. Much to Mary's protest, Charlotte threw him on the train as it left the station. The company arrived in Hollywood, where Jack acted in bit parts during the stay.[ citation needed ]

Mary soon became a well-known star, and by 1917 had signed a contract for $1 million with First National Pictures. As part of her contract, Mary saw to it that her family was brought along, giving the now-named Jack Pickford a lucrative contract with the company as well.

Acting career

Pickford in Robert G. Vignola's Seventeen (1916) Jack pickford.jpg
Pickford in Robert G. Vignola's Seventeen (1916)

By the time he signed with First National, Pickford had played bit parts in 95 shorts and films. Though Pickford was considered an excellent actor, he was seen as someone who never lived up to his potential. In 1917, he starred in one of his first major roles as Pip in the adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations as well as the title role in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and the follow-up Huck and Tom in 1918.

In early 1918, after the United States entered World War I, Pickford joined the United States Navy as an enlisted sailor and was stationed at the Third Naval District in Manhattan, New York. By 1923, his roles had gone from several a year to one. In 1928, he finished his last film, acting as Clyde Baxter in Gang War . Through the years, he dabbled in screen writing and directing; however, he never pursued either form further. Most of his films, especially those in the late 1910s, were both commercial and critical successes, making a highly regarded name for himself. Pickford's image was that of the All-American boy, with his sister being “America’s Sweetheart.” In all, Pickford appeared in more than 130 movies between 1908 and 1928.

Personal life


Olive Thomas, c. 1920 Olive Thomas 4.jpg
Olive Thomas, c. 1920

Pickford met actress and Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas at a beach cafe on the Santa Monica Pier. Screenwriter and director Frances Marion later commented on the couple's lifestyle:

...I had seen her [Thomas] often at the Pickford home, for she was engaged to Mary's brother, Jack. Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers. [2]

Pickford and Thomas eloped on October 25, 1916, in New Jersey. None of their family was present and their only witness was Thomas Meighan. The couple had no children of their own, though in 1920, they adopted Olive's then-six-year-old nephew when his mother died. [3] Although by most accounts Olive was the love of Pickford's life, the marriage was stormy and filled with highly charged conflict, followed by lavish making up through the exchange of expensive gifts. [4] For many years the Pickfords had intended to vacation together and with their marriage on the rocks, the couple decided to take a second honeymoon. [3]

In August 1920, the pair traveled to Paris, hoping to combine a vacation with some film preparations. On the night of September 5, 1920, the couple went out for a night of entertainment and partying at the famous bistros in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. They returned to their room in the Hôtel Ritz around 3:00 a.m. It was rumored Thomas may have taken cocaine that night, though it was never proven. She was intoxicated and tired, and took a large dose of mercury bichloride, a common item for bathroom cleaning. [5] She was taken to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, where Pickford, together with his former brother-in-law Owen Moore, remained at her side until she succumbed to the poison a few days later. Rumors arose that she had either tried to commit suicide or had been murdered. A police investigation followed, as well as an autopsy, and Thomas's death was ruled accidental. [3]

Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller, c. 1924 Jack Pickford & Marilyn Miller.jpg
Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller, c. 1924

Pickford married two more times. On July 31, 1922, he married Marilyn Miller (1898–1936), a celebrated Broadway dancer and former Ziegfeld girl, at his sister and brother-in-law's famed home Pickfair. [6] [7] By most accounts it was an abusive marriage due to Pickford's drug abuse and alcoholism. [8] They separated in 1926 and Miller was granted a French divorce in November 1927. [7] [9]

Pickford's final marriage was to Mary Mulhern, aged 22 and a former Ziegfeld girl, whom he married on August 12, 1930. [10] Within three months Pickford grew increasingly volatile towards Mulhern. [11] After two years Mulhern left Pickford, claiming he had mistreated her throughout the marriage. [12] She was granted an interlocutory divorce in February 1932 which had yet to be finalized at the time of Pickford's death. [13]

