Douglas Fairbanks, born on May 23, 1883 in Denver, Colorado, was an actor, screenwriter, director, producer, and a co-founding member of United Artists.

Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin and D.W. Griffith
Fairbanks and Pickford

In addition to founding United Artists with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, Fairbanks is also known for being a founding member of The Motion Picture Academy. As a founder of what we now refer to as being the Academy Awards, he was responsible for hosting the first ceremony.

In 1920, almost a year after United Artists was funded, Fairbanks married Pickford. Relatively speaking the couple were considered Hollywood royalty. In respect to being royalty, Fairbanks was often referred to as “The King of Hollywood.” While the heir to the nickname, logically speaking, would have been Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., it passed to Clark Gable.

The first Academy Awards, taking place on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, honoured the best films of 1927 and 1928.

If you were to ask Fairbanks, if he were alive today, which movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1928 awards ceremony, he would most likely point out that the award title did not exist. When the Academy Awards first started, the top category production award was titled Academy Award for Outstanding Picture. The first Academy Award for Outstanding Picture was picked up by the William A. Wellman directed war film “Wings.” Because of being the producer on the film “Wings,” Lucien Hubbard picked up the Academy Award for Outstanding Picture for Paramount Pictures.

The Many Faces of Douglas Fairbanks

Although Fairbanks is considered one of the biggest names of the film industry in the 1910s and 1920s, the dawn of the “talkies” era had a detrimental effect on Fairbanks’ career. Like many other actors that saw significant fame during the silent era, Fairbanks did not have a voice which would easily lend itself to the latest film making technology.

Times were changing and Fairbanks was unable to keep up with the change.  Cast in the title role, “The Private Life of Don Juan” (1934) was the last film Fairbanks made.

Despite not being able to adapt to “talkies,” the legend of the silent silver screen, Fairbanks will always be remembered for his roles in “American Aristocracy” (1916), “The Three Musketeers” (1921), “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924) and “The Iron Mask” (1929).

Fairbanks died on Dec. 12, 1939 in Santa Monica, California. He was 56.

Other talented individuals born on this day include: