Mary Pickford turned 41 in 1933. Her enormously successful film career had been in trouble since 1929 when she and her husband, the equally famous Douglas Fairbanks, starred in a sound version of "Taming of the Shrew." It was during the making of the film — which she later described as one of the worst experiences of her life — that it became obvious the couple wasn't getting along.

He had lost interest in films and she no longer was a box office draw. The arrival of sound wasn't a problem for her so much as her age; Mary Pickford had specialized in playing young girls long after she should have moved on to more age-appropriate roles. When she did play characters close to her real age, she lost her appeal. Drinking became a problem.

She did not have to continue working. Already wealthy, Mary Pickford inherited a million dollars from the estate of her mother, Charlotte Smith, herself an actress. Pickford also had sister, Lottie, pretty much forgotten by 1933 though she had been a successful silent film actress in the early 1920s. Lottie was on the outs with her family, inheriting nothing, and her daughter, who had been adopted by Charlotte Smith, went to live with Mary Pickford after Mrs. Smith's death.

All three Pickfords actually were named Smith. Theater producer David Belasco turned Gladys Smith into Mary Pickford in the early 1900s, and her siblings followed suit in changing their last names.

Of note for Mary Pickford in 1933 — her final film, "Secrets," a melodrama co-starring Leslie Howard, was released, and she acknowledged that while she still loved Fairbanks, their marriage, for all practical considerations, was over, though their divorce wouldn't be final until 1936. A year after that she would marry actor-musician "Buddy" Rogers and remain with him until her death in 1979. Rogers was one of the film community's best-known and most respected citizens.

Syracuse Journal, December 9
HOLLYWOOD, California (INS) — Mary Pickford today turned to the stage for solace as her “perfect romance” was plunged into the Los Angeles divorce courts.

The little blonde actress, who has remained “America’s Sweetheart,” indicated firmly that the crash of her 13 years’ married life with a husband equally famous on the silver screen will not end her plans for continuing her distinguished career.

Miss Pickford secretly boarded the Santa Fe California Limited train bound for the East shortly after the suit was filed.

“Mental suffering and anguish,” she charged in her divorce complaint on file here, was caused her by the actions of Fairbanks, now hobnobbing with royalty in Europe.

Protracted absences from “Pickfair” of Fairbanks led to the final separation of the pair in May of this year, she charged.

Friends, reading between the lines of the divorce complaint, say the real reason for the divorce in the divergence of the tastes of the two famous film players.

Life for Fairbanks, they said, meant social affairs with royalty, mad airplane dashes about the country, hunting trips into the Orient, and all the athletic fevered pace that only he could maintain. Movies, to him, were only incidental.

Life for Miss Pickford, they pointed out, meant the steady application of her talents to the screen career, which she has never allowed to languish since she turned to the films in 1910. She prefers quiet social gatherings at Pickfair with her intimate friends, and a host of charitable and social service activities that have endeared her to the nation.

Thus for the second time in a year, the “royal family” of Hollywood has gone to the divorce courts. Last spring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., son of Fairbanks by a previous marriage, and Joan Crawford separated, and a little later Miss Crawford obtained a divorce in Los Angeles.

Since the separation of Miss Pickford and Fairbanks became known in July, there have been constant rumors — rumors that divorce was impending or that a reconciliation had been effected.

Miss Pickford met these whisperings with silence, and close friends repeatedly asserted up to the present that “there is no change in Mary Pickford’s plans” — plans, which she said at the time of her separation from Fairbanks, did not include divorce unless Fairbanks wanted it.

On Thursday of this week, however, came a brief announcement from her office which Hollywood now sees as the prelude to the end. It was to the effect that Miss Pickford would leave Hollywood for New York, where there is a “strong possibility” she will appear on the stage.

Miss Pickford will not announce the name or the producer of the play until it has been definitely scheduled for production, said the announcement. Should the stage appearance be successful, Miss Pickford was expected to make a screen presentation of the play.

