Coquette (1929): Mary Pickford Oscar-Winning Performance

Veteran silent actress Mary Pickford won her first and only Best Actress for her first talkie, “Coquette,” a film version of the Helen Hayes Broadway vehicle. 

In this melodrama, directed by Sam Taylor, Pickford plays an ill-tempered southern belle whose affair with a man beneath her class enrages her father, leading to a disaster.

The Academy probably voted for Pickford out of sentimental reasons, honoring her distinguished career as a silent star.  Nonetheless, it’s one of the weakest female performances to have ever won the Oscar.

“Coquette” was not commercially successful, and Pickford’s effort to change her established screen image into a more modern one failed.  Neither was Pickford’s next film, co-starring husband Douglas Fairbanks, “The Taming of the Shrew.”  The latter is an interesting curiosity because the screenplay is credited to William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.

The cast includes John Mack Brown, Matt Moore, John Sainpolis, William Janney, Henry Kolker, George Irving, and Louise Beavers.

Beginning her showbiz career at the age of five (to help her family), Mary Pickford began her screen career in 1909, playing mostly nice little girls. In 1919, she joined Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Charles Chaplin, forming the company United Artists (UA), which was designed to release their owned independent pictures. She retired from Hollywood in 1933.


Oscar Nominations: 1

 Actress: Mary Pickford

 Oscar Award: 1


Oscar Context:

The other contestants in the Best Actress category were Ruth Chatterton in “Madame X,” Betty Compson in “The Barker,” Jeanne Eagles in “The Letter,” Corinne Griffith in “The Divine Lady,” and Bessie Love in “Broadway Melody, which won Best Picture.

In 1975, four years before her death, Mary Pickford received an Honorary Oscar from the Academy “in recognition of her unique contribution to the film industry and the development of film as an artistic medium.”