Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Born Today December 9: Douglas Fairbanks Jr.


Born Douglas Elton Fairbanks Jr. in New York City the his famous actor father Douglas Fairbanks Sr.--he was the only from Fairbanks Sr.'s first marriage.  After his parents divorce when he was just 9 years of age, he lived with his mother in various large cities, both here in the US and in Europe.  His first film role came in 1916 in a bit role in one of his father's films American Aristocracy , when he was just 7.  He didn't appear in another film until 1921, when he was 12.  Both of these roles went uncredited.  Two years later, because his father was one of the very first Hollywood icons of film, Fairbanks Jr. was given a contract at Paramount just because of his name:  he was 14 years old at the time.  The first film that he made under that contract was Stephen Steps Out (1923); not only was this his first credited role, he actually got top billing--even over Noah Beery!  Many of his performances in under this contract were pretty unimpressive.  He fell from top billing to supporting roles for the most part.  Though he did have steady work through the silent 1920's.  He is said to have be disillusioned with the motion picture industry, so he took to the stage instead.  There his acting skills improved vastly; reportedly even impressing his father.  It is said that it was his famous stepmother Mary Pickford and family friend Charlie Chaplin that encouraged him to continue his acting career in film.  By the late 1920's he was a well established film actor in his own right, and was back to top billed roles.  His first partial sound film came in 1928 with The Toilers, with the musical score and sound effects provided by the RCA Photophone System.  Also in 1928 he starred in The Barker, which had a silent version and a full mono alternative version--this was his first speaking role on film.  His first full sound film came later that same year with the very famous early talkie A Woman of Affairs (1928), starring the great Greta Garbo.  During World War II he became a highly decorated Naval officer, earning the Distinguished Service Cross from the UK Naval because he was the head the Beach Jumpers program.  He was later appointed a KBE, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the King of Great Britain, for this wartime service.  One of his last roles came in one of my favorite ghost films of all time Ghost Story (1981), as Charles Edward Wanderley.  His very last role came in 1989 in a episode of the television show B. L. Stryker.  Fairbanks Jr. passed away in the city of his birth, at the age of 90 on 7 May 2000.  His body was shipped back to Los Angeles, where he is interred in tomb with his famous father, at the equally famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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