Douglas Fairbanks. A dashing genteel man who found the greatest adventure was life and embraced it with zest, determined to experience the best that had it had to offer. At least that is how I always have thought of the screen legend that wore the hats of actor, screenwriter, producer and director. The man who helped create United Artists in 1919 alongside his soon to be Wife, Mary Pickford, his best friend Charlie Chaplin, as well as D.W. Griffith.
Thanks to Tracey Goessel’s in depth and quite exhaustive research for her new book The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks which was released back in October by our friends at Chicago Review Press, we get to see the more personal side of actor who by 1924 was literally a world wide silent film icon.
Some of the most amazing research that Goessel was able to uncover came from a hidden box of love letters belonging to Mary Pickford, that were discovered thirty years after her passing in 1979. Tracey goes into detail on not just some of the antics Fairbanks, to some a devilish trickster, engaged in during his early life but even the sad circumstances of his upbringing, one that in interviews he and his Family members seemed to be more than willing to shape into a more pleasing truth.
By all accounts from this biography it seems that Fairbanks was destined to reach his lofty position in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Fairbanks debonair and being gifted as a skilled gymnast helped him find his spot on stage, being tutored by traveling British thespian Frederick Warde. By 1915 Fairbanks was standing in front of motion picture cameras during the heyday of the silent film era, under the watchful eye of D.W. Griffith…who it would seem wasn’t as appreciative of his spry nature event though that is what would of course make him a worldwide star.
Goessel within her 576 page biography shares all of the truly amazing accomplishments that Fairbank was able to achieve, not just aiding the creation of United Artists but funding the research of Technicolor which he used in his 1926 film The Black Pirate to great success.
Tracey is fair as a biographer by delving deeply into the faults (Jealousy being one that springs to mind) of the legendary actors as well which to honest are equally as interesting as his many merits (Hardworking and generous). It is amazing to me, just a big movie fan, how a man who had the world in his hands in 1924 found himself in retirement a mere ten years later, as Goessel points out the actor’s unhappiness wasn’t always of his own doing however such as attempting to deal with Pickford’s savage alcoholism or inner turmoil at United Artists.
Douglas Fairbanks was born in 1883 and passed away in 1939 but at least left behind truly legendary film roles in 1920’s The Mark of Zorro and it’s 1925 sequel, Don Q Son of Zorro, 1921’s The Three Musketeers and it’s 1929 sequel The Iron Mask, 1922’s Robin Hood and 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad. Not to mention the influences he had with being a co-founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the iconic stance of Superman and of course elements of Batman.
The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks is yet another book that would be perfect for the cinephile in your life. Being released back in October you should be able to pick it up at your nearest book store or hop on over to Chicago Review Press and even Amazon.
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