Buddy Rogers and Mary Pickford
When Mary PIckford's marriage to Douglas Fairbanks fell apart, she increasingly turned to her friend and former co-star Buddy Rogers for support. He proposed to her and they married in 1937. Rogers was a handsome actor and musician. While some critics speculated that he was after Pickford's fame and fortune, his affection for her was widely acknowledged.
Born in 1904, Charles "Buddy" Rogers was raised by an active, wholesome family in Olathe, Kansas. He was boyishly good-looking and musically talented. At the University of Kansas, he played several instruments and conducted a jazz band. When his father submitted his son's photo to a film company talent search in 1925, Rogers was selected as a finalist. Soon he went to New York for training.
My Best Girl
Rogers starred in a couple of films before landing a major role in Wings (1927). The film, an epic for its time, featured sequences of dogfights and collisions shot from the air. The role positioned Rogers to get the part of Joe Grant in a light romantic comedy, My Best Girl (1927) -- where he met Mary Pickford. In the love scenes, it was plain to everyone that the two had chemistry.
A True Showman
His good looks and charm earned Rogers the nickname, "America's Boyfriend." People loved him in romantic comedies, but his acting career faltered when he was cast in second-rate films. Rogers turned back to music, and with Pickford's help he organized an orchestra, the California Cavaliers. The Cavaliers played jazz versions of the day's popular hits. Rogers was a true showman, and though not the most talented musician, he entertained with a broad smile and engaging personality.
Pickford had always pictured herself becoming a mother. She had wanted to adopt a child with Fairbanks, in fact, but the marriage ended with no children. Six years after she and Buddy were married, Pickford, at age 51, realized that she was running out of time. The couple visited an orphanage, where a six-year-old boy dressed impeccably in a suit enchanted them. After a day spent entertaining the boy, Pickford was enamored with him. She and Rogers officially adopted Ronald "Ronnie" Charles Rogers in 1943.
A Little Girl
Less than a year after Ronnie joined the family, Pickford was back at the orphanage, marveling over babies. She was taken with a dark-haired girl with a bright countenance. "More than I ever wanted anything in my life, I wanted that baby," Pickford would say. The impatient mother could hardly wait the few weeks it took to process the adoption papers. When the adoption was approved, she raced to pick up the child, Roxanne, and drove home in a frenzy. She had not even told Buddy, who was serving as a lieutenant in the Air Force, about the infant's arrival. In her excitement she had also failed to acquire all of the necessities for a baby's comfort, revealing her shortcomings as a parent.
Growing up at Pickfair
The children's life in a Hollywood mansion was not normal. "It was so big," Ronnie would remember, "you needed a road map to find the bathroom. I was in awe, but they told me I was going to be living there." Pickford and Rogers treated the children like theatrical props, sending them to boarding schools and posing them in family photographs when they were home on visits. Pickford became critical of their physical imperfections, including Ronnie's small stature and Roxanne's crooked teeth. Both children would later remark that their mother was too self-interested to provide genuine maternal love.
Out of Sight
As Ronnie entered adolescence, he became cold and surly towards his mother. His sister grew rebellious. Both children married in their late teens, and Ronnie became so troubled that he once attempted suicide. Pickford went to see him in the hospital, complaining that he had interrupted a well-needed rest she was taking. It was at this point that the children faded from the public eye. Pickford and Rogers stopped talking about them and their friends stopped asking.
Journalists reported that Roxanne and Ron worked odd jobs in the 1970s, and both lacked money. Devoted Pickford followers wondered why the children of a wealthy Hollywood icon should be financially deprived. After Pickford's death, their financial straits did not improve. Pickford's original will had granted each child $15,000, which she upped to $50,000 before she died. But the actual amounts they received from the estate were significantly smaller, according to Ronnie. Still, he had kind words for Mary Pickford. "I miss my mother," he would say in 2003. "Things didn't work out that much. You know. But I'll never forget her. I think that she was a good woman."