Anniversary of Douglas Fairbanks’ Death

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood

Seventy-three years ago today, on December 12, 1939, the movie screen’s first action hero died at the too-young age of 56. Because Douglas Fairbanks is a major character in my second mystery, I’ve read several biographies–enough to feel as if I almost knew him!

220px-FairbanksMarkofZorroFairbanks wrote, produced, directed, and starred in too many films for me to count. Most of them were silents, but he did transition to talkies in the late Twenties. With his wife, Mary Pickford, and his best friend, Charlie Chaplin, he founded United Artists, and he was the one who started the Oscars in 1929. Handsome and amazingly athletic for his day, he insisted on performing his own daring stunts, many of which he originated. They often seem trite today, but that’s because they were copied so often by others. When Douglas did the leaps onto horseback and the slides down a ship’s mainsail, audiences gasped. Not for nothing was he known as the King of Hollywood.

So how did he die? Fifty-six is hardly old age, even in the Thirties. Douglas was a strict teetotaler for much of his life and avoided the popular drugs like cocaine and heroin that permeated Hollywood. He exercised for several hours a day. But he backed off his active life in the movies, divorced Mary Pickford, and married a third time to an English model, Lady Sylvia Ashley, who made a career of marrying titles. He started drinking heavily. His more sedentary lifestyle caused a weight increase. He seemed to lose his zest for life. He became ill. He had a heart attack in bed and died the next day, shortly after uttering his now-famous last words, “I never felt better.”

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 10:21 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi, Mary. The good news is, you have an award. Bad news? Unlike the Nobel, there apparently isn’t a wad of cash to go with it:

  2. Nice article!

  3. nice summation of his life. from what i read, he regretted leaving mary pickford. he had left his 1st wife for mary.

    • Yep, he sure did. Three wives and lots of affairs, but Mary was his true love. Sort of reminds me of Richard Burton/Liz Taylor relationship.

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