"In "His Picture in the Papers," he had to run an automobile over a cliff, engage in a six-round bout with a professional boxer, jump off an ocean liner and swim to the distant shore, mix in a brawl with half a dozen gunmen, and leap twice from swiftly moving trains." ~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks from their 1953 bio "Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer"

His Picture In The Papers (1916)

When 1916 opened, it was a new day dawning for Douglas Fairbanks:

Fortunately for [Douglas] the directors who now handled his pictures had the vision to incorporate his antics into his pictures. The staff had been busy while he was away and now had ready the script for Double Trouble-prophetically the last he was to do under Griffith’s supervision-and shooting began immediately. In the eleven months that followed (Feb – Dec 1916) he was starred in eleven pictures, more than a quarter of his entire output.

He moved his family into a bigger house, one he rented on Hollywood Boulevard near La Brea A venue, and Douglas, Jr., was sent to a nearby school. But there was neither opportunity nor inclination for much home life for Douglas. It was a year of success. He had come and seen and at thirty-three he was carving out a new career for himself in a new industry. It was an accomplishment that derived its greatest stimulus from a year of emotional impact, torn as he was between his desire for Mary and his moral code in relation to Beth. But a devastating-blow occurred near the end of the year when his mother died in New York. Thus was severed his last tie with the East, and from that moment on Douglas Fairbanks knew his destiny lay in Hollywood.

~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: the Fourth Musketeer, 1953, US Edition, page 130.

Douglas Fairbanks’ third (credited) motion-picture, His Picture in the Papers, was his first picture made away from the stifling direction of DW Griffith, and the first that was to combine his innate sense of simply being “Doug.”

THE UBIQUITOUS MOVING PICTURE, first endured, then pitied, and then embraced, was delighting the hearts and aching the eyes of all nations and all races around the world by 1916. By then, too, the pattern of public taste had become evident, and one of the things the public liked best was the combination of skills and talents that Douglas Fairbanks brought to the silver screen.

His contribution to the motion picture was that he was one of the first actors to pull people into the cinema palaces of the day, not because they wanted to see a movie, but because they wanted to see “Doug.”

~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: the Fourth Musketeer, 1953, US Edition, page 131.

That Douglas would become one of the first stars of Hollywood, and that he would do it largely by being himself, was a natural outgrowth of his stage career:

It was natural enough, too, that Douglas should become a leading factor in the star system, for he had already proved his appeal on Broadway. He came to the movies, not as a neophyte who needed a build-up, but as an established actor who had toured the country and who had, perhaps more for his personality than his skill in depicting the nuances of emotion, become exceedingly popular.

….

It was another happy coincidence that the screen character he portrayed became known when it did. These were days of confusion, indecision, and doubt for Americans. The United States was keeping a precarious neutrality in the European conflict, and anyone who appeared to know all the answers, could face any emergency with a flashing smile, and invariably win out against a host of adversaries was entitled to all the public’s esteem and enthusiasm.

~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: the Fourth Musketeer, 1953, US Edition, pages 132-133.

It was against this backdrop that His Picture in the Papers was made – an instant classic Fairbanks movie in which he stars an initially feckless son of a vegetarian food magnate, who through dint & publicity, gets the girl. The intertitles by Anita Loos show her writing at its best, lambasting vegetarians and upholding meat-lovers – where else will one find such an intertitle in any film?

Anita Loos intertitle: Beefsteak produces a different style of lovemaking than prunes

Anita Loos intertitle: Beefsteak produces a different style of lovemaking than prunes

The entire sequence from which this slightly ribald intertitle was taken is one of the gems of Douglas’ early film career. The scene shows Doug, as Pete Prindle, son of vegetarian magnate Proteus Prindle (“A self-made man who loves his maker”), and Pete’s love interest in the film, Christine Cadwalader (played by Loretta Blake), daughter of a devoted user of Prindle’s 27 Vegetarian Products who is being courted by the pallid and uninteresting Melville (Homer Hunt). Thus the intertitle “Wherein it is shown that beefsteak produces a different style of love-making from prunes.”

His Picture in the Papers also has a small, uncredited part by Erich von Stroheim, who also had an uncredited role as Assistant Director. Von Stroheim is probably best known to modern audiences when he was cast opposite Gloria Swanson in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, where von Stroheim plays the officious German butler to the fading Norma Desmond (Swanson.)

According to recent Fairbanks biographer Tracey Goessel, His Picture in the Papers marked the start of what was to become Douglas’ routine scrubbing of all racist and derogatory comments that inevitably crept into Loos’ script and intertitles. While Antia Loos proved to be quite the racist, Douglas Fairbanks was anything but. Douglas couldn’t care less who or what you were – he cared about the friendship he had with you. As Hancock and Fairbanks stated at the very beginning of their biography, “[Douglas] collected dogs as he collected his friends – neither race nor creed nor previous condition of servitude seemed to matter. All he ever asked from them in exchange for his own lavish generosity was friendship.”

His Picture in the Papers is a wonderful early Fairbanks film, and not to be missed if you want to catch the early evolution of Doug… becoming well, Doug!

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