In honor of the 107th birthday of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., I decided to share 50 entertaining facts about him!
1. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was born on December 9, 1909. He would have been 107 years old today!
2. He was born to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and first wife Anna Beth Sully.
3. The two divorced in 1919 and as a result, Junior didn’t spend much time with his father growing up.
4. However, they did grow very close in the late 1920s until his father’s death in 1939.
5. He was also really close to his stepmother Mary Pickford and was always a part of her life.
6. He and his father, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., referred to each other as Pete and Jayar. (Apparently Doug, Sr. did not really care for his own name, but he really hated being called “Senior”)
7. Jayar entered the film industry reluctantly and out of necessity – he and his mother were running low on money.
8. His first film was called “Stephen Steps Out” and came out in 1923 – it is considered a lost film. Read more here.
9. He and his father had their biggest, and really only, fight over that movie! You can also read about that on the last link. Luckily, they made up and his father later supported his career.
10. He gave up acting after that….then went right back to it because of money (again!)
11. He even wrote intertitles for silent films in the 1920s (I only wish I knew which ones!)
12. He really caught everyone’s attention in a brief role in Stella Dallas and then really stood out in A Woman of Affairs with Greta Garbo. (He plays a total drunk!)
13. His film career really took off in the 1930s and continued into the 1940s (with a break during the war years, of course.)
14. One of his first on-screen partnerships was with Loretta Young.
15. He once said that he gave up a lot of film offers for swashbucklers because he didn’t want to be seen as copying his father. He never mentioned which ones but I get the idea that he was offered some of the roles that Errol Flynn ended up getting.
16. He finally did end up swashbuckling in the Prisoner of Zenda but he did it his own way.
17. He took fencing lessons growing up and it certainly paid off when he did play swashbucklers.
18. He married three times – Joan Crawford, Mary Lee Epling, and Vera Fairbanks.
19. His marriage to Joan Crawford was one of the most highly publicized romances in Hollywood. Read all about it here!
20. His longest marriage (and true love) was to Mary Lee, daughter of the founders of the A&P Grocery chain.
21. They had three daughters together – Victoria, Daphne, and Melissa.
22. Other noted romances he had were Marlene Dietrich and Gertrude Lawrence. (My what a beautiful pair!)
23. His very, very first romance happened in Paris, though. How romantic!
24. He was the inspiration behind the character Prince Charming in his cousin Letitia Fairbanks’ published fairy tale, “Princess April Morning-Glory” – you can (and should!) buy it here.
25. And speaking of inspiration – it is said that he was the inspiration behind Noel Coward’s song “Mad About the Boy” due to Coward’s supposed crush on Fairbanks. Listen below.
26. Fairbanks always kept good company and some of his closest companions were Noel Coward, David Niven, and Laurence Olivier.
27. And still speaking of inspiration – John Barrymore was Fairbanks’ screen idol as a young boy and would later become his close friend and mentor. Do read my post about their relationship here!
28. If you look at old photos of Fairbanks, you will often see him in open collared shirts – this was to emulate Barrymore. (And that pensive, serious look on his face – very Barrymore!)
29. His favorite Barrymore role was Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and when he first met Barrymore at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC, he made Barrymore act the transformation scene out. He remembered it being positively frightening!
30. He loved the scene so much that he even learned how to do an impression of it and performed it in Our Modern Maidens.
31. The film was basically just a publicity vehicle for his marriage to Crawford and both were skeptical about doing it at first. I also wrote about that here.
32. In addition to being an actor, Fairbanks was also a talented artist – he sketched, painted, and sculpted.
33. And in addition to that addition, he was a highly decorated World War II soldier and has several medals. (See here)
34. He played a huge role in creating the U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers during World War II – now known as the Navy SEALs. (Why is this never talked about?!)
35. And he had a close relationship with FDR and went on a mission to Latin America before the United States entered the war. On this mission, he was to study the movie habits of Latin Americans to determine if they were sympathetic to the Nazi movement.
36.He was a worldly man who traveled often throughout his life – he grew up dividing his time between Los Angeles, Paris, London, and New York City.
37. He spent much of his later life in Palm Springs, Florida. He was stationed there in the 1940s and ended up staying.
38. He spoke French beautifully and you can hear him do so in The Rage of Paris. You can also read my blog about that film and his amazing on-screen chemistry with Danielle Darrieux!
39. He was a noted anglophile and spent a lot of time in England throughout his life.
40.He was even made an honorary Knight Commander by King George VI.
41. After the war, he begin to spend less time in front of the camera and more time on the stage. A list of his stage appearances is here.
42. He created the television series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents in the 1950s – it featured Buster Keaton in his first dramatic role. I wrote about that here.
43. Earlier in his career, he had tried to get more involved behind the camera and created a company called Criterion. It has no relationship to the Criterion Films we know and love today though. Ultimately, his company failed which he attributed to inexperience.
44. He is well known for his amazing sense of fashion but was quoted once as saying all his suits and “good clothes” were old (like from the 1930s and still wearing them in the 1970s old). Trying or not, he always looked so dapper!
45. He once said that adding a pop of color to your outfit – either in a tie or a lapel flower – made all the difference. He was often seen with a red flower in his later years.
46. He inherited his fashion sense and attention to detail from his father, who often changed several times a day. Check out these cuff links that sold at his estate auction in 2011. (I wish I’d bought those!) His fashion items sold really well.
47. He was often featured in fashion magazines for not only his style but for his writing as well. (I often wonder, what couldn’t he do?)
48. He was known for his kindness and his generosity toward fans, interviewers, and researchers alike. He participated in lots of interviews and was open to sharing stories about his colorful life.
49. He wrote two fantastic autobiographies – The Salad Days and A Hell of a War – both are great reads and he provides an interesting look into old Hollywood.
50. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., died seventeen years ago at age 90 – he never stopped being a kind, admirable man who was beautiful inside and out. I only hope that I give him the respect and justice that he deserves!