Monday, May 4, 2009

Hollywood Couples: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

She was America's Sweetheart; he was the reigning king of the Fun-Stupid movie. Together, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks became Hollywood's most celebrated couple during the final years of the Silent Era.

Pickford and Fairbanks were both already married when they met a party in 1916 and they conducted a secret affair for years before she obtained a divorce in March 1920 (Fairbanks had divorced in November of the previous year). The couple married twenty-six days after Pickford's divorce became final.

Although the state of Nevada contested the legality of Pickford's Reno divorce (the issue wasn't settled until 1922) and the couple feared negative publicity, movie fans the world over enthusiastically approved of the marriage. On their honeymoon in Europe, the pair were swarmed by adoring fans and twice had to be smuggled out of harm's way, once through a window in what the New York Times referred to as a Parisian butcher's "meat cage."

When they weren't dodging crowds, Pickford and Fairbanks made some of the most successful films of the Silent Era and, along with Charles Chaplin, founded United Artists in an effort to gain creative control over their films and to reap a larger share of the profits.

The two were also the first to immortalize their handprints in concrete in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

In 1920, Pickford and Fairbanks bought a hunting lodge and renovated it into a 22-room mansion they named "Pickfair." The two threw lavish parties and entertained some of the most famous people in the world. To be invited to their home was to gain admittance into the closed circle of Hollywood royalty.

Ironically, the love affair which began in secret unraveled because the two spent so much time in public. Between work, business and entertaining, the two rarely had time alone together. And I'm just speculating, but I imagine it didn't help that both of them had grown too old to play the roles for which they had become famous, the Hollywood equivalent of empty-nest syndrome.

As their careers faded, both began extramarital affairs. In 1927, on the set of My Best Girl, Pickford fell in love with co-star Charles "Buddy" Rogers, eleven years her junior, and on a trip to Europe, Fairbanks began an affair with English socialite, Lady Sylvia Ashley. Pickford and Fairbanks divorced in 1933.

Later Pickford said of Fairbanks that he was "[a] little boy who never grew up" and that "[i]n his private life Douglas always faced a situation in the only way he knew, by running away from it."

Fairbanks married Lady Ashley soon after his divorce from Pickford. He died of a heart attack three years later at the age of 56. His last words were, "I've never felt better."

After Fairbanks death, Pickford and Rogers married and she and Rogers remained married for forty-two years, living a reclusive life together at Pickfair until her death in 1979.

A Postscript: Some years after Pickford's death, the notorious actress Pia Zadora bought the Pickfair mansion and had it demolished to make way for a mansion of her own. She said Pickfair was full of termites. Personally, I think Pia, who has won four Razzies, is full of termites. But it's her birthday today, so happy birthday, Pia, ya #@%&!

1 comment:

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