Douglas Fairbanks.

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And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou charácter - Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel: but, being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice:
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy:
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous sheaf in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry,
This above all - _to thine ownself be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man_.

[Illustration: "Wedlock in Time" - The Fairbanks' Family]

The time has come to close this little book. It has been a great
pleasure to write it and a greater pleasure to hope that it will be
received in the same spirit it has been written. These are busy days for
all of us. We go in a gallop most of the time, but there comes the quiet
hour when we must sit still and "take stock." I know this from the
letters that come to me asking my opinion on all sorts of subjects.
People believe I am happy because my laughing pictures seem to denote
this fact - _and it is a fact_! In the foregoing chapters I have told
why. If, in the telling I shall have been instrumental in adding to _the
world's store of happiness_ I shall ever thank my "lucky stars."

Very Sincerely

Douglas Fairbanks


by George Creel

Reprinted from Everybody's Magazine by Permission of The Ridgway
Company, New York.



Young Mr. Douglas Fairbanks, star alike in both the "speakies" and the
"movies," is well worth a story. He is what every American might be,
ought to be, and frequently is _not_. More than any other that comes to
mind, he is possessed of the indomitable optimism that gives purpose,
"punch," and color to any life, no matter what the odds.

He holds the world's record for the standing broad grin. There isn't a
minute of the day that fails to find him glad that he's alive. Nobody
ever saw him with a "grouch," or suffering from an attack of the
"blues." Nobody ever heard him mention "hard luck" in connection with
one of his failures. The worse the breaks of the game, the gloomier the
outlook, the wider his grin. He has made cheerfulness a habit, and it
has paid him in courage, in bubbling energy, and buoyant resolve.

We are a young nation and a great nation. Judging from the promise of
the morning, there is nothing that may not be asked of America's noon. A
land of abundance, with not an evil that may not be banished, and yet
there is more whining in it than in any other country on the face of the
globe. If we are to die, "Nibbled to Death by Ducks" may well be put on
the tombstone. Little things are permitted to bring about paroxysms of
peevishness. Even our pleasures have come to be taken sadly. We are
irritable at picnics, snarly at clambakes, and bored to death at

The Government ought to hire Douglas Fairbanks, and send him over the
country as an agent of the Bureau of Grins. Have him start work in
Boston, and then rush him by special train to Philadelphia. If the
wealth of the United States increased $41,000,000,000 during the last
three peevish, whining years, think what would happen if we learned the
art of joyousness and gained the strength that comes from good humor
and optimism!

"Doug" Fairbanks - now that he is in the "movies" we don't have to be
formal - is the living, breathing proof of the value of a grin. His rise
from obscurity to fame, from poverty to wealth, has no larger foundation
than his ever-ready willingness to let the whole world see every tooth
in his head.

Good looks? Artistry? Bosh! The Fairbanks features were evidently picked
out by a utilitarian mother who preferred use to ornament; and as for
his acting, critics of the drama, imbued with the traditions of Booth
and Barrett, have been known to sob like children after witnessing a
Fairbanks performance.

It is the joyousness of the man that gets him over. It's the 100 per
cent interest that he takes in everything he goes at that lies at the
back of his success. He does nothing by halves, is never indifferent,
never lackadaisical.

At various stages in his brief career he has been a Shakespearean actor,
Wall Street clerk, hay steward on a cattle-boat, vagabond, and business
man, knowing poverty, hunger, and discomfort at times, but never,
_never_ losing the grin. Things began to move for him when he left a
Denver high school back in 1900 for the purpose of entering college. As
he says, "A man can't be too careful about college."

He started for Princeton, but met a youth on the train who was going to
Harvard. He took a special course at Cambridge - just what it was he
can't remember - but at the end of the year it was hinted to him that
circus life was more suited to his talents, particularly one with three

A friend, however, suggested the theatre, and gave him a card to
Frederick Warde, the tragedian. Mr. Warde fell for the Fairbanks grin,
and as a first part assigned him the role of _François_, the lackey, in
"Richelieu." What he lacked in experience he made up for in activity and
unflagging merriment. It got to be so that Warde was almost afraid to
touch the bell, for he never knew whether the amazing _François_ would
enter through the door or come down from the ceiling.

