Monday, November 1, 2010

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1909-2000)

The American born actor with his famous name and dashing good looks decided early on that acting wasn't for him but it was in his blood and a path he would eventually take. A young man of many talents and athleticism plus the drive to soak up world culture and the arts he attended the Military Academy in 1919. It was there that he excelled academically and discovered his talent for painting and sculpture and put his athleticism to good use on the football field.  He then went on the study at the Lycee Janson de Sally in Paris where his mother resided. Upon graduation he dabbled in business ventures and hotel management before joining the Navy during WWII with the rank of Lieutenant..

By the mid 1920's he was back in the states and married the starlet Joan Crawford in 1929. Following in his fathers footsteps he signed a contract with Paramount where he began making movies with some of their top stars, appearing in "Stella Dallas" 1925 and in  "An American Venus" 1926 with Esther Ralston . He and Joan were the talk of the town and could be seen out most weekends at lavish Hollywood parties or out dancing the night away at some of the celebrated night clubs of the day. They starred together in "Our Modern Maidens" in 1929 then he provided a supporting role to John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in "Woman of Affairs" that same year.  Talkies were soon to follow which only helped to secure Doug's success and a place in Hollywood along side other leading men at the beginning of the 1930's.

with bride Joan Crawford

the happy couple at the beach

Doug was working steadily churning out two films a year then in 1931 he made "Little Caesar" which garnered him his first good reviews and led to better film offers. He starred opposite the great Kate Hepburn in "Morning Glory" 1933. (She won her first Oscar for the film).  In 1937 he played the villain in "The Prisoner of Zenda" which starred Ronald Coleman and Madeleine Carroll. (My favorite Fairbanks Jr film and a stand out performance by Coleman playing duel roles). Doug wasn't the high powered star that his father was but his athleticism and drive to succeed made him the perfect successor to take over the "Swashbuckler" roles that had made his father so famous. 

Divorced from Joan in 1933 Douglas continued to get parts in action films and a few comedies then he got a large part in "Gunga Din" in 1939 along side Cary Grant. Although he played the"swashbuckler" type once again its this film that he's most recognized for today. Well that an his cantankerous marriage with Joan but more on that later. 

the autograph scanned a bit blurry as its mounted behind a matt.

Doug married Mary Hartford in 1939 the heiress to the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. They had  three daughters together and remained married until her death in 1988. Movie roles kept coming and he went on to act in dozens of films throughout the 1940's like "Sinbad the Sailor" 1947 and in the period piece "That Lady in Ermine" 1948 co-starring Betty Grable and Cesar Romero. 

with Joan Bennett in "Green Hell" 1940

Seeing his star status waning by the 1950's and having fulfilled his desire to try his hand at acting Doug stopped accepting film roles and only appeared in one more film in 1981 "Ghost Story". He spent most of his time in England with his family after WWII and throughout the 1950's often attending social events. He was given the title honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire by the Queen of England in 1949. He had a lifelong interest in International Affairs and was appointed the special envoy to South America by President F. D. Roosevelt in 1941.  

with co-star Loretta Young in "Forward Pass" 1929

He married for the third time late in life to Vera Shelton a merchandiser for QVC and they remained married until Mr Fairbanks death of a heart attack in 2000. He appeared in close to 100 films and television shows during his career and rose to the rank of Captain in the Navy Reserves during his commission. He was buried in the same crypt as his father Douglas Fairbanks at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Los Angeles CA. Their large grave site and monument can be viewed HERE. 

Interesting Douglas Fairbanks Jr Facts:

Doug's father divorced his mother Ann Beth Sully when he was just 9 yrs old and remarried actress Mary Pickford in 1920. You knew you had made it in Hollywood if you we're invited to Pickfair, the fabulous mansion that they held court in which earned the nickname "California's White House".  Of course there was one starlet who expected an invitation to Pickfair and the lavish gatherings held there and you would expect her to be on the invite list being that she was married to Doug Jr.  You see Mary Pickford did not care for Joan Crawford and especially her putting her claws into her step son who was considered part of Hollywood Royalty. It didn't help that Doug married Joan at the age of 19 while she was several years older and had already been linked to several young actors by the time they tied the knot. 

This lack of acceptance caused tension in their marriage not to mention a blow to Joan's over inflated ego. But the final straw was Joan's ongoing affair with Clark Gable and the whispers and hints of it in the gossip columns. Even though Louis B. Mayer tried to put a stop to it Joan continued an ongoing affair with their box office star for several years off and on and it led to Doug divorcing her after 4 yrs of marriage. ( I guess I can understand Mary Pickford with her squeaky clean image not wanting to tarnish her reputation by socializing with poor Joan.)

He was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross, the French Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre with Palm for his service during WWII.

His father Douglas Fairbanks was the best man at his marriage to heiress Mary Eppling Hartford.

When speaking in 1990 he said "I suppose people don't even think I'm still alive and perhaps I'm not"

He once said of ex wife Joan Crawford "She was always so arduous and working so hard at everything, on her dancing, on her looks, on her speech and on her carriage. She was dedicated to self improvement."

When his ex wife Joan's daughter published the book Mommie Dearest Doug was quick to defend her and said she was nothing like she was portrayed in the book while they were together.

It was rumored that he was one of the naked men in incriminating photos used as evidence in the divorce trial of Margaret Campbell Duchess of Argyll.

He was close friends with actor Laurence Olivier and often spent time socializing with him and his wife Vivien Leigh after relocating to England.

He met the Queen of England and husband Prince Phillip on several occasions. 

He was assigned to Lord Louis Mountbatten's Commando while deployed to England during WWII.

Doug and Joan dressed for a costume party

This post is dedicated to my sister Britney as she loves Douglas Fairbanks Jr her favorite actor.

Thanks for spending a little time reminiscing with me about old Hollywood,


  1. I own a large collection of personal letters written by Douglas Farbanks, jr to his lifelong best friend (Over 100, plus postcards;photos;telegrams, etc...).
    They are all in great condition, and I am going to sell them. I am hoping you might either have an interest....or know where I could try and get some interest in them...?
    Dave ""

  2. Doug Fairbanks Jr was always a fav of mine - and gosh he remained so handsome into his elder years - I have to admit to lusting for him even when he appeared on 1970s TV in his older years. The guy just melted my heart at any age. The picture of the 'costumer' affair he's at with Joan, was taken at one of Marion Davies' bashes - it was a children's theme costume party at her beach house in Santa Monica -- Doug was 1/2 of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee with William Haines. I've often thought Joan was dressed as Little Bo Peep but she has a hoop and not a staff and it probably is someone else she was supposed to be since Marion came dressed as Bo Peep, or maybe one of the two of them was Mary from Mary Had a Little Lamb. My folks knew Doug Jr. but alas, I was never 'around' at the right events to get to meet him.