Douglas Fairbanks Jr. – He Lived in Interesting TimesBy Ross Hawkins @ 4:00 PM June 15, 2012
I first met the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the fall of 1994 when he agreed to be interviewed for my production of "Culver City - The Reel Hollywood." The interview with Fairbanks was at Charles (Buddy) Rogers's house in Palm Desert on Thanksgiving Eve of ’94. It was video-taped by my long time associate Mark Morris.
From left, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ,Ross Hawkins and Marvin Paige at Buddy Rogers's home in Palm Springs. Photo by Mark Morris
Early Fairbanks I was reminded of our meeting when Turner Classic Movies aired "The Exile" last month, a film Fairbanks starred in and produced in 1947 for Universal Pictures. He had autographed a still from that film which I still have.
In "The Exile," Fairbanks portrays King Charles II of England who is hiding out in Holland from Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Round Heads. He takes a job at a farm owned by a young woman named Katie and falls in love with her. The highlight is a sword fight between Fairbanks and Col. Ingram (played by Henry Daniell), leader of his pursuers, on the rotating blades of a windmill.
A New Director
Fairbanks personally produced "The Exile" and wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Cosmo Hamilton.
To direct the film, Fairbanks chose Max Ophuls, who had fled Europe in 1940 after the fall of France. He had languished unemployed in the U.S. for nearly six years.
Ophuls was born in Germany in 1902, the son of Leopold Oppenheimer, a Jewish textile manufactuurer from Sarrbrucken. After fleeing Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power, he directed several films in France. When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Ophuls came to Hollywood . He endured a lengthy unemployed stretch until being hired by Preston Sturges to direct a film produced by Howard Hughes called "Vendetta". Eventually, Hughes fired both Sturges and Ophuls. "Vendetta" starring Hughes's newest discovery, Faith Domergue, was finally released through RKO in 1950.
After directing Fairbanks in "The Exile," Ophuls directed his best-known American film, "Letter from an Unknown Woman," starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan.
Later Ophuls returned to France where he directed "La Ronde" and "Lola Montes," starring Martine Carrol and Peter Ustinov.
In 1957, a dozen years after the war, Ophuls died of a heart attack in Hamburg, Germany. His son Marcel Ophuls became a renowned documentary filmmaker directing "The Sorrow and The Pity," a history of German occupation of France during World War II.
In the Beginning
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of silent movie icon Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his first wife, Anna Beth Sully. As a child, Fairbanks recalled, he played together with Franklin Roosevelt's children in Central Park. When he was nine, his parents were divorced, and he lived with his mother in New York and California.
Fairbanks never intended to become an actor.
However, in 1923 "my mother had run out of money. She didn't want to go back to my father for any more. I was offered a job by Paramount in ‘Steven Steps Out,’ and I took it."
Fairbanks's first adult role was in the silent version of "Stella Dallas" in 1925 for Samuel Goldwyn at the tender age of 15. Fairbanks recalled, "I had to marry the girl in the last scene,” he said, “but I looked too young. They had to put a moustache on me. I couldn't grow one because I was too young. They stuck one on me. That was the first moustache I ever had.”
(To be continued)