When I scheduled an inteview with Buddy Rogers for a New York Times article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the talkies, I had hopes of meeting his wife, too. But, despite my heavy hinting to Buddy, Mary Pickford remained invisible--at least, to me--on my visit to Pickfair in 1977. --GUY FLATLEY


Pickfair, the poignantly ornate mansion that once upon a time was the gathering place for Hollywood's most colorful royalty and rogues, from Gish to Chaplin, from Clara Bow to William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. The house was established by the movie colony's favorite loving couple, Mary Pickford--the screen's very first star--and her dashing husband, Douglas Fairbanks. Today, America's Sweetheart is a recluse, a faded figure glimpsed fleetingly by visitors as she stands at an upstairs bedroom window. Downstairs, the thick-carpeted rooms are morosely quiet, and what little entertaining there is, is done by Buddy Rogers, the affable young star of "Wings," who wed Miss Pickford (shown above with Rogers) after her divorce from Fairbanks.

“The days of the silent film were perfect," says the tanned, white-haired, blue-blazered Rogers, smiling as he sinks into an easy chair directly beneath a long-ago portrait of himself as a boyishly grinning matinee idol. "I was studying journalism at the University of Kansas when Paramount came through looking for 10 boys and 10 girls to put together a Paramount School of Acting out at Astoria [Queens]. They taught us how to roll down a flight of stairs without hurting ourselves, how to wear false beards and how to hold a kiss for three minutes without laughing. One of the big things that changed when talkies came in was the music they used to play on the set, to get you in the mood. We always had a three-or-four piece orchestra playing right through every scene. When I had a sad scene, I'd ask them to play 'Liebestraum' and I'd cry right then and there. If it was a fun scene, I'd snap my fingers and ask them to play 'I Want to Be Happy.'

"That was a beautiful time. Work was fun. Automobiles were fun, there were dances all the time, and every star knew every other star. There was a family feeling. Marion Davies was such a good friend. She loved to play tricks on you. Once, when we were all at the Mocambo, she sent her driver home and he came back with a birthday present for Mary--diamonds that were easily worth $30,000 or $40,000. 'But it's not my birthday,' Mary said. 'That's all right,' Marion answered, 'I haven't done anything for you in such a long time.' And when you'd go out to the Hearst ranch, there'd always be a little trinket under your plate at dinner, a diamond from Cartier's or something along those lines."

Much of Hollywood's harmony went out the window when sound came sour-noting in. "I said to my good friend, Gary Cooper, 'Coop, do you know anything about talking?' and he said, 'Yup.' We knew that Jolson had a voice, but we didn't know if we did. So we were taken to the sound studio at Paramount to find out who had a voice and who didn't. Each day, they'd bring in a famous star, and he'd be in there as long as three hours. One day, Wallace Beery was in there for an extra long time, and we all waited around to hear the verdict. Finally, at 3 in the afternoon, a boy came running out of the studio yelling, 'Wally Beery has a voice!'

"To find out how the public would react to my voice, the studio put me in a movie called 'Varsity,' in which I was the star football player. It had a 12-minute talking sequence, and I don't mind telling you those were pretty serious moments for me. It worked out fine, and, of course, we had our voice coaches with whom we'd meet regularly so they could teach us how to e-nun-ci-ate. They also brought out a lot of people from the New York stage, actors who knew how to project their voices--people like Ruth Chatterton and Clive Brook. They were very cool to us. All of us were at the mercy of the soundman; the director had lost control. I recall doing a scene several times with Mary Brian and Jean Arthur, and finally everyone said that it was very, very good. Then somebody came running out and said, 'You've got to do it again - the sound was no good!'"

To read Guy Flatley's "The Sound That Shook Hollywood" in its entirety--including interviews with Frank Capra, Myrna Loy, Clarence Brown, Allan Dwan, Anita Loos, King Vidor and Raoul Walsh--click here.