Childhood & Early Life
Douglas Elton Fairbanks Jr. was born to actor Douglas Fairbanks and his first wife, Anna Beth, on 9th December 1909, in New York City.
At the age of nine, he witnessed his parents’ divorce. He continued living with his mother and has lived in New York, California, Paris and London.
As a child he was academically gifted, and he attended the Lycéee Janson de Sailly in Paris. Apart from studies, he showed interest in sports as well, which was showcased during his stay at the Military Academy in 1919. As a child he also had a keen taste in painting and sculpture.
Continue Reading Below
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. started his career in films at the age of 13 with ‘Stephen Steps Out’ (1923). The movie was not commercially successful. He went on to do supporting roles in the forthcoming years in ‘The Air Mail’ (1925) and ‘Wild Horse Mesa’ (1925).
He then played leading roles in the movies ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ (1928), ‘Modern Mothers’ (1928) and ‘The Toilers’ (1928). The same year, he starred in Frank Capra’s ‘The Power of the Press’.
In 1929, First National offered him a lead role in the drama film ‘Careless Age’. In 1930, he auditioned for a role in Warner Bros’ ‘Moby Dick’. Though it was not successful, he got a crucial part in ‘The Dawn Patrol’. The same year, he did a starring role in Universal’s ‘Little Accident’ as well as Warners’ ‘Sin Flood’. Other movies he was part of that year are ‘Outward Bound’ and ‘One Night at Susie’s’.
In 1931, he performed a supporting role in ‘Little Caesar’, a movie that was not only commercially successfully but also went on to become a classic. Warner Bros offered him a contract with “cast and script approval” – a contract that was offered to only one other actor in the studio at that time.
In 1934, due to the economic depression, Warner Bros asked all the stars associated with them to take a 50% pay cut. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. refused, and as a result, he was fired from the studio.
In the middle of the 1930s, he set up his own production company ‘Criterion Films,’ and a few of the films made were ‘Man of the Moment’ (1935), ‘The Amateur Gentleman’(1936), ‘Accused’ (1936) and ‘ The Jump for Glory’ (1937).
In 1937, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. returned to Hollywood to act in ‘The Prisoner of Zenda,’ which was a huge success. The same year, he signed a five-year contract with RKO. In 1939, he saw the release of his biggest ever hit movie, ‘Gunga Din,’ in which he worked along with Victor McLaglen and Cary Grant.
During World War II, he enlisted with the United States Navy and was assigned to President Franklin D Roosevelt’s special convoy to South America. He later was commissioned as lieutenant in the navy. He stayed in the US Naval Reserve post war as well and retired as captain in 1954.
Post World War II he attempted his comeback into Hollywood with movies like ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ (1947), ‘The Exile’ (1947), and ‘That Lady in Ermine’ (1948) among others. However, the films failed to make an impact at the box office.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. spent the majority of this time in the United Kingdom and made guest appearances in several shows and series, a few of them being ‘Route 66’, ‘The Du Pont Show of the Week’, ‘The Red Skelton Hour’, and ‘ABC Stage 67.’
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he toured with the musicals ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘The Pleasure of His Company’. His last feature film appearance was in ‘Ghost Story’ (1981), and his final television series appearance was in the miniseries ‘B. L. Stryker’ (1989).
Family & Personal Life
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. had his first serious romantic relationship with actress Lucille Le Sueur, who later went on to be known as Joan Crawford. The couple got married on 3rd June 1929, in New York City. He was 19 years old at the time of the wedding.
The marriage did not last long and the couple divorced in 1934. However, he defended Joan Crawford against the allegations on her character and temper made by her adopted daughter in her biography.
In 1939, he married Mary Lee Eppling. The couple had three children: Daphne Nancy-Beth Fairbanks (born April 8, 1940), Victoria Susan Fairbanks (born 1942) and Melissa Louise Fairbanks (born October 25, 1947). Mary died in 1988.
On 30th May 1991, he married Vera Lee Shelton. This marriage lasted until his death in 2000.
He died on 7th May 2000, due to a heart attack. He was aged 90 years at the time of his death.