Silent film audiences adored Mary Pickford and the plucky, youthful heroines she brought to life in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1917), "Pollyanna" (1920) and scores of other films that made her a star.
But in the early 1920s, "America's Sweetheart" wanted to stretch her wings.
"I like to say she was an ambitious actress, as well as a practical producer," says film historian/author Jeffrey Vance. "She longed to get away from 'the little girl with the golden curls' and expand her range in adult roles and more ambitious productions."
Toward that goal, Pickford, a founder of United Artists, starred as a street singer in Ernst Lubitsch's first U.S. film, 1921's "Rosita," and as a headstrong heiress in the 1924 period drama "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall."
"They found some success at the box office," Vance says. "But for Pickford the producer they were disappointments. The public was clamoring for Pickford to play a child once more. So the practical producer side of Mary Pickford won out and she decided to go back and give the public what they wanted."
This is why, at the age of 33, Pickford produced and wrote the 1925 sentimental drama "Little Annie Rooney." She played a spunky young girl, who, with the help of her fellow street urchins, tracks down the man who murdered her beloved policeman father.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is unveiling the Academy Film Archive's new restoration of "Little Annie Rooney" on Monday evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theater. The Academy, of which Pickford was a founding member, will also screen rare behind-the-scenes footage of the film from the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Academy film archivist Heather Linville notes that "Little Annie Rooney" is different than Pickford's other youthful protagonists.
"It's almost like a coming-of-age film where she starts as a young girl and kind of becomes a young woman toward the end of the film. She was able to get what she wanted in the end to play a more substantial adult-like role. It was an amazing success."
"Little Annie Rooney" had been preserved previously, in 1972, from a black-and-white nitrate print. The Academy Film Archive used Pickford's personal 35-mm tinted nitrate print from the Mary Pickford Collection at the Library of Congress for its restoration.
"The Pickford Foundation felt it was an important film to preserve sooner rather than later," says Linville. "The print was in excellent condition to use as our preservation source. It had minimal wear to it and given it's a nitrate print one generation away from the original camera negative, we retain a lot of that sharpness in the image structure. The results are quite stunning."
(Last year, the Library of Congress funded the restoration of "Their First Misunderstanding" (1911), the first film in which Pickford was credited by name and her first film for Carl Laemmle's Independent Moving Pictures Co.)
The "Annie Rooney" restoration also features longer scenes, different camera sets-ups and even visual effects not featured in the 1972 version.
"Little Annie Rooney" is a third presentation of the Academy and Mary Pickford Foundation's "The Mary Pickford Celebration of Silent Film" series.
"The Costume of Silent Drama: Mary Pickford and Little Annie Rooney" also complements the Academy's current Hollywood Costume exhibition, which features the actress' outfit from the film.
"'Little Annie Rooney' is a charming film, but the restored film reveals the work to be one her most accomplished efforts," says Vance, who will introduce the screening Monday. "The high level of craftsmanship shines through in the restoration. She was a creative producer who set the standard of excellence."