August 06, 2015

#SUTS - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 15 features the films of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.

Douglas Elton Fairbanks, Jr., KBE, DSC (December 9, 1909 – May 7, 2000) was an American actor and a highly decorated naval officer of World War II.

He was born in New York City, the only child of actor Douglas Fairbanks and his first wife, Anna Beth Sully, the daughter of wealthy Rhode Island industrialist Daniel J. Sully. Because there could be only one Douglas Fairbanks, his father and mother referred to their child as "the boy." His Irish nurse pronounced it "bye," and from then on he was called Bye by his family and friends. His parents divorced when he was nine years old, and both remarried. He lived with his mother in New York, California, Paris and London.

He initially intended to be an artist, studying painting and sculpture under private tutors in London and Paris, and declared that he did not want to follow in his father's footsteps. Largely on the basis of his father's name, Fairbanks, Jr. was given a contract with Paramount Pictures at age 13 and made his screen debut in Stephen Steps Out.

Although his father had been against his making films, especially in the same genre as his own, Fairbanks, Jr. managed, especially after the death of his father in 1939, to prove himself as a romantic adventurer. In films like The Prisoner of Zenda (1939), Gunga Din (1939), The Corsican Brothers (1942) and Sinbad the Sailor (1947) the spirit of his father seemed to glow within him.

Between 1923 and 1951 he acted in (and often helped to produce) 75 films, appearing opposite some of the greatest names in Hollywood, including Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. But apart from the titles mentioned above, only a handful of his other films - Howard Hawks's The Dawn Patrol (1930), Henry Koster's The Rage of Paris (1938), Richard Wallace's Young In Heart (1938) and Max Ophuls's The Exile (1948) were of enduring quality.

Although celebrated as an actor, Fairbanks was commissioned a reserve officer in the United States Navy at the onset of World War II and assigned to Lord Mountbatten's Commando staff in the United Kingdom. (More on his World War II service later.)

In the early 1950s, Fairbanks, Jr., a confirmed Anglophile, retired from the cinema and moved to London. From 1953-1957, he introduced and sometimes acted in a British TV drama series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Presents, from which he made a lot of money to add to the fortune gained from the manufacture of popcorn, and from the rights to his father's films.

Fairbanks, Jr. toured in My Fair Lady in 1968, and in The Pleasure of His Company several times, including tours in the U.S. in 1970-72 and the 1977 Australian production with Stanley Holloway.

He wrote his autobiography, Salad Days, in 1988. In addition, Fairbanks, Jr. wrote a chronicle of his experiences during the Second World War, A Hell of a War (1993).

He was married three times and had three daughters.

1. Joan Crawford (June 3, 1929 - May 12, 1933) (divorced)
2. Mary Lee Eppling (April 23, 1939 - September 14, 1988) (her death) (3 daughters)

Daphne Nancy-Beth Fairbanks (born April 8, 1940), Victoria Susan Fairbanks (born 1942) and Melissa Louise Fairbanks (born October 25, 1947).

3. Vera Lee Shelton Fairbanks (May 30, 1991 - May 7, 2000) (his death)

On the morning of May 7, 2000, Fairbanks died at the age of 90 of a heart attack and was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California, in the same crypt as his father.

Father of the Beach Jumpers

Beach Jumpers were United States Navy special warfare units organized during World War II by Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. They specialized in deception and psychological warfare. The units were active from 1943–1946 and 1951–1972.

The concept for Beach Jumpers came about as a result of Lt. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. having been detached from "blue water" duty on the high seas and assigned to duty with British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten's Combined Operations Commandos in England.

Fairbanks' assignment was to be one of those temporary duty officer exchange programs where American officers would acquaint themselves with the training, planning, and execution of raiding parties, diversions, and deception operations. Fairbanks however did more than just observe the workings of these commandos. He trained with them at the aptly named H.M.S. Tormentor Advanced Training and Amphibious Operations Base, and at the Commando Training School at Ancharry Castle, Scotland. Subsequently, he participated in several cross channel harassment raids from the Isle of Wight which was the forward base for such activities. It was during these raids that Fairbanks gained a true appreciation for the military art of deception.