After the company had done its worst to "Richelieu," it changed to
Shakespearean repertoire, and for one year young Fairbanks engaged in
what Mr. Warde was pleased to term a "catch-as-catch-can bout with the
immortal Bard." When friends of Shakespeare finally protested in the
name of humanity, the strenuous Douglas accepted an engagement with
Herbert Kelcey and Effie Shannon in "Her Lord and Master."

Five months went by before the two stars broke under the strain, and by
that time news had come to Mr. Fairbanks that Wall Street was Easy
Money's other name. Armed with his grin, he marched into the office of
De Coppet & Doremus, and when the manager came out of his trance
Shakespeare's worst enemy was holding down the job of order man.

"The name Coppet appealed to me," he explains.

He is still remembered in that office, fondly but fearfully. He did his
work well enough; in fact, there are those who insist that he invented
scientific management.

"How about that?" I asked him, for it puzzled me.

"Well, you see, it was this way: For five days in a week I would say,
'Quite so' to my assistant, no matter what he suggested. On Saturday I
would dash into the manager's office, wag my head, knit my brow, and
exclaim, 'What we need around here is _efficiency_.' And once I urged
the purchase of a time-clock."

The way he filled his spare time was what bothered. What with his
tumbling tricks, boxing, wrestling, leap-frog over chairs, and other
small gaieties, he mussed up routine to a certain extent. But he was
_not_ discharged. At a point where the firm was just one jump ahead of
nervous prostration, along came "Jack" Beardsley and "Little" Owen, two
husky football players with a desire to see life without the safety

The three approached the officials of a cattle-steamship, and by
persistent claims to the effect that they "had a way" with dumb
animals, got jobs as hay stewards.

"We found the cows very nice," comments Mr. Fairbanks. "No one can get
me to say a word against them. But those stokers! And those other
stable-maids! Pow! We had to fight 'em from one end of the voyage to the
other, and it got so that I bit myself in my sleep. The three of us got
eight shillings apiece when we landed at Liverpool, and tickets back,
but there were several little things about Europe that bothered us, and
we thought we'd see what the trouble was."

They "hoboed" it through England, France, and Belgium, working at any
old job until they gathered money enough to move along, whether it was
carrying water to English navvies or unloading paving-blocks from a
Seine boat. After three joyous months, they felt the call of the cattle,
and came home on another steamer.

Back on his native heath, young Fairbanks took a shot from the hip at
law, but missed. Then he got a job in a machine-manufacturing plant,
but one day he found that his carelessness had permitted fifty dollars
to accumulate, and he breezed down to Cuba and Yucatan to see what
openings there were for capital. Back from that tramping trip, he
figured that since he had not annoyed the stage for some time it
certainly owed him something.

His return to the drama took place in "The Rose of Plymouth Town," a
play in which Miss Minnie Dupree was the star. Meeting Miss Dupree, I
asked her what sort of an actor Fairbanks was in those days.

"Well," she said judiciously, "I think that he was about the nicest case
of St. Vitus' dance that ever came under my notice."

William A. Brady got him next. Mr. Brady is quite a dynamo himself, and
there was also a time in his life when he managed James J. Corbett. The
two fell into each other's arms with a cry of joy, and for seven years
they touched off dramatic explosions that strewed fat actors all over
the landscape and tore miles of scenery into ribbons.

"Some boy!" was Mr. Brady's tribute. "Put him in a death scene, and
he'd find a way to break the furniture."

There was never a part that "Doug" Fairbanks lay down on. To every role
he brought joy and interest and enthusiasm, and the night came
inevitably that saw his name in electric letters.

It is not claimed that his work as a star "elevated" the drama, but it
may safely be claimed that he never appeared in any play that was not
wholesome, stimulating, and helpful.

Nothing was more natural than that the movies should seek such an actor,
and they set the trap with attractive bait.

"Come over to us," they said, "and we'll let you do anything you want.
Outside of poison gas and actual murder, the sky's the limit."

