Ella's Top 9 Matches
About Ella Letitia Smoot (Fairbanks)
Letitia Fairbanks was a woman before her time. Born in 1913, Letitia, the daughter of Robert and Lorie Fairbanks, spent the first six years of her life in Provo, Utah, the childhood home of her mother. It was there that her father, an electrical engineer, busied himself designing and building the hydroelectric dams necessary to power the West.
Meanwhile, Robert’s younger brother Douglas Fairbanks, already a Broadway actor in New York City, had set his sights set on Hollywood and the brand-new world of motion pictures. When, in 1919, Douglas joined forces with Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists, Robert Fairbanks, with his engineering and construction background, was appointed as production manager of the new film studio.
The young family relocated to Los Angeles, where Letitia and her younger sister, Lucile, grew up alongside the creative energy of her talented uncle and spirited aunt. Pickfair, Douglas and Mary’s lavish estate, where an invitation to dinner was widely heralded as a sign of having arrived, was a frequent rendezvous.
Early in life, Letitia forged an identity as an artist, specifically as a painter and a writer, leaving the acting portion to other members of her family. As a young twenty-something, she began work on Princess April Morning-Glory. Letitia used a calligrapher’s pen to write and watercolors to illustrate, interspersed with liberal doses of gold and silver leaf.
While the first copyright of Princess April Morning-Glory was granted in 1942, it included only the text of the story, which was published as a simple pamphlet. The printing technology of the day made reproduction of the original artwork on handmade, oversized paper, prohibitively expensive—even for a Fairbanks.
Letitia based the story’s characters on family and friends. The grown-up Princess April’s flaxen hair was borrowed from her sister, Lucile. The Wise Wizard was modeled after her kind and thoughtful father. Family friends like John Barrymore, whose stern countenance embodied the wicked King, and Errol Flynn, whose heartthrob good looks made for an easy Prince Chivalry, graciously posed before her canvas—and in the case of Mr. Flynn, after a stop by wardrobe, complete with a cape, sword and an unscripted bottle of gin. But it was Letitia’s portrayal of her mother as Fairy Misery that created much discord and is likely the reason that the book never received financial backing from anyone in her family.
Similar to her protagonist, Letitia was determined to forge a life on her own terms, independent from her famous, and at times overbearing, family. One of the sources of longtime disagreement between mother and daughter was Letitia’s refusal to marry among the allotment of Hollywood’s eligible bachelors. Letitia found refuge in Princess April, who came to feel at home in the world not by seeking companionship outside of herself but within herself — ultimately coming to the realization that we are only ever able to grant our own wishes by overcoming our own obstacles.
Holding firm to her artistic identity, Letitia gravitated toward portraiture, landscapes and still lifes. She was also a biographer, co-authoring Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer, with Ralph Hancock, in 1953. Her marriage to Hal Smoot in 1966 marked the beginning of a particularly joyful and creative period. Needle points and annual Christmas cards, which featured a painting from the previous year, not to mention her role as a wife, mother and grandmother brought her much fulfillment.
After a life rich in artistic accomplishment, Letitia passed away in September of 1992. But Princess April lives on.