Death and legacy

In 1932, Pickford visited his sister Mary at Pickfair. According to Mary, he looked ill and emaciated; his clothes were hanging on him as if he were a clothes hanger. Mary Pickford recalled in her autobiography that she felt a wave of premonition when watching her brother leave. As they started down the stairs to the automobile entrance, Jack called back to her "Don’t come down with me, Mary dear, I can go alone." Mary later wrote that as she stood at the top of the staircase, an inner voice said "That’s the last time you’ll see Jack". [14]

Jack Pickford, at age 36, died at the American Hospital of Paris on January 3, 1933. The cause for his death was listed as "progressive multiple neuritis which attacked all the nerve centers". This was believed due to his alcoholism. Mary Pickford arranged for his body to be returned to Los Angeles, where he was interred in the private Pickford plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. [15]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Jack Pickford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1523 Vine Street. [16]

Selected filmography

1909The MessageIn Crowd
1909Wanted, a ChildA Child
1909 To Save Her Soul A Stagehand
1910 All on Account of the Milk At Construction Site
1910 The Kid Walter Holden's Son
1910 Ramona A boy
1910 The Modern Prodigal The Sheriff's Son
1911 His Trust Fulfilled Black messenger
1911 The Stuff Heroes are Made Of
1912 A Temporary Truce An Indian
1912 Man's Lust for Gold Among the Indians
1912 The Inner Circle The Messenger
1912 A Feud in the Kentucky Hills A Brother
1912 The Painted Lady Beau at Ice Cream Festival
1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley Rival Gang Member/At Dance
1912 Heredity Son of White Renegade Father and Indian Mother
1912 My Baby Wedding Guest
1912 Brutality At Theatre
1912 The New York Hat Youth outside church
1912 My Hero IndianUnconfirmed
1913 A Misappropriated Turkey On Street
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel A Bellhop
1913 The Unwelcome Guest One of the ChildrenAlternative title: An Unwelcome Guest
1914The Gangsters of New YorkSpot, the spyAlternative title: The Gangsters
1914 Home, Sweet Home The Mother's Son
1914 His Last Dollar Jockey Jones
1915 The Love Route Billy Ball
1915 The Pretty Sister of Jose Jose
1915 A Girl of Yesterday John Stuart
1916 Poor Little Peppina BeppoAlternative title: Little Peppina
1916 Seventeen William Sylvanus Baxter
1917 The Dummy Barney Cook
1917 What Money Can't Buy Dick Hale
1917 The Varmint John Humperdink Stover
1917 Tom Sawyer Tom Sawyer
1918 The Spirit of '17 Davy Glidden
1918 Huck and Tom Tom Sawyer
1918 His Majesty, Bunker Bean Bunker Bean
1918 Mile-a-Minute Kendall Kendall
1918 Sandy Sandy Kilday
1919Bill Apperson's BoyBuddy Apperson
1919Burglar by ProxyJack Robin
1919 In Wrong Johnny Spivins
1920 The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come Chad
1920 A Double-Dyed Deceiver the Llano Kid
1920 The Man Who Had Everything Harry Bullway
1920Just Out of CollegeEd Swinger
1923 Garrison's Finish Billy Garrison
1923 Hollywood HimselfCameo appearance
1924The Hill BillyJed McCoyAlternative title: The Hillbilly
1925 Waking Up the Town Jack Joyce
1925 My Son Tony
1925 The Goose Woman Gerald Holmes
1926 The Bat Brooks Bailey
1926 Brown of Harvard Jim Doolittle
1926 Exit Smiling Jimmy Marsh
1928 Gang War Clyde BaxterAlternative title: All Square, Lost film


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">D. W. Griffith</span> American film director and producer (1875–1948)

David Wark Griffith was an American film director. Considered one of the most influential figures in the history of the motion picture, he pioneered many aspects of film editing and expanded the art of the narrative film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Pickford</span> Canadian-American actress (1892–1979)

Gladys Louise Smith, known professionally as Mary Pickford, was a Canadian-American stage and screen actress and producer with a career that spanned five decades. A pioneer in the US film industry, she co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studios and United Artists, and was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Pickford is considered to be one of the most recognisable women in history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olive Thomas</span> American actress and model (1894–1920)

