Slotted to premier on Christmas week, Famous Players’s Cinderella (1914) was marketed as a child-friendly fantasy for the whole family whose cutting-edge cinematography would bring to life the popular fairytale of rags-to-riches girlhood. However, Cinderella was foremost conceived as a vehicle for rising star Mary Pickford. Pickford had built a reputation playing ingénues since her early days at Biograph; yet only in 1913 did she cease starring in shorts and graduate to feature-length productions. Set on proving her acting skills, Pickford portrayed Cinderella not as a fictional archetype, but as an everyday adolescent girl from the Progressive-era. The imaginary figure was further humanized by Pickford’s trademark warmth and childlike mischief, characteristics clearly displayed in the scenes where she interacts with her evil stepfamily. The film was also aware of audiences’ dissatisfaction with trite trick cinematography. For sake of optical wonder, previous versions of Cinderella - such as George Méliès’s 1899 protean rendition - had reduced the tale of female transformation to its magical components, consequently evacuating the female protagonist of any psychological depth. In James Kirkwood’s five-reeler, however, trick cinematography is used to make visible the adolescent girl’s inner world: split-screens show Cinderella wistfully remembering an earlier encounter with the Prince (Pickford’s real-life husband, Owen Moore); while double-exposures visualize her horrible nightmare, conjured up in the afterglow of the forbidden ball. Lastly, Cinderella’s box-office success cemented Pickford as “America’s sweetheart.” However, since Cinderella would be adapted over 30 times throughout the teens, one might question why was Pickford’s version the most applauded. Were adolescent girls watching these productions? And did Kirkwood’s adaptation of Perrault’s fairytale resonate with immigrant girls who could be familiar with European folktales? Researching movie-goers’ inquiries, letters, and stars’ biographies published in trade and fan press from the Teens (such as Moving Picture World and Photoplay) may offer some valuable clues. It may also be helpful to look at other extant versions of Cinderella, such as Thanhouser’s (1911), starring another popular young star, Florence LaBadie.
James Kirkwood, Director. Cinderella. Los Angeles: Famous Players Film Company, 1914. http://archive.org/details/Cinderella1914 (accessed August 30, 2012).