Mary Pickford

While Charlie Chaplin is still considered one of the great comics of old-time cinema, Mary Pickford isn't as famous - anymore. But during her heyday, from the early years of the 20th century until the 1930s, the Toronto-born actor was the biggest box office star in the United States. In fact, it's safe to call Pickford the Julia Roberts of her day.

Pickford's career started early, thanks to her father's death in 1897, when she was just five. A widowed seamstress with three kids, her mother could barely make ends meet. So Mary, then known as Gladys Smith, started acting to earn money. At 14, she barged into the office of David Belasco, a big-time Broadway producer, and convinced him to let her star in his next play. That's when she became Mary Pickford. Two years later, she persuaded D.W. Griffith, "The Father of the Motion Picture," to put her in movies, and a star was born.

But Pickford was more than just a smiling face on the big screen. She was also a sharp businesswoman, and by 1917, she was making $350,000 per movie. Two years later, along with fellow film-types Chaplin, Griffith and the actor Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford started a movie company, United Artists Corporation, making her the first female movie mogul. In 1920, she married Fairbanks, one of the most popular actors of his time.

Pickford's life on-screen started to fall apart around 1930. She'd won an Oscar in 1929 for playing a modern swinger in her first "talkie," Coquette. But audiences preferred "America's Sweetheart" in cheeky charmer roles, and the rest of her films were dismal failures. She stopped acting in 1933.

That's when Pickford moved to radio, and began writing books. She continued to work at United Artists, but she and Chaplin - the sole surviving partners - sold the company in 1953..

Pickford was given a special Academy Award in 1975 for her contribution to American film. She died four years later.