Jack Pickford was born John Charles Smith on August 18, 1896 in Toronto, Canada. After the death of their father, Jack and his two sisters began acting on stage as children and played the vaudeville circuit and Broadway in the US. In 1910 his eldest sister changed her name to Mary Pickford and secured them contracts with Biograph Studios to make motion pictures. She would become the new industry’s biggest star.
Jack played bit roles in more than 75 shorts before graduating to leads in films like Great Expectations (1917) and Tom Sawyer (1917). Often cast as the boy next door, he displayed a natural gift for acting; Mary would later say that of the two of them, Jack was the better actor. Despite his talent, his career often took a backseat to his frequent partying and womanizing.
Popular with his fellow actors and the press, and doted on by his family, Jack was a practical joker who enjoyed having a good time. He also exhibited signs early on of alcoholism.
In 1916, Jack met Follies girl and upcoming actress Olive Thomas in Santa Monica. The two fell in love and eventually married, much to the displeasure of his family. The two spent most of their marriage apart due to filming obligations, often on separate coasts. Yet when they were in the same city, they would visit each other on set and were often seen out on the town at night.
During World War I, Jack enlisted in the US Navy but became embroiled in a scandal that almost led to a dishonorable discharge.
In September 1920, while in France on a second honeymoon, Olive ingested bichloride of mercury after a night out partying. She died five days later. A distraught Jack accompanied Olive’s body back to the US and later confessed to Mary that he had gone out on deck one night with the intent of throwing himself overboard.
After Olive’s death, Jack went on to marry two other Follies girls, Marilyn Miller and Mary Mulhern. Both marriages ended in divorce.
Jack’s career slowed down after Olive’s death but the roles he did play showed a new maturity and were some of the best of his career including The Goose Woman (1925), Brown of Harvard (1926), and Exit Smiling (1926).
Jack died on January 3, 1933 at the same hospital in Paris where Olive had passed away. He was 36 years old.