Cast & Crew
Marshall A. Neilan
Stella Maris, a little invalid, is brought up by a circle of adoring relatives and servants in the comfortable home of her uncle and aunt, the kindly Sir Oliver and Lady Blount. Blissfully unaware of the strife and hardship of the outside world, Stella looks forward to the day when she will be able to call on her favorite visitor, John Risca. Unknown to her, however, John is trapped in an unhappy marriage to Louise, an alcoholic. In another part of town lives Unity Blake, an orphan who has been treated cruelly all of her life. Louise offers to adopt Unity in the hope of securing a permanent maid, but one day, she beats the girl senseless in a drunken tirade. When Louise is imprisoned for her crime, John adopts Unity, who soon comes to adore him. Meanwhile, Stella's paralysis is cured by an operation, but with her first ventures into the world, she becomes aware of life's struggle and cruelty. Having learned of John's wife, who has just been released, Stella brokenheartedly refuses to see him. Realizing John's dilemma, Unity kills Louise and then herself, thereby repaying the only man who was ever kind to her.
Marshall A. Neilan
Stella Maris (1918) - Stella Maris
Because Stella never leaves her bedroom and its breathtaking view of the sea, she knows nothing of the brutality which others like the homely orphan Unity Blake know all too well. Unity is adopted from her orphanage by Louise, who seems to offer her the chance of a better life. In reality, Louise just wants a servant and viciously mistreats the obedient Unity. When one such beating draws the attention of the neighbors Louise is taken to jail and her guilty husband takes over guardianship of Unity.
John is the first person who has ever cared for Unity, and she falls desperately in love with him. But realizing her love will never be fulfilled Unity commits the ultimate act of self-sacrifice to rid John of his wife and allow his romance with Stella to progress unhindered.
Stella Maris is most remarkable for Pickford's radical transformation from her usual delicate, long-tressed beauty into the pitifully hunched urchin Unity. But the transformation is more than skin deep. Pickford manages to make Unity's craving for love as believable and heartfelt as Stella's distress at all the real world horrors her aunt and uncle have shielded her from. In one memorable scene Stella is approached by a woman begging for food for her hungry children and Stella is appalled that such a reality could exist outside the tranquil gates of her family's estate.
Pickford first discovered William J. Locke's novel of Stella Maris during an informal tutorial in literature her friend, screenwriter Frances Marion, had arranged to help Pickford improve on her humble education. The film was later remade in 1925, with Mary Philbin playing the dual role of Stella and Unity.
Pickford recounted in her autobiography that when Adolph Zukor visited the Stella Maris set during production, he was horrified at seeing his valuable, enormously profitable star in her Unity Blake costume. It was only because Zukor was away from Paramount in 1917 that Pickford even considered undertaking a transformation as un-glamorous as the one from beautiful silent heroine to Cockney guttersnipe -- a very novel dual-role performance for the cinema of the time. Not only is Pickford's performance marvelous (some have called it the best of her career), but director Marshall Neilan and cameraman Walter Stradling expertly pull off the impression that these are two different people through their brilliant use of double exposure techniques.
Much to Zukor's surprise and delight, Stella Maris was a fairly successful film. Zukor went on to call it "the most remarkable thing which Mary Pickford has ever done for the screen." In the past some had criticized "America's Sweetheart" Pickford as a one-trick pony in roles like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Pollyanna, only able to play the cute, spunky heroines in sentimental, popular silents. But Stella Maris proved Pickford's detractors wrong.
And it would not be Pickford's last dual role. Dual parts became quite popular in early silent features and Pickford attempted an even more ambitious double role in 1921. She played both the curly-headed title moppet in Little Lord Fauntleroy as well as his mother, Dearest.
Playing Unity Blake was certainly a courageous move on Pickford's part and showed her desire to challenge typecasting, even if it meant appearing genuinely unattractive and romantically unappealing. To play Unity she greased down her hair and pulled it into tight pigtails, used white paint to make her eyes smaller, darkened her teeth, made hollows in her cheeks with dark paint and used make-up to draw a down turned, troubled expression on Unity. She was photographed from her less attractive right side too. To test the Unity make-up Pickford wandered the studio under the pretense of finding work as a cleaning lady. She was delighted when she discovered that no one recognized her.
Director: Marshall Neilan
Producer: Paramount/Artcraft Films
Screenplay: Adapted from the novel by William J. Locke by Frances Marion
Cinematography: Walter Stradling
Production Design: Wilfred Buckland
Cast: Mary Pickford (Stella Maris, Unity Blake), Conway Tearle (John Risca), Marcia Manon (Louise Risca), Ida Waterman (Lady Blount), Herbert Standing (Sir Blount), Josephine Crowell (Aunt Gladys Linden), Teddy the Dog (The Sennett Dog).
by Felicia Feaster
Stella Maris (1918) - Stella Maris
Although the copyright entry gives a January 1918 copyright date and lists Artcraft Pictures as the claimant, a print of the film lists a 1917 copyright by The Pickford Film Corp., a company associated with Artcraft. Another adaptation of William J. Locke's novel was made under the same title by Universal in 1925, with Mary Philbin starring and Charles J. Brabin directing (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).