In the 1920’s, the two most famous homes in America were Pickfair and the White House.
Silent film superstars Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart,” and handsome, dashing Douglas Fairbanks Sr. were the original Hollywood super couple. Individually, they were wildly famous the world over, even more so when they fell in love and married. Douglas had bought property in the Hollywood hills which they made their home, combining their last names to call it Pickfair. They created a romantic legend that still wistfully captures our interest.
Pickfair wrought-iron gate (photo c. DwellInTheGarden.com)
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford
Pickfair drew a steady stream of international royalty, politicians, scientists, and artists. An invitation to the Pickfair mansion meant you had made it in Hollywood.
Photos of the original Pickfair estate in the 1920′s give us a glimpse of Doug and Mary’s life. Even though the papers and magazines of the day tried to portray them as any other couple in America relaxing quietly at home, they entertained famous guests, they employed servants, and they had an endless variety of activities available on the expansive grounds.
Over time the legendary estate gained a mystique. An icon of Hollywood, Pickfair held a fascination for film historians as well as young Hollywood hopefuls. It symbolized an era where stars were idolized, where we believed true love lasted forever, where dreams could come true.
Alas, the Pickfair of that era is gone.
This is its story.
Table of Contents
• 1919 – From Hunting Lodge to Mansion
• Where was Pickfair?
• What did Pickfair look like?
• Life at Pickfair
• 1929 – Things Are Strained as They Film “Taming of the Shrew”
• “Mary Pickford Used To Eat Roses” Song & Video
• 1936 – Douglas and Mary Divorce
• 1937 – Mary Keeps Pickfair and Marries Buddy Rogers
• 1939 – Douglas Dies
• Life at Pickfair Continues
• I Was Excited to See Pickfair in Person
• 1976 – Mary Gets an Honorary Oscar®… and We Get To See Inside Pickfair
• 1979 – Mary is Gone and Pickfair is Sold
• 1989 – The End of the Original Pickfair
• 2008 – Pickfair Estate Auction Preview – in 3 Parts
• More About Doug & Mary – books & videos
1919 – From Hunting Lodge to Mansion
Pickfair began as someone’s 1911 hunting lodge.
In 1919, Douglas paid $35,00 for 15 (or so) acres in the still wild hills above Beverly Hills. A hunting lodge was the only building on the property.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. married in 1920. She was 26, he was 35. Were they secretly married at Pickfair? As enchanting as that may have been, they weren’t married at Pickfair but were married in a private ceremony at the Glendale home of a Baptist minister.
The couple had Max Parker, an art director on many of their films, renovate the cozy lodge. In the 1930′s prominent architect Wallace Neff made further renovations, giving it more elegance and expanding it to an L-shaped, 22-room Tudor/Swiss Chalet mansion with a copper roof and green gables.
Atop a hill on 1143 Summit Drive, overlooking the canyons below and with a view of the Pacific Ocean, Pickfair was the center of Hollywood society and everyone wanted to be invited. The King & Queen of Hollywood entertained not only actors and actresses, but scientists, sports figures, political figures, and royalty from all over the world.
Pickfair mansion, the second-most famous home in America behind the White House, was a beautiful and warm home, decorated with department store French reproduction furnishings, antiques, and fine art.
Because of the popularity of Doug & Mary, others in the film industry built lavish homes nearby. Charlie Chaplin soon built a house just down the street at 1085 Summit Drive. Thus was created the Beverly Hills that today has some of the highest priced real estate in the world.
Where was Pickfair?
1143 Summit Drive, Beverly Hills, California
What did Pickfair look like?
Over the years, Pickfair went through many changes as it was continually redecorated and enlarged. For the most part, the house had the following features.
• porte-cochere (a covered carriage entrance leading into a courtyard)
• red lacquered front doors
• entrance hall
• Wild West “saloon”
• reception room
• living room
• dining room
• breakfast nook
• screening room
• sun porch
• servants quarters
• master suite, and 5 guest bedrooms
Third Floor Attic: The Oriental Room
• gifts from Doug & Mary’s travels, and costumes from their movies
Here’s a quick video of Pickfair in 1927 as Mary leaves the house and Doug leaps off a balcony.
(begins at the 12:02 minute mark)
Life at Pickfair
The crescent-shaped outdoor swimming pool with its sand beach was large enough to paddle a canoe. It was reportedly the first outdoor private swimming pool in the Los Angeles area!
Games were played on the sweeping lawns. Guests saddled up at the stables and rode horses all the way to the ocean, at that time passing few houses along the way.
Pickfair saw a continual stream of visitors, where just about every evening there would be guests at the dinner table. Doug welcomed the constant entertaining, but Mary eventually began to long for more privacy. Everybody wanted to visit. There was often quite a hodgepodge of people at dinner.
If you were a guest at Pickfair and a woman. . . you had tea with Mary.
If you were a guest at Pickfair and a man. . . you went romping outdoors with Doug.
