Interview with Mary Pickford’s Great Nieces

Excerpts from interview with Mary Fullerton and Suzy Aspinall, great nieces of screen legend Mary Pickford, recorded in April, 2012

ABIGAIL
…So we’re very fortunate to get you and Mary

SUZY
We’re her last living relatives! (laughter) I don’t know how much we can help you but we’ll sure try our best. My father was in the film business, and we lived in Europe, right? And she lived in California, in LA. So we didn’t see her on a daily basis. We saw her every two years, we used to spend our summer holidays at Pickfair. (Pickfair was the celebrated Beverly Hills estate of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks)

ABIGAIL
Oh Really? What did your Dad do?

SUZY
He was the head of United Artists, which was the company my aunt formed with Mr. Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. He was the head in Italy and Spain. Oh, Mary can talk to you as well!

ABIGAIL
I was gonna say, I heard Mary somewhere in the background there. Hello Mary!

MARY
How are you? So, whatever Suzy was saying was right.
(Laughter)

SUZY
So you were just asking me about my Dad?

ABIGAIL
Yes! So if we can launch into some of the questions about your relationship with your aunt. What was the most memorable thing about her, I mean…I’m sure there were so many amazing memories. Is there a particular memory that strikes you about her?

MARY
She was small.
(laughter)

MARY (CONT’D)
No, she was tiny. Just…fun to be around, really. We didn’t have that kind of thing like we were worried about being in front of her. Or you know, having to curtsey in front of her…she was very natural.

SUZY
She was very sweet. And she never had children of her own, she adopted two. Then when we came over, she used to treat us like her own children. She was just a real sweetie. Really loving, caring and giving sort of lady. I don’t know…she was just Auntie Mary. (laughter) She was very kind and very generous with us.

ABIGAIL
And when you were with her, what kind of things did you do? Did she ever talk to you about the film business? Did she ever dissuade you from going into the film business

MARY
Well, it was a different era, you weren’t buddy buddy with adults like you are now. She used to tell stories about parties at Pickfair, I wish I remembered them!
(laughter)

MARY (CONT’D)
She would tell us things like that…little stories…and should could pick up from one day to two, three days later from where she left off. We used to see her ever two years, we came here for home leave with Dad, you know…and we’d stay at Pickfair and have big parties down by the pool and they’d send down hamburgers and ice creams, coming from Europe, that was quite a treat! Television was also a treat. She would get up at night and make us…what was it Suzy?

SUZY
A brown cow.

MARY
A brown cow which is Coca-Cola with ice cream. Not my favorite. She used to cook it for us…or make it for us, and she was very proud of that. She used to tell that she the tables set always in the days of the film business for fifteen people for dinner. I’m sure that’s in one of her books.

SUZY
One thing she used to tell us quite a lot was that when they first came to New York they were so so so poor that she used to have to, because they couldn’t afford new shoes, and she told this story to my son… She had to put newspaper into her shoes to walk around New York. This was before she went on stage, obviously. She had stories. A lot of stories.

ABIGAIL
We were talking about the film that we’re doing in which Mary Pickford is the star along with Louise Brooks and we were very interested about the whole visual and just the way that she had that little girl next door image…and there was a certain point that she decided “Okay I’ve had enough of the curls” and she cut her hair and a lot of the fans were really outraged by it, right?

MARY
Funny enough I like her better in a couple of short films of hers that I haven’t seen since… I can’t even remember where I saw them…where she was shown as an adult. I thought she came across really very well there. With the little girl I think I could always see through that she wasn’t a little girl.

AMY
And she won an Oscar for her first film with short hair, a talkie, right?

SUZY
Yeah. Coquette.

MARY
Right. But I think she only did one movie or two movies…

SUZY
She said that she was at her best in the silent films and she really didn’t want to know about talkies even though she had a beautiful voice. She could have done the transition. She thought that that wasn’t her. She was at her best in the silent films. She didn’t want to leave…

MARY
She didn’t like her voice

SUZY
She didn’t like her voice.

ABIGAIL
She didn’t like her voice?

SUZY
She wanted to be remembered for silent. Not the talkies…there was a time when she wouldn’t let anybody see her films, it took our Uncle Buddy Rogers to work on her quite hard to release some so other people like us could see it, to see her work, she didn’t want people making fun of her because of the silent film, and then what won the Oscar this year? A silent film!

ABIGAIL
So what are some of the things you would tell her fans out there, if you could?

MARY
Well, really that she was just very generous with her home, and we always had a wonderful time. My sister and my brother always had birthday parties in the summer and she would hire ponies and there were lots of kids running around and she would sit in a chair and hand out dollar bills to the kids…remember that?

SUZY
Yeah.

MARY
Stuff like that.

SUZY
She had a western bar. A real western bar made at Pickfair.

MARY
With a wood entrance.

SUZY
We were allowed to have the parties there. And they had the real…like going into a saloon bar, with the swinging doors and everything was original wood, it was absolutely brilliant…we used to have parties…kids parties there.

MARY
I also remember coming home late one day and finding her in my section of the house, sitting in a chair in my room, scaring me to death (laughter).

SUZY
She used to do that.

MARY
Telling me “Why was I home so late?”
(more laughter)

MARY (CONT’D)
There’s that too. She was a tough cookie when she wanted to be.
————————–
SUZY
Oh remember when we were in Switzerland, we went to school in Switzerland, she used to come, she’s come over and see us, and she’s take us out for these walks at this wonderful hotel called the Beau-Rivage in Lausane. There’s a lovely picture of her actually, holding hands with us in Lausane with her hair short looking very very pretty and very very tiny.
(laughter)

SUZY (CONT’D)
She’s so small! I’ve one of her old coats and it was long sleeved for her and for me its just below my elbow. That’s how small she was. She used to say she was four foot nothing.

MARY
I don’t know if she was five feet, but I know the people with the clothes at the museum said that they couldn’t fins a mannequin small enough. They had to make one.

SUZY
She was the original size zero.
——————————————————
AMY
I knew I wanted to write a film about the silent film era and I wanted to write about that time and I was looking for two iconic characters and I wanted there to be conflict, so I decided to do America’s Sweetheart and a Vamp character and I chose Mary Pickford, I was looking though which stars of the time I wanted to write about and I was so taken by her. First visually and then I’ve just been so amazed, the more I learn about her. I’m truly amazing at her story, and its really exciting to pay any sort of attention to this fabulous woman, she’s incredible. The more I research and the more I look into it the more I feel that she is really in the air. People are really starting to remember her and appreciate the monumental…

ABIGAIL
What we found that was so fascinating was that not only was she a movie star but she kind of had the balls of men I mean she went out there and did what the men did.

MARY
She was strong. I didn’t want to mess with her. When she got angry, no matter how small she was, it scared me.
(laughter)

AMY
I bet. I’m not surprised she was waiting up for you!

SUZY
That’s why she started United Artists. She said “I’m not being told how much money I can make and what I can do, I’m going to form my own company. She asked Fairbanks and Chaplin and they joined forces…

MARY
…And Owen Moore
SUZY

And started United Artists.

Abigail Zealey Bess (Director) and I (Amy Staats, writer/actor) were thrilled to interview these delightful ladies. We are currently in preproduction for our film Mary & Louise. For more information about this project please go to: http://rkthb.co/5720