Hollywood Renegades Archive

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Mary Pickford publicity photo. (Aberdeen collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

Mary Pickford: The SIMPP Years

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen


After her last starring role in the early 1930s, Mary Pickford remained a hands-on manager of United Artists and an active supporter of SIMPP from the beginning to the end of the Society. She fought for a progressive agenda at United Artists while the self-seeking attitude of her partners threatened to drive the distribution company into insolvency.

She also served as producer and executive producer in several production ventures to help with the UA product crises. In 1945, during the independent production boom at the end of World War II, she organized Comet Pictures to make medium-budget films with Ralph Cohn, the son of Columbia Pictures cofounder Jack Cohn. At Comet she produced probably her finest later film, the noir hit Sleep, My Love (1948). Later she became partners with SIMPP member Lester Cowan, the producer of You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939) and My Little Chickadee (1940) who was best known as an independent for the UA film The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Pickford and Cowan produced Love Happy (1950), which received a drubbing from critics and audiences, but became famous as the final Marx brothers comedy and for the early cameo appearance of Marilyn Monroe.

By the time Goldwyn took over her share of the former Pickford-Fairbanks studio on Formosa Avenue in 1955, Pickford had slipped away into film inactivity. One year later, she decided to sell her 25 percent interest in United Artists for $3 million, becoming the last independent producer of SIMPP to be completely divested of UA stock. In 1957 Krim and Benjamin, now the sole owners of the distributor, took United Artists into a new corporate era with a public stock offering.

Pickford became more reclusive after her retirement, and died May 29, 1979. Her legendary Beverly Hills estate known as Pickfair fell into disrepair and was later torn down.

The Pickford-Fairbanks home nicknamed Pickfair.


SOURCES:

Lester Cowan: “Lester Cowan” (obituary), DV, October 24, 1990; “Lester Cowan, 83; Movie Producer” (obituary), LAT, October 25, 1990.
Mary Pickford sold her United Artists stock for $2 million in cash, plus an additional $1 million debenture: see Balio, pp. 82-85.

See Bibliography.

 

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