Without even waiting to kick off his shoes, "Doug" Fairbanks made a

The movie magnates got what they wanted, and Fairbanks got what he
wanted. For the first time in his life he was able to "let go" with all
the force of his dynamic individuality, and he took full advantage of
the opportunity.

In "The Lamb," his first adventure before the camera, he let a
rattlesnake crawl over him, tackled a mountain lion, jiu-jitsued a bunch
of Yaqui Indians until they bellowed, and operated a machine-gun.

In "His Picture in the Papers," he was called upon to run an automobile
over a cliff, engage in a grueling six-round go with a professional
pugilist, jump off an Atlantic liner and swim to the distant shore, mix
it up in a furious battle royal with a half dozen husky gunmen, leap
twice from swiftly moving trains, and also to resist arrest by a squad
of Jess Willards dressed up in police uniforms.

"The Half-Breed" carried him out to California, and, among other things,
threw him into the heart of a forest fire that had been carefully
kindled in the redwood groves of Calaveras County. Amid a rain of
burning pine tufts, and with great branches falling to the ground all
around him, "Douggie" was required to dash in and save the gallant
sheriff from turning into a cinder. Hair and eyelashes grew out again,
however, his blisters healed, and in a few days he was as good as new.

"The Habit of Happiness" was rich in stunts that would have made even
Battling Nelson turn to tatting with a sigh of relief. Five gangsters,
sicked on to their work by the villain, waylaid our hero on the stairs,
and in the rough-and-tumble that followed, it was his duty to beat each
and every one of them into a state of coma. He performed his task so
conscientiously that his hands were swollen for a week, not to mention
his eyes and nose. As for the five extra men who posed as the gangsters,
all came to the conclusion that dock-walloping was far less strenuous
than art, and went back to their former jobs.

"The Good Bad Man" was a Western picture that contained a thrill to
every foot of film. Our hero galloped over mountains, jumping from crag
to crag, held up an express train single-handed in order to capture the
conductor's ticket-punch, grappled with gigantic desperadoes every few
minutes, shot up a saloon, and was dragged around for quite a while at
the end of a lynching party's rope.

"Reggie Mixes In" was one joyous round of assault and battery from
beginning to end. Happening to fall in love with a dancer in a Bowery
cabaret, _Reggie_ puts family and fortune behind him and takes a job as
"bouncer" so as to be near his lady-love. Aside from his regular duties,
he is required to work overtime on account of the hatred of a
gang-leader who also loves the girl. Five scoundrels jump _Reggie_, and,
after manhandling four, he drops from a second-story window to the neck
of the fifth, and chokes him with hands and legs. After which he carries
the senseless wretch down the street, and gaily flicks him, as it were,
through a window at the villain's feet. As a tasty little finish,
_Reggie_ and his rival lock themselves in an empty room, and engage in a
contest governed by packing-house rules.

Three days after the combat, by the way, the company heads were pleased
to announce that both men were out of danger unless blood-poisoning
set in.

[Illustration: _Here's Hoping!_ (_White Studio_)]

"The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" was what is known as a "water
picture," and "Doug," as a comedy detective, was compelled to make a
human submarine of himself, not to mention several duels in the dark
with Japanese thugs and opium smugglers.

"Another day of it," he grinned, "and I'd have grown fins."

"Manhattan Madness" was really nothing more than St. Vitus's dance set
to ragtime. Our hero climbed up eaves-pipes, plunged through trap-doors
down into dungeons, jumped from the roof of a house into a tree, kicked
his way in and out of secret closets, and engaged in hair-raising
combats with desperate villains every few minutes.

It is not only the case that "Doug" Fairbanks made good with the movie
fans. What is more to the point, he made good with the "bunch" itself.
In nine cases out of ten, the "legitimate" star, going over into
pictures, evades and avoids the "rough stuff." To some humble, hardy
"double" is assigned the actual work of falling off the cliff, riding at
full speed across granite hedges, taking a good hard punch in the nose,
or plunging from the top of the burning building.

