Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Harpist accompanies free screening of silent classic `A Little Princess`

Silent film star Mary Pickford (known at the time as “America’s Sweetheart”) is featured in “A Little Princess” (1917), the first film adaptation of the beloved children’s novel. The silent classic will be shown at 3 p.m. Dec. 31 at Tacoma’s downtown Main Library (1102 Tacoma Ave. South) as part of the city's First Night Celebration. This screening will be brought to life by harpist Leslie McMichael’s live accompaniment on concert, Celtic and electric harps. Her lovely new score was commissioned by Northwest Film Forum for its recent children’s film festival.

"This is a wonderful way the entire family can mark the end of one year and the beginning of a new one," explained David Domkoski, the library's community relations officer. "Last year, we screened the 1924 silent of ‘Peter Pan,’ which also featured an original score written and performed by Leslie and the audience response was overwhelming. We are delighted to once again offer this unique experience to our community."

Pickford’s leading role in “A Little Princess” showcased her expressive acting and iconic curls. The film also marked the beginning of a long creative collaboration with screenwriter Frances Marion. Both Pickford and Marion were powerful film making pioneers in a new industry, which was fertile ground for a generation of women who wrote, directed and produced movies for an eager public. Marion wrote scripts for more than 200 movies, was the first screenwriter to win two Oscars, and during her career was the world’s highest paid screenwriter, male or female.

“A Little Princess” was directed by Marshall Neilan, and the film’s credits reveal a young assistant director named Howard Hawks.

Pickford plays Sara Crewe, the daughter of Captain Richard Crewe, a wealthy British officer stationed in India. Sara is sent to Miss Minchin’s school in London to be educated. Dubbed “the Little Princess” because of her father’s vast wealth, Sara soon plunges to the position of scullery maid when news arrives of the captain’s death and the loss of her fortune.

A 1917 Photoplay Journal review raved: “Mary Pickford’s latest photoplay gem is one of the most brilliant of a delectable series, and she not only maintains her own peculiarly individual high standard, but she moves it forward a peg or two. Her newest creation is ... the role of childlife, as Sara Crewe, the heroine of Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s popular book. Only an extremist in pessimism could avoid being captivated by this charming characterization of hers.”

The film screening is free (no First Night button required).