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Ready For It?

What Taylor Swift and silent film era icon Mary Pickford have in common may surprise you.

Mary Pickford Taylor Swift

Published March 6, 2024

When you hear the name “Taylor Swift”, several things might come to mind: an insatiable love for beautiful cats, relatable life lessons turned into lyrics, or maybe even a staggering record of more than 200 million albums sold worldwide to date. 

But did you know Swift and Gladys Marie Smith—professionally known as Mary Pickford, an icon of the silent film era—have historical significance in common? 

Breaking New Ground 

Swift’s career began in 2005 at the age of 14, paving the way for a groundbreaking journey well into her adult years. With over 200 songs, 20 albums, and countless live events, Swift’s list of achievements is truly that—a list garnering historical achievements and record-breaking statistics with over 100 certified by the Guinness World Records alone. 

Pickford, believe it or not, was similarly a pioneer in her own right, entering the spotlight in 1899 at the age of 7 and cementing her place as “America’s Sweetheart” with a Hollywood career that spanned five decades. During her tenure in the industry, Pickford was not only a star of the silver screen, but also an accomplished producer, screenwriter, and film studio founder. She helped shape the film industry as a whole, blazing a trail that had not yet existed – and especially not for women. 

But unlike Swift, Pickford didn't have a Beyoncé—she remained the only woman in the film industry with notable clout until Barbra Streisand’s rise to fame in 1964 after her portrayal of Fanny Bryce in the Broadway musical “Funny Girl”, nearly 60 years after Pickford’s debut and 40 before Swift’s.

Mary Pickford Sheet Music cover
Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections.


 

For the Record

Far more than signature blonde locks, impeccable style, and multi-dimensional artistry bridge these two Hollywood icons. Swift and Pickford’s true similarities stem from their status and business practices. 

Pickford was first to translate her celebrity into political power, touring the country selling millions of dollars of war bonds during World War I, while Swift urged her fanbase (shout out to the Swifties) to get out and vote, surprising pundits with a notable increase of 35,252 new registrants on National Voter Registration Day 2023.
 

(Left) Taylor Swift photographed by Beth Garrabrant for her 2020 album “Folklore”. (Right) Archival photo of Mary Pickford (ADD DETAILS)
(Left) Taylor Swift photographed by Beth Garrabrant for her 2020 album “Folklore”. (Right) Archival photo of Mary Pickford.

On June 30, 2019, Swift famously revealed that she had attempted to buy back masters of her first six studio albums in a dispute with her former record label Big Machine Records after the company was purchased for $300,000,000, but to no avail. Not to be defeated, shortly after the sale went public, Swift revealed she would instead re-record the albums to reclaim her life’s work as an artist. At the time of this story, Swift has re-recorded all but two of her records—2006’s eponymous “Taylor Swift” and 2017’s “Reputation”—which fans anticipate will arrive over the next two years. 

 

Pickford Swift Tour poster from Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” in Los Angeles, August 3 - 5, 8 & 9, 2023
Tour poster from Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” in Los Angeles, August 3 - 5, 8 & 9, 2023
From the collection of NHM Associate Marketing Manager Charlotte Arangua.

Flash forward to October 13, 2023, in which Swift directly negotiated with AMC for theatrical and digital distribution of her record-breaking concert film, The Eras Tour, removing the need for a proxy. Despite breaking industry-standard protocol, Swift’s concert film is now the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, earning at least $1 billion through box office and digital streaming efforts. 

Pickford and business partner in front of white board

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

Mary with younger brother Jack Pickford

Mary Pickford with business partners

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

Left to right: Alexander Korda, Samuel Goldwyn, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks.

Mary Pickford with business partners

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

Mary Pickford pictured alongside a cast and crew of her "talkie" debut in 1929's "Coquette."

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Mary with younger brother Jack Pickford

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

Left to right: Alexander Korda, Samuel Goldwyn, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks.

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

Mary Pickford pictured alongside a cast and crew of her "talkie" debut in 1929's "Coquette."

Photo courtesy of Beth Werling from the NHMLAC Collections

It was Pickford, however, who was the first to initiate these strategies as early as 1919, after she successfully purchased the rights to her early silent films from the Biograph Company. Throughout the 1920s, Pickford embarked on her own “tour” and was welcomed by thousands, traveling abroad to visit foreign studios to exchange filmmaking practices as an unofficial ambassador of the American film industry—an era in itself.

Alongside Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford founded Pickford-Fairbanks Studios and later co-owned United Artists (UA) with Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith. During her time with UA, Pickford distributed a number of her own films, even hiring, paying, and supervising crew.

With films grossing $137 million (in adjusted box office gross) on average, Pickford’s tenacity cemented her place as the first woman of her era in entertainment to become a millionaire. Through her similar endeavors, Swift is now notably one of the youngest billionaires in the United States.

Filling Blank Spaces that existed in their respective times and industries, both Style icons have succeeded in endeavors that most have not even thought to pursue in their Wildest Dreams. Both have been the Mastermind behind some of the greatest business deals in entertainment, garnered a Reputation for making big enemies, and have Enchanted millions of people with their Delicate and honest portrayals of the human experience in their art. While Swift may align herself with old Hollywood star Clara Bow on her upcoming album The Tortured Poets Department, an Invisible String seems to tie her with Pickford behind the scenes in a way that can’t be denied.

  Charlotte Arangua and Beth Werling contributed to this story.