Much before well-known Hollywood couples like Angelina and Brad, Elizabeth and Richard, Lauren and Bogie, the recently-born Tinseltown witnessed a different love story that would change its destiny. Douglas and Mary.
She was born in Toronto, in 1892, as Gladys, but the world came to know and adore her as Mary Pickford, or “America’s Sweetheart.” In 1909, following some success in Broadway productions, she joined a film company for the first time and became the star of Biograph Company.
He was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1883, as Douglas Ullman, but the world came to know and adore him as Douglas Fairbanks, or “Everybody’s Hero.” In 1915, following some success in Broadway, he moved to Los Angeles and signed with Triangle Productions.
In 1916, she was described as the most famous woman in the world, the woman loved by more people than any other woman in all history. And she was married.
In 1916, he created his own film company and was soon invited to work at Paramount. And he was married.
In 1916, they met and fell in love. And soon became the most famous actor and actress in the world.
A few years later, they joined forces with Douglas’ best friend, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith, and founded United Artists, one of the major film studios, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
In that same year, Douglas bought a house for Mary and turned it into Pickfair, one of the first mansions in Beverly Hills, where amazing parties were held gathering the crème-de-la-crème of Hollywood’s golden age.
Following their divorces, they finally got married in March 1920. A delayed honeymoon was spent in Europe, visiting the UK, France, Switzerland, and Italy. By that time, the couple had world-wide fame and caused commotions whenever they went.
They left New York and crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS Lapland, a Red Star Line cruiser, and in less than ten days, arrived in Southampton on June 21, 1920, being received by thousands of fans, despite the bad weather.
At that time, America-Europe trips were by boat-train and upon arrival in London, things were quite the same. The then 20-minute journey from Waterloo Station to the Ritz Hotel, took them almost two hours, with streets blocked with people who wanted to greet the “royal” couple from the movies.
Unlike the usual, they honeymooned in the company of another recently-wed couple, Frances Marion and Fred Thomson. A famous movie writer and director, Frances was one of Mary’s best friends and supporters back in Hollywood, while Fred was a cowboy-actor.
At full swing, London offered lots of entertainment. Taking a trip to the world’s greatest bookshop, Foyles, or an afternoon tea at the Criterion proved to be quite an endeavor facing countless fans along the way. In one of these days, apparently, even King George V was left stuck in the turmoil of people who sought a glance at the pair.
Nights were reserved for fun with theaters and nightclubs all over town. At one of the first performances of Albert de Courville’s Jigsaw at the London Hippodrome, the couple was a sensation, receiving a 10-minute ovation before the show, which marked the British debut of the Dolly Sisters, an American twin-act of the Ziegfield Follies.
Dancing had a major role in Jazz Age, and the likes of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the American Five (with Eddie Grossbart) had nightclubs like the Rector’s filled all through the night. Foxtrot, Charleston, and swing started to appear as a new American fashion for the more conservative British society, and no one better than four Hollywood movie stars to boil things around.
The crowds followed them not only in the UK but also throughout the rest of their European tour. Used to portraying heroes from faraway lands, from Robin Hood to Zorro, Musketeers to pirates, from Bagdad to Argentina, Douglas seemed to have fun with the mobs. Being a sweetheart, always in the role of the “little girl,” Mary was not that comfortable. They finished their honeymoon going out only hidden in the dark of the night.
Douglas and Mary returned to their Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills. In contrast with their fame in silent movies, they brought with them the beginnings of the noisy celebrity culture.
Back in Los Angeles, the couple lived happily sharing their love for parties with other well-known people, receiving everyone that mattered those days: from Hollywood stars to Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, President Roosevelt, and royalty like Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Duke of Alba, and the King of Sian.
Their careers were on the rise until the offset of “talkies.” Unable to achieve success with modern talking movies, the marriage also started failing.
In 1933, they both retired from acting. And the marriage was over, ending with a divorce in 1936. They would both soon marry again.
Douglas died in 1939, leaving Sylvia, Lady Ashley (who would later marry Clark Gable) as his widow.
Mary died in 1979, leaving Charles “Buddy” Rogers (with whom she was married for over 40 years) as her widower.
Together, they founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a film studio, and the celebrity culture as we know today. They were true Hollywood royalty.
London in the eyes of Douglas and Mary:
- 150 Piccadilly, St. James’s – The Ritz London
- Waterloo Rd, South Bank – Waterloo Station
- Cranbourn Street Leicester Square – London Hippodrome
- 121 Charing Cross Rd, Soho – Foyles bookstore
- 224 Piccadilly, St. James’s – The Criterion
- 31 Tottenham Court Road, Bloomsbury – Rector’s