1929 – Things Are Strained Between Doug & Mary
“Taming of The Shrew” 1929 talkie
Doug & Mary made a disastrous “talkie” in 1929, Shakespeare’s “The Taming Of The Shrew.” Their marriage was strained and filming was not pleasant. To top it off, legend goes that the screenwriter wanted his name on the credits as: “By William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.” If true… wow. You can’t make this stuff up.
Here’s a scene from their 1929 version of “Taming of The Shrew.”
Katie Melua “Mary Pickford (Used To Eat Roses)” with silent film footage
A poignant, beautiful song about Mary Pickford.
Katie Melua sings an enchanting song about the love between Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the forming of United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and director D. W. Griffith, and the end of Doug & Mary‘s relationship.
Written by Mike Batt, the song was inspired by a daily facts calendar he had, one day reading that Mary Pickford used to eat roses.
“Mary Pickford used to eat roses, thought that they’d make her beautiful and they did… one supposes.”
“Douglas Fairbanks, he was so handsome. He wore a moustache, musta had much cash, too. . . worth a king’s ransom.”
“They tried to Pick Fair weather. But love died, it didn’t last forever.”
Doug & Mary Divorce
Mary’s forte had been playing plucky little girls while well into her 30′s , but she had cut her curls in order to lose the little girl image. Doug’s forte was playing the dashing athletic hero. With advancing age, the advent of the talkies, and the changing tastes of the public, they saw their careers foundering. Their marriage had fallen apart. They divorced in January 1936, reportedly having lived for several years in opposite wings of Pickfair.
1937 – Mary Keeps Pickfair and Marries Buddy Rogers
Mary kept Pickfair. In 1937 she married her third and last husband, handsome movie actor & bandleader Charles “Buddy” Rogers, who was 11 years her junior.
Buddy and Mary had met in 1927 when they starred in “My Best Girl.” (That same year, Buddy had starred in “Wings,” winner of the first Oscar® for Best Picture.) They lived at Pickfair during their entire marriage of 42 years, the rest of Mary’s life.
A very quick video of handsome Buddy Rogers in 1929 (begins at the 1:41 minute mark)
1939 – Douglas Dies
Douglas Fairbanks died December 12, 1939.
Life at Pickfair Continues
During the marriage of Mary and Buddy, Pickfair was kept up-to-date with gracious furnishings. Mary was still involved in business and social functions, and throughout her life she had been very philanthropic. She opened Pickfair to charity benefits during the war years and after.
The couple sold off parcels of the land. They raised two adopted children, but the children grew into teenagers, fell out of favor and no longer lived at Pickfair.
Mary gradually became more and more reclusive. In her later years she began spending all her time upstairs in her bedroom, rarely leaving the house. She accepted few visitors and preferred to speak to them on the telephone from her second-floor bedroom as they spoke to her from a phone on the first floor.
I Was Excited To See Pickfair In Person
It was 1966 and I was 12. The family vacation that year was Southern California. My dad drove my mom, younger brother, and me from the middle of the country to Los Angeles. My dad had built a bench to put in the back seat, across the space where our feet would go, which meant my brother & I had this big flat space full of blankets and pillows where we could hang out and lay down during the two-day drive. This was long before seat belts were required! There was no air conditioning in our car, so my dad drove all night through the desert so it wouldn’t be so hot.
It was our first time in Hollywood and I was star struck. We bought a map of the stars’ homes. The one place I really wanted to see was Pickfair. I was fascinated with silent movies and had read everything I could find about Mary Pickford with the golden curls.
We drove up Summit Drive and stopped at the wrought iron gates of Pickfair. Looking up the angled driveway, we could see part of the house. Pickfair was beautiful and the grounds were immaculate. It was hard to put feelings into words, to think that Mary Pickford might be so near that we could talk to her. We took pictures of what we could see and of the gates with the “P” in elegant wrought iron.
1976 – Mary Gets an Honorary Oscar®. . . and We Get To See Inside Pickfair
Mary is 84 and it’s 1976. . . 3 years before she dies.
In 1976 The Academy gave Mary an Honorary Oscar® for lifetime achievement. She had already received a Best Actress Oscar® in 1929 for “Coquette.”
Gene Kelly, on stage, introduces the segment. A camera crew had been sent to record Mary receiving the statuette at Pickfair, which gives us a wonderful film of coming up the driveway to the elegant front entrance. Inside, the camera pans the entry, the Regency dining room, a portrait of Mary, the curved stairway… and then frail-looking Mary herself seated in a chair in the living room.
After her taped acceptance is shown, there’s a glimpse of her husband Buddy Rogers in the audience.
1979 – Mary is Gone and Pickfair is Sold
In an article in the newspaper “The Day” of New London, Connecticut dated April 4, 1979, Buddy Rogers said he and Mary discussed what to do with Pickfair. They offered it to the city of Beverly Hills, the University of Southern California and several charitable organizations, but no one wanted it unless money was provided to care for it forever. Buddy said that they didn’t have that kind of money.
