Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) was one of the first movie super stars long before that term was ever coined. A young “juvenile” actor on the stage, Doug gave early films a try in 1915 in a series of popular modern dress comedies. He added some incredible athletic stunts that left movie audiences amazed. By 1917, he was one of the highest paid stars but Doug wasn’t content and decided to produce his own films. He became a partner with his pal Charlie Chaplin, the great director D.W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford (whom he married in 1920) to form United Artists. This company is still in business today.
Doug Fairbanks literally invented the “action” film genre that remains extremely popular – think Jackie Chan. In 1922, Fairbanks began his most ambitious production yet, a swashbuckler chronicling the legends of Robin Hood. No, it wasn’t a primitive version of the later Errol Flynn film, but a fully developed saga of how the Earl of Huntingdon went from being one of the noble Knights of the Realm to the hunted outlaw Robin Hood rebelling against the unscrupulous Prince John. Fairbanks wanted his film to have the look and feel of old illuminated manuscripts that recalled the glorious Age of Chivalry – and he got it!
No expense was spared as Fairbanks literally built a full-scale castle on the studio lot. He recruited top art directors Wilfred Buckland and William Cameron Menzies, and costume designer Mitchell Leisen (later a major film director). This original color German transparency gives you a good idea of the magnificent sets:
In 1926, four years after the tremendous success of ROBIN HOOD, and two more epics, Doug was ready for a new challenge: he wanted to be the first major star to produce a film entirely in Technicolor. The result was THE BLACK PIRATE:
THE BLACK PIRATE has been restored to its original Technicolor brilliance and is available today on DVD and Blu-ray. Likewise, Douglas Fairbanks in ROBIN HOOD is restored and available on DVD. Both films can also be viewed on streaming video. Fairbanks would no doubt be pleased that his productions continue to delight viewers well into the 21st century!