Julia Roberts has been called the most powerful woman in Hollywood, one of the greatest actors of our time and America's Sweetheart. Her power is evident: She can make mediocre movies like The Mexican have good openings, she can give a silly speech at the Oscars and look "sincere" and "wholesome," and she can spin getting dumped for being career-obsessed a testament to girl power, not to money-hunger. But as mighty as she is, Roberts is still no Mary Pickford.
Pickford, the original America's Sweetheart, was an actor, a director, a producer, a screenwriter and helped found United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, all before women even had the right to vote or motion pictures had sound. But she's not the only silent film starlet to influence Hollywood beyond hairstyles and clothing, which the Women's Museum demonstrates with its first Women in Film festival, Silent Sisters: A Salute to Women in Silent Film.
Along with Pickford, the four-night festival honors Louise Brooks (the vampy actress with the sleek bob hairdo), Clara Bow (the "It" girl) and Marion Davies, whose reputation mostly lies in the parody of her in Citizen Kane based on her love affair with William Randolph Hearst. Each night a different woman will be toasted with a talk by an expert, a viewing of each one's video biography by Hugh Munro Neely and a screening of one of her most successful or most popular silent films as it is given a new soundtrack by a live band. The festival shows that several of the first women in film remain some of the most influential. Without these instrumental actresses, Roberts might be just another girl with a big smile and a goofy laugh.