Mary Pickford was Hollywood's first superstar. As "America's Sweetheart," she was the greatest screen icon of the silent era, virtually defining the role and influence of celebrity within the context of contemporary society. Born Gladys Smith on April 8, 1892, in Toronto, Ontario, she was thrust into show business while still a child following the death of her father, and she toured in a series of road companies under the billing "Baby Gladys." Upon winning a role in Broadway's The Warrens of Virginia, the 14-year-old was rechristened Mary Pickford by producer David Belasco, and a year later she flirted her way into extra work on D.W. Griffith's 1909 film The Lonely Villa. After earning five dollars for her day of work, Pickford met Griffith's request that she return the following morning with a demand to earn ten dollars daily; the next day she was back on the set, and swiftly emerged as one of the key players in the legendary director's stock company.
Pickford soon arranged for an audition for her friend, Lillian Gish, and within months the two young women were among the most popular talents in the burgeoning film industry. Known to the public as "Little Mary" or "the Girl With Golden Hair," she starred in dozens of Biograph Studios films annually under Griffith's supervision, and ultimately left the theater completely behind to focus on movie work. As her stature and fame grew, Pickford began to take increasing control over her career; she often dictated the terms of her productions, and not even the likes of the prestigious Edwin S. Porter could override her decisions on how best to approach her performances. Her popularity extended well beyond North America; early films like 1909's The Little Darling were systematically copied in Russia and distributed throughout the European underground market, and although the loss of income suffered by Biograph was staggering, the piracy of her work made Pickford an international superstar.