Many an honest cowpuncher, taking his girl to the show with him to let
her see what a daredevil he is, has died the death upon discovering that
he was merely "doubling" for some cow-eyed hero who lacked the nerve to
do the stunt himself.

"Doug" Fairbanks is one of the few movie heroes who have never had a
"double." He asks no man to do that which he is afraid to do himself. No
fall is too hard for him, no fight too furious, no ride too dangerous.
There is not a single one of his pictures in which he hasn't taken a
chance of breaking his neck or his bones; but, as one bronco-buster
observed, "He jes' licks his lips an' asks for more."

To be sure, few actors have brought such super-physical equipment to the
strenuous work of the movies. Fairbanks, in addition to being blessed
with a strong, lithe body, has developed it by expert devotion to every
form of athletic sport. He swims well, is a crack boxer, a good polo
player, a splendid wrestler, a skilful acrobat, a fast runner, and an
absolutely fearless rider.

There is never a picture during the progress of which he does not
interpolate some sudden bit of business as the result of his quick wit
and dynamic enthusiasm. In one play, for instance, he was supposed to
enter a house at sight of his sweetheart beckoning to him from an upper
window. As he passed up the steps, however, his roving eye caught sight
of the porch railing, a window-ledge, and a balcony, and in a flash he
was scaling the facade of the house like any cat.

In another play he was trapped on the roof of a country home. Suddenly
Fairbanks, disregarding the plan of retreat indicated by the author,
gave a wild leap into a near-by maple, managed to catch a bough, and
proceeded to the ground in a series of convulsive falls that gave the
director heart-failure.

During "The Half-Breed" picture, some of the action took place about a
fallen redwood that had its great roots fully twenty feet into the air.

"Climb up on top of those roots, Doug," yelled the director.

Instead of that, "Douggie" went up to a young sapling that grew at the
base of the fallen tree. Bending it down to the ground, as an archer
bends his bow, he gave a sudden spring, and let the tough birch catapult
him to the highest root.

"What do you want me to do now?" he grinned.

"Come back the same way," grinned the director.

Most "legitimate" actors - the valuation is their own - find the movies
rather dull. Time hangs very heavily upon their hands. As one remarked
to me in tones that were thick with a divine despair: "There's
absolutely nothing for a chap to do. In lots of the God-forsaken holes
they drag you to, there isn't even a hotel. No companionship, no
diversion of any kind, and oftentimes no bathtubs."

Douglas Fairbanks enters no such complaint. He draws upon the energy and
interest that ought to be in every human being, and when entertainment
is not in sight, he goes after it. When they were making "The
Half-Breed" pictures in the Carquinez woods of Northern California, he
was never seen around the camp except when actually needed by the camera
man. Upon his return from these absences, it was noticed that his hands
were usually bleeding, and his clothing stained and torn.

"What in the name of mischief have you been doing now?" the director
demanded on a day when Fairbanks's wardrobe was almost a total loss.

"Trappin'," chirped the star.

Beating about the woods, Bret Harte in hand, he had managed to discover
an old woodsman who still held to the ancient industries of his youth.
The trapper's specialty was "bob cats," and the bleeding hands and torn
clothes came from "Doug's" earnest efforts to handle the "varmints" just
as his venerable preceptor handled them. Out of the experience, at
least, he brought an intimate knowledge of field, forest, and stream,
for over the fire and in their walks he had pumped the old man dry.

In the same way he made "The Good Bad Man" hand him over everything of
value that frontier life contained. The picture was taken out in the
Mohave desert; for the making of it the director had scoured the West
for riders and ropers and cowboys of the old school. "He men" - every one
of them, and for a time they looked with dislike and suspicion upon the
"star," but when they saw that Fairbanks did not ask for any "double,"
and took the hardest tumble with a grin, they received him into their
fellowship with a heartfelt yell.

