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Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Spotlight
Born: Douglas Elton Ulman Fairbanks, Jr., on December 9, 1909, in New York, New York.
Spotlights: It was apparent from his youngest days that he had inherited his famous father’s genes in appearance. He was called “one New York’s sweetest, most beautiful babies” at his christening at Trinity Church, in lower Manhattan. The privileged, well-mannered, athletic youth was educated on both coasts. He attended the Knickerbocker Greys in New York City, Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California (by age 12 he had memorized Shakespeare’s Richard III), and the Harvard Military School, in Los Angeles. Paramount Pictures movie mogul Jesse L. Lasky signed the 13-year-old to a $1,000-a-week contract. He made his silver screen debut in Stephen Steps Out (1923).
Like his famous swashbuckling father, he was tall, handsome and charming. But he stated, “I never tried to emulate my father. Anyone trying to do that would be a second-rate carbon copy.” Still he was a star on his own merits. He appeared in more than 80 motion pictures, including the critically acclaimed political thriller, State Secret (1950), The Fighting O’ Flynn (1949), The Exile (1947—also wrote and produced), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Angels over Broadway (1940—opposite Rita Hayworth), The Corsican Brothers (1941), Gunga Din (1939), The Young in Heart (1938), The Rage of Paris (1938), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937—critically acclaimed performance in an Oscar-nominated film; also listed in the National Film Registry), Success at Any Price (1934), Morning Glory (1933—opposite Katharine Hepburn, in which she won her first Academy Award), Parachute Jumper (1933), The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), The Narrow Corner (1933—novel written by W. Somerset Maugham, with Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus’ meditation shown twice onscreen: “Short, therefore, is man's life; and narrow is the corner of the earth wherein he dwells”), Union Depot (1932), Love Is a Racket (1932), Little Caesar (1931—opposite Edward G. Robinson, in an Oscar-nominated film; also listed in the National Film Registry ), The Dawn Patrol (1930), Outward Bound (1930—early highly rated talkie), The Show of Shows (1929—an important picture for film buffs and historians interested in Hollywood’s transitional period between silents and talkies), Our Modern Maidens (1929—opposite wife Joan Crawford; silent on the wild jazz age), A Woman of Affairs (1928—starring Greta Garbo in what is generally considered her best silent film), Stella Davis (1925—silent), and The Three Musketeers (1921--silent).
Fairbanks was a lady’s man both on and off the screen. He was linked with such glamorous beauties as Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth, among dozens more. But unlike his famous father, Fairbanks, Jr. broke from the mold when he performed for the small screen. He brought class to British television programming with “Douglas Fairbanks Presents” (1952-’57). An accomplished stage and performer, he served on the Board of The Royal Shakespeare Company.
During World War II he served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve. A brave soul, he earned a British D.S.C. as the only U.S. Naval officer to command a flotilla of raiding craft for supreme allied commander, British Admiral Mountbatten’s Commandos. He received the Distinguished Service Cross from England. Both the French and Italian governments awarded him the highest honors for gallantry in action; he received France’s Legion d’Honneur and Le Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the Italian’s War Cross for Military Valor. A highly decorated Naval officer, his American military awards include the Silver Star Medal and the United States Navy’s Legion of Merit with bronze “V” for valor.
The recipient of many honors and awards, Fairbanks was a highly desirable guest. He was a member of The Pilgrims Society, an elite club which promotes “good-will, good-fellowship, and everlasting peace between the United States and Great Britain.” The ever delightful Fairbanks was an affirmed Anglophile, and, in fact, was a favorite guest of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. He once quipped, “I was only saying to the Queen the other day how I hate name dropping...” His Royal Highness King George VI made bestowed an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 1949for “furthering Anglo-American Amity.” The London-based the College of Arms, which is “the official repository of the coats of arms and pedigrees of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Commonwealth families and their descendants” granted Fairbanks his own coat of arms that symbolizes the United States of America and Great Britain united across the majestic blue Atlantic Ocean by a silken knot of friendship.
About his life, he revealed, “I was born with too many vitamins and more energy than I have a right to have. I believe in many things, but am quite prepared to be disillusioned and go on optimistically hoping. That is part of the American breed, the belief in the happy ending. It is a national rather than personal trait.”
About his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the legendary bon vivant commented, “I am here today and hope to here tomorrow.”
Fairbanks passed on in 2000, at the age of 90. He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetary in the same crypt as his beloved father.