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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Douglas Fairbanks Marries Mary Pickford March 28, 1920

In 1920 action/adventure silent film star, Douglas Fairbanks (36) married America's sweetheart, actress Mary Pickford (28). The two would spend sixteen years together as husband and wife, during which they built their home, Pickfair, became founding members of AMPAS (the Oscars people), and formed United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith. At the time, they were the biggest stars, and best known celebrities the world had ever known. They were the original "power couple".

Douglas Fairbanks was born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman in Denver, Colorado. He was raised by his mother, who had separated from his father when he was five. He began amateur theater at age twelve and continued while attending the Colorado School of Mines. Later, he attended Harvard, traveled to Europe, worked on a cattle freighter, worked in a hardware store and was a clerk on Wall Street. He made his Broadway debut in 1902. In 1915 he