Pickford in 1929, recipient of one of the earliest Oscars for Coquette. (Aberdeen
To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click
The Big Bad Wolf Has Been Muzzled
by Mary Pickford, 1934
Below is an excerpt of an article by Mary Pickford in which
she offers her thoughts on the future of television in 1934. The article is also
notable in that Pickford discusses the then-recent crusade of the Legion of
Decency. She explains a commonly held view of members of the film community
then, as well as film historians today, that the pressure of the Legion of
Decency and the strengthening of the Production Code in effect preserved the
American movie industry from government censorship.
CLICK HERE for information
on the Independent Producers and Television
Producers in general and exhibitors in particular regarded the
radio until recently as the Big Bad Wolf of the entertainment world. They all
uttered raucous cries to the effect that it was hurting business.
Behold now a great change. The motion picture producer uses the radio to
exploit his wares, even lending his stars for exploitation and sometimes for
profit. One of our largest film companies, in fact, is financially involved in a
bigamous marriage to a radio-chain a scandalous situation evidently
overlooked by our astute keyhole-peepers.
Fear has gone out of the producer's heart, common sense has come back to the
exhibitor and calm is being restored to the ether waves that were in so
tumultuous a high tide of competition.
Opposition to progress is forever futile. And he who maketh use of his enemy
is indeed wise.
In my opinion, the box-office value of every star who appears to advantage on
the air is greatly enhanced, and, potentially speaking, so is the stock of the
company to which he or she is under contract.
So far as competition to pictures is concerned, that I view as a boon.
Competition always has been, always will be, the great incentive to better
effort. And I consider radio, television or any other competitive agent a
benefit, not a menace. It stimulates enterprise, prevents stagnation. Of course,
if we are merely going to sit with folded hands and do nothing, we will be
and should be eliminated, all in accordance with the law of survival of the
But motion pictures have not done that. Films, on the whole, have kept pace
with progress. We have been constantly setting our goal ahead, pushing up the
hill in the face of competition, reaching the top of one ridge only to continue
on to the summit of the next, never quite achieving our aims for the simple
reason that these aims have had about them enough of the will o' the wisp
quality to make them our salvation.
In other words, we have never realized our dreams and then suffered the
devastating reaction of complete collapse which inevitably follows. We still
find them alluring, intriguing, irresistibly brilliant, and their ephemeral,
elusive quality is an incentive which gives us courage and strength to travel
tricky detours and climb over obstacles which are placed in the road, not so
much to discourage us as to prove our mettle, to develop our stamina and stride.
Successful though the radio has become, it is doubtful in my opinion if it
can ever monopolize the entertainment field to the same extent that motion
pictures do. Naturally, none can deny that it is the most economical form of
amusement, especially since the price range of instruments has adjusted itself
to all pocketbooks.
The great disadvantage of the radio, however, is that it does not gratify the
individual's gregarious urge. No one likes to sit constantly at home, reading,
talking, sewing, playing bridge or listening to the radio. The essence of
entertainment is variety. And what variety is there for the housewife who has
been at home all day in sitting down amid the same surroundings to listen even
to the most divine symphony or the most romantic love story ever told? She wants
to hear that story, of course, but not in surroundings whose charm has been
dulled through constant association.
It should always be borne in mind, too, that the radio is a form of casual
entertainment. One of its greatest advantages lies in the fact that it can be
enjoyed to the fullest while other obligations are being discharged. The woman
who is doing her dusting, for instance, can enjoy ecstatically the finest opera
ever broadcast and, at the same time, continue her household task which, by
the way, is a great advantage to the cinema, for obvious reasons.
When television arrives, the same, too, will be true of that medium of
entertainment. For the artist, it will be a boon, of course, for the simple
reason that it will broaden his field of endeavor. But in my opinion even the
novelty -of television will not greatly curtail theatre y business, providing
the standard of film entertainment does not slip into a rut. Time will be
required to eliminate the imperfections of television after it becomes a fact,
no matter how skillfully it may be launched, and this in itself is very apt to
minimize its novelty.
So far as motion pictures go, there is only one answer to the question of
maintaining their supremacy. It is not a new answer: it is one oftimes
expressed, although not always achieved.
If the supremacy of the screen is to be , maintained, it must be done through
quality alone. Continued improvement will assure unchallenged leadership. This
and no other panacea will suffice.
Every picture of merit made since the depression engulfed us has met with
financial success in spite of trying economic conditions and drastic criticism
aimed at the industry from many quarters.
Much of this criticism of course was warranted. In fact constructive
criticism is a marvelous tonic. It is medicine, often bitter, and usually a pill
that we hate to swallow. Still, had it not been for the church drive for
decency, it is difficult to predict how drastic our disaster might have been. We
had become so addicted to questionable wisecracks, so proud of insidious lines
with double meanings, so lop-sided with sophistication, and so befuddled by the
vulgar viewpoint of that miasmic minority known as the
"intelligentsia" that we completely lost sight of the fact that the
majority audience of America is decent-minded. Dirt and filth under the guise of
humor will never be tolerated by a nation as young as ours. We are too naive
nationally, still too wholesome in our point of view, to be swayed by that
Continental cynicism which the sophisticate points to as the ne plus ultra of
This does not mean, however, that every play produced should be dripping
sweet or saccharine enough to be innocuous as an amusement vehicle. Films
properly premised can still deal with the facts of life. Virility and vitality
will always be essential, but vulgarity, if or when required, can never be
candy-coated and excused. Simpering or mawkish sentimentality can likewise be a
The affliction of self-sufficiency is bound to pay the penalty of fallen
arches at the box-office. None of us is really so important. Primarily we are
part of the scheme of things, and when inflation of the ego becomes epidemic,
when self-estimate reaches ability, we soon discover that the barometer of
Perhaps the greatest thing about motion pictures is that no one can ever have
a monopoly on ideas. Masterpieces cannot be made to order. Artistic supremacy
hovers for a season over one studio, then producers bang away with their
inspirational guns and chase it to another, where it perches precariously, a
harried quarry soon to wing its way elsewhere, ceaselessly pursued by these
Quite evidently we are still a Cinderella-minded nation. We love the triumph
of virtue, the supremacy of success, especially when achieved at the end of an
obstacle race. We are still childlike enough and healthy enough to enjoy
laughter. The stonemasons of our industry are the producers, the directors, the
writers, the stars. The keystone of the arch upon which they toil, however, is
the story. And no arch will ever be stronger than the keystone which supports
it. A faulty story will cause the collapse of any arch, the downfall of the most
Perhaps we are fortunate this year in that we have been given explicit
directions as to how to quarry our stone. The outstanding popularity of Will
Rogers, Janet Gaynor and little Shirley Temple indicates that the world wants
simple, human screen fare, fundamental in emotion and wholesome in motivation.
But the world does not want and will not accept a standard pattern.
Hollywood Raporter.December 1934. See The Hollywood
Raporter: The Golden Years, p. 234-236.