Mary Pickford Film Found in NH Barn is Restored

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

KEENE, N.H. (AP) — Carpenter Peter Massie has come across some interesting finds over the years — antique bottles, old newspapers stuffed in walls. But his biggest discovery of all is the only known copy of a 1911 Mary Pickford movie that marked a turning point in the silent film star's career.

The Library of Congress is funding a project to restore the film, titled "Their First Misunderstanding," and it will be shown next month at Keene State College, where a retired professor has overseen the restoration.

The film is the first for which Pickford was given credit in the advertising materials. Before that, movie studios didn't want actors to become household names because they'd demand more money, said Pickford scholar Christel Schmidt, editor of "Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies."

Massie, who discovered the film along with six other vintage reels in a New Hampshire barn he was tearing down in 2006, is looking forward to seeing it.

"This is the coolest thing I've ever found on any job," he said. "It's pretty fantastic, that's what I think. They were seconds away from going into a Dumpster."

The property where Massie found the films apparently used to be a summer camp for boys, and the movies were probably shown to entertain the campers, said Larry Benaquist, who founded the film program at Keene State. Massie donated the films to the college, and Benaquist led the effort to identify and restore them.

Pickford, known as "America's Sweetheart," was one of Hollywood's earliest stars. She was a co-founder of the United Artists film studio and helped establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She retired from acting in 1933 and died in 1979.

The 10-minute comedy-drama stars Pickford and her first husband, Owen Moore, as newlyweds having their first argument. The first minute or so was destroyed, but the rest was in remarkably good condition, Benaquist said.

He quickly determined that one of the reels was a lost 1913 silent film about Abraham Lincoln. But it took longer to identify the Pickford film because the 35 mm celluloid had stuck to itself.

Once a lab was able to separate the layers, Benaquist reached out to Schmidt.

"I was really stunned, because a lot of those early films, you just figure they're gone," Schmidt said Monday. "For that one to turn up was really exciting."

Pickford had been known only as "Little Mary," ''The Girl with the Curls" and "The Biograph" girl, after her former studio, but that changed after "Their First Misunderstanding," Benaquist said.

"Now she was an actor with clout, and I think she used that to great advantage," he said.

One clip of the restored film shows Pickford bounding into the room and confronting her husband about an invitation from someone she doesn't particularly like.

"You see the whole range of emotions in that clip — playful, annoyed, loving and worried," Schmidt said.

Massie, who also rescued an old projector from the barn in the town of Nelson, said the owner had told him he could keep whatever he found. Not realizing the nitrate film was highly flammable, he kept the reels in his truck for a while — while he smoked cigarettes — and later stored them near his woodstove at home.

"Then I found out I could've exploded," he said.

Ninety percent of the movies made before 1930 are gone, Benaquist said.

"So, the odds are if you find a stack of films, you might find something that hasn't been around," he said. "With this stack of films, it was like striking gold. It was just amazing. So I've learned never to say no when someone calls me up and says, 'Hey, I've got some old films in my attic, do you want to come look?'"

"I always go," he said. "Always."


Join the Conversation!

To comment, the following rules must be followed:

  • No Obscenity, Profanity, Vulgarity, Racism or Violent Descriptions
  • No Negative Community Comparisons
  • No Fighting, Name-calling, Trolling or Personal Attacks
  • Multiple Accounts are Not Allowed
  • Stay on Story Topic

Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content, but the station is under no legal obligation to do so.
If you believe a comment violates the above rules, please use the Flagging Tool to alert a Moderator.
Flagging does not guarantee removal.

Multiple violations may result in account suspension.
Decisions to suspend or unsuspend accounts are made by Station Moderators.
Questions may be sent to comments@kbtx.com. Please provide detailed information.

powered by Disqus
KBTX-TV Channel 3 4141 E. 29th Street Bryan, TX 77802 Phone: (979) 846-7777 Fax: (979) 846-1490 News Fax: (979) 846-188
Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 225029962 - kbtx.com/a?a=225029962
Gray Television, Inc.