Olive Thomas was an American silent-film actress, art model, and photo model.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Owen Moore</span> American actor

Owen Moore was an Irish-born American actor, appearing in more than 279 movies spanning from 1908 to 1937.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beatrice Lillie</span>

Beatrice Gladys Lillie, Lady Peel, known as Bea Lillie, was a Canadian-born British actress, singer and comedic performer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biograph Studios</span> Former film studio and laboratory complex in the United States

Biograph Studios was an early film studio and laboratory complex, built in 1912 by the Biograph Company at 807 East 175th Street, in The Bronx, New York City, New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biograph Company</span> Defunct American film studio

The Biograph Company, also known as the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, was a motion picture company founded in 1895 and active until 1916. It was the first company in the United States devoted entirely to film production and exhibition, and for two decades was one of the most prolific, releasing over 3000 short films and 12 feature films. During the height of silent film as a medium, Biograph was America's most prominent film studio and one of the most respected and influential studios worldwide, only rivaled by Germany's UFA, Sweden's Svensk Filmindustri and France's Pathé. The company was home to pioneering director D. W. Griffith and such actors as Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Lionel Barrymore.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mae Marsh</span> American actress

Mae Marsh was an American film actress with a career spanning over 50 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marilyn Miller</span> Broadway musical star (1898–1936)

Marilyn Miller was one of the most popular Broadway musical stars of the 1920s and early 1930s. She was an accomplished tap dancer, singer and actress, and the combination of these talents endeared her to audiences. On stage, she usually played rags-to-riches Cinderella characters who lived happily ever after. Her enormous popularity and famed image were in distinct contrast to her personal life, which was marred by disappointment, tragedy, frequent illness, and ultimately her sudden death due to complications of nasal surgery at age 37.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Meighan</span> American actor

Thomas Meighan was an American actor of silent films and early talkies. He played several leading-man roles opposite popular actresses of the day, including Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson. At one point he commanded $10,000 per week.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lottie Pickford</span> Canadian-American actress (1893–1936)

Charlotte Smith, known professionally as Lottie Pickford, was a Canadian-American silent film actress and socialite. She was the younger sister of fellow actress Mary Pickford and elder sister of actor Jack Pickford.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charlotte Hennessey</span> American actress

Charlotte Hennessey Smith (Pickford) was a Canadian silent film actress and the mother of Mary, Lottie, and Jack Pickford, who all became actors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Pickford filmography</span>

Mary Pickford (1892–1979) was a Canadian-American motion picture actress, producer, and writer. During the silent film era she became one of the first great celebrities of the cinema and a popular icon known to the public as "America's Sweetheart".

<i>Ramona</i> (1910 film) 1910 film

Ramona is a 1910 American short drama film directed by D. W. Griffith, based on Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel Ramona. Through a love story, the early silent short explores racial injustice to Native Americans and stars Mary Pickford and Henry B. Walthall. A copy of the print survives in the Library of Congress film archive. The film was remade in 1928 with Dolores del Río and 1936 with Loretta Young.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gladys Egan</span> American actress (1900–1985)

Gladys Egan was an early 20th-century American child actress, who between 1907 and 1914 performed professionally in theatre productions as well as in scores of silent films. She began her brief entertainment career appearing on the New York stage as well as in plays presented across the country by traveling companies. By 1908 she also started working in the film industry, where for six years she acted almost exclusively in motion pictures for the Biograph Company of New York. The vast majority of her screen roles during that period were in shorts directed by D. W. Griffith, who cast her in over 90 of his releases. While most of Egan's films were produced by Biograph, she did work for other motion-picture companies between 1911 and 1914, such as the Reliance Film Company and Independent Moving Pictures. By 1916, however, Egan's acting career appears to have ended, for she was no longer being mentioned in major trade journals or included in published studio personnel directories as a regularly employed actor. Although she may have performed as an extra or in some bit parts after 1914, no available filmographies or entertainment publications from the period cite Egan in any screen or stage role after that year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dorothy West (actress)</span> American actress

Dorothy West was an American stage and film actress and radio performer.

