Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

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Douglas Elton Thomas Fairbanks (Ullman), Sr.

Birthplace: Denver, Denver County, Colorado, United States
Death: December 12, 1939 (56)
Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, United States (Heart attack)
Place of Burial: Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Hezekiah Charles Ullman and Ella Adelaide Fairbanks
Husband of Sylvia Ashley
Ex-husband of Anna Beth Whiting (Sully) and Mary Pickford
Father of Douglas Elton Fairbanks, Jr.
Brother of Robert Fairbanks
Half brother of Kathleen Keen Ulman; Alice Keen Read; John Fairbanks, Jr. and Norris Wilcox

Occupation: Actor, Screenwriter, Director, Producer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

American motion picture actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks was one of the first and greatest of the swashbuckling screen heroes. His athletic prowess, gallant romanticism, and natural sincerity made him “King of Hollywood” during the 1920s.

Fairbanks was born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman in Denver, Colorado, the son of Hezekiah Charles Ullman and Ella Adelaide Marsh. He had a half-brother, John Fairbanks, Jr. , and a full brother, Robert Payne Ullman. His father abandoned the family when Douglas was five years old, and he and Robert were brought up by their mother, who gave them the family name Fairbanks, after her first husband.

After college Fairbanks began playing stage bit parts and by 1914 had become a popular Broadway actor. He made his first film, The Lamb (1915), under the direction of D.W. Griffith and in 1917 became head of his own producing company. Among his many popular pictures were The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Black Pirate (1926), The Iron Mask (1929), and The Taming of the Shrew (1929), in which he costarred with Mary Pickford, the popular leading lady to whom he was married from 1920 to 1935. The couple became Hollywood royalty with Fairbanks constantly referred to as "The King of Hollywood".

With Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Griffith, Fairbanks founded the United Artists Corporation in 1919 as a distribution outlet for independently produced films. In 1936 he publicly announced his retirement from acting but continued as a producer until his death three years later.

Fairbanks was also a founding member of The Motion Picture Academy and hosted the first Oscars Ceremony in 1929.

On January 24, 2009, AMPAS opened an exhibition at their Fourth Floor Gallery dedicated to Fairbanks titled, "Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood". The exhibit featured costumes, props, pictures, and documents from his career and personal life. The exhibit ran till April 2009. In addition to the exhibit AMPAS will screened Thief of Bagdad and The Iron Mask in March 2009.

Recently, a bronze statue of Fairbanks was erected in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Courtyard of the new School of Cinematic Arts building on the University of Southern California campus. Fairbanks was a key figure in the film school's founding in 1929, and in its curriculum development.

Fairbanks had one son by his first wife, Anna Beth Sully, named Douglas Elton Fairbanks, who later became known as actor "Douglas Fairbanks Jr." Sully was the daughter of wealthy industrialist, Daniel J. Sully. They were married on July 11, 1907 in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. The family moved to Hollywood, California in 1915.

Freemason: Initiated: 1925, Beverly Hills Lodge No. 528, California, Raised: August 11, 1925, Beverly Hills Lodge No. 528.

From Douglas Fairbanks By Jeffrey Vance

When he was 12 (circa 1895), he unexpectedly ran into his father on the streets of Denver and urged him to come back home and see his mother. Ulman, in Denver on business, consented to do so, after first stopping at the bar of the Windsor Hotel with his son in tow and downing a few shots of Scotch for fortification. The reunion was an unhappy one. Ella, now divorced from Ulman on grounds of desertion, became enraged. She promptly chased her inebriated former husband out of the house, grabbed young Douglas by the hand, and led him to the local office of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, where she made him sign the temperance pledge vowing never to consume a drop of alcohol. It was a traumatic incident in Douglas' early life. He had wanted to please his mother and prove that he was special by reintroducing his father into the family, but the attempt had backfired horribly. Incidents like the row he witnessed between his mother and father fostered a lifelong need to avoid personal confrontations.

As if making them take the temperance pledge were not enough, in 1900, Ella petitioned to have her two sons' names legally changed from Ulman to Fairbanks. (She had revered to the surname of her beloved first husband not long after Ulman's desertion in 1888.) In doing this, and having the boys confirmed in the Roman Catholic faith, she attempted to eradicate any lingering trace of H. Charles Ulman from their lives. However, Ulman had already left an indelible imprint on his youngest son, who inherited his restlessness, redomontade, lack of introspection, and constant need to be the center of attention. Douglas saw his father only a few more times before Ulman's death in New York on Feb. 23, 1915, at the age of 81. Ulman occasionally appeared backstage asking his son for a handout, and it was always given. Despite this, Fairbanks held a grudge against his father for his abandonment of the family.

The loss of contact with his father was difficult enough. His embittered mother's obliteration of all traces and memories of his father made matters worse. to mitigate the loss, eh erected a self-protective wall to insulate himself from his pain and learned to detach himself from the people and things around him. Douglas Elton Ulman ceased to exist at the age of 12, and Douglas Elton Thomas (his Roman Catholic confirmation name, chosen by his mother) Fairbanks now faced a painful division within himself. His substitute for emotional connection was physical action. He discovered he was happiest when pouring his seemingly boundless energy into the welcome distraction of physical challenges; when his body was maximally engaged, his disengagement from emotions gave way to exhilaration.

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Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.'s Timeline

May 23, 1883
Denver, Denver County, Colorado, United States
December 9, 1909
New York, New York County, New York, United States
December 12, 1939
Age 56
Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, United States