After Biograph opened its studios in Hollywood, California, the Pickford clan moved west. Jack, a small, fragile boy, grew up in an adult world, one that suddenly became full of money far beyond anything imaginable for the time when Mary Pickford signed a contract in 1917 for $1 million with First National Pictures. Jack got a lucrative contract with First National as part of the deal but that year, he gained respect for his acting abilities after starring as Pip in the adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and in the same year for playing the title role in Mark Twain' s Tom Sawyer.
Despite his on-screen image as the winsome boy-next-door, Jack Pickford's private life was one of alcohol, drugs and womanizing. In those days, the movie studios were able to cover up almost all of their stars misbehavior but within the Hollywood crowd, Jack Pickford's behind-the scenes antics made him a legend in his own time. He spent money like water and frequently had to suffer the humiliation of asking his mother or sister for help. As his reckless lifestyle worsened, the number of movies he made declined and therefore his income.
In early 1918, after the United States joined World War I, Jack Pickford joined the United States Navy. Using the famous Pickford name, he soon became involved in a scheme that allowed rich young men to pay bribes to avoid military service, as well as reportedly procuring young women for officers. For his involvement, Jack Pickford came close to being dishonorably discharged but speculation has it that his sister stepped in and arranged for him to give evidence to the authorities in exchange for a medical discharge.
His first marriage, in 1916, to Olive Thomas (né Duffy, ex-Mrs. Bernhard Krugh Thomas, 1894-1920), a beautiful Pennsylvania-born model turned showgirl turned film actress and reputed heroin addict, was stormy from the start but she was the love of his life. However, while filming in Paris, France, they went out for a night of entertainment at the famous bistros in Montparnasse. Returning to their room in the Hotel Ritz at around 3:00 in the morning, his wife died after ingesting a large dose of the mercury biochloride which had been prescribed for her husband's ongoing venereal disease; infected in 1917, he had passed the disease onto Thomas, as well as the medicine used to treat it. The police investigation into her death centered on Pickford but no charges were ever laid. On the return trip home to America, film director Allan Dwan had to talk the distraught Pickford out of committing suicide.
Married two more times unsuccessfully, including a 1922-1927 marriage to celebrated tap dancer Marilyn Miller, by 1932 Jack Pickford was alone again, his health deteriorating from the ravages of syphilis and the toll that years of alcohol and drug abuse had taken. Pickford died in the American Hospital in Paris, at age 36. His sister Mary arranged for his body to be brought back to Los Angeles, California, where he was interred in the private Pickford plot in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Pickford has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1523 Vine Street.
During his career, Jack Pickford appeared in more than 70 films.
Jack Pickford Facts
|Birth Name||John Charles Smith|
|Birthday||August 18, 1896|
|Birthplace||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Date of death||January 3, 1933 (age 36)|