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“The Poor Little Rich Girl”

Class and Embodiment in the Films of Mary Pickford

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. Victoria Sturtevant

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf008

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Sturtevant, V. 2011. “The Poor Little Rich Girl”. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:8.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


The Pickford persona was so cherished in part because it had these two sides, and so embodied a number of dynamic contradictions. The film roles Pickford played as often emphasize her doll-like beauty as they ask her to dress in rags and present herself as a feisty ragamuffin child. She is glorious but humble, remote but familiar. Her films often indulge these twin compulsions (to muddy Pickford up and also to style her in beautiful lace dresses with golden curls) by placing her in narratives of class rise, or fantasized class rise, that allowed her characters to make a shift from one half of the persona to another, from grubby urchin to democratic princess. Time and again she descends among the children and is restored anew to a magical position of privilege.


  • mary pickford;
  • social class;
  • film performance;
  • silent film;
  • film stardom;
  • childhood in cinema