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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Douglas Elton Fairbanks Jr., KBE, DSC, K.st.j. (December 9, 1909 – May 7, 2000) was an American actor and a highly decorated naval officer of World War II. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was born in New York City, the son of actor Douglas Fairbanks and his first wife, Anna Beth Sully. His parents divorced when he was ten years old. He lived with his mother in California, Paris, and London.

Largely on the basis of his name, he was given a contract at age fourteen with Paramount Pictures. After making some undistinguished films, he took to the stage, where he impressed his father, his step-mother Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin, who encouraged him to continue with acting.

He was also noticed by Joan Crawford who began to date him. On June 3, 1929, at City Hall in New York, New York Crawford and Fairbanks were married. He was technically underage, so one year was added to his birth (giving him 1908 as his year of birth), and Crawford shed three years from her age, which would remain shed until long after her death, giving her the same year of birth that Fairbanks had created for himself, 1908.

He went on a delayed honeymoon to England, where he was entertained by Noel Coward and George, Duke of Kent. He became active in both society and politics, but Crawford was far more interested in her career and her new affair with Clark Gable. THe couple was divorced in 1933.

Fairbanks starred in several pre-Code films with Loretta Young, and supported Katharine Hepburn in her Oscar-winning role in the film Morning Glory (1933).

With Little Caesar, Outward Bound, Gunga Din and The Dawn Patrol, his movies began to have more commercial success.

On April 22, 1939, he married Mary Lee Hartford (née Mary Lee Epling), a former wife of George Huntington Hartford, the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company heir. Douglas and Mary Lee had three daughters, Daphne, Victoria and Melissa - eight grandchildren, Anthony, Nicholas, Dominic, Natasha, Barend, Eliza, Joseph and Crystal - and seven great-grandchildren, Aislin, Georgina, Eliza, Benjy, Hugo, Alphy and Violette. Douglas and Mary Lee Fairbanks were happily married for nearly fifty years until Mary Lee died in 1988.

World War II

In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him a special envoy to South America.

Although celebrated as an actor, Fairbanks most enduring legacy was a well-kept secret for decades. At the onset of World War II, Fairbanks was commissioned a Reserve Officer in the U.S. Navy and assigned to Lord Mountbatten's Commando staff in England.

Having witnessed (and participated in) British training and cross-channel harassment operations emphasizing the military art of deception, Fairbanks attained a depth of understanding and appreciation of military deception then unheard of in the United States Navy. Lieutenant Fairbanks was subsequently transferred to Virginia Beach where he came under the command of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, who was preparing U.S. Naval forces for the invasion of North Africa.

Fairbanks was able to convince Hewitt of the advantages of such a unit, and Admiral Hewitt soon took Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. to sell the idea to the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Ernest King. Fairbanks succeeded and ADM King issued a secret letter on 5 March 1943 charging the Vice Chief of Naval Operations with the recruitment of 180 officers and 300 enlisted men for the Beach Jumper program.

The Beach Jumpers mission would simulate amphibious landings with a very limited force. Operating dozens of kilometers from the actual landing beaches and utilizing their deception equipment, the Beach Jumpers would lure the enemy into believing that theirs was the location of the amphibious beach landing, when in fact the actual amphibious landing would be conducted at another location. Even if the enemy was less than 100-percent convinced of the deception, the uncertainty created by the operations could conceivably delay enemy reinforcement of the actual landing area by several crucial hours.

U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers saw their initial action in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Throughout the remainder of the war, the Beach Jumpers conducted their hazardous, shallow-water operations throughout the Mediterranean.

For his planning the diversion-deception operations and his part in the amphibious assault on Southern France, Lieutenant Commander Fairbanks was awarded the U.S. Navy's Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor), the Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the French Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the British Distinguished Service Cross.

He was also made an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 1949.

It is not a stretch to say that Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was the father of the United States Navy's Information Operations. As for the Beach Jumpers, they changed names several times in the decades following World War II, expanded their focus, and are currently known as the Navy Information Operations Command.

Many of the Navy's most important information operations since World War II remain classified, but it is clear that the U.S. military retains its interest in this art of war.

Post-War Years

Fairbanks Jr. returned to Hollywood at the conclusion of World War II and enjoyed success as host of the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Theater in the early years of television.

Fairbanks was a definite Anglophile and spent a good deal of his time in Britain, where he was well known in the highest social circles. The College of Arms in London granted Fairbanks a coat of arms that symbolizes the U.S. and Britain united across the blue Atlantic Ocean by a silken knot of friendship.

He died of a heart attack in New York at the age of 90. He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California, in the same crypt as his father.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2007.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Facts

Birth NameDouglas Elton Ulman Fairbanks
OccupationActor, Screenwriter, Director
BirthdayDecember 9, 1909
BirthplaceNew York, New York, USA
Date of deathMay 7, 2000 (age 90)
Height6' 1" (1m85)  How tall is Douglas Fairbanks Jr. compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Katharine Hepburn Collection
Ghost Story
Stolen Jools
Gunga Din
Little Caesar
Sinbad the Sailor
Dawn Patrol
Party Girl
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