From what we know about Carole Lombard's admiration for Mary Pickford (that's "flirty sales girl" Lombard with future Pickford husband Buddy Rogers in Mary's 1927 comedy "My Best Girl"), this following story would probably dismay her -- and Mary, too.
Late in Pickford's life, she established something called the Mary Pickford Foundation, which helped educational and other worthy charities. Some years later, another group of people with a particular interest in silent film created an organization titled the Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education, a spinoff from the Pickford Foundation.
The Institute helped program the fabled Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Boulevard during the 1990s and created documentary films on Pickford and other noted silent-era performers. Several of them were shown on Turner Classic Movies in its early years (it turned 18 earlier this month, and a belated happy birthday to that repertory house of television!). In addition, the Institute -- which received funding from the Foundation -- became a storehouse for silent and Pickford-era memorabilia, props and other items.
Note we said "received." Therein lies the problem.
The Foundation has withdrawn financial support from the Institute, which now is in danger of folding. According to Bob Gelfand at the CityWatch website,
...Apparently the Foundation would like to take over the assets and activities of the Institute. The argument that is quietly made by Institute staff is that the business people are trying to take over the artistic side of things or, worse yet, perhaps quench the artistic efforts and use Foundation money for completely different purposes.
This will look like small stuff to the general public. After all, it's just a bit of sniffling over the leftovers from a long dead performer who is mostly forgotten anyway. But there is another way to think about it. This Los Angeles of ours, whose city government will do just about anything to keep film production from leaving, has been weak in protecting and preserving our cinematic history. The major studios have been equally poor at remembrance.
What's left? We have the Academy of course and we have the local universities. But when a small but dedicated group is trying to take up some of the slack, we should at least be rooting for them. The city of Los Angeles should be making use of our cinematic heritage to attract cultural tourism. They like to claim they are doing so, but in reality the effort is fairly unimpressive. Here's one example. If you walk into a bookstore in Germany, you can find a poster showing Harold Lloyd hanging by one hand high above the city, holding onto the hand of a clock on the side of a building.
The picture is known worldwide, to the point that it has achieved iconic status. But try asking any city politician or staffer in the Department of Cultural Affairs where that building is. Worse yet, try asking any of the above how they could make use of that picture and all the locations like it to bring in tourists and film scholars with an interest in the subject.
To repeat: We have a private group that has been preserving the Pickford legacy and marketing LA's film heritage all over the world, and Los Angeles has yet to take notice.
This is one of those "more in sadness than in anger" arguments. It would be greatly to be desired if the Foundation could rethink their current position and keep the Mary Pickford Institute in a healthy state.
To read the piece in its entirety -- something I recommend, as it also includes some fascinating details on both Pickford herself and the Silent Movie Theater -- go to http://citywatchla.com/8box-left/3030-h
This is our Hollywood Heritage, and it deserves our respect and attention to its preservation. It would be a blessing if the Pickford Foundation can find the way to preserving its offspring the Institute.
Keep your fingers crossed.