Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Theodore Roberts, Harry Myers, and Noah Beery
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 6 reels (5,152 feet)
Status: Presumed Lost
The story of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr’s career in Hollywood begins, and nearly ends, in 1923 when he was just thirteen years old. He entered the film industry on the heels of his father’s rise to movie fame and movie studios were already looking for new ways to cash in on the Fairbanks name. Coincidentally, a young Fairbanks and his mother (the former wife of Fairbanks, Sr.) were also seeking ways to earn money. He and his mother had been scraping by in Paris, France and his mother did not want their dire need for money to be brought to the attention of Fairbanks, Sr. For this reason, when Jesse L. Lasky offered a movie contract to Fairbanks, Jr., it was an easy decision for him to make. He always held firmly to the fact that he entered the business strictly for financial reasons.
Jesse L. Lasky of Famous Players-Lasky was particularly interested in Fairbanks, Jr., either because of a personal vendetta against the teenager’s father, or because he saw dollar signs in the Fairbanks name. Motion Picture Magazine went as far as to write, “[Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.] represents merely a trade trick; and not a very fair or ethical trade trick at that.”1 Lasky recalled it somewhat differently thirty years later. He told Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. biographer Brian Connell, “‘My motives? Douglas Fairbanks was the greatest name in picture business. This was a commercial proposition to capitalize on his name.'”2
But it wasn’t simply about ego for Fairbanks, Sr. It was also his desire for his son to have a so-called “normal” career outside of motion pictures. Fairbanks, Sr. went on record saying, “‘He’s too young and doesn’t really know what he’s doing. I wanted him to have the best education possible, but I don’t think that’s possible now. You can’t work in pictures and attend a university at the same time. He should have been permitted to wait until his education was completed before he took up a career.'”3 Fairbanks, Jr.’s, decision to enter the film industry added tension to their already distant relationship and gave way to the first, and only, fight. This did not discourage Fairbanks, Jr. from moving forward with his new career in the movies. You can read further details of the story of their fight in a previous post here.
Fairbanks and his mother arrived in Hollywood by train on June 18, 1923 and were immediately met by the press and “an honor guard of Boy Scouts in full regalia.”4 The son of the great Douglas Fairbanks had officially entered the world of motion pictures and he was enjoying all of the attention. He was immediately thrust into a whirlwind of publicity that included press interviews and photoshoots that had him posing in athletic ways similar to his father. Meanwhile, Fairbanks, Sr. buried himself in the making of the Thief of Bagdad (1924).
Much to Fairbanks, Jr.’s surprise, he received an invite from his father to visit his studio not long after his arrival in Hollywood. It turned out this was just another publicity move for both of them but it did help ease the tension between the two. They played a game of DOUG, a form of badminton invented by Fairbanks, Sr. and posed for some pictures. Fairbanks, Jr. continued to visit his father but was unaware at the time of just how much his father did not really want him there in Hollywood.
Despite a large ad campaign and the Fairbanks name, Stephen Steps Out was not a box office success. It got mixed reviews, at best, with many critics focusing solely on the fact that it starred the son of Douglas Fairbanks. Many of the reviewers were kind to the young Fairbanks, commenting on his charm and likeability. Other reviewers were quick to call the film out for having no appeal and claimed it was severely lacking for not having a female character or love interest for Fairbanks. Famous Players-Lasky ended Fairbanks, Jr.’s, contract which initially had a five year option on it and Fairbanks left the movie industry unsure if he would ever get another chance.
Unfortunately, Stephen Steps Out is currently a lost film so I am unable to give a personal review of the film. If it ever shows up in my lifetime, I will be first in line to do so!
Coming up on the next Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at the Movies blog series, I will be covering Fairbanks, Jr.’s return to Hollywood for his second film The Air Mail (1925).
- Motion Picture Magazine, October 1923, page 37
- Knight Errant: A Biography of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Brian Connell, 1955, page 33
- Ibid, page 34
- Ibid, page 32
- Screen Opinions, Volume 23, Number 8, December 15, 1923, page 111
- The Salad Days: An Autobiography, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., 1988, page 93