Sunny Wiggins (played by Douglas Fairbanks) meets Elsie Pepper (Dorothy West) as he announces he's here to "shake up the old Pepper box!" (Elsie's father)

The Habit of Happiness (1916)

The Habit of Happiness is the first of Douglas Fairbanks’ movies that puts the trait he considered most important in life – Happiness – right in the title, thereby showing Fairbanks’ knowledge and affection for the philosophy of life we now call Law of Attraction (LOA, for short.)

And like many Conscious Creators, Fairbanks knew that creating a daily habit out of anything – happiness included – meant that the habit would create a magnetic train, pulling the habit towards you, the more you focused on it.

In 1916, invoking the idea that we each create our own reality through our emotions and the outlook our personality maintains was accepted as obvious fact. The preacher JR Miller in 1898 wrote an article The Habit of Happiness where he wrote, “Our habits make us. Like wheels running on the road, they wear the tracks or ruts in which our life moves. Our character is the result of our habits. We do the same thing over and over a thousand times, and by and by it becomes part of ourselves.”

Fairbanks’ 4th movie set out to demonstrate these ideas via film, using his indelibly sunny, bright, athletic, and ‘full of pep’ personality which so lit up the screen. It was to be the first of many collaborations between Fairbanks, Allan Dwan as director, and Victor Fleming as cinematographer. Anita Loos again joined as the writer of memorable inter-titles including the description of the dour Mr Pepper’s companion, “His boon companion is a cellist, and the liveliest tune he knows is Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’.”

The Habit of Happiness continued where His Picture in the Papers left off: it was hard to tell if Fairbanks was inventing a new character or simply inventing himself. As Fairbanks’ fortunes grew his generosity to friends and strangers matched its burgeoning size. Numerous were the stories of Doug helping friends in need, or simply strangers that he thought could use a break.

The egalitarian humanism that infused the character of Sunny Wiggins in The Habit of Happiness was typical of Fairbanks himself. Doug’s niece Letitia and co-author Ralph Hancock wrote of Fairbanks’ democratic leanings extended to all God’s creatures, as well as mankind:

“Though there were always dogs at Pickfair, Doug usually had one or more around the studio, too. He collected them 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.”

~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: the Fourth Musketeer, 1953, US Edition, page 5.

The movie was well received, with Moving Picture World writing in its March 25, 1916 review:

“The Habit of Happiness, a Fine Arts production featuring Douglas Fairbanks, is a story with a vital purpose and characterized by some delightful psychology and bright subtitles…. Interesting revelation of thought and emotion results from the efforts of “Sunny Wiggins,” impersonated by Fairbanks, to brighten dull lives.”

To be sure, Douglas was off to the races with his latest film. But there was so much more to follow.

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