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James J  Cremin Written by James J Cremin
May. 24, 2008 | 2:57 PM

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Douglas Fairbanks’ 125th Birthday Party @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Sparrow Morgan knows how to throw a party.  With a little apprehension due to the drizzle on May 23, 2008, a good little crowd showed up to honor one of the first superstars of cinema.  Actually, it turned out to be a blessing as it was one of rare times a film was shown inside the mausoleum itself where normally movies are shown outside just above the Fairbanks memorial.

It creating a bit of an iminate atmosphere.  Ably assisted by Writer/Photogreapher Christopher Trela, a nice ambiance of food. desserts and refreshments were offered free of charge or donation with party favors as Sparrow stressed, this was not a wake.  This was a birthday party.

I myself offered to give a brief history of Fairbanks before the screening and she took me up on the offer.  I was able to mention most of his biggest hits, marriages and time frames.  Thank God, I did mention Lady Ashley, as her daughter was among the attendees.  Being introduced as a Fairbanks expert for that first time, I sat down thinking there were facts I knew that I forgot to mention, such as being the first President of the Motion Picture Academy but then I didn’t prepare.  People did thank me afterwards and one even told me he had no idea what an important pioneer he was.

If I ever do that again, I would like to present him in two parts.  First would be the basic stuff, dates and his public persona.  Second, I would voice what influence he left and what a brilliant film maker he actually was.  For instance, when he adapted “The Curse of Capistrano” into “The Mark of Zorro,” not only was that a major turning point of his career, he showed genius in creating the first super hero on screen.  He humorously played the cowardly and effete Don Diego who is reality was the masked Zorro, able to take on several swordsmen at once and succeed.  Siegel and Shuster who created Superman and Bob Kane who created Batman cite this one film as an inspiration.  On the international level, Akira Kurosawa, famous for directing Samarai masterpieces, has also cited Fairbanks as a major influence.

Fairbanks grew a mustache because Alesandre Dumas gave D’Artangnan one when he wrote “The Three Musketeers.”  In spite of the strange happy ending, Fairbanks’ retelling is one of the most enjoyable films the silent film ever did.  Though he rarely took directorial credit, as producer and writer as well as choreographer, he was very much the auteur of his own films, though director Fred Niblo did do a good job on both.  Among other directors that Fairbanks collaborated with were Victor Fleming, Allen Dwan and Raoul Walsh.  “The Thief of Baghdad” (1924) by Fairbanks/Walsh is arguably Fairbanks’ best showcase as a producer.

I could go on and on but that’s for another time.  The movie that was shown for his 125th was his last.  “The Private Life of Don Juan” has Doug playing the real Don who allows people to think he is dead when an imposter pretending to be him dies in a sword fight.  When he decides to return later, no one believes he’s actually the real Don Juan.  There’s a strong pallelel here to the actor’s real life.  Fairbanks’ name was once guaranteed box office and when this was made, he couldn’t make a successful picture.  It would also bomb, in spite of the intriguing premise and strong direction by Alexander Korda, whose then wife, Merle Oberon, played the main leading lady.

Again, kudos to Sparrow and it was a real treat meeting Ashley’s daughter.

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