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Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century

John C. Tibbetts

Publication Year: 2014

Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century brings to life the most popular movie star of his day, the personification of the Golden Age of Hollywood. At his peak, in the teens and twenties, the swashbuckling adventurer embodied the new American Century of speed, opportunity, and aggressive optimism. The essays and interviews in this volume bring fresh perspectives to his life and work, including analyses of films never before examined. Also published here for the first time in English is a first-hand production account of the making of Fairbanks's last silent film, The Iron Mask.

Fairbanks (1883-1939) was the most vivid and strenuous exponent of the American Century, whose dominant mode after 1900 was the mass marketing of a burgeoning democratic optimism, at home and abroad. During those first decades of the twentieth century, his satiric comedy adventures shadow-boxed with the illusions of class and custom. His characters managed to combine the American Easterner's experience and pretension and the Westerner's promise and expansion. As the masculine personification of the Old World aristocrat and the New World self-made man--tied to tradition yet emancipated from history--he constructed a uniquely American aristocrat striding into a new age and sensibility.

This is the most complete account yet written of the film career of Douglas Fairbanks, one of the first great stars of the silent American cinema and one of the original United Artists (comprising Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith). John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh's text is especially rich in its coverage of the early years of the star's career from 1915 to 1920 and covers in detail several films previously considered lost.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Other Books by Co-Authors, Copyright Page, Dedications

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pp. vii-x

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A Personal Greeting

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pp. xi-xiv

Here are two remarkable men, Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., father and son, both so different from one another and yet both so accomplished. Included in these pages are the voices that bring both men back to life . . . both men who in the end, although shy of one another...

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Foreword: A Fairbanks Memoir

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pp. xv-2

I am delighted to see this newly revised and expanded edition of His Majesty the American, which has long been out of print since it first appeared in 1977. It takes me back to my own lifelong enthusiasm for silent films, which was first sparked by Douglas...

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Introduction: The Choreography of Hope

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pp. 3-14

At the height of his career in the early 1920s, Douglas Fairbanks was the most popular film star in the world. Since his arrival in Hollywood in 1915, he had quickly vaulted from his former status as a stage star to the power and prestige of a captain of the film industry. Playwright Robert E. Sherwood...

Part I: Odyssey of a Spring Lamb

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Chapter 1. "Windows Are the Only Doors": The First Films (The Lamb, 1915, and Double Trouble, 1915)

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pp. 17-29

In the spring of 1915, Douglas Fairbanks left the New York stage and traveled west to the newly formed Triangle Film Corporation in Los Angeles. On the strength of his credentials as a lively and engaging light comedian, Triangle boss Harry E. Aitken promised him the impressive fee...

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Chapter 2. "The Leap to Greatness": The Years at Triangle, Artcraft, United Artists, 1916–1919

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pp. 30-91

From 1916–1919, Douglas Fairbanks rose from the ranks of tyro film actor to a major player in the American film industry. Only Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin rivaled him in power and popularity. Among his other contemporaries in screen comedy in the mid-teens, only Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle...

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Chapter 3. "Arizona Jim": The Fairbanks Westerns, 1916–1920

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pp. 92-141

It’s more than a salute. It’s more than a sentiment. It’s a sermon. The Arizona canyons and mesas, the Wyoming grasslands, the forested slopes of northern California constitute a vital geography for Fairbanks. This “elastic soil” is, on the one hand, a westward advancing frontier...

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Chapter 4. "Her Picture in the Papers": Mary Pickford's "Growing Girl"

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pp. 142-169

Between 1914–1918, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford became the first major stage stars to score international success in the movies. Coming from Broadway, they had both brought the prestigious aura of the stage to a new medium with global appeal. Working individually and collectively as...

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Chapter 5. "On an Odd Note": Say, Young Fellow! (1918), The Nut (1920), and When the Clouds Roll By (1919)

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pp. 170-182

At the outset, let us make this perfectly clear: Douglas Fairbanks was always Douglas Fairbanks . . . only sometimes more so. This trio of pre-costume films demonstrates the point...

Part II: "The Imperial Reach"

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Chapter 6. Prologue

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pp. 185-187

As chronicled in detail in our earlier volume, His Majesty the American (1977), the founding of United Artists in 1919 marked an important development in the history of Hollywood and in the trajectory of Fairbanks’s screen career.1 The story of United Artists is too complex to...

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Chapter 7. "The Mark of Greatness": The Adventures of Señor Zorro

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pp. 188-199

Among the varied progeny of the character of Zorro that have appeared since Fairbanks’s The Mark of Zorro was released in 1920, we may count the Caped Crusader himself, the Dark Knight: Batman. The creator of Batman, comic book artist and entrepreneur Bob Kane, acknowledged as...

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Chapter 8. "A Dance of Free Men in the Forest": Robin Hood

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pp. 200-208

“We hanker after history,” wrote British film critic Ernest Betts “—and then, like some new planet, Robin Hood swims into our ken.” In his appreciation of the newly released Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler, Betts anoints this “nominally historical, tremendously fictitious”...

