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Pickfair memories

December 21, 2006|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

MARY Pickford was more than the silent film star known as "America's Sweetheart" in the early 1900s. She was also a smartie who helped to create United Artists film studios and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Even more than all that, she was royalty in an era when movie stars were America's equivalent of kings and queens. Her marriage to actor Douglas Fairbanks was the nation's hottest, most publicized romance. And the couple's Beverly Hills home, called Pickfair, was a Western palace where notables including Albert Einstein and the British Windsors came to dish and dine.

But neither the marriage nor Pickfair was destined to endure. Pickford and Fairbanks divorced after almost 16 years together, and she remarried, to Buddy Rogers. Pickfair was eventually sold to Jerry Buss and then Pia Zadora. It underwent renovations so major (and some say mindless) that little of the old house is left except the iron gates.

What did survive were many of Pickford's personal possessions, saved in storage by Beverly Rogers, who married Buddy Rogers in 1981, two years after Pickford died.

L.A. auctioneer Darren Julien, who recently joined with Sotheby's to sell Cher's cast-off antiques, cornered the market on all Pickford paraphernalia Rogers was willing to part with.

Among the 216 items sold at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Dec. 16, Julien says, anything personalized sold for well over the estimated price. Other items fetched higher than expected prices from fans willing to pay for the thrill of owning something fairly anonymous and ordinary, but once touched by the petite Pickford. "A soup tureen that sold for $270 has no fine maker's name on it," he says. "It's what you might buy at a garage sale for about $40, except that it has the Pickford-Fairbanks factor going for it."

In all, the auction of Pickford's things netted just under $200,000.

bettijane.levine@latimes.com

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