Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1909-2000)

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
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Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was the son of a great star and a Rhode Island heiress, Anna Beth Sully. Ever surrounded by legendary names, he had Mary Pickford as a stepmother, Marlene Dietrich as a lover, was briefly married to Joan Crawford, and even featured in a British Government sex scandal of the 1960's. During World War II he was a lieutenant commander in the U.S navy, and took part in several Anglo-U.S. operations for which he was made an Honorary Knight of the British Empire - an honor almost never granted to non-Britons. He also received the French Legion d'Honneur, Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the U.S. navy's Legion of Merit, and Knight Grand Officer of King George I of Greece.

On top of this, his film career seems almost inconsequential, but he made more than 100 films, starting his movie career at the tender age of fourteen. Yet he never quite established an image in the film business beyond being handsome, enthusiastic, well-spoken, and reliable. He was undoubtedly a multi-talented man but he never seemed to quite shake off the shackles of being the son of a famous man.

He was born Douglas Elton Fairbanks, Jr. on December 9, 1909 in New York City, the son of the legendary swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks. He was nine when his parents divorced and he lived and travelled with his mother in Europe and America and was schooled in Paris. He was signed up with Paramount when he was just fourteen, mainly because of his name.

His debut film was the forgettable 'Stephen Steps Out' in 1923 and he appeared in other silents including 'Broken Hearts of Hollywood' in 1926, 'Modern Mothers' in 1928, A Woman of Affairs also in 1928, which starred Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, and 'Our Modern Maidens' in 1929 which starred Lucille LeSueur, soon to change her name to Joan Crawford, and whom he married in June of that year.

His career and his movies improved during the 1930's and he appeared in 'The Dawn Patrol' in 1930, 'Little Caesar' in 1931, where he plays Edward G. Robinson's best pal, a dancer modeled on George Raft, 'Morning Glory' in 1933 opposite Katharine Hepburn and 'Mimi' in 1935. In 'The Prisoner of Zenda' in 1937, his best screen work, he for once dared trespass in his father's favored genre - not as a swashbuckling hero, but as the deftly villainous Rupert of Hentzau, a witty Ruritanian rogue who combines daring with utter ruthlessness. He then appeared in the successful 'The Rage of Paris' in 1938 and 'Gunga Din' the following year which also starred Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine.

His activities during World War II were many and varied and were directed towards helping the war effort rather than his movie career. He helped organize the Hollywood branch of a committee designed to give aid to the allied cause during the war and in 1941 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Navy. The following year he was made chief officer of operations, and in 1943 he was involved in the allied invasion of Sicily and Elba and in 1944 he helped in the planning of the diversion and deception operations for the D-Day landings. He was very highly thought of by the authorities and received many military and civil awards for his war work, including the U.S.Navy's Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor), and the Silver Star for valor displayed while serving on motor torpedo boats.

Douglas also was the head of Douglas Voluntary Hospitals in England which took care of war refugees. He had a very busy and very productive war indeed.

After the war he was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 1949. He stayed in the Naval Reserve after the war and finally retired a captain in 1954.

Post war he tried to renew his movie career but with less success. He starred in 'Sinbad the Sailor' opposite Maureen O'Hara and 'The Exile' 1947, 'The Fighting O'Flynn' in 1949, 'State Secret' in 1950 and 'Mister Drake's Duck' 1951 but his star had waned and thereafter he worked extensively and successfully in TV.

He was the host of "Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents", a series which ran from 1952-1955 and he made numerous appearances on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town". In the 1960's he successfully appeared on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In", "Dr. Kildare" and on various game shows. Towards the end of his career he appeared on "The Love Boat" and in the film 'Ghost Story' in 1981. He wrote two autobiographies "The Salad Days" in 1988 and "A Hell of a War" in 1993.

He was married three times. His marriage to Joan Crawford lasted from 1929-1933. Then in 1939 he married Mary Lee Eppling, and they had three daughters: Daphne, Victoria, and Melissa. The marriage ended with her death in 1988. His last marriage was to Vera Shelton in 1991 and it lasted until his death.

Fairbanks died of a heart attack on 7 May 2000 in New York, aged 90. He was buried in the same crypt as his father in Hollywood. His death made front page news in the Times of London and Buckingham Palace expressed its condolences on his passing.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Academy Awards

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Filmography

American Aristocracy (uncredited)
The Three Musketeers (uncredited)
Stephen Steps Out
The Air Mail
Wild Horse Mesa
Stella Dallas
The American Venus
Broken Hearts of Hollywood
Man Bait
Women Love Diamonds
Is Zat So?
A Texas Steer
Dead Man's Curve
Modern Mothers
The Toilers
The Power of the Press
The Barker
A Woman of Affairs
The Jazz Age
Fast Life
Our Modern Maidens
The Careless Age
The Forward Pass
The Show of Shows
Party Girl
Loose Ankles
The Dawn Patrol
Little Accident
The Sin Flood
Outward Bound
One Night at Susie's
Little Caesar
Like Your Nerve
L'athl├Ęte incomplet
Gentleman for a Day
It's Tough to Be Famous
Such Things Happen
Scarlet Dawn
Parachute Jumper
The Kid's Last Fight
The Narrow Corner
Morning Glory
The Rise of Catherine the Great
Success at Any Price
Man of the Moment
The Amateur Gentleman
The Prisoner of Zenda
Jump for Glory
Joy of Living
The Rage of Paris
Having Wonderful Time
The Young in Heart
Gunga Din
The Sun Never Sets
Rulers of the Sea