Douglas Fairbanks: Before the Swashbucklers


Douglas Fairbanks, the man whose name became synonymous with “swashbuckler” began his adult life in tame enough a fashion. After a brief stint at Harvard and a desultory early stab at the theatre he married Anna Beth Sully in 1907 and went to work as an executive at her father’s soap factory. When that didn’t work out, he tried to make himself into a stock broker. Finally, when he just couldn’t stand it anymore, he plunged back into the theatre. He toured vaudeville in 1912 with the comic one-act A Regular Business Man (type-casting). After a role in the Broadway show He Comes Up Smiling, he returned to vaud in 1914 with a playlet called All at Sea. 

Douglas Fairbanks broke into films in 1915, and worked steadily on celluloid for many years. Interestingly, for the first 5 or so years of his movie career Fairbanks made light comedies; read my essay on that phase of his career here. I have also done many posts on individual Fairbanks comedies here.

Finally and most famously Fairbanks became a superstar with his swashbuckling costume dramas of the 20s, such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). In 1920 he married Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart”. In 1933, Pickford did her own vaudeville time at the New York Paramount with a short play called The Church Mouse.

To find out more about history of vaudeville and vaudeville veterans like Douglas Fairbanksconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, for more on silent and slapstick comedy film, inclding that od Frouglad Fairbanks please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

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