By way of a for-instance, I watched The Mark of Zorro in preparation for this post, and he brings much of the same joie de vivre here that he did in the first movie I saw him in, The Thief of Bagdad: lots of jumping around and running in the fight scenes, as well as his laughing, devil-may-care attitude. You can't help but find it infectious.
Fairbanks' marriage to Mary Pickford made for one of the first Hollywood tabloid romances. They met in 1916, at a party. At the time, Fairbanks was married to a chick named Anna Beth Sully, the daughter of an industrialist, and Pickford was married to actor Owen Moore. (Why is it that the best known Hollywood romances were born of extramarital affairs?) Douglas Jr., who enjoyed a long career in film also, was the result of Douglas Sr.'s marriage to Sully. Fairbanks and Pickford's affair was on the down low for several years. Fairbanks got his divorce in 1919, and Pickford got hers the year after that. By the time the two of them married each other weeks later, they were among the highest paid actors in the industry.
In Jeanine Basinger's book Silent Stars (yes, I'm quoting from it again), she writes about their month-long European honeymoon and the reception they got from their fans in England:
...At an outdoor benefit in Kensington Gardens, Mary and Doug arrived seated in the back of an open Rolls-Royce, and as the crowds surged forward, Mary was grabbed and pulled out of the car. Doug managed to rescue her by clutching her by the ankles, but when they were finally able to step out, the crowds again closed in around them "like quicksand," [quoting Pickford's account] and she had to be carried on Doug's shoulders to keep from being crushed. On the Continent, the mobs did not diminish. "I spent my honeymoon on a balcony waving to crowds," Mary said.
|Fairbanks, with Mary Pickford
Can I talk for a minute about Fairbanks' tan? He made Cary Grant look pale! Just look at some of these photos of the man and you'll see what I'm talking about. He almost looks black! - and it's not like tanning was the hip thing to do, as it would later become.
Basinger also talks about Fairbanks as the model physical specimen:
...He has the kind of physical radiance that is usually associated with female performers, although he is quintessentially masculine. He has it. Sometimes he reminds me of the equally exuberant Al Jolson of The Jazz Singer, Mammy, and The Singing Fool. Like Jolson, he jumps around gracefully, swinging his arms, making broad gestures. He seems about to erupt into song but, unlike Jolson, he erupts by leaping up onto something.... Everything he did to "act" was physical - the word most commonly used to describe his performances at the time was "exuberant" - and this acting style was perfect for silent films because it was all about using the whole body to express character, attitude, and emotion.Fairbanks made a few talkies. How was his speaking voice? I watched a few scenes from a film of his from 1932 called Mr. Robinson Crusoe. His voice was a little higher than I imagined, not that I thought it'd be all that deep. Fairbanks wasn't a ripped, chiseled Adonis like Chris Evans or Hugh Jackman or Channing Tatum, but he was in great enough shape that I suppose I expected he'd have a voice that reflected his physical prowess. In Crusoe, at least, his voice may not be deep, but it's loud. He certainly had no trouble projecting!
Fairbanks was a true original. Looking at his movies, you can see why the medium took off as quickly and as successfully as it did. Modern action movie stars could learn a thing or two from him.
Next: Gloria Swanson
Films with Douglas Fairbanks:
The Thief of Bagdad
Jack Lemmon Jean Arthur
Edward G. Robinson Rita Moreno
Frank Capra Bernard Herrmann
Joan Blondell James Dean
Ethel Waters William Powell
Tod Browning Edith Head
Joel McCrea Thelma Ritter