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Lost Mary Pickford Film Found in Abandoned Barn

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

As Evann Gastaldo reports in Newser, a lost Mary Pickford film has been found in a barn.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised by this; a whole batch of supposedly lost African-American films were found in the a warehouse in the 1985, and thus saved from destruction; lost segments from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) were found recently; and not so long ago, the original negative for Carl Th. Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) was found in the closet of a mental institution! So “lost” films keep turning up all the time, and I’m still holding out hope for the missing 45 minutes from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); indeed, Welles’ “lost” film Too Much Johnson (1938), a mere trifle, but interesting nonetheless, surfaced only a few months ago.

So the news that a “lost” Mary Pickford film, and a key one in her career, at that, has been found in abandoned farm building slated for destruction is welcome news – and another reminder of how important artifacts of film history keep popping up in the most unlikely places. Actually, the film was found seven years ago, but it took this long to restore it, because, as you’ll read below, it wasn’t even stored in a film can!

As Gastaldo reports, “Just before tearing down an old barn in New Hampshire, a contractor did one last check and discovered a treasure: seven reels of film that he donated to the Keene State College Film Archives, reports the college. It has since determined that at least four of those films were ones thought to have been lost. One of those, Their First Misunderstanding, is the 1911 silent short film that features silent movie star Mary Pickford appearing in her first credited role. Prior to that, Pickford, then 18, had been known only as ‘Little Mary’ in films. The Library of Congress is funding the film’s restoration (it hadn’t even been stored in a can), and it will be screened at the New Hampshire college on Oct. 11.

‘It’s a big deal,’ says a Pickford scholar of the film’s discovery. Another expert says the movie ‘fills an important gap,’ because Pickford had a “short-lived association” with Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Picture Co. Their First Misunderstanding was the first movie she made for IMP. It’s about a newlywed couple’s first fight, and also stars Pickford’s then-husband Owen Moore, the Los Angeles Times reports. The nitrate reel was stuck to another, and had to be carefully separated. Though there are slight ‘jumps in action,’ the Pickford expert says ‘no significant amount of footage’ was lost.”

Click here to read more; let’s hope we have more such pleasant surprises in the future!

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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