The Douglas Fairbanks Museum



BOOK REVIEW

Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words

- A Book Even Better Than an Autobiography -



By Barbara Burkowsky
Museum volunteer
 

An old German adage says that ‘he who writes remains forever’, and the newly released book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words has proven this saying to be true once again!

Not only does this special book contribute to the enduring fame of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, it also offers a unique and rare insight into the private life and personal feelings of one of Hollywood’s first real, great movie stars, who freely and generously put his thoughts on paper to share with the whole world.

Unlike most new book releases, In His Own Words contains material written in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, most of which has not been re-published in the decades since, but thanks to the efforts of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum, the once-popular written works of Douglas Fairbanks have returned to circulation for a new generation to enjoy.

The name of Douglas Fairbanks has already been revived in Hollywood’s hall of fame in recent decades due to the expanding availability and growing popularity of silent films on video and DVD, of which Fairbanks was a pioneer and superstar as early as the mid 1910s.

Yet for the majority of film enthusiasts and the general audience, Douglas Fairbanks is simply that: one of Hollywood’s first great stars of the silver screen, and it is thanks to the efforts of his loyal fans who collect and preserve memorabilia and wish to share their knowledge and personal insight of this intriguing celebrity with others that we are now able to see far beyond this screen image and get to know the real person behind the famous name.

A major landmark in restoring the shine of this early Hollywood star has been the video documentary of the life and work of Douglas Fairbanks, released on DVD by Delta Entertainment in 2005, and which prominently features the Fairbanks Museum curator, Keri Leigh.  Taking an innovative step further, she has now put her wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject of Fairbanks into this beautiful book in order that even more people may come to know who Douglas Fairbanks really was.

Far from being a two-dimensional fictional hero on the screen, Fairbanks had skills, talents, ambitions, dreams and goals that reached far beyond the scope of mere movie-making, and Keri Leigh is the best person to present all these facets of the Fairbanks personality to us in a most pleasing and enjoyable way.

From the beautiful artwork of the front cover through to the back cover, In His Own Words has been tailor-made to suit the man whose written works have been restored and revived within.   Each item reflects a part of Fairbanks’ character, personality, life and mentality, and like a jigsaw puzzle they come together to make a complete picture.

Unlike a biography which often relies on hearsay, rumour or even the personal opinion of the biographer, Keri Leigh has compiled an excellent selection of written works by Fairbanks himself, many of which reveal aspects of his personal and professional life, his mentality, outlook on life and personal philosophies.   The curator's foreword lets the reader know what to expect in this collection and whets the reader’s appetite.

Even an autobiography must conform to a readable book format, and therefore it can unintentionally become slanted, artificial and self-conscious as the writer attempts to portray his life and character to a vast unknown audience.

Full-page advertisement for one of Fairbanks' many magazine articles for Boys Life, official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, 1926.
Article appears in the museum's new book and exhibit, "Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words."


 


Yet the items collected for In His Own Words were written with much more candor and good humor, mainly due to their content and purpose; many of them being magazine articles of varying lengths addressing a wide range of subjects from the mundane to deeply philosophical.

The final picture we see may be somewhat surprising to some who are not yet familiar with Douglas Fairbanks.   After reading In His Own Words we will have come to know a man who kept his feet firmly on the ground while being cheered and celebrated by millions of fans the world over; a man who was able to remain true to himself and honest with others; a man who firmly believed that happiness was not to be found merely in fame and fortune, but in gaining self-knowledge, in personal development, understanding one’s environment and fulfilling one’s personal goals.

In fact, it becomes obvious that Fairbanks never wanted to blow his own trumpet, but wished to use his success to reach people with a positive, helpful message of how to find happiness and fulfilment in life.

Not letting fame and great popularity make him aloof, it seems Fairbanks actually felt uncomfortable being raised on a pedestal or treated as someone special who stood above others, as his surprisingly direct and candid words in the magazine article ‘Inside of the Bowl’ reveals.  Other comments and little trademarks such as putting his name last in the list of credits also give testimony to this ‘Fairbanks Philosophy’.

There is no doubt that Douglas Fairbanks enjoyed giving of himself as a real person, not only as an actor and popular character in films to entertain millions, but by the written word, which may well have been his greatest passion.  A short story published in 1912 attests to Fairbanks’ love for story writing, and even the story’s plot and style seem to foreshadow his screenplays and movie roles in following years.

Also collected for In His Own Words are some of those screenplays in summary, as well as Fairbanks’ intentions, goals and hopes for some of these popular movies of the 1920s as expressed in theatre program books.

Original program book for Douglas Fairbanks In Robin Hood (1922). The text was written by Fairbanks under his pen name of Elton Thomas, and appears in the new book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words.


 


Apart from shedding light into the behind-the-scenes workings of the early film industry, Fairbanks also shared his views and experiences on other subjects such as health and fitness, personal development, human society and patriotism.

And to add further variety and spice to this unique collection, In His Own Words also contains a few personal letters written by Fairbanks, song lyrics he composed for his wife, Mary Pickford, some rarely-seen photographs and candid interviews, all of which contribute to this jigsaw puzzle portrait of Douglas Fairbanks.

The end result is a collection of writings that, despite its elegant, old-fashioned tone, is just as relevant, timely and refreshing today as it was several generations ago, proving that ‘he who writes remains forever’ in the sense of preserving alive his ideas, spirit and personality.

So let us not hesitate to take our copy of Douglas Fairbanks:  In His Own Words and let him share with us his thoughts, dreams and ideals in his own unique way, as if he were a guest in our living room!



Barbara Burkowsky is a Douglas Fairbanks Museum volunteer who currently lives in Sydney, Australia. She has had two short stories published and is now working on a series of three fantasy novels based on ancient history and mythology. Foremost among her many interests is the silent cinema and promoting public awareness of silent films. To this end, she regularly writes reviews for silent films at Amazon.com, and is planning a promotional article for Australian silent films in Australia. Look for more of her writings about Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to appear on the museum’s web site in the future.

Buy the new book
Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words

(Available in 7x9 softcover or Adobe e-Book.)

Published by the Douglas Fairbanks Museum. Packed with rare documents and images from our archives, with a foreword by museum curator Keri Leigh.

Buy your copy here from the publisher's secure website or from the museum's online Gift Shop. This title is also available through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or through a fine bookseller in your area.


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The Douglas Fairbanks Museum

PO Box 685082
Austin, Texas, 78768-5082
USA
Phone: (512) 233-2214
Email: [email protected]


All text and images copyright 1998-2006, The Douglas Fairbanks Museum.
www.DouglasFairbanks.org