Little Mary among the fairies

Mary Pickford among the fairies
Mary Pickford among the fairies (Lillian Gish second ‘fairy’ from right to left)

David Belasco, in announcing that The Good Little Devil “is a fairy-tale for grown-ups,” disarms the critics who may now judge it neither as a play for children nor as legitimate drama for their own contemporaries. But as either, or as both, it is entertaining and weIl done. The play which Austin Strong has adapted with the prose of our tongue from the French of Mme. Rostand and her son Maurice, developed from the favorite fairy-tale which this mother wove for her son in the twilight nursery hour. It tells the story of Charles MacLance, a Scotch orphan boy, who might have been good had his ogre of an aunt, Mrs. MacMiche, not teased and mauled and starved and beaten him into being bad. But his badness wasn’t very bad badness–it was good badness that only meant mischief, not harm. There was love in his heart, and that is why everybody loved him, from Betsy the maid and Oliver the poet to Juliette, the little blind girl, and the fairies.

Such a plot affords Mr. Belasco all the opportunities he needs for the display of that theatrical art of which he is a master. There is every mood represented, from broad farce in the scenes between the ogre aunt and her confrères, the Old Nicks, to pure, sweet sentiment in the childish love scenes between Charles and his Juliette, and for these every degree of lighting is demanded. There is a starry night, when the fairies are floating from planet to satellite; twilight for lovers’ trysting and broad noonday sun for the frolics of schoolboys and garden friends.

If Mary Pickford, who plays the blind little girl, is a product of “the movies,” then commend us to the photo-play posing as a school for acting. Contrary to expectation, her facial expression was restrained rather than overemphatic and her diction was rarely fine. But both these qualities and her winsome prettiness are as nothing compared with the spirituality, the sweet childish simplicity with which she played her part. Had Ernest Lawford, who played the part of the poet, and Ernest Truex, the boy hero, shared her earnestness, her true feeling for the meaning of tile lines, they would have been more convincing. As it was, they both were in their parts, not of them; they had the semblance but not the soul of the people they represented. And if Ernest Lawford had the art to conceal his identity with his former parts he might also fare better. One who succeeds in doing this capitally is William Norris in whose crotchety, gnarled, maliciously hateful, deliciously comical Mrs. MacMiche one could never recognize the blithely singing hero of “Toyland.” A better old witch woman one couldn’t imagine in or outside of a story book.

Theatre Republic. “A Good Little Devil.” Fairy play in three acts by Rosemonde Gerard and Maurice Rostand, adapted by Austin Strong. Produced on January 8th.
(The Theatre, New York City February, 1913)

Adolph Zukor films a feature version of ‘A Good Little Devil’ for his new Famous Players Company. Mary reprises her role as Julia in her first feature-length film; Zukor shelves it for eleven months and releases it in March 1st 1914. (Mary Pickord Foundation)

David Belasco made his first screen appearance in the prologue of this production.