Fairbanks, Douglas, Sr.

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


Douglas Fairbanks

(1883 - 1939)

This famous actor of the silent-film era was born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman, grew up in Denver, attending East High School, leaving before graduation his senior year. (Reportedly, he was once expelled for dressing up the campus statues on St. Patrick’s Day.) His father abandoned the family when Douglas was five years old, and his mother gave him the name “Fairbanks” after her first husband, who’d left her a widow.

Purportedly he attended the Colorado School of Mines for a short while, being asked to leave because of playing a prank. Likewise, he claimed to have attended Harvard University. Whether schooled in business or by natural acumen, he would become known for being an astute businessman.

He performed on stage at an early age, including at Elitch Gardens Theatre in his teens. He pursued a career in acting with a move to New York City, supporting himself by working in a hardware store and as a clerk on Wall Street before making his debut in Broadway theatre in 1902. His initial career was in romantic comedies.

His reputation grew around silent films such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), and The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Black Pirate (1926), The Gaucho (1927), and The Iron Mask (1929), in which he played the swashbuckler hero, defining the era between 1920 to 1929.

He was married three times, most notably to Mary Pickford (1920-1936), another star of silent movies. He, Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin traversed the US by train selling war bonds. Fairbanks earned the reputation as Hollywood’s most popular actor within a short time of arriving there and soon became the third-highest-paid actor of that time. Pickford, Chaplain, and Fairbanks along with D.W. Griffith formed United Artists in 1919. In 1921 he helped organize the Motion Picture Fund to assist others in the industry who’d fallen on hard times.

Both he and Pickford were honored in 1927 being the first to leave their handprints and footprints in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Other “firsts” included being the first president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1927, and presenting the first Academy Awards.

With the onset of “talkies,” Pickford and Fairbanks lost favor with viewing audiences.

It was during his affair with and marriage to Pickford that they had homes in Evergreen. His was the big white house on the lake. They were frequent guests at Troutdale-in-the-Pines on Upper Bear and honeymooned in Evergreen in the log home of Howard Roy, about 5 miles west on Buffalo Park Road.

Fairbanks’ three marriages produced just one child, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., by his first wife.

Fairbanks died at age 56.

Sources:  Internet; Evergreen, Colorado by Mary Helen Crain