Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks became Hollywood’s first power couple when they married 101 years ago on March 28, 1920. Pickford and Fairbanks had already established themselves as leading stars of the silver screen, with the public dubbing her “America’s Sweetheart” for her charming performances in films such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms (1917) and calling Fairbanks “Everybody’s Hero” for his swashbuckling roles in films like The Mark of Zorro (1918). The year before they married, they also became business partners by joining with Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith to create United Artists. Filmmakers who signed on at UA were true independents attempting to take control of the destiny of their films. This was in great contrast to how films made by the major studios were controlled by their production heads or founders – like Adolph Zukor at Famous Players-Lasky, which later became Paramount Pictures. Mary worked for Zukor for many years as her star power grew. In May 1916, she signed a new deal with Zukor that gave her complete control of her projects, including a $10,000 weekly salary plus 50% of each film’s profits with a guarantee of more than $1M – about $18.5M today.
Besides launching UA, Mary & Doug also made a major impact on Hollywood’s rapidly evolving social scene. After their marriage, they moved into a Beverly Hills hunting lodge
that Fairbanks owned and it quickly became known as “Pickfair”, the setting where the power couple held court for years to come. Like so many Hollywood marriages, Mary & Doug’s union ended in divorce. By the early 1930’s, Mary’s acting career had evaporated with age, no longer the “girl with the curls” that silent era moviegoers loved. On July 2, 1933 Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons broke the news that the couple was separating.
UA lives on to this day as a key distributor, but it is a far cry from the original production studio. In February 1952, a new management team led by attorneys Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin took over the then badly weakened studio and were able to turn it around. Four years later, when Mary sold her stock for $3M she was the last of the original founders to leave UA.