Synopses & Reviews
Silent film superstar Douglas Fairbanks was an absolute charmer. Irrepressibly vivacious, he spent his life leaping over and into things, from his early Broadway successes to his marriage to the great screen actress Mary Pickford to the way he made Hollywood his very own town. The inventor of the swashbuckler, he wasn’t only an actor—he all but directed and produced his movies, and in founding United Artists with Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith, he challenged the studio system.
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.
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 materials—including a stash of love letters from Fairbanks to Mary Pickford his wife and fellow star—the 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.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
“Tracey Goessel has researched Fairbanks’s life and work more thoroughly than anyone before her, and her book will undoubtedly become a classic among film biographies.” —Kevin Brownlow, author, The Parade's Gone By
“Tracey Goessel's biography of Douglas Fairbanks is impeccably researched and elegantly written. It gives new relevance to one of the seminal figures of 20th century movies and manhood, and at the same time it gives us an amazingly intimate view of the tragic love affair between Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. This is not merely a worthy book, it's a necessary book.” —Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend and Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille
“Tracey Goessel gives us for the first time the real, three-dimensional man, in all his vibrancy, creativity, and sexiness. Beyond being a mega-star, he was a daring, hands-on producer and industry leader.” —Cari Beauchamp, historian, journalist, and author of Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years
“A lively biography of a lauded actor.” —Kirkus Reviews
Douglas Fairbanks was the greatest male leading man of the silent era—the first and the best of the swashbucklers. With Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and his wife, film star Mary Pickford, he founded United Artists. Pickford and Fairbanks ruled Hollywood as its first king and queen for a glorious decade.
Now a cache of newly discovered love letters from Fairbanks to Pickford form the centerpiece of the first truly definitive biography of the original Robin Hood, the true Zorro, the man who did his own stunts and built his own studio.
Fairbanks was fun, witty, engaging, creative, athletic, and a force to be reckoned with. He shaped our idea of the Hollywood hero, and it has never been the same since. His story, like his movies, is full of passion, bravado, and romance.
About the Author
Tracey Goessel is on the board of directors of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and is the founder of the Los Angeles–based Film Preservation Society. She has published numerous articles on silent film history and has lectured on Douglas Fairbanks at venues including the University of Rochester, the University of Kansas’s annual Buster Keaton Celebration, and the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.