Before Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks was the original swashbuckler. Before Clark Gable, he was the original King of Hollywood. Prior to the movies Fairbanks had a successful career on Broadway. Although he started out in comedies and westerns, his costume adventures are what he is best known for. He hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929 and founded The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. By 1918 he was the third highest paid actor.
Some of Douglas Fairbanks’ investments were The Roosevelt Hotel and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
The Big Three were Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. In 1918 they helped to sell over a million dollars in Liberty Bonds during World War I. Fairbanks and Chaplin were best friends.
In 1919, Fairbanks along with Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith formed United Artists. With the forming of United Artists they were able to control their own work. They also had control of distributing their own films.
Hollywood’s Royal Couple
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who were married in 1920, were Hollywood’s first power couple. They were like Hollywood Royalty. They entertained Hollywood celebrities, the President and his wife, Kings and Queens, Dukes and Duchesses, writers and more at their home called Pickfair. Fairbanks bought the hunting lodge in 1919 for Mary Pickford and they spent several years remodeling it. Fairbanks and Pickford were the first to have their footprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. They also helped to found The Motion Picture Fund. They were in only film together, The Taming of The Shrew (1929). It was the first talkie for both of them.
Douglas Fairbanks’ production company was called Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation. He always put his name last on the film cast list. Douglas Fairbanks’ movies are pure magic and are still entertaining today.
The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), The Black Pirate (1926), The Gaucho (1927), The Iron Mask (1929), The Taming of The Shrew (1929), and The Private Life of Don Juan (1934). These are some of Douglas Fairbanks’ most well known movies. After The Mark of Zorro his movies became more elaborate.
Whether he was sliding down a sail with a knife, sword fighting, jumping from one large pot to another, or sliding down a curtain from a high castle wall, Fairbanks did it was such grace and agility that he made everything look effortless. He did a lot of his own stunts. His one handed sword grab in The Three Musketeers is one of his best.
Robin Hood was one of the most expensive films at the time costing approximately one million dollars to make. The sets were on a very large scale and the castle was one of the largest sets built. It was also the first movie to have a Hollywood premier. It was held at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater.
My favorite Douglas Fairbanks movie is Thief of Bagdad. It’s worth every minute of the two and a half hour running time. The special effects are amazing for its time. The movie includes a flying horse, magic rope, monsters and a flying carpet. All I can say is WOW. I’m sure audiences in 1924 were thrilled. It surpassed Robin Hood as the most expensive movie made at the time costing over a million dollars. The Thief of Bagdad is now available on BluRay.
The Black Pirate was one of a few early films to be shot in Technicolor. It was a two tone process and very expensive. Fairbanks retired in 1934 after his last film The Private Life of Don Juan.
On December 12, 1939 he died of a heart attack at the age of 56. He is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a beautiful marble monument with a long reflecting pool.