Jack Pickford

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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 placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Occupation(s)Actor, director, producer
Years active1909–1928
Parent(s)Charlotte Hennessy
John Charles Smith
RelativesMary 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]


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 die by 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

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[edit]

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[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1909 The Message In Crowd
1909 Wanted, a Child A 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 Indian Unconfirmed
1913 A Misappropriated Turkey On Street
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel A Bellhop
1913 The Unwelcome Guest One of the Children Alternative title: An Unwelcome Guest
1914 The Gangsters of New York Spot, the spy Alternative 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 Beppo Alternative 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
1919 Bill Apperson's Boy Buddy Apperson
1919 Burglar by Proxy Jack 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
1920 Just Out of College Ed Swinger
1923 Garrison's Finish Billy Garrison
1923 Hollywood Himself Cameo appearance
1924 The Hill Billy Jed McCoy Alternative 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 Baxter Alternative title: All Square, Lost film


  • Arvidson, Linda. When the Movies Were Young. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969.
  • Menefee, David W. The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era. Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.
  • Talmadge, Margaret L. The Talmadge Sisters. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1924.
  • Paris Authorities Investigate Death of Olive Thomas. The New York Times, September 11, 1920.[17]
  • POLICE DEMAND FURTHER PROBE OF OLIVE THOMAS' DEATH, The Washington times. (Washington D.C.) 1902-1939, September 12, 1920.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich: Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 10–11. ISBN 9780859551786
  • Mary Pickford: America's Sweetheart by Scott Eyman ISBN 978-1-55611-243-0
  • Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield
  • The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks by Tracey Goessel ISBN 1613734077[18]
  • Michelle Vogel. Olive Thomas: The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty ISBN 9780786429080
  • Steve Vaught. "You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford"[19][20][21]
  • "Cleanup of Paris Cafes May Follow Movie Stars Death" Daily News, September 14, 1920[22]
  • Amy Marie. "The Final Years of Jack Pickford"[23]
  • Gordon Thomas. "Beautiful Dead Girl: On Early Hollywood Casualty Olive Thomas"[24]
  • Shane Brown. "The Man Who Had Everything: The Curious Case of Jack Pickford and the New York Times"[25]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b "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.

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