In 2006, a cache of film was discovered in a barn and donated to the Keene State College Film Society, headed by KSC professor Larry Benaquist. One of those reels contained When Lincoln Paid (1913) directed by Francis Ford, the older brother of directing legend John Ford. The film was previously considered lost and has since been restored with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The same set of film reels has produced yet another lost cinematic gem—Their First Misunderstanding (1911), Mary Pickford’s film debut for Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP). “Larry Benaquist contacted me because he knew of my work on Pickford,” says Christel Schmidt, editor of Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies. “I explained the rarity of the print and its importance to her career and to film history. I asked him to consider giving it to the Library of Congress because they are the film archive with the largest collection of Mary Pickford films.” He agreed, and the LOC has been working with Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland to preserve and restore the short for an October 11 premier. Their First Misunderstanding will be screened with two other Pickford films, Sparrows (1926) and The Dream (1911) at 7:00 pm at Alumni Recital Hall, in Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center, and Schmidt will host the screening.
In Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies, Schmidt has cast a distinguished ensemble of film historians to shed new light on the icon’s incredible life and legacy. The book features more than 200 color and black and white illustrations, including photographs and stills from Mary Pickford’s personal collections housed at the Library of Congress and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Schmidt explores rarely discussed areas of the star’s life and career, including her role as a national icon during World War I and her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks. In addition, Academy Award-winner Kevin Brownlow looks at Pickford’s work as a producer, and Beth Werling invites readers into Pickford’s closet to admire her many lavish costumes. Schmidt celebrates Pickford as a gifted actress, philanthropist, and savvy industry leader who became the first female movie mogul.
On Saturday, September 21, Christel Schmidt will give at talk in the history and biography pavilion at the National Book Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC from 10:55 to 11:40 am. She will sign copies of Mary Pickford at noon.
In December 1910, Pickford left the Biograph Company, the first movie studio she worked for, to join IMP. She was already a favorite with audiences who knew her face and trademark curls but not her name. Biograph, where she had acted for over a year-and-a-half, did not release performer’s names. In contrast, IMP would heavily promote its new star in trade magazine advertisements, movie posters and publicity photos.
Their First Misunderstanding, Pickford’s debut film for IMP, was released on January 9, 1911. It is notable not only as her premiere picture for her new studio, but also as the first movie in which she was credited and promoted by name. We cannot know if Pickford received an onscreen credit since the only surviving copy of this film is missing the opening title cards, but her image, name, and even her nickname “Little Mary,” were used to promote the one-reel picture in publicity materials, including advertisements and posters, and that this had never happened during her initial run at Biograph.
Pickford’s first for IMP is also noteworthy because she wrote the scenario. It is one of two stories she authored for the company. Their First Misunderstanding, a tale of a newly married couple’s first fight, may reflect something of Pickford’s personal life. She had just wed actor Owen Moore, who also plays her husband in the film. The couple were frequent co-stars at Biograph, where they met, and became a popular onscreen pairing for IMP. Also appearing on screen is acclaimed producer/director Thomas Ince, who is believed to have directed the picture. “This appears to be the first film in which Pickford and Ince are both on screen in a film which he also co-directed,” says Brian Taves, author of Thomas Ince: Hollywood’s Independent Pioneer. “They were beginning a close collaboration, Ince directing the entire Pickford family in several dozen films shot in Cuba in 1911.”
Pickford appeared in an estimated thirty-five one-reel IMP shorts and authored two scenarios during the nine months she worked for company. Only thirteen of thirty-five titles are known to survive. Nine complete films, including Their First Misunderstanding and The Dream, and fragments of two others are held by the Library of Congress.