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Douglas Fairbanks Edit Profile

also known as Douglas Elton Ulman


Douglas Fairbanks was an American actor. The founder of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Fairbanks, Douglas was born on May 23, 1883 in Denver, Colorado, United States.


After a comfortable upbringing, it seems proper that Fairbanks enjoyed a playboy youth before going on the stage. By 1915 he was a star, and Triangle signed him up. His debut was in The Lamb (15, Christy Cabanne). D. W. Griffith, the seer at Triangle, rather scorned Fairbanks’s boyish high spirits, and most of his films were directed by John Emerson and Allan Dwan: The Habit of Happiness (16, Dwan); The Good Bad Man (16, Dwan); The Half-Breed (16, Dwan); Manhattan Madness (16, Dwan); and The Americano (16, Emerson).

In 1917, Fairbanks left Triangle, with the two directors, and formed his own production company: In Again, Out Again (17, Emerson); The Man from Painted Post (17, Joseph Henabery); A Modern Musketeer (17, Dwan); Mr. Fix-It (18, Dwan); Bound in Morocco (18, Dwan); He Comes Up Smiling (18, Dwan); Arizona (18, Albert Parker); and The Knickerbocker Buckaroo (19, Parker).

In 1919, Fairbanks was the moving spirit in the formation of United Artists with Chaplin, Griffith, and Man Pickford. Henceforward, his own productions were distributed by UA: His Majesty the American (19, Henabery) and The Mollycoddle (19). As well as acting in them, he took the role of producer ven seriously and was responsible for the insistence on authentic spectacle: he liked to do his own stunts and was wise enough to invest in proper historical research. The films he made in the 1920s were invariably handled by first-class action directors, and they still move dazzlingly well.

He took time and trouble over these films and rationed them to one a year: The Mark of Zorro (20, Fred Niblo); The Nut (21, Theodore Heed), the only modern piece; The Three Musketeers (21, Niblo); Robin Hood (22, Dwan), twice as expensive as Intolerance; The Thief of Bagdad (24, Raoul Walsh); Don Q, Son of Zorro (25, Donald Crisp); The Black Pirate (26, Parker); The Gaucho (27, F. Richard Jones); and The Iron Mask (29, Dwan).

For his first talking picture, he played Petrucliio, opposite Mary Pickford in The Taming of the Shrew (29, Sam Taylor). His voice was not good and he was now forty-seven. He made three more films in America—Reaching for the Moon (31, Edmund Colliding), Around the World in 80 Minutes (31, Victor Fleming), and Mr Robinson Crusoe (32, Edward Sutherland)—before going to England to make The Plicate Life of Don Juan (34, Alexander Korda). In 1935 the marriage with Pickford ended and Fairbanks retired.

A revival of his films in 1973 showed the scapegrace vitalitv unabated, the fondness for make- believe still enchanting.


There is a rare combination in Fairbanks of abilities required by the film world: he was a transforming movie actor whose presence so embodied the spirit of naïve adventure that, unwittingly, he made swashbuckling like verse; in addition, he was a man of sure commercial instinct, great organizing effort, and an innovator in film production and distribution.

In the making and selling of adventure films, there is not another actor who has significantly improved on the noble Dougs contribution. Yet his greatest legacy was in identifying modern celebrity. He was so famous; no one had been known in this way before Doug, Mary, anti Charlie stumbled on stardom. And Doug was the most casual about it.

  • “Allan Dwan explained the nature of Fairbanks’s appeal:

    ... he was very athletic and active, liked movement and space, so he enjoyed every minute. Pictures were made for him. The theatre was too little. ... He worked with speed and, basically, with grace. . . . The only thing that could possibly interest either one of us was a swift, graceful move—the thing a kid visualizes in his hero. ... If he was to leap on a table to fight a duel, we’d cut the legs of that table so it would be just the leap he ought to make. He never had to reach an extra inch for anything. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be graceful—it wouldn’t be him and it wouldn’t be right. He was a good, strong athlete but he never strained.”


Married Anna Beth Sully, July 11, 1907 (divorced 1918).

In 1920 he married his partner Mary Pickford (his second wife) and settled down to the adventure epics with which he is associated. (divorced 1935).

He married Lady Sylvia Ashley and spent his last years relaxed, despite the strain of a weak heart.

Anna Beth Sully

Mary Pickford