Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Auction

I'm somewhat numb from all the high-end movie-related auctions this year, but one has caught my fancy in a way that Debbie Reynolds’ or even John Wayne’s hasn’t. Even the catalog for the September 13 event at Doyle Gallery in New York is a keeper, because it celebrates the life and often-overlooked career of Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

A handsome and elegant man, and a much better actor than he’s given credit for (think of Gunga Din, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Corsican Brothers, or any number of early 1930s Warner Bros. films), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. lived in his famous father’s shadow, even after the silent-film swashbuckler passed away—

—in 1939. Douglas Jr.’s widow Vera told me that he actually said, “After I die, nobody is going to remember me for anything.” She told him he was wrong, and has made it her business to keep his memory—and the Fairbanks legacy—alive.
A savvy investor, she hopes to inflate the proceeds from this auction and establish a scholarship in Douglas’ name at the USC School for Cinematic Arts, where a life-sized statue of his father stands in the courtyard. (Douglas Sr. helped to create the institution when he was the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.)

If you’re a fan of Doug Jr. it’s well worth the $25 asking price to purchase a copy of the beautifully printed auction catalog from Doyle, which is filled with personal photos and shows Fairbanks wearing or using many of the items on sale, from wristwatches to hats to a magnificent mahogany partner’s desk.

The range of material on sale is also daunting, from neckties, cufflinks and objets d’art to a beautiful collection of leather-bound books. (Vera Fairbanks says they had to take a separate apartment just to house his books, which he bought by the stack; what’s more, she says, “Douglas never threw anything away.”)

If I had unlimited funds—and display space—I don’t know what I’d shoot for in this sale. I love the beautiful gold watch inscribed “Doug from Dad” and an exquisite Dunhill cigarette lighter inscribed “D.F.Jr.” I wouldn’t mind having some of those beautiful books with the Fairbanks bookplate inside.

Inscription reads: "For Douglas Fairbanks Jr. from his friend Franklin D. Roosevelt".

There are personally autographed pictures, books, and letters from world figures ranging from George Bernard Shaw (“To Douglas Fairbanks the Second from one who remembers the first”), Winston Churchill and members of the Royal Family to Charles Addams and even Steven Spielberg, who responded to a complimentary letter Fairbanks wrote about Jurassic Park: “…My face lit up with delight and pleasure when I received your kind note. You must know what a tremendous fan I am of you and your history in this industry I so dearly love.”

Some of the beautiful pieces are on display at Doyle’s website; the rest are in the catalog. Even a brief survey gives you some idea of Fairbanks’ exquisite taste in art, clothing, and life. I hope the auction is a great success.

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May 2024