I’ve been dying to share the following posts for a long time, and rather than just hit “reblog” a few times and call it a day I’m going to give them a proper introduction!
As Mary fans know, she wasn’t the only Pickford in Hollywood. Her two younger siblings, Lottie and Jack, were also in the movies. Lottie had numerous (mainly small) roles in films from 1909-1912. Post-1912 her career became sporadic and her personal life grew increasingly messy (according to the more reliable accounts). Jack, on the other hand? He not only had a prolific career, but he became a star in his own right.
After appearing in bit roles in dozens and dozens of shorts, mainly at Biograph, Jack began starring in features, starting with Seventeen (1916). Hit after hit would follow–Great Expectations (1916), Tom Sawyer (1917), His Majesty, Bunker Bean (1918), etc–making Jack one of the most popular young male actors in the nation. He was a charming, sensitive performer, and while the Pickford name obviously helped him it was undeniably his talent that kept audiences wanting more. And kept exhibitors happily raking in the dough: he made 11 features in 1917 alone. (I feel exhausted just thinking about it!)
Offscreen, Jack was an irrepressible, party-hardy charmer, often a few drinks ahead of everyone else. He also had a tendency to get himself into scrapes–one anecdote tells of how he got thrown off a Ferris wheel for standing on his head. Mary adored her little brother, although he sometimes exasperated her with his antics. He married fellow film star Olive Thomas in 1916. Their relationship could be tempestuous, but often very affectionate.
Many of you know the rest–Olive’s sudden, tragic death, the flurry of press coverage, Jack’s increasing depression, his dependence on alcohol and death in 1933. And you’ve probably heard some other things about Jack. Darker things. Rumors of drug use, of syphilis, even of possible murder. And, bizarrely enough, many of these rumors are taken for granted even by the finest film researchers–people who can usually spot an unsubstantiated fact from a mile away. In a book that isn’t even open. (That is, usually. *cough*)
Researcher Steve Vaught tackles these dark rumors in three brilliant posts at his blog Paradise Leased. The posts are a few years old, but I can not love them enough. They have the exact kind of commonsense, non-lurid, fact-based rumor-stomping that I want to see more of from every researcher. Here’s the magnificent links:
You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part I Vaught shares why he feels Jack’s been maligned for far too long without hard evidence to back up the widespread disdain. Begins his fine defense.
You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part II Delves more into Jack’s character and career, and reminds readers that it couldn’t have been easy to be the lone guy among the strong-willed Pickford ladies.
You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part III The most intriguing of the three, examines every little detail of the circumstances around Olive’s death and shows how ridiculous the rumors of murder/suicide really are. If you read just one of Vaught’s posts, read this one. And share it.
It’s not that Vaught 100% solved the mystery of Olive’s death–if that’s entirely possible–but that he shows how important it is to take off your “lurid film noir Hollywood” glasses and consider Occam’s razor once in awhile. Imagine if such level-headed analysis was applied to more of those scurrilous Hollywood rumors! Hollywood Babylon wouldn’t exist, for one thing. And…well, that’s actually the ultimate ideal right there.
I have reasons myself for wanting to take a fresh look at Jack. People seem to assume that he was a nasty individual in real life–he loved wine and women after all, the odious ingrate! And yet, in contemporary newspapers and magazines I’ve come across more than one reference to his friendship with Thomas Meighan (who was a witness at his wedding to Olive) and Robert Harron (one of Biograph’s finest young actors). According to everything I’ve seen, they were two of the nicest, most squeaky-clean gentlemen in Hollywoodland. Their friendship with a supposed vile pig like Jack makes no sense unless maybe, just maybe, he was more endearing in person than he’s given credit for.
There’s still a little research wiggle-room in Vaught’s posts–I hope he does more work on Jack’s story one day, because I’d love to hear it. But in the meantime, when it comes to lurid rumors about the stars lets remember to put on our skepticism hats. Because the stars were real people, they can no longer defend themselves, and as fellow human beings we have a responsibility to get their stories straight. You would want someone to do the same for you, after all–or, in Mary’s case, to do the same for a much-loved younger brother.