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.
Pickford-Fairbanks home nicknamed Pickfair.
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.