The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library is the new home of a collection of personal photographs and papers of classic film star and producer Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.. In effect, the Center for Motion Picture Study, the building that has housed the Herrick Museum for the past decade, has been renamed the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study.
The collection includes approximately 3,000 photographs and more than two hundred original negatives chronicling Fairbanks’ career and will be one of the most significant photo collections to ever reside in the Academy’s Library. “Of all the major silent film stars, the Library had the least amount of information on Fairbanks, which is somewhat ironic given that he was the Academy’s first president. However, this changes all of that,” said Linda Mehr, director of the Margaret Herrick Library.
And this is all thanks to Vera Fairbanks, widow of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., who provided the collection to the Academy. Also, to ensure proper preservation of the material, she donated $25,000 to the Margaret Herrick Library.
Scene stills from a number of his later films such as “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), “The Black Pirate” (1926) and “The Iron Mask” (1929) also are contained in the collection. A large group of photos from “His Majesty, the American,” the very first film released by United Artists, the company Fairbanks formed in 1919 with Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, are included as well.
The extensive collection also features a few theatrical stills from his early days as a Broadway actor and personal photos including his European honeymoon with Pickford in 1920.
Among the original 8-by-10 still negatives are portraits of Fairbanks from the films “The Three Musketeers” (1921)and “Robin Hood” (1922). Highlights of the photo collection include the original negatives of group shots which feature Fairbanks posing with many winners at the very first Oscar ceremony in 1929.
The collection also includes a paper history of his life and career. Business information from United Artists, including contracts with David O. Selznick Productions and Joseph Schenck Enterprises, are part of the collection. Personal papers dating from 1917 until his death in 1939, including bank statements, income tax documents and property leases make up the remainder of the materials.
The showcase piece of the paper part of the collection is an elaborate scrapbook compiled after Fairbanks’ death in 1939. The memorial album contains hundreds of letters and telegrams received by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as well as news clippings regarding the death of his father. “The correspondents were a virtual who’s who in Hollywood, as actors and producers such as Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Noel Coward, David O. Selznick and Howard Hughes sent their condolences following Douglas Sr.’s death,” said Howard Prouty, the Library’s special collections archivist.
Although the materials have been in storage boxes since 1952, they arrived at the Library in good condition. “Everything is in amazingly good shape for having been in storage for half a century,” said Robert
Cushman, the Library’s photograph curator. “There is a coating of very fine dust on many of the prints that can be readily removed by a simple cleaning process, and about 98 percent of the negatives are still viable — only a few have deteriorated.”
“We are so grateful to Mrs. Fairbanks for these wonderful items. They will help us to preserve the rich Fairbanks legacy,” said Mehr.
For more information on the Margaret Herrick Library, go to the official site for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.