Dull in the Mohave desert? Why, he had to sit up nights to keep even
with his engagements. From one man he learned bronco-busting, from
another fancy roping, and from others all that there is to know about
horses, cattle, mountain, and plain. And around the camp-fires he got
stories of the winning of the West such as never found their way into

When one picture called for jiu-jitsu work, he didn't rest satisfied
with learning just enough to "get by." Every spare moment found him in a
clinch with the Japanese expert, mastering every secret, perfecting
himself in every hold. Same way with boxing. When no pugilists came
handy, he put on the gloves with anyone willing to take chances on a
black eye, keeping at it until today they have to hire professionals
when he figures in a movie fight.

When they made a "water" picture he never stopped until he could
duplicate every trick known to the "professor" who drilled the extra
men. He took advantage of a biplane flight to make friends with the
aeronaut, and by the time the picture was done, he was as good a driver
as the expert.

No matter where he is, or what the job, he finds something of interest
because he goes upon the theory that every minute is meant to be lived.
Maroon him at a cross-roads, with five hours until train time, and he'd
have the operator's first name in ten minutes and be learning the Morse
alphabet, after which he would rush up to his new friend's house to see
the babies or to pass judgment on a Holstein calf or a Black Minorca

It is the tremendously human quality, more than anything else, that gets
him across. People like him because he likes them. He attracts interest
because he takes interest. Talk with any of the big men in the
motion-picture industry, that is, those with brains and education, and
they will tell you that personality counts more in pictures than it does
on the stage.

H.B. Aitken, president of the Triangle Film Corporation, said to me:
"The screen is intimate. The camera brings the actor right into your
lap. In the speaking drama, make-up and footlights change and hide, but
not the least flicker of expression is lost in the picture. It's a test
of real-ness, and it takes a real man or a real woman to stand it. Art
isn't the thing at all, nor do looks count for half as much as people
suppose. It's what's back of the art and the looks that makes the hit,
and if they haven't got _something_, the artist and the beauty don't
last long. We picked Douglas Fairbanks as a likely film star, not on
account of his stunts, as the majority think, but because of the
splendid humanness that fairly oozed out of him."

[Illustration: A Close-Up (Lumiere)]

When he isn't before the camera, or fooling with an airship or a motor,
or playing with children, or "gettin' acquainted" with a tramp or a
trapper, or practising stunts with a rope or a horse, young Mr.
Fairbanks fills in his spare time writing scenarios. As everyone knows,
the motion-picture drama has been a tawdry thing for the most
part - either a rehash of old stage plays, novels, and short stories, or
else mediocre "originalities" that epitomized banality. Young Mr.
Fairbanks dissented from the established custom from the very start.

"It's all wrong," he declared. "We've got to stand on our own feet.
Develop your own dramatists!"

Practically every play in which he has appeared sprang from his personal
suggestion, and in many of them he has collaborated with the scenario
writer. The three things that he demands are Action, Wholesomeness, and
Sentiment that rings true.

Never make the mistake of thinking that Douglas Fairbanks starts and
finishes with mere good humor and physical exuberance. There is more to
him than his grin, for his mind is as strong and vigorous as his body.
He reads and thinks, and behind his smile is a quick and eager sympathy
that takes account of the sadnesses of life as well as its promises.

"The Habit of Happiness" was very much his own idea, and in it he took
occasion to show a midnight bread-line, the misery of the slums, and
various forms of social injustice. It isn't that he thinks himself
called to uplift and reform, but, as he expresses it, "Every little bit

In the last talk that I had with him, he was enthusiastic over the
future of the movies as a world force. He speaks in ideas rather than
words, for when he feels that he has indicated the thought he never
troubles to finish the particular sentence.

"Pictures are like music," he declared. "They speak a universal
language. Great industry - just in its infancy - before long films will
pass from one country to another - internationalism. Why not? Love, hate,
grief, ambition, laughter - they belong to one race as much as
another - all peoples understand them. It's hard to hate people after you
know them. Pictures will let us know each other. They'll break down the
hard national lines that now make for war and suspicion."

Other things followed, for we discussed everything from cabbages to
kings, and then I plumped the question at him that I had been waiting to
ask from the first.

"How do you like the movies as compared to the speaking drama? Come now,

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Online LibraryDouglas FairbanksLaugh and Live → online text (page 7 of 8)