Taking a wee break from 100 year events, we’ll skip ahead to a commemorative date in 1939: Letitia Fairbanks’ 26th birthday and the death of her uncle, Douglas Fairbanks.
It was on this night that Letitia first conceived of creating a lasting, memorable art installation that would be worthy of her famous and much beloved uncle. Out of that vision and over the next 18 months following her uncle’s death, Letitia would create Princess April Morning-Glory.
In using her artistic and literary talents to create a unique fairy tale, Letitia paid homage to the Fairbanks side of the family, but the character she chose to enshrine her message of Doing 3 Good Deeds was pure Mary Pickford.
If you’re interested in learning more about Princess April Morning-Glory and how Letitia created and crafted her oeuvre, both the restoration artist Danny Garrett and Letitia’s step-daughter Kelley Smoot Garrett have published extensive notes on Princess April’s Notes on the Manuscript blog.
From Ralph Hancock and Letitia Fairbanks’ “The Fourth Musketeer” on the passing of Douglas Fairbanks:
But late in the afternoon [of December 11, 1939] Doug turned to Robert [his older brother and life-long business partner.]
“If anything happens to me,” he said quietly, “I want you to give Mary a message for me.”
Robert assured him that he wasn’t in any danger and if he would follow the doctor’s orders he would soon be all right again.
“Well, if anything does, tell Mary … By the Clock.”
Robert knew the significance of the message. “By the Clock” had always meant to them love and faith, and in the happiest years of their marriage it had been the most solemn vow they could make to each other. It disturbed Robert now that this message which sounded like a deathbed promise should be given at the moment when Douglas was so seriously ill. His expression showed his sudden anxiety because Douglas immediately tried to console him.
“I’ve always been honest with you, Robert, ever since we were kids in Denver … and now … I want you to know that I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of being an invalid, of being chained to a bed.”
Dr. Sampson had returned in the afternoon and again in the evening, but no one else, apparently, would admit to himself the possible prognosis of Doug’s condition. It seemed inconceivable to his brother, his son, Art Fenn, Chuck Lewis, that Douglas Fairbanks could be dying. A male nurse had been engaged for the night and after Douglas had been given another sedative, his companions left about ten o’clock, all planning to return early the next morning.
Because Douglas had developed a phobia about having anyone in the room with him when he slept, the nurse took up his station in the hall outside his door. Only Polo, Doug’s bull mastiff, was permitted to remain in the room with his master.
By midnight fog enclosed the beach house and smothered the edge of sound. The ocean, a rhythmic rumbling beyond a narrow beach, seemed more hushed than usual, and the occasional motor that felt its uneasy way along the coast road only accented the lateness of the hour, its sound penetrating the midnight gloom no farther than its headlights.
Now, inside the house, in a second-floor room facing the restless sea, the stage and the actors were ready to take the final scene of a scenario whose star was to act an unfamiliar role. But doing the unfamiliar, attempting the untried, were parts of an old pattern for this one, for he was an actor before he was a man and an adventurer first of all.
One a small bedside light, soft and in keeping with the hushed atmosphere of the room, illuminated the props with which a man of wealth and taste would surround himself. On the floor beside the bed lay a huge mastiff, his head resting on his extended forelegs, his ears erect. In the bed lay the great man, the star of the drama that was rushing now towards its final curtain.
He awakened and mumbled something. It was the cue for action. The watchful figure in the hallway near the door entered, came to the bed and bent over, listening. The dog stood up, waiting.
“Please open the window and let me hear the sea.” The star spoke his line.
The nurse turned and opened the window and a little of the fog crept gently into the room, the air rustling the curtains and stirring a bouquet of flowers. One bright petal dropped and floated zigzag to the floor.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Fairbanks?”
Douglas grinned. It was the same grin of former years. Any schoolboy could have told you what it meant. The great Doug was about to overcome some obstacle and win, in spite of what appeared to be overwhelming odds. It was his D’Artagnan grin.
“I’ve never felt better,” he said with enthusiasm and it was obvious he did feel an exhilaration, a sense of well-being that he hadn’t known for a long time. It was as if, once again, the fourth musketeer stood poised, feet apart and sword in hand, ready for action.
Doug fell quickly asleep and the nurse returned to his post. He looked at his watch and wrote the time on Doug’s chart: 12:45 A.M. It was then that the great dog growled mournfully from deep down inside his barrel chest. He, alone, of the millions who had once loved and idolized Douglas Fairbanks, remained to guard and cry out when death came for his master.
~ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: the Fourth Musketeer, 1953, US Edition, pages 274-276