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Chapter 9. "Architecture in Motion": The Thief of Bagdad

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pp. 209-218

And so we come to Douglas Fairbanks’s extravagant “Arabian Nights Fantasy.” He takes us to Bagdad, the “dream city of the ancient East,” a brutal and magical place, where horses have wings, carpets fly, and princes, despots, and thieves alike contest for the hand of the caliph’s beautiful...

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Chapter 10. "A Painted Ship on a Painted Ocean": The Black Pirate

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pp. 219-238

The Black Pirate premiered simultaneously at the Tivoli Cinema in London and in New York on March 1926. Like all of Fairbanks’s costume films, it offers a wide range of interests. Much has already been written about the casting, the story, and the famous acrobatics—such as the slide down...

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Chapter 11. "Dumas, Douglas, and Delirium": Fairbanks and the Musketeers

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pp. 239-258

“[The Three Musketeers] is a kind of combination of Dumas, Douglas, and delirium,” enthused the New York Herald after the premiere on August 28, 1921, in New York City of Douglas Fairbanks’s newest costumed adventure.1 If we reverse the order to “delirium, Douglas, and Dumas,” we accurately...

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Chapter 12. "The Fall from Grace": The Gaucho

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pp. 259-270

Sandwiched between The Black Pirate and The Iron Mask (1928), The Gaucho— its original release title was Douglas Fairbanks as The Gaucho—has been sadly neglected and undervalued since its premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on November 4, 1927. New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall...

Part III: Doug and Mary Find Their Voices

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Chapter 13. Coquette: Goodbye to the Glad Girl

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pp. 273-282

During the production of Douglas Fairbanks’s The Iron Mask late in 1928, Mary Pickford was busily preparing her first talking picture, Coquette. It premiered on April 12, 1929, just two months after her husband’s film was released. In another two months, both Doug and Mary would begin their...

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Chapter 14. A Shrewd Adaptation: The Taming of the Shrew

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pp. 283-296

Consider the Fairbanks-Pickford Taming of the Shrew (1929) at end times—approaching the sobering end of the decadent decade of the twenties, anticipating the eventual end of the Fairbanks-Pickford celebrity marriage, portending the end of the silent film and the beginning of the...

Part IV: Artists and Husbands

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Chapter 15. Prologue

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pp. 299-302

There is a certain literary archetype, suggests the Australian historian Peter Conrad, author of Creation: Artists, Gods, Origins (207), that is found in the characters of Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and Don Juan. It is a compound of bruised ideals, restless wanderlust, and romantic failure...

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Chapter 16. Reaching for the Moon

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pp. 303-306

We set sail on the ocean liner l’Amérique bound for England. Quixote-like, Wall Street tycoon Larry Day (Fairbanks) is in pursuit of his Dulcinea, Vivian Bennett (Bebe Daniels), a high-flying aviatrix who is hardly the saintly ideal that Larry presumes her...

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Chapter 17. Around the World in Eighty Minutes

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pp. 307-312

Which brings us to Around the World in Eighty Minutes, which we rightly regard as a sequel to Reaching for the Moon. Shortly before its release in November 1931, Fairbanks was quoted...

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Chapter 18. Mr. Robinson Crusoe

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pp. 313-316

Viewed today, even the inferior visual quality of surviving prints can’t hide the great charm and visual beauty of Mr. Robinson Crusoe. It premiered in New York City on September 21, 1932. Despite the behind-the-scenes news of difficulties on location with unpredictable weather, and problems...

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Chapter 19. The Private Life of Don Juan

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pp. 317-330

The Private Life of Don Juan brings us to the final destination of Fairbanks’s four-film odyssey—and the culmination of his meditations on the conflicts and compromises facing artists and husbands. We have now arrived at legend-haunted Old Seville. Who would blame us if by now, like...

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pp. 331-332

“Films satisfy my desire to keep in motion in a constructive way,” he had once said in 1922. “I had always been interested in stunts and in games and had always worked at them; at first because of mere energy and vitality and the desire to keep in motion, and then because I found that the work...

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Afterword: The Makings of a Man 1880–1927

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pp. 333-338

Throughout the pages of this book we have seen that Douglas Fairbanks choreographed in his films what Alistair Cooke called “athletic adventures [which] taught him to relish American pep, optimism, and cheer.” Those pre-1920 satires, in particular, were breezy responses to an age wherein...

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Appendix A. "His Own Man": Interviews with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

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pp. 339-356

We talked with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. twice before his death at age ninety on May 7, 2000. Our first encounter was in the spring of 1993 in his New York office after the appearance of two volumes of his memoirs...

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Appendix B. On the Set of The Iron Mask (1929)

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pp. 357-398

French designer Maurice Leloir’s 1929 memoir of his participation in The Iron Mask has never before been published in English translation. M. Leloir was a world-renowned French illustrator of the Dumas novels and an authority on French period history. To him must go much of the credit...


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pp. 399-432


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pp. 433-443

E-ISBN-13: 9781626740341
E-ISBN-10: 1626740348
Print-ISBN-13: 9781628460063
Print-ISBN-10: 1628460067

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2014