Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Born Today May 23: Douglas Fairbanks Sr.


Douglas Fairbanks Sr., born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman, in Denver, Colorado.  His father was a military man and prominent lawyer.  His mother had been previously married twice (with two sons), her first marriage was to a very wealthy New Orleans business man whose last name was Fairbanks.  Douglas' father met his mother by way of representing her in as suit to win back the estate her first husband's business partners swindled her out of.  Young Douglas began acting at a very early age and became a player in the annual summer amateur theater in Denver.  He attended Denver East High School, but was expelled at age 15.  He subsequently found himself joining the traveling acting troupe the great stage and silent actor Frederick Warde.  He toured with them for two years, serving both as an actor and as an assistant stage manager.  He then relocated to New York, where he made his Broadway debut.  Between acting gigs, he worked both as a clerk in a Wall St. office and in a hardware store.  In 1915, he and his young family--that included his young son who would later be known as Douglas Fairbanks Jr.--moved to Los Angeles.  There he signed a contract with Triangle Pictures and began working with D.W. Griffith.  The first film he appeared in was later that same year in The Lamb (1915), Griffith had written the story for the film and it was directed by Christy Cabanne.  The next year, he added credits for both writer and producer to his name.  He both wrote and produced The Good Bad Man (1916).  He made his directorial debut in 1918 with Arizona, in which he acted, contributed to the writing and produced.  This was under the auspices of his own production company, Douglas Fairbanks Pictures, which is started in 1917.  The film is unfortunately lost. By this time, he had already met and started an affair with Mary Pickford and had become the most popular actor in Hollywood; in fact the title of "King Of Hollywood" would be bestowed on him after his eventual marriage in 1920 to Mary Pickford (that title would be inherited by Clark Gable after Fairbanks' death).  What he is most remembered for today are his silent swashbuckling roles of the 1920's. Notable films include: The Three Musketeers (1921)Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief Of Bagdad (1924).

Fairbanks in The Mark Of Zorro (1920)

His first film with sound came in 1928 with a bit part in the partial silent Show People; by this time his career was entering a slow decline.  His first full sound film was an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew in 1929; he co-starred in the film with his wife.  He did not make a very successful transition to sound films, however, and his career continued to decline in the 1930's.  The last film that he appeared in was Ali Baba Goes To Town (1937), an Eddie Cantor musical comedy.  Fairbanks died on the 12th of December in 1939, after suffering what was thought to be a mild heart attack earlier in the day.  He was just 56 years old.  During his marriage to Mary Pickford, the two were influential helping found The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he personally handed out the first Oscars.  He and Pickford together were also the first celebrities to place their hands in cement outside the then newly opened Grauman's Chinese Theater.  Fairbanks was originally interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  But his third wife/widow had the tomb opened two years later and had it moved to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where she had ordered the construction of an elaborate above ground marble tomb with a reflecting pool.

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