Douglas FAIRBANKS Jr KBE, DSC (1909-2000)

Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 766
  • Subject No: 757
  • Broadcast date: Wed 20 Dec 1989
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Thu 7 Dec 1989
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 30
  • Edition: 9
  • Code name: Salad

on the guest list...

  • Lady Alexandra Metcalfe
  • Duke and Duchess of Wellington
  • Lady Tomkins
  • Leatrice Gilbert Fountain
  • Victoria - daughter
  • John Holzman - son-in-law
  • Eliza - granddaughter
  • Barry - grandson
  • Melissa - daughter
  • Joseph - grandson
  • Crystal - granddaughter
  • Daphne - daughter
  • Anthony - grandson
  • Nicholas - grandson
  • Dominick - grandson
  • Barbara Fairbanks Weston
  • Charles 'Buddy' Rogers
  • Cdr Jack Watson
  • Maureen O'Hara - via telephone
  • Greta Gynt
  • Muriel Pavlow
  • Margaretta Scott
  • Robert Beatty
  • Christopher Lee
  • Dinah Sheridan
  • Belinda Carroll
  • Michael Howarth
  • message from Ronald Reagan
  • message from Prince and Princess Michael of Kent
  • Guiseppe Buzzeti
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Bob Hope
  • Brooke Shields
  • James Niven
  • Roddy McDowall
  • Lord Brabourne
  • Countess Mountbatten of Burma

production team...

  • Researcher: Sue Green
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Brian Klein, Paul Kirrage
  • Associate Producer: John Graham
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

The Glamorous Life

Hollywood in the spotlight

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

BBC axes This Is Your Life

Press coverage of the BBC's announcement

This Is Your Life Set For TV Comeback

Press coverage of the programme's relaunch

Lord Brabourne

Bob Hope

Christopher Lee

Roddy McDowall

Dinah Sheridan

Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Douglas Fairbanks Jr This Is Your Life

Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

'There's a legendary name on this book,' Michael Aspel told the immaculately dressed, perfectly groomed man who walked through the front doors of Teddington Studios. 'Yours.'

Some of us had waited years for the moment when Douglas Fairbanks Junior – screen heart-throb, war hero and honorary knight – would see his name on the Big Red Book. We had planned to surprise him in New York and most recently in Hollywood, but keeping pace with the daily schedule of the eighty-year-old who looked sixty proved too much even for the Life team. No sooner had a venue been set up, than it was altered.

Until Thursday 7 December 1989. We knew that – other things being equal – he planned to be in London, his second home, for the occasion of his eightieth birthday. But how to pin him down for a Life?

The very name of Fairbanks is redolent of the whole story of the movies. Douglas Junior's mother, Ann Beth, was divorced from the world's most famous swashbuckling silent movie star, Douglas Fairbanks Senior, when their son was only nine. The sweetheart of the silents, Mary Pickford, became his stepmother.

And it was the silent movies that came to our rescue. We enlisted the aid of Thames Silents expert Kevin Brownlow, and booked him as the interviewer for a special 'look back' with Douglas.

Waiting to greet him for this 'extra' birthday party were many of his London friends, and from New York Leatrice Fountain, the daughter of another legend from silent days, John Gilbert.

Greeting him from Hollywood were a couple of great 'talkies' Bob Hope and Brooke Shields, and his family came in from New York, Miami and London, three daughters and eight grandchildren.

The love of his life, his wife Mary Lou, had sadly died. He had married her after divorcing Joan Crawford, whom he married when he was only nineteen. It lasted three years.

The photographs and film clips from the archive were a treasure-trove for any cinemagoer. We saw Douglas, aged six, with his father on the set of D W Griffith's classic Intolerance, and again in Half Breed.

But he had come up the hard way, starting as studio tea-boy, and making his first film, Stephen Steps Out, at just fourteen.

Then came the moment when Hollywood panicked; the invention of the 'talkies'. He made the transition, and his greatest competitor was the man known as 'America's Boyfriend', Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. Five years older than Douglas, he was to marry Mary Pickford after she and Douglas Senior divorced. We flew him in, an amazing eighty-five, to remind us, 'So, America's Boyfriend married the World's Sweetheart.'

The nostalgia-fest had only just begun as we proceeded to remind Douglas, and his many fans, of his hits of the Thirties: Little Caesar with Edward G Robinson, Catherine the Great with Joan Gardner, Moonlight is Silver with Gertrude Lawrence, and we showed the famous sword fight with Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda.

When his best pal David Niven (we heard from Niven's son, James) become among the very first of the Hollywood Brits to volunteer at the outbreak of war, Douglas Fairbanks Junior threw himself into the war effort in the USA. His support for Britain was unstinting, organising war relief funds and voluntary hospitals. In 1942 he shed the role of screen hero to take on the real-life role of a naval officer, seeing early action on minesweeping patrol in the North Atlantic.

Later, he was involved in the invasions of Sicily, Italy and southern France, which resulted in a Silver Star, to which the Legion d'Honneur, the Croix de Guerre with palm, and Britain's Distinguished Service Cross were later added.

And on 28 March 1949, the former silent movie star was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire 'for services to Anglo-American relations'.

After the war he went into television (he had already made more than seventy-five films) and some of his British stars joined our celebrations, including Greta Gynt, Muriel Pavlow, Margaretta Scott, Robert Beatty and Christopher Lee. And from Ronald Reagan and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent came special birthday greetings.

Dinah Sheridan, Belinda Carroll and Michael Howarth recalled their West End appearances with him. The play was The Pleasure of his Company and, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, very appropriate it was.

Malcolm Morris biography

Producer Malcolm Morris recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is My Life...

The programme can be a terrible strain on those who have to keep the secret from their partner, because sometimes they are just not used to telling lies.

In 1973 we planned to feature Douglas Fairbanks Junior, so we contacted his sweet wife. She gave us her blessing to go ahead and we sent a researcher to Hollywood to work on the story.

Then a doctor rang me in my office. He told me that he was Mrs Fairbanks' doctor and that she was ill through the strain of keeping this secret from her husband. He gave me an ultimatum; either we told Douglas Fairbanks of our plans and did the programme, or we cancelled. He would not be responsible if Mrs Fairbanks had a breakdown because of me.

We cancelled immediately and it took another sixteen years before we succeeded in doing Douglas Fairbanks' Life.

Series 30 subjects

Omar Sharif | Sarah Brightman | Yvonne Cormeau | Cyril Smith | Jean Boht | Zsa Zsa Gabor | Alec McCowen | Barbara Cartland
Douglas Fairbanks Jr | William Shatner | Barbara Taylor Bradford | Elizabeth Dawn | Billy Wright | Trevor McDonald
Stephanie Beacham | Simon Weston | Peter Scudamore | Peter Cushing | David Shepherd | Harry Secombe
Nigel Kennedy | Eluned Williams | Billy Marsh | Bob Holness | Bobby Davro | Michael Baldock | Ken Dodd