1979 newspaper article about Pickfair.
Mary Pickford. photo courtesy Library of Congress
Exquisite, phenomenal Mary Pickford died May 29, 1979…
…a recluse in her Pickfair bedroom.
Buddy built a smaller mansion on the property, 1147 Pickfair Way, and called it “Pickfair Lodge.” It housed all their memorabilia, including the Western bar. He moved into it and remarried.
In 1980 Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, bought Pickfair and the few acres that were still part of it for $5,362,500. (It had been on the market for $10 million.)
Dr. Buss modernized the plumbing and heating and did considerable renovating, but kept the flavor of the house as it was in its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. He added a tennis court and a library. Pickfair was home to a family and open to charity events once again.
1989 – The End of the Original Pickfair
In 1988 Jerry Buss sold the house and property to businessman Meshulam Riklis and wife actress Pia Zadora for $6,675,000.
In 1989, amid an outcry of protest from movie historians, preservationists and the neighborhood, Riklis and Zadora claimed that Pickfair was so riddled with termites that it was beyond repair…
and they had it torn down.
On a 2012 episode of “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” Pia Zadora claims Pickfair was haunted by a ghost. She says the mansion was torn down not because of termites after all, but because she and her family could not live in a haunted house.
She begins her rendition by saying that her husband had bought Pickfair which had been the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks JUNIOR. This is incorrect. Mary Pickford was married to Douglas Fairbanks SENIOR. Yes, Doug Jr. (Doug Sr.’s son from a previous marriage) was welcomed at Pickfair, but it was not his home. How Pia could get this basic fact wrong makes one question the rest of her story.
People wondered why the original house or the interiors couldn’t be saved… or taken apart and rebuilt somewhere else as a historic building… or at the very least been rebuilt more sympathetic to the style of the original.
(Ironically, architect Wallace Neff himself had suggested tearing down Pickfair when he was asked to renovate it in the 1930s, saying they should just start over by building a new house. Doug & Mary had refused. The house held good memories and they couldn’t tear it down.)
But by now the house had become so legendary and symbolic of Old Hollywood that many people were aghast that it had been razed.
Pickfair then……………………………………………….. and now.
Riklis and Zadora built a Venetian monstrosity on the property. Completed in 1991, only a few original features of Pickfair were saved:
• the outdoor pool
• the original wrought-iron gates with the letter “P” on them
• possibly a portion of one wing
In 2005 the new Pickfair and its remaining 2.7 acres were bought by Unicom Global for $17.6 million, using the facilities for corporate meetings, events, and retreats.
Although still called “Pickfair,” the legend is gone, the mystique of a golden couple who captivated the world.
2008 – Pickfair Estate Auction Preview – in 3 Parts
Held at the Beverly Hilton on November 22-23, 2008
Buddy Rogers, Mary Pickford‘s last husband, died in 1999.
In 2007 Buddy‘s second wife died. The heirs put hundreds of items from the collection of Mary Pickford up for auction, including fine art, dinnerware, furniture and personal possessions of Mary, Doug and Buddy.
Look at their things and imagine that you are back in the heyday of Pickfair with Doug and Mary.
If you’re interested in more About Doug & Mary, here are books and videos available on Amazon.com.
Most people remember Mary Pickford and her famous curls in the roles of a feisty little girl. She was actually a towering figure in movie history. “This definitive biography brings Pickford to life as a complex knot of contradictions and establishes her as a groundbreaking genius.”
This is a truly definitive biography of Hollywood’s first king, the first and best of the swashbucklers. With lots of photos, and Fairbanks’ love letters to Mary Pickford,
If you’re new to Mary Pickford, this movie gem is a charming introduction to her talents. She’s just adorable!
The life of Douglas Fairbanks, swashbuckler extraordinaire, and two of his very best films. Bonus features include a complete listing of Fairbanks’ films, a complete list of books penned by Doug, a list of many of Doug’s old haunts and hang-outs from Hollywood to New York, and film of Doug offering his help for the war effort during WWI along with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin.
Silent Film Stars
The lives of silent film stars were glamorous but often tragic.
Olive Thomas was married to Mary Pickford’s brother Jack. Beautiful, vivacious, a Ziegfeld Follies girl, and one of the biggest names in motion pictures, she died a horrible death by poison in 1920 at the age of 25.
This marvelous book contains 100 biographical sketches of the actors of the silent film era. Each vividly written profile is illustrated by photographs, many of which have not been seen in decades. Kevin Brownlow (who provides the foreword) writes: “If you ever wondered who created the movies, this fascinating book will provide the answer.”
Mary Pickford couldn’t have been further from the adorable little girl with golden ringlets that was her film persona. She was a shrewd businesswoman. This book looks at Mary and many of the silent stars.