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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Mary Pickford advertisement Mary Pickford offers insights into topics in American history including the rise of the motion picture industry, women and business in the twentieth century, technological developments, the rise of celebrity culture, entertainment in America, popular images of women and women's roles, and more. Use the film or this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: civics, history, economics, and geography. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


Civics | Economics | History | Geography

  1. Read profiles of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford and Fairbanks became romantically involved while both were married to other people; they delayed making their relationship public because they feared angering their fans and hurting their careers. Do you think actors, athletes, and other public figures have a responsibility to act as role models for the public, or should they be judged simply on how good they are at their profession?

    Write an op-ed of 600-800 words that expresses your opinion on this topic, using one or more present-day actors, athletes, or other celebrities as examples. For example, do you admire a particular celebrity for his or her professional achievements and in spite of any personal misdeeds he or she has committed? Or did you stop supporting a particular celebrity after learning about his or her misdeeds? Or did you become a fan of a celebrity in part because of his or her personal integrity? After everyone is done, have volunteers read their op-eds to the class.

  2. Read about the rise of fan culture. Celebrities have become, if anything, even more prominent in American life since Pickford's day. With a partner, visit a local newsstand and make a list of all the public figures whose photos appear on the magazine covers there. Then sort these names by profession, such as sports and entertainment, politics, business, education, and so on. Which group has the most representatives? What, if anything, do your results tell you about the professions that are most prominent in the United States today?


Civics | Economics | History | Geography

  1. Read about the business of movies. Pickford used her growing popularity among moviegoers to negotiate large pay increases. As a class, prepare a line graph showing the change in her weekly salary, as described in the reading, between 1909 (when she started at Biograph) and 1916 (when she acquired her own production unit).

    Other successful actors have followed Pickford's lead, and today, Hollywood superstars earn millions of dollars for a single film. Find out the annual earnings a prominent actor, as well as average earnings of various other professions, and present your results in a bar graph. Then compare your results with those of your classmates, and discuss whether you think it is fair that certain professions pay so much more (or so much less) than others. You may also want to play the Shoot for Stardom game to get a taste for the economic and creative decisions early movie stars like Mary Pickford faced.

  2. Read about Pickford's long decline. Pickford tried more demanding and dramatic roles after her initial success in Hollywood, and even cut off her famous golden curls to break with her "little girl" image, but most of her fans still wanted her to play her old roles. To see whether today's prominent actors are in similar danger of being typecast, vote as a class to "elect" your three favorite actors and three favorite actresses; then, for each name, describe the type of character he or she typically plays. Do you expect each of these persons to play a certain kind of role in every film? Would you go to a movie in which he or she played a dramatically different role?


Civics | Economics | History | Geography

  1. Using the timeline, select three events from Pickford's life: one from her early career, one from her time as a Hollywood superstar, and one from her later life. Using what you have learned from the film and other sources, write a diary entry from Pickford for each of these events.

  2. Examine the silent film vault, where you can watch some clips from Pickford's silent film career, and take the online poll, which asks whether "talkies" marked an artistic advance over silent films. Then imagine that you and a partner have been given the funds to make a film with no spoken dialog that could be commercially successful today. Working together, write up a plan for such a film - an overview of the plot and main characters, the kinds of music you might use and why, and so on. Share your plan with the other groups in your class.


Civics | Economics | History | Geography

  1. Though Hollywood films are often seen as synonymous with American culture, many of the people who helped build Hollywood -- like Canadian Mary Pickford -- were born outside the United States. How many of these people can you identify? Divide the class into groups of three or four students each. Have each group find as many examples as it can of actors, producers, directors, and so on who were prominent in Hollywood in the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s and who were born in another country. Groups should present their results on a world map, using call-outs to indicate the person, his or her home country, birth name (if different from the screen name), and accomplishments in Hollywood. See which group can find the most examples.

  2. Read about entertainment before the movies and early movie audiences, which notes that movie theaters were originally concentrated in poorer neighborhoods but spread to wealthier ones as the popularity of moviegoing broadened. As a class, prepare a map showing the different places in your community where public entertainment -- movies, plays, vaudeville, and so on -- has been offered over the history of your community. Consult your local historical society and library for information. When you have the information, show the locations of the various buildings on a map, labeling them and color-coding them by time period. When you are done, examine the map to see what it tells you about the evolution of public entertainment in your community, and the evolution of the community itself.

page created on 7.23.04
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