Mary Pickford used to eat roses

Of all the subjects that might have been chosen as the theme for a contemporary popular song, the formation of the United Artists film company must come as one of the least expected. But such is the theme of ‘Mary Pickford’, the new single by Katie Melua. I shall not pass judgement on its musical or lyrical merits – simply to say that it is written by Mike Batt, and tell us in simple words that Mary Pickford, her husband Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith got together to form the United Artists Corporation, which indeed they did in 1919. It was the first film company to be formed by film artists, rather than businessmen, and was of course intended to produce and distribute the films of the quartet (as well as others) and retain power and profits for themselves. Famously, Richard A. Rowland of Metro Pictures Corporation, on hearing the news, pronounced that “the lunatics have taken over the asylum”.

The video is constructed as a silent film, and features numerous clips, including newsreel footage of the four founders, The Gaucho, The Black Pirate, The Taming of the Shrew, and even Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest, Griffith’s undistinguished 1907 film acting debut. Chaplin film clips are noticeable by their absence. The video features faux silent titles, including (a nice touch) “Guitar solo”.

Cue an upsurge of interest in Mary Pickford, no doubt. Apparently Pickford did indeed use to eat roses (presumably just the petals) to make herself look more beautiful, as the song tells us. Cue an upsurge in visits to garden centres…

5 responses

  1. What a curio! Was it commissioned by UA? I’m surprised *any* imagery of Chaplin could be included.

    The glimpse of _Eagle’s Nest_ was hilarious!

  2. According to a YouTube interview with Melua the inspiration was a calendar of film stars which contained the information that Mary Pickford ate roses. This led her producer and songwriter Mike Batt (famed and never forgiven for having given the UK the music of The Wombles) to come up with the idea for the song, which is supposed to echo Melua’s position as an independent artist. I doubt any United Artists involvement – indeed, UA doesn’t exist as such, it now being owned by MGM. Re Chaplin, presumably his image rights don’t extend to newsreels.

    I’m not that good on (post-Biograph) Mary Pickford films. Does anyone recognise the clips from her films, apart from The Taming of the Shrew?

  3. I missed this when it came out….but then I hadn’t found this blog back then .

    In the words of the immortal ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ team, Nice Video, Shame About The Song…

  4. Indeed, though maybe it has a certain nursery rhyme quality. Anyway, the video is now to be honoured with a screning at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in October. Russell Merritt’s blurb on the festival site notes these clips:

    Mary playing with Mack Sennett in An Arcadian Maid and posing in curls for Sparrows; Griffith fighting a stuffed bird in Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest, walking out of a split set in At the Crossroads of Life, rehearsing his actors in Way Down East, and playing war correspondent in Hearts of the World; Fairbanks strutting in The Thief of Bagdad, swirling his cape in Don Q, and sparring with Mary in Taming of the Shrew. Chaplin alone gets no film clips, but makes up for it by clowning in costume with Fairbanks at the UA signing.

    Of course, Griffith does not appear in Hearts of the World – the footage of him at the front is a promo meant to give audiences the idea that he took sequences of real battle for the film – which he did not.

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