The one thing you should see this week: a peek at the birth of a star

The one thing you should see this week: a peek at the birth of a star

Poor Little Rich Girl Mary Pickford (Image: Courtesy of the TIFF Film Reference Gallery)

This week’s pick: Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star.

It all started with a single photograph. Rob Brooks bought his first Mary Pickford memento on the Danforth back in 1980, kick-starting a decades-long obsession with the Girl With the Golden Curls. Now the owner of the world’s largest collection of Pickford memorabilia—nearly 2,000 items—has decided to spread the mania by donating it all to TIFF, which has put 300 of the pieces on display in a fascinating exhibit that opened last Thursday.

America’s Sweetheart was, ironically, born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto in 1892. (She would remain a Canadian citizen her entire life, never applying for American citizenship.) To make money following her father’s death, six-year-old Smith and her siblings started acting in local theatres. By the age of 14, she was Broadway bound with a new identity: Mary Pickford. The stage work soon gave way to jobs in the burgeoning silent film industry, after she caught the eye of hotshot director D.W. Griffith. The encounter proved fortuitous: 10 years later, Pickford would smash gender barriers when she co-founded United Artists, the industry’s first artist-run production company, with Griffith; her future husband, Douglas Fairbanks; and Charlie Chaplin.

Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star contains a fair amount of ephemera (photographs, posters, programs), along with clips of such films as Sparrows and Daddy-Long-Legs. Beyond the curiosities—and there are many, from a United Artist contract and a Pickford-Fairbanks Studio mailbag to a tiny lipstick tube from her cosmetics line and copies of the self-help books she wrote (who knew?) after retiring from acting—the show shines a spotlight on the birth of Hollywood hype and celebrity branding. Not bad for a girl from University Avenue.

The details: To July 3. Free. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., 416-968-3456,