When life and art imitate one another

Premièring Halloween 1927, My Best Girl was the legendary Mary Pickford’s final silent, and her final film with her famous long, golden curls. With a budget of $483,103, it made $1,027,757 in the U.S. during its first theatrical run.

Another really special thing about this film is that she co-stars with her future third and final husband, Charles “Buddy” Rogers. Real life and art imitate one another most powerfully, as the film captures two real people falling in love just as their characters do.

Maggie Johnson (Mary) is an overworked, underappreciated stock girl by Merrill Department Store No. 4. Her luck starts to turn around when a salesgirl co-worker takes a five-minute break and asks Maggie to cover for her. While Maggie is behind the counter, she meets cutiepie Joe Grant (Buddy).

Maggie tries to interest Joe in several humorous balloons, but the ruse of Joe being a customer is blown when the manager gives him his timecard and says he’ll be working in the stockroom with Maggie.

In the stockroom, Joe is very incompetent and clumsy. Maggie thinks he’s the dumbest stock boy ever, and steps up as his mentor.

Little does she know he’s actually the son of Robert E. Merrill, owner of the store, and engaged to a woman named Millicent. Joe is working undercover to prove he can get ahead without the benefit of his family name. His engagement to Millicent is being kept secret (to everyone) till he gets a promotion.

Several days later, some of Maggie’s co-workers tease her about having a crush on Joe. One of these salesgirls is Carole Lombard in an early, uncredited role. When they tell her he’s on his way, she gets on the back of a truck to ride home. To snare Joe’s attention away from the salesgirls he’s fraternizing with, Maggie tosses her lunchbox off the back of the moving truck.

Joe runs after it and gives it back to her, and then Maggie pushes a bundle off the truck. Joe also runs after this and retrieves it. Finally, Maggie tosses off her lunchbox again. This time, after Joe retrieves it and gives it back to her, he gets on the truck with her.

During the ride home, Maggie shows Joe a picture of her oddball family, and invites him to dinner. We then meet the rest of the Johnsons.

Mr. Johnson (prolific character actor Lucien Littlefield) is a hardworking but henpecked postal worker, elderly, in poor health. Mrs. Johnson comes across as an emotionally manipulative narcissist. She goes to funerals every single day, even for strangers, and constantly uses smelling salts.

Maggie’s sister Liz is a flapper who’s dating Nick Powell, a man her parents are adamantly opposed to. They insist he’s no good, and that he’ll only cause trouble for her.

Things aren’t going so swimmingly at home, so Maggie pretends Liz is rehearsing a part in a play. She and Joe stay on the veranda while Liz fights with her parents. When Nick arrives, Maggie pretends he’s an actor coming to rehearse. Maggie also pretends a cop looking for Nick is an actor wearing a costume.

Finally, Maggie says it’s not a good time and asks for a raincheck.

At work, Maggie and Joe’s romance continues to blossom. Though Joe has been promoted to being Maggie’s boss, he still eats lunch with her every day in the stockroom. One afternoon, after Joe gets a note from his parents about a dinner party at which his engagement to Millicent will be announced, Maggie gives him a watch for a birthday present.

That day after work, they window-shop in the rain and stop by an ice-cream counter. Joe offers to take her to a restaurant, but she’s afraid it’ll put him in the poorhouse. Joe then suggests they eat by the Merrills, knowing his parents will be away.

It takes a little convincing, but finally Maggie is coaxed inside. Joe gets his servants to pretend he’s just another store employee who regularly comes to eat by his boss.

With the mansion to themselves but for the servants and Joe’s Great Dane, Maggie and Joe pretend they’re Mr. and Mrs. Merrill. The fancy food is very strange to Maggie, who says she can cook Joe much better stuff.

When the Merrills and Millicent come in, Joe’s cover is blown, and Maggie feels tricked and humiliated. She runs outside, and bumps into her parents on the street. They insist she come to night court to bail out Liz.

Joe tracks Maggie to court, and gets arrested after a fight with Nick, who implies a rich boy like Joe would only be interested in a poor stock girl like Maggie for one thing.

The next day, Mr. Merrill says Joe is leaving for Honolulu till the scandal blows over, and that he bought ship tickets for Mr. and Mrs. Merrill. He tries to buy Maggie off with $10,000.

When Joe comes to the house, the situation becomes even more complicated.

Though I prefer Mary’s heavy dramas like Tess of the Storm Country and The Love Light, her lighter films are fun to watch. It’s also so precious to watch her and Buddy falling in love on camera. They weren’t able to marry till 1937, after her divorce from Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., but their romance definitely came into bloom here.

I also love how Buddy was twelve years Mary’s junior! They were 23 and 35 while the film was being shot. Once you’ve fallen for a younger man, you’ll never go back.

2 thoughts on “When life and art imitate one another

  1. Pingback: And the Worst Best Actress Award goes to… | Welcome to My Magick Theatre

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