It was late 1979, after having just watched D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" for the 1st time, that I began reading about silent film in earnest. It wasn't long before every book I read was mentioning Mary Pickford and her importance to film history. Now, like everyone in the world, I knew she was Canadian, but I did not know how much she accomplished in film, or of her astounding contribution to the growth of an art form. Nor did I know she was born about 10 miles from where I was, right here in Toronto. Why did I not know all this? That has been the number 1 question for me, and has lead to a passion now running more than 25 years.
The next year, I was in an antique bookshop somewhere on the Danforth, when I found a 7"x9" sepia picture of Mary, with her signature in black ink. I bought it, hung it, and for the next 19 years, thought I had a real autograph. I now know it to be a stamped signature, quite common on photos mailed to fans back in the teens and twenties. Many ebay sellers still claim these pics to be real autographs. In 1982, my girlfriend who had by now begun to enjoy silent film as well, went with me to my first Cinefest in Syracuse, United States. As well as meeting Colleen Moore, I also found many more pics of Mary in the dealers' room. I now had the beginnings of a collection, although I still didn't know it.
Over the next few years, We were back in Syracuse, attended the silent film fest in Columbus United States, and checked flea markets and book stores anywhere I traveled worldwide to find new material. This continued until early 1999, when I discovered - Ebay !! - ouch !
Now I was seeing Pickford material all over the world - and winning it! I had been to the Cinecon in Los Angeles, United States at some point in the early '90's, and now began going back each year over Labour Day. The dealer rooms, the poster auction, all added massively to material I had been very slowly accumulating over the years. I now began meeting people who were also collectors, who would sell me items, and pass on more contacts who had material. Poster auctions I attend, or bid live over the phone, have become a routine occurrence over the last 7 or 8 years. Overall, about 5% of the collection came from 1979 to 1999, and the remaining 95% in the last 9 years.
While I began collecting for my own interest and enjoyment, I soon realized how big, as a whole, it was becoming. Since at one time, as mentioned above, I did not know much about Mary, I assumed most other Torontonians, and Canadians at large, also did not know much of her history. It was around 2002 that I decided I would find a way to put the collection on display, where it could help educate even casual film fans, to the importance of one of Toronto's, and Canada's greatest citizens.
The collection has had items added from more than 30 countries. In fact I would say that this collection, as it stands, could not exist without the creation of ebay. Keith Lawrence, a board member of the Mary Pickford Foundation, has said it is the largest personal collection in the world, and I'm sure it is. As you can imagine, it is all over my entire house. I have virtually no wall space left, not covered by posters or framed pictures of some sort. At least 5 or 6 times per year, someone new is coming to the house to see it.
I have had discussions and plans in the works since 2004, to donate the entire collection to the archives of the Toronto International Film Festival. This way, it will be open to film students, and the public at large, as it will eventually be housed in the currently under construction 5 story building, Festival Centre, at the corner of King and John streets in downtown Toronto. This donation should take place sometime in 2010, as I plan to have much of it traveling in a road show in 2009 - the 100th anniversary of Mary Pickford being on film. Enjoy the images.
*****UPDATED = NOVEMBER, 2009*****
My donation is actually complete now, as of Nov.12, 2009. It is scheduled to go on display in Jan. 2011 in the Toronto International Film Festival's new headquarters at King & John streets in Toronto. The building, slated for completion in the Fall of 2010, will be called "The Lightbox" The traveling 'road show' I mentioned will now take place some time in 2011, but my material will now NOT be included. It seems the Library of Congress in the USA, feels the display in Toronto will be a conflict with theirs (?) - you mean we can actually have too many Mary Pickford displays? So while both the LOC & Lightbox displays have missed the 100th anniversary of Mary being on film, I did not. I put on my own display at Toronto's Elgin - Wintergarden Theatre this past Sept., while the Festival was running. Below is a mini-movie of that display, which featured about 20 of the posters, and 5 display cases of material.