Entertainment & Arts

Lost Mary Pickford film to be screened

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Media captionTheir First Misunderstanding shows a couple having an argument

A long-lost movie starring actress Mary Pickford, the silent star known as "the girl with the golden curls", is to be restored and shown to the public.

Pickford received her first on-screen credit in Their First Misunderstanding, made in 1911. But the film was thought to have disappeared by historians who followed the performer's career.

A solitary copy was discovered in a barn by carpenter Peter Massie in 2006.

The US Library of Congress is now funding a project to restore it.

Massie found the film, along with six other vintage reels, in New Hampshire seven years ago.

They were languishing in a barn that had once been used as a summer camp for boys. It is believed the movies were shown to entertain the campers.

Not realising the nitrate film was highly flammable, Peter Massie kept the reels in his truck where he regularly smoked cigarettes. He later stored them near his woodstove at home.

Eventually he donated the discoveries to the nearby Keene State College, where scholars have since been working to identify and restore them.

"This is the coolest thing I've ever found on any job," said Massie. "It's pretty fantastic, that's what I think.

"They were seconds away from going into a dumpster."


Pickford was 18 when she made Their First Misunderstanding, a 10-minute film about a wife's fight with her husband.

"We have a list of all of Mary Pickford's films, but this was among the missing," film historian Leonard Maltin told CBS News.

Image caption Pickford, pictured here on the set of Hoodlum in 1925, made more than 200 films

"It's like finding an early song by George Gershwin, or an unpublished short story by Mark Twain."

The film was initially identified by Larry Benaquist, who founded the film school at Keene State.

It took longer than usual, as the 35mm celluloid had degraded and stuck to itself.

Once a lab had separated the layers, Benaquist asked Pickford scholar Christal Schmidt to confirm his findings.

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

Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in 1892 in Toronto, Canada. She went to work in the theatre at the age of five after her father died from a brain haemorrhage.

She moved to Broadway when she was 15. There she formed a working partnership with pioneering film director DW Griffith, head of the Biograph studio.

She soon became known as the "Biograph girl" and made more than 40 short movies in 1909 alone.

After audiences first learned her name in Their First Misunderstanding, Pickford became famous around the world.

She won two Oscars and later founded the United Artists film studio along with Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks - whom she married in 1920 - and Charlie Chaplin.

Pickford retired from the screen in 1933 but continued to produce. She died in 1979.

Benaquist said that while the first minute or so of Their First Misunderstanding had been destroyed, the rest was in remarkably good condition.

The restored film will be screened at Keene State in October.

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