Categories
20th Century & Beyond

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.: Silent Film Actor


When:
1883-1939

16616vWhere: Born and raised in Denver

Why Important: Well-loved silent film actor and star of swashbuckling favorites such as Robin Hood (1922) and The Mark of Zorro (1920).

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Denver in 1926(credit: Denver Public Library)
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Denver in 1926
(credit: Denver Public Library)

Biography

Douglas Fairbanks, the “King of Hollywood,” was born Douglas Elton Ulman in Denver.

As a child, he demonstrated the wild, devil-may-care attitude that would later become his screen persona. Beginning at 11, he was acting in summer stock plays at the legendary Elitch Theater (founded by another Denver notable, Mary Hauck Elitch Long), and performed in his teens in local theater companies. At East High School, Doug was notorious for his pranks and stunts. He left high school during his senior year (1900-1901) to start his journey toward stardom in New York and Hollywood.

Fairbanks would soon become one of the most elegant, dashing, and vital stars in the silent film era. Like today, the American media promoted mass hysteria for romantic and dashing heroes like Douglas Fairbanks. He played Hollywood’s first “Zorro” and “Robin Hood.” He defined the concept of swashbuckler,1 and ladies swooned at the mere mention of his name. He married his co-star in many silent films, the glamorous Mary Pickford.2 The couple soon became America’s “sweethearts,” as well as business partners.

Fairbanks is best known as a silent film actor, but he was a formidable businessman as well. He founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the group who gives away the Oscars every year!), and started his own film company, United Artists,3 in partnership with Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith. He established the country’s first film school, which lives on today as the acclaimed Department of Film at the University of Southern California.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1883 to Jan. 1, 1939

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