"Lillian Gish is the kind of woman who needs to be saved from the ice floe. Mary Pickford is the kind of woman who will save you from the ice floe." - Christel Schmidt
Mary Pickford will forever be the spunky, tough young woman with the angelic face and head full of golden curls. Although she did a number of films that presented her in another light, the power and emotion behind performances found in "Daddy Long Legs" and "Tess of the Storm Country" continue to resonate with us in a way that, frankly, "Coquette" doesn't achieve. Pickford's performance in "Sparrows" is one of these emotional and memorable roles.
Pickford plays Mollie, a young woman who has had to grow up quickly since becoming the default mother to her fellow orphans on the grimes farm, In reality, the Grimes family runs an undercover baby farm where children are frequently abused, mistreated and forced to starve. It's only because of Mollie's care that the children have survived so long. Although their living situation is horrendous and she's even witnessed the death of the youngest member of their little family, she refuses to let her spirit or her faith be broken.
When Mollie is given a new little one to watch after, she immediately falls in love with her and claims her as her own. What she doesn't realize is that Baby was kidnapped from her father in the hopes of collecting a hefty ransom. as the cops begin to close in on the kidnappers, Grimes attempts to kill the child, forcing Mollie to devise a plan for all of the orphans to escape the farm for good. Not only do Mollie and the children brave the dangers of the swamp and escape to freedom, the baby is reunited with her father and Mollie convinces him to adopt all of the children as his own, ensuring they'll be able to stay a family forever -- a well-deserved happy ending for this wonderful film.
I was fortunate enough to see a screening of "Sparrows" presented by Pickford biographer Christel Schmidt at the beautiful Music Box Theatre, accompanied by Dennis Scott on the in-house organ. It was a wonderful experience made, perhaps, a little more poignant in the light of Roger Ebert's passing just days before. As Scott explained, Ebert often spoke of his love for the Music Box, saying that the live organ accompaniment set it apart from every other theater in Chicago. Schmidt also took the opportunity to share outtakes from "Sparrows," its original theatrical trailer, and countless photos and production stills detailing Pickford's incredible career.
The theme that kept appearing throughout the screening and Schmidt's presentation was the fact that Pickford was truly a powerhouse. She rose from poverty to become the most powerful woman in Hollywood, producing and overseeing her films and co-running United Artists. She also maintained ownership of a lot of her filmography which ensured that that survived the test of time intact. Pickford was a pioneer in more ways than one, and it's safe to say that had there been no Pickford, there would have been no Lucille Ball or Desilu.
When I left the screening, I was struck by the incredible legacy Pickford left and the overwhelming joy being able to see one of her classics on the big screen left in me. The girl with the golden curls lives!
You can buy Schmidt's book, "Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies," here.