Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

1909 - 2000

Forever a legend. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., prince of cinematic royalty, dashing film star and decorated war hero, who remained one of the enduring elite of his generation well into the dawn of the new millennium, died in New York on May 7, 2000, at the age of 90.
His story reads as only Hollywood could tell it, though the tale had its start in Tinseltown’s predecessor, New York City. Born to swashbuckling film star Douglas Fairbanks and wife Anna Beth Sully on December 9, 1909, the Junior Fairbanks was groomed early for his father’s career path. However, unlike so many other “Juniors” who can never escape the coattails of the famous “Senior,” this son eventually carved out a niche of fame and renown uniquely his own.
His earliest film appearances, dating back to 1921, were less than successful: quite ironic, particularly considering that the influential Photoplay magazine noted, in 1925, that the younger Fairbanks was “considered a real bet, with much of his father’s charm and artistry.” After a successful Los Angeles stage debut in 1927, coupled with his highly publicized marriage to actress Joan Crawford in 1929, Fairbanks’ visibility increased, as did the strength of his roles.
The more than 75 films that were graced by his larger-than-life presence include the famed gangster flick Little Caesar (1930); Katharine Hepburn’s initial Oscar vehicle Morning Glory (1933); the regal drama Catherine the Great (1934), and the adventure classics The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Gunga Din (1939), and Sinbad the Sailor (1947). The Corsican Brothers (1941), in which he played both twins Mario and Lucien, and the suspense thriller State Secret (1950), were particularly strong vehicles for his talents. He was equally adept at comedy and drama, lending grace and flair to such film genres as romance, action, adventure, crime, and musicals – always excelling at each role he undertook.
More than just a film star, Fairbanks enjoyed quite an impressive career in service to his country. In 1941, FDR appointed him Special Envoy to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay. Later that year, he was called to active U.S. Navy service, training and leading commando units. He was awarded numerous medals and commendations for bravery and innovation as the first United States commander of a British flotilla during World War II, under the decorated Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. In 1949, Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was made an Honorary Knight of the British Empire for “furthering Anglo-American amity.”
His activities were not relegated solely to the war effort. His work on behalf of CARE, of which Fairbanks was a past fund-raising chairman, raised upwards of $150 million in shipments of food and goods to European countries. His business interests, complement to his post-film career, were as eclectic as his cinematic strengths: he dabbled in real estate, marketed ball-point pens, and established himself as an author, with the publication of two autobiographies, “The Salad Days,” in 1988, and “A Hell of a War,” in 1993.
Fairbanks’ talents transcended the silver screen, as he graced the small screen with “Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents,” a television anthology series — 155 episodes aired from 1953-57, a quarter of which starred its host. In addition, he continued to dabble in stage work well into his seventies. “I do one play a year, and that’s about it,” Fairbanks told The Washington Post in 1982. “Like any good gambler I quit while I was ahead. … I’d much rather have people ask me why I stopped acting instead of ‘Why don’t you stop acting?’ ”
On the personal front, life had a public air to it essentially from sunrise to sunset. His stepmother was film legend Mary Pickford, who married the elder Fairbanks in 1920. His home, as a teen, was Pickfair, the magnificent estate once the center of the Hollywood society scene. His early and tempestuous marriage to Crawford ended in 1933; six years later he wed Mary Lee Epling Hartford, with whom he had three daughters, and to whom he remained married for almost a half of a century, until her death from cancer in 1988. On May 30, 1991, Fairbanks married merchandiser Vera Shelton, who survives him, as do his daughters, Daphne, Victoria, and Melissa.
In honors unique to the City of Angels, Fairbanks was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: in celebration of his film career, at 6318 Hollywood Boulevard, in respect to his radio work, at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, and citing his television achievements, at 6665 Hollywood Boulevard.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. rests, alongside his famous father, in the beautiful Sunken Garden in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The dash between the dates, comprising his fabled life, will forever be the stuff of cinematic legend. In a 1989 interview, he looked back on his life, and seemed quite pleased with what he found: “I worked hard and played hard, and it was all tremendously rewarding. I just wish it could go on and on and on.”


  1. Thank You

    Thank You for all the enjoyment you have given us throughout the years with your films….Bless You!!


  2. Another namesake...

    I named one of my beloved and dashing pet rats, Douglas Fairbanks, III after you. Your bio, “Salad Days” is delightful… I’m sorry I never got the chance to meet you as you were one of the last true gentlemen.
    Cheers dear sir!

    L.A. Ostermeyer

  3. Doug

    My little brother was named after Douglas Fairbanks.


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