But listing his accomplishments is one thing and telling his story another. Tracey Goessel has made the latter her life s work, and with exclusive access to Fairbanks s love letters to Pickford, she brilliantly illuminates how Fairbanks conquered not just the entertainment world but the heart of perhaps the most famous woman in the world at the time.
When Mary Pickford died, she was an alcoholic, self-imprisoned in her mansion, nearly alone, and largely forgotten. But she left behind a small box; in it, worn and refolded, were her letters from Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford and Fairbanks had ruled Hollywood as its first king and queen for a glorious decade. But the letters began long before, when they were both married to others, when revealing the affair would have caused a great scandal.
Now these letters form the centerpiece of the first truly definitive biography of Hollywood s first king, the man who did his own stunts and built his own studio and formed a company that allowed artists to distribute their own works outside the studio system. But Goessel s research uncovered more: that Fairbanks s first film appearance was two years earlier than had been assumed; that his stories of how he got into theater, and then into films, were fabricated; that the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios had a specially constructed underground trench so that Fairbanks could jog in the nude; that Fairbanks himself insisted racist references be removed from his films intertitles; and the true cause of Fairbanks s death.
Fairbanks was the top male star of his generation, the maker of some of the greatest films of his era: "The Thief of Bagdad," "Robin Hood," "The Mark of Zorro." He was fun, witty, engaging, creative, athletic, and a force to be reckoned with. He shaped our idea of the Hollywood hero, and Hollywood has never been the same since. His story, like his movies, is full of passion, bravado, romance, and desire. Here at last is his definitive biography, based on extensive and brand-new research into every aspect of his career, and written with fine understanding, wit, and verve.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-02
- Reviewer: Staff
Exuberant, athletic actor Douglas Fairbanks was one of early Hollywood's most recognized personalities, but since his death in 1939 at age 56, his star has faded. First-time author Goessel puts the silent film actor back in the spotlight where he rightly belongs with this salient and comprehensive biography. Drawing on eight years of extensive research and newly available materialsincluding a stash of love letters from Fairbanks to Mary Pickford, his wife and fellow starthe book meticulously chronicles Fairbanks's life and career. It's obvious that the author admires her subject, but her evenhanded approach allows a clear-eyed assessment of his rise and fall. Nonetheless, readers will be impressed by Fairbanks's many accomplishments, including co-founding United Artists with Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith; pioneering the use of Technicolor film; and serving as the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the heart of this sizable biography is the love affair between "the King of Hollywood" and "America's Sweetheart," the celebrity power couple of their day. Their marriage eventually ended, but their very public romance has remained the stuff of Hollywood legend and is the cornerstone of Fairbanks's remarkable life, as laid bare in this terrific account. (Oct.)