Miss Pickford isolated herself after the suit was filed and refused to discuss further her action against Fairbanks, which was revealed with the following brief announcement:

“For several years my married life has become increasingly unhappy. Being convinced that under existing circumstances the future offers no solution, it is with the deepest regret that I have filed a suit for divorce.”

Miss Pickford’s divorce suit was bereft of sensational charges. She merely accused Fairbanks of causing her “embarrassment and humiliation” by his actions — “Mental cruelty,” as the charge is known in California.

At the time their separation became known she made her feelings clear.

“I love my husband. I don’t want to say there will be a divorce. Separation from someone you love as dearly and tenderly as I have loved Douglas for 16 years is almost an unbearable thought. Our separations, as you know, have become more and more frequent,” she said then.

Ever since the separation was revealed Fairbanks has remained in Europe, and although Hollywood little expected that a divorce would be filed so soon, it was generally accepted some time ago that reconciliation was out of the question.

As part of the property settlement negotiated out of court, Pickfair goes to the actress.

A deed to the estate was recorded in Miss Pickford’s name just prior to the filing of the divorce suit.

For many months after Fairbanks began his treks to other lands, Miss Pickford refused to accept what her friends began to realize was the inevitable.

She planned “surprises” for Fairbanks. With charming sincerity she sought every method of showing her love.

Miss Pickford sought to make last Christmas a glorious one at Pickfair. When Fairbanks returned home from a big game hunt in the Malay Peninsula, he found that his wife, as a gift for him, had created a “western room,” its interior dominated by an old-time bar, brought by Miss Pickford from one of the ghost mining towns of the Mother Lode country.

But scarcely three weeks later the wanderlust again claimed Fairbanks and he was on the move, bound for Europe to play golf with his friend, the Prince of Wales.

Five months later Fairbanks was back again for a brief and final visit at Pickfair. After less than a month at home he left for England to witness the Walker Cup golf matches.

Chafing at the bonds of domesticity, Fairbanks over a year ago refused to contribute to the expense of Pickfair’s upkeep. Shortly after that ultimatum was issued, the house was offered for sale.

But later, with Miss Pickford’s decision that no matter what the wreckage of their romance, she could not bear to leave the home she had created, the estate was withdrawn from the market.

The 12-acre estate, counted the most magnificent of all the fabulous homes in Movieland, is valued at $500,000.

It is not expected that Fairbanks will attempt to contest the action.

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (INS) — Douglas Fairbanks, skiing in the Austrian Tyrol, today declined to comment on the filing of a divorce suit against him in Los Angeles by Mary Pickford.

He authorized a brief statement given out through a personal friend, W. A. Riordan:

“Mr. Fairbanks has no statement to make, and he will continue his silence regarding personal matters.”


Meanwhile, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. also was having marital problems with his famous wife, Joan Crawford.

Syracuse Journal, March 18, 1933
Hollywood (Universal Service) — The long-expected separation of Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., rumored for the past six months, came today.

The famous young film stars, at one time considered the happiest married couple in the movie colony, have decided to separate. No divorce is being planned, and each is emphatic in stating that no other man or woman has entered into their matrimonial difficulties.

Despite what was said in the Louella Parsons article, divorce was in the works.

Fairbanks Jr. was not Mary Pickford's son. His mother was Anna Beth Sully, and he was born in 1909, eleven years before his father married "America's Sweetheart."

Junior was just 19 when he married Crawford in 1929. She was 23. By 1933 she was more interested in other men, including Clark Gable, who reportedly regarded her as a sexual predator and managed to avoid marrying her.

Fairbanks reportedly was out of the country when Crawford began plotting the divorce. She not only changed all the locks on the house in Fairbanks' absence, she also had new toilet seats installed.

At the time of their divorce, Crawford's boy toys included Franchot Tone, whom she would marry in 1935. Fairbanks didn't marry again until 1939. He and Mary Lee Epping would remain married until her death in 1988.

Crawford and Tone divorced in 1939. Her next husband was Phillip Terry, from 1942 to 1946, with wedding number four in 1955 to Alfred Steele, CEO of Pepsi-Cola, who died in 1959.