Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Enticing as Ever

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Enticing as Ever  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Doyle Galleries.

He was the son of silent movie, swashbuckling superman Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.  But Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. wasn’t interested in impersonating his father. 

"I never tried to emulate my father.  Anyone trying to do that would be a second-rate carbon copy," he once said.  "I was determined to be my own man, although having the Fairbanks name did make it easier to get into an office to see someone."

He lived the life found only in storybooks.
— Vera Lee Shelton

Too many birthdays missed and too much time away from home, the father and son weren’t close.  But they did share the same undeniable charisma and creativity.

With the arrival of talking pictures in the 1930s his career took off.  Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. went on to become a box office magnet in 75 films.  Three of his films were in French which he spoke fluently. 

He starred in films with some of the most striking actresses in Hollywood including Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable.  Besides film, Douglas had leading roles on stage and was an accomplished writer, artist and businessman.     

He was born Dec. 9, 1909 in New York City the only child of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and first wife Anna.  His parents divorced when he was 9-years-old and Douglas lived with his mother.

The 17-year-old aspiring actor surprised his father one day when he played Lois Moran's fiancé in the 1926 movie “Stella Dallas.”  The studio gave him a fake mustache to paste on and told him to stroke it every once in awhile because men with mustaches are often self-conscious and that’s what they do. 

The Fairbanksian mustache on the teenager may have proved too close to home for the older narcissistic actor. 

“What are you doing?”  His father asked.

 “I’m trying to get in the habit, because I’m wearing a mustache in the picture,” Douglas replied.

“Now, listen.  What was that?  You’re wearing a mustache--?” his father asked.

The elder Fairbanks called the film’s director Henry King on the phone.

“Remember that I’m still in pictures.  Don’t make junior look too old—”

“He won’t,” the director said.  “He’ll look even younger.” 

The mustache ended up being a perfect touch for the puppy love scene in which young Douglas climbs out of a boat and kisses Lois on the cheek.  

When he was 19 Douglas married screen actress Joan Crawford and their dual stardom cast them as the golden couple in the Hollywood media limelight.  They divorced four years later in 1933.

In 1939 he married Mary Lee Epling Hartford, former wife of A&P supermarket heir Huntington Hartford.  They were married for 49 years until her death in 1988.  They had three daughters together.

In 1991 Douglas married Vera Lee Shelton, a merchandiser for QVC Network Inc.  They were married until his death in 2000.

“He lived the life found only in storybooks,” said wife Vera.

On Sept. 13, The Estate of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. went on the block at Doyle, New York.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Photograph; gelatin silver print; Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Sr., seated together; 9 inches by 7 inches;  $188.

Oil on Canvas; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., age 30; by Tino Costa; signed and dated 1940; 26 inches by 21 inches;  $1,625.

Photograph; George Bernard Shaw; gelatin silver print; signed and inscribed in ink to Fairbanks; 1947; 9 ½ inches by 7 ¼ inches;  $1,625.

Oil on Canvas; portrait of Fairbanks; by Clemence Dane; signed; 20 inches by 16 inches;  $2,880. 

Wristwatch; gold Patek Philippe; 18 kt., mechanical dial approximately 25 by 25 mm, signed and engraved; includes black-and-white photograph of Fairbanks wearing watch with Marlene Dietrich;  $18,750. 



Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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