<i>The Biograph Girl</i> Musical

The Biograph Girl is a musical with a book by Warner Brown, lyrics by Brown and David Heneker, and music by Heneker. Its plot focuses on the silent film era and five pioneers of American cinema - actresses Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, directors D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, and Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Douglas Fairbanks</span> American actor (1883–1939)

Douglas Elton Fairbanks Sr. was an American actor, screenwriter, director, and producer. He was best known for his swashbuckling roles in silent films including The Thief of Bagdad, Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro, but spent the early part of his career making comedies.

Fate is a 1913 silent short film directed by D. W. Griffith and produced and distributed by the Biograph Company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timeline of Mary Pickford</span> Catalog of events

Mary Pickford (1892–1979) was a Canadian motion picture actress, producer, and writer. During the silent film era she became one of the first great celebrities of the cinema and a popular icon known to the public as "America's Sweetheart".


  1. Foster, Charles (2000). Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood . Dundurn Press Ltd. pp.  945. ISBN   1-55002-348-9.
  2. Marion, Frances (1972). Off With Their Heads: A Serio-comic Tale of Hollywood. Macmillan. p. 65.
  3. 1 2 3 The Life and Death of Olive Thomas. Taylorology. Arizona State University.
  4. Memories of Olive Archived December 14, 2012, at archive.today , Assumption College.
  5. Foster 2000 , p. 257
  6. Slide, Anthony (2005). Silent topics: Essays on Undocumented Areas of Silent Film. Scarecrow Press. p. 34. ISBN   0-8108-5016-8.
  7. 1 2 "Report: Marilyn Miller and Jack Pickford Separated". The Lewiston Daily Sun. January 6, 1926. p. 11. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  8. Epting, Charles L. (2016). Bebe Daniels: Hollywood's Good Little Bad Girl. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 102. ISBN   9781476663746.
  9. "Paris Decree Won By Marilyn Miller". The Milwaukee Sentinel. November 3, 1927. p. 5. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  10. "Pickford Wedding Is Unmarred". San Jose Evening News. August 13, 1930. p. 4. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  11. Whitfield, Eileen (2007). Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 208. ISBN   9780813191799.
  12. "Jack Pickford Divorced". The Pittsburgh Press. February 27, 1932. p. 1. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  13. "Jack Pickford, Famous Film Star's Brother Who Also Won Fame in Motion Pictures, Dies". Berkeley Daily Gazette. January 4, 1933. p. 18. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  14. Pickford, Mary (1955). Sunshine and Shadow. Doubleday. p. 337.
  15. Foster, Charles (2000). Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood . Dundurn Press Ltd. pp.  963. ISBN   1-55002-348-9.
  16. "Hollywood Star Walk: Jack Pickford". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  17. "PARIS AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE DEATH OF OLIVE THOMAS; Police Seek Evidence on Rumors of Drug and Champagne Orgies. REFUSE TO RELEASE BODY Former American Officer, Sentenced for Selling Cocaine, One of Those Questioned. PICKFORD IN DOCTOR'S CARE Police Have Not Yet Obtained His Story of How the Actress Drank Poison". The New York Times . September 11, 1920. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  18. "isbn:1613734077 - Google Search". books.google.com. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  19. Steve Vaught (August 19, 2011). "You Don't Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part I". Paradise Leased. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  20. Steve Vaught (August 26, 2011). "You Don't Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part II". Paradise Leased. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  21. Steve Vaught (August 29, 2011). "You Don't Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part III". Paradise Leased. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  22. "page 22". Daily News. September 14, 1920. Retrieved August 24, 2018 via newspapers.com.
  23. Amy Marie (September 20, 2016). "The Final Years of Jack Pickford". Stories of the Silent. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  24. Gordon Thomas (September 10, 2015). "Beautiful Dead Girl: On Early Hollywood Casualty Olive Thomas (Oct. 20, 1894-Sept. 10, 1920)". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  25. Shane Brown (January 28, 2014). "The Man Who Had Everything: The Curious Case of Jack Pickford and the New York Times". Bright Lights Film Journal. Archived from the original on August 24, 2018. Retrieved August 24, 2018.