Lt. Fairbanks was subsequently transferred to Virginia Beach where he came under the command of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt who was supervising the training of U.S. Naval forces in preparation of their deployment to North Africa and the Mediterranean.  It was here that Fairbanks pitched his idea for a similar unit of specialists trained to conduct tactical cover, diversionary and deception missions.  Admiral Hewitt immediately saw the advantages of such a unit and agreed to support Fairbanks. All that was required now was to sell the Navy brass in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, Fairbanks was at his persuasive best. Inspired by the success of British commandos in using sonic deception on raids against the Nazis and Fairbanks' concept of operations, Admiral Ernest J. King issued a secret letter on March 5, 1943 charging the Vice Chief of Naval Operations with the recruitment of 180 officers and 300 enlisted men for the Beach Jumper program.

The recruiting effort identified four general requirements: (1) no seasickness,  (2) experience in small boat handling, (3) enough electrical knowledge to fix a home radio, and (4) at least fundamental knowledge of celestial navigation. The announcement further stated that  "The Navy is requesting volunteers for prolonged, hazardous, distant duty for a secret project."

On March 16, 1943, the volunteers reported to the Amphibious Training Base at Camp Bradford, Virginia and Beach Jumper Unit-1 was commissioned.  The basic mission of Beach Jumper Unit-1 was: "To assist and support the operating forces in the conduct of Tactical Cover and Deception in Naval Warfare."

The best theory as to how the Beach Jumpers got their name came from Harold Burris-Meyer, Theater and Sound Research Director for the Stevens Institute of Technology. The Stevens Institute was working on a Navy contract to study the physiological and psychological effects of sound on men in warfare. During a high level conference, Mr. Burris-Meyer responded to a question concerning the purpose of their work by stating: "To scare the be-jesus out of the enemy." His engineering team used the "B.J." factor thereafter in their planning which is said to have led to the inspiration for the cover name Beach Jumpers.

Unfortunately for Fairbanks, as a Lieutenant he did not have the rank to command a Beach Jumpers unit. He was assigned as Special Operations Officer and Assistant Chief of Staff and Operations Officer to Captain Charles L. Andrews who had assumed the Command of all Beach Jumper activities. As Special Operations Officer Fairbanks was responsible for the supervision, training, supplying, and planning for all Beach Jumper activities: all raids, special assault landings, and special operations. As Assistant Chief of Staff and Operations Officer Fairbanks was granted a security clearance level which allowed him access to any information the Beach Jumpers might need.  

United States Navy Beach Jumpers saw their initial action in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Throughout the remainder of the war, the Beach Jumpers conducted their hazardous, shallow-water operations throughout the Mediterranean.

For his planning the diversion-deception operations and his part in the amphibious assault on Southern France, Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was awarded the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor),  The Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the French Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the British Distinguish Service Cross.

Lieutenant Fairbanks was working on deception schemes to support the scheduled British landings on Singapore when World War II ended. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., retired as a Captain, USNR in 1954.

American military awards
Silver Star
U.S. Navy Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor)
American Defense Service Medal with "A" device
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Naval Reserve Medal
Navy Expert Pistol Shot

International awards
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom) 1949
Knight of the Legion of Honor (France)
Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
Croix de Guerre avec palme (France)
War Cross for Military Valor (Italy)

Interview with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - Imperial War Museums - July 31, 1984

Lt. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - American officer served with Task Force 99, US Navy in Mediterranean and Arctic, 1942; served with Combined Operations in GB and English Channel, 1942-1943; served with US Navy coastal forces in Mediterranean, 1943-1945

REEL 1 (below): Background to joining US Naval Reserve, 1940. Sketch of naval career during war. Aspects of operations as officer with Task Force 99, US Navy in Mediterranean and Arctic, 1942: participation in Malta and Arctic convoys; fate of Convoy PQ 17, 7/1942; conditions for naval crews during Arctic convoys. Aspects of period as staff officer with Combined Forces Command in GB, 1942-1943: reasons for request to join Combined Operations by Lord Louis Mountbatten; friendship with Mountbatten; work with Combined Operations; problems arising from Fairbanks' fame as an actor; work commanding raiding craft flotilla; deception techniques used. Recollections of operations as officer with US Navy coastal forces in Mediterranean, 1943-1945: return to US Navy; assistance given to OSS and Special Operations Executive; deception operations.

REEL 2 Continues: success of deception operation for Operation Anvil, the invasion of South of France, 8/1944; his role during Operation Anvil. Reflections of service with US Navy during Second World War, 1942-1945: memories of President Theodore Roosevelt and Lord Louis Mountbatten; Anglo-American wartime relations; difficulty of deceiving Germans; his attitude towards naval service during Second World War; problems caused by his celebrity; his American and foreign decorations.

TCM's Summer Under the Stars - Day 15 - Salute to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Chances (1931)

D: Allan Dwan. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Rose Hobart, Anthony Bushell, Mary Forbes, William Austin. Entertaining, neatly acted drama of love and war, with soldier-brothers Fairbanks and Bushell both falling for Hobart. Fairbanks in particular is a standout.

Union Depot (1932)

D: Alfred E. Green. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Alan Hale, David Landau, Frank McHugh. Fast-paced, eventful yarn that brings sharpie Fairbanks and stranded chorus girl Blondell together at a bustling train station where a hundred subplots crisscross. Great fun, brimming with early-1930s flavor.

It's Tough to Be Famous (1932)

D: Alfred E. Green. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mary Brian, Walter Catlett, Lilian Bond, Terrence Ray, David Landau. Pungent story of naval hero who becomes a much-manipulated media celebrity against his wishes. Done with usual Warner Bros. pizazz--and still surprisingly timely.

Narrow Corner, The (1933)

D: Alfred E. Green. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Patricia Ellis, Ralph Bellamy, Dudley Digges, William V. Mong, Sidney Toler, Henry Kolker, Willie Fung. Fairbanks is on the lam, and winds up on an East Indies island where he finds friendship--and illicit romance. Remarkably adult adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham novel (made in the pre-Production Code era), with only minor flaws. Remade as Isle of Fury.

Captured! (1933)

D: Roy Del Ruth. Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Paul Lukas, Margaret Lindsay. Fair story of honor and love, switching World War I story from German prison camp, to war front, to society England. Good cast major asset of production.

Having Wonderful Time (1938)

Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
D: Alfred Santell. Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Peggy Conklin, Lucille Ball, Lee Bowman, Eve Arden, Dorothea Kent, Richard (Red) Skelton, Donald Meek, Jack Carson, Allan Lane, Grady Sutton. OK film about Catskills resort hotel; Ginger wants culture on summer vacation but gets Doug instead. Arthur Kober adapted his own Broadway comedy, but the original's satiric depiction of Jewish New Yorkers is completely homogenized. Skelton sparkles in his feature debut; Dean Jagger plays Ginger's brother and Ann Miller is visible among the campers.

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

D: Richard Wallace. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maureen O'Hara, Anthony Quinn, Walter Slezak, George Tobias, Jane Greer, Mike Mazurki, Sheldon Leonard. Tongue-in- cheek swashbuckler, with lavish color production. Great fun.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Gunga Din

Gunga Din (1939)
D: George Stevens. Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Fontaine, Sam Jaffe, Eduardo Ciannelli, Montagu Love, Abner Biberman, Robert Coote, Lumsden Hare, Cecil Kellaway. The Hollywood action-adventure yarn, vaguely based on Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, about three soldier-comrades in 19th-century India battling the savage Thuggee cult when they aren't busy carousing and getting into trouble. Water boy Jaffe saves the day in rousing climax. Splendid comic adventure whose story is credited to Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (who based the relationships of the central characters on the same marriage/rivalry device used in The Front Page); scripted by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol. For years most prints ran 96m., until film was archivally restored. Shot on location in Lone Pine, California. Also shown in computer-colored version. Remade as Sergeants Three.

The origin of our word "thug" is Hindi and Urdu ṭhag, literally, thief. It's first known use was 1810. Thuggees or Thugs (also Tuggees) were members of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India. Devotees of the goddess Kali, the Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travelers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s.

Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Gunga Din

Exile, The (1947)

D: Max Ophuls. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maria Montez, Paule Croset (Rita Corday), Henry Daniell, Nigel Bruce, Robert Coote. OK swashbuckler with exiled king Fairbanks falling in love with common girl; guest appearance by Montez.

Prisoner of Zenda, The (1937)

D: John Cromwell. Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., C. Aubrey Smith, Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, David Niven, Montagu Love, Alexander D'Arcy. Lavish costume romance/ adventure with excellent casting; Colman is forced to substitute for lookalike cousin, King of Ruritanian country, but commoner Colman falls in love with regal Carroll. Fairbanks nearly steals the show as villainous Rupert of Hentzau. Screenplay by John L. Balderston, from Anthony Hope's novel. Also shown in computer-colored version.

Corsican Brothers, The (1941)

D: Gregory Ratoff. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Ruth Warrick, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carrol Naish, H. B. Warner, Henry Wilcoxon. Entertaining swashbuckler from Dumas story of twins who are separated, but remain spiritually tied. Fairbanks excellent in the dual lead, with strong support, ingenious photographic effects. Remade for TV in 1985.

Flight Commander (a.k.a. Dawn Patrol, The) (1930)

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Richard Barthelmess
D: Howard Hawks. Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Neil Hamilton. A hotshot World War I flyer almost cracks under the pressure of sending his men on perilous missions.

Parachute Jumper (1933)

D: Alfred E. Green. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Leo Carrillo, Bette Davis, Frank McHugh, Claire Dodd. Former flyers Fairbanks and McHugh strike up fast friendship with Davis, but all three are victimized by involvement with gangster Carrillo. Fast-moving, enjoyable Warner Bros. programmer.

Little Caesar (1930)

D: Mervyn LeRoy. Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Glenda Farrell, Stanley Fields, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Ince, George E. Stone. Small-time hood becomes underworld big-shot; Robinson as Caesar Enrico Bandello gives star-making performance in classic gangster film, still exciting. Francis Faragoh and Robert E. Lee adapted W. R. Burnett's novel.

Success at Any Price (1934)

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Genevieve Tobin

D: J. Walter Ruben. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Genevieve Tobin, Frank Morgan, Colleen Moore, Edward Everett Horton, Allen Vincent. Interesting moral tract tracing the rise and fall of ruthless businessman Fairbanks as he crushes everyone who gets in his way--and loses sight of the one woman who loves him. Surprisingly contemporary, and still potent, though it reveals its stage origins.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the Radio

"The Prisoner of Zenda" on Academy Award: July 17, 1946 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Virginia Bruce.

"13 Rue Madeleine" on Hollywood Sound Stage: January 31, 1952 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Don DeFore, Craig Stevens, Henry O'Neill.

"The Song of Songs" on Lux Radio Theatre: December 20, 1937 with Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Lionel Atwill, Pedro de Cordoba.

"Brief Moment" on Lux Radio Theatre: February 14, 1938 with Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Louis Calhern, Paul Harvey, Nigel Bruce.

"The Prisoner of Zenda" on Lux Radio Theatre: June 5, 1939 with Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Benita Hume.

"If I Were King" on Lux Radio Theatre: October 16, 1939 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Frances Dee, Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

"Nothing Sacred" on Lux Radio Theatre: November 11, 1940 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Joan Bennett.

"Third Finger, Left Hand" on Lux Radio Theatre: September 29, 1941 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Martha Scott.

"Cellini" on The Screen Guild Theater: January 21, 1940 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Frank Morgan, Paulette Goddard, Mary Forbes, Margot Stevenson, Roy D'Arcy.

"The Firebrand" on The Screen Guild Theater: May 27, 1946 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Virginia Field, Frank Morgan.

"The Old Lady Shows Her Medals" on The Screen Guild Theater: October 7, 1946 with Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

"The Exile" on Screen Directors Playhouse: January 23, 1949 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Janet Waldo.

"The Fighting O'Flynn" on Screen Directors Playhouse: April 7, 1950 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Meg Randall.

"Prince of Foxes" on Screen Directors Playhouse: January 4, 1951 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Joyce McKenzie.

"The Captain from Castile" on Screen Directors Playhouse: May 3, 1951 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Paula Morgan.

"Raffles" on Screen Directors Playhouse: September 14, 1951 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

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