Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

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Douglas Fairbanks senior, 1921
Plaque on the grave of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Grave of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in Forest Lawn, Burbank
Fairbanks promoted war bonds in New York in 1918

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (actually Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman ; * May 23, 1883 in Denver , Colorado ; † December 12, 1939 in Santa Monica , California ) was an American film actor , director , screenwriter and film producer . He began his film career initially with comedies , but then advanced to become one of the most successful Hollywood stars as a leading actor in adventure films . With the end of the silent film era , Fairbanks' popularity declined rapidly in the early 1930s.


His mother Ella Adelaide Marsh (* 1850) was initially married to a John Fairbanks, who left her as a widow with her child. The next husband turned out to be a brutal thug, whom she divorced with the help of Hezekiah Charles Ullman, a well-known attorney in New York City . She later married Ullman, Fairbank's father, and the family moved to Denver. He left the family when young Douglas was five years old.

Fairbanks was married three times. His son Douglas Jr. comes from his first marriage to Anna Beth Sully from 1907 to 1920; he would later follow his father in similar film roles.

Mary Pickford and Fairbanks began dating back in 1916, when they were both married to other partners. After his divorce from Anna Beth Sully, he gave Pickford an ultimatum to either marry or separate from him. She hesitated at first, fearing negative headlines, but agreed and divorced on March 2, 1920 (the legal validity was challenged by the state of Nevada , but finally confirmed in 1922) and married Douglas on March 28, 1920 1920 without their mutual friend Charlie Chaplin , who had spoken out against their marriage. Together they ran the Pickfair estate , a gift from Douglas to Mary, which at the time was considered the stronghold of Hollywood celebrities.

The two were regarded as "the" glamorous couple until the 1930s. Fairbanks and Pickford separated in 1933 after an affair with the English model, actress Sylvia Ashley, who was later briefly married to Clark Gable , became known. Fairbanks and Pickford were divorced in 1936, and Pickford retained the Pickfair estate .

A few months later, Fairbanks married Silvia Ashley in Paris . After the Pickford divorce, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. began indulging in alcohol. He spent his last years with his third wife and traveled extensively abroad. In December 1939, Fairbanks suffered a heart attack in his sleep , of which he died the next day at his home in Santa Monica.

Fairbank's famous final words were, "I've never felt better." His funeral took place in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale . His body was transferred to Hollywood Forever Cemetery in 1941 . The present grave with an elaborate marble statue was commissioned by his widow two years later.

Fairbanks was a member of the Freemasons . He visited the Beverly Hills Lodge 528 in Los Angeles with Clark Gable .


Douglas Fairbanks began his career as a stage actor in Denver with light comedies by Shakespeare , until he moved to New York in 1900 and started there with the British Friedrich Warde company. He made his Broadway debut in 1902 .

Fairbanks made his first film in 1915. With his vitality and his sympathetic charisma, he quickly won the hearts of the audience. He was considered an extremely athletic actor and therefore he mostly played roles that showed his physical abilities. He portrayed the heroic characters in " The Three Musketeers " from 1921, " Robin Hood " from 1922 and " The Thief of Baghdad " from 1924. Fairbanks was in the 1920s by far the most popular actor in the role of adventure hero and one of the greatest movie stars.

Fairbanks was also a good businessman. In addition to United Artists , which he founded in 1919 with Mary Pickford , David Wark Griffith and Charlie Chaplin , he was a founding member of The Motion Picture Academy . During his marriage to Mary Pickford he achieved the status of "King of Hollywood", which passed to Clark Gable after his death .

On April 30, 1927, Mary Pickford and Fairbanks were the first stars to immortalize their hand and footprints in cement in front of the newly opened Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood ( Hollywood Walk of Fame ).

In 1929, Fairbanks hosted the first Academy Awards with William C. DeMille

His last silent film, The Iron Mask (1929), was a sequel to the Three Musketeers filmed in 1921 , to which Fairbanks gave an introductory prologue . While Fairbanks in the silent era - especially in the 1920s - reached its zenith, leveled his enthusiasm he initially for the sound film had had abruptly. One reason for this could be that his athletic skills were deteriorating and he was now almost 50 years old. Fairbanks no longer played an important role in talkies; in his role subject he was replaced by younger actors such as Errol Flynn , Tyrone Power or his son.

He and Pickford had chosen to make their first sound film together. They played Petruchio and Kate in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew from 1929. But this and his other sound films found little approval with the audience. The last film he appeared in before retiring was the 1934 British production of The Personal Life of Don Juan .

Performance of The Man with the Whip in Berlin

Filmography (selection)

  • Documentary about Douglas Fairbanks: Douglas Fairbanks, silent film hero and Hollywood legend, 2016, directed by Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg


  • Jeffrey Vance, Tony Maietta: Douglas Fairbanks. University of California Press, Berkeley 2016, ISBN 978-0-520-25667-5 .
  • John C. Tibbetts, James M. Welsh: Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2014, ISBN 978-1-62674-147-8 .

Individual evidence

  1. Joe Hembus: Charlie Chaplin. His films, his life. Heyne, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-453-86033-0 .
  2. Eugen Lennhoff, Oskar Posner, Dieter A. Binder: Internationales Freemaurerlexikon. Revised and expanded new edition of the 1932 edition, special production. Herbig, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7766-2161-3 .

Web links

Commons : Douglas Fairbanks  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files