I had been toying around with the idea for 100 Years of Doug for some time, thinking what fun it would be to honor my stepmom’s uncle Douglas Fairbanks, with a blog that tracked in real-time, 100 years later, the momentum that was launched when Doug first stepped into the public’s consciousness through his silver-screen debut.
As I mulled over the possibilities Movies, Silently’s call to participate in their Swashathon! A blogathon of swashbuckling adventure arrived in my Inbox:
1915 is the centennial year of Douglas Fairbanks’ movie debut. On November 7, 1915, he released The Lamb and films were never the same again. (Technically, it was his second film but it was released first, so there.) Fairbanks practically invented the swashbuckler movie genre and so I wanted to do something special to celebrate his anniversary.
It all sounded so like something Letitia, Doug’s niece and my stepmother would have whole-heartedly endorsed, and if she’d have been alive, would have done for her uncle.
Letitia Fairbanks Smoot was co-author with Ralph Hankcock in the first biography of her uncle published after his death in 1939: Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer. Originally published in 1953, Ralph & Letitia’s research has been a fundamental, noted source of almost every DFSr biographer, including AMPAS 2008’s Vance & Maietta’s Douglas Fairbanks, and Tracey Goessel’s masterful 2015 bio The First King of Hollywood: The life of Douglas Fairbanks, both of which reference Ralph & Letitia’s bio extensively. And her cousin, Douglas Fairbanks Jr credits Letitia as being the Family Historian in his autobiography, The Salad Days. You see, there was no one else to record those first-hand impressions about Doug but his niece Letitia, who lovingly turned her memories into a insightful, understated study of the character and moral make-up of the first Fairbanks.1
“Character” and “moral make-up” are two phrases that have dropped out of pretty-much any 21st century inhabitant of this planet, but in Doug’s time – and to my dad & stepmom – they were everything. Character and moral make-up determined how you accomplished your goals: were you honest and ethical? (the Fairbanks way.) Or did you cut corners, perhaps cheating another out of their due, so you could claim it for yourself? Even if the same goal was accomplished, if you took the later path, you were marked as insufficiently lacking in moral probity to pass master in the Fairbanks household. The ends never justified the means in Douglas’ world.
In honor of the Fairbanks’ Way, I’m starting this blog to commemorate Douglas’ entrance into film, through the re-publication of Ralph Hancock and Letitia Fairbanks’ bio, supplemented with additional material from family archives. I’ll go through Douglas’ filmography in chronological order, but may pull a film out of order to review, for a special occassion, such as Movies, Silently’s Swashathon.
I hope you enjoy this centennial celebration!
Kelley Smoot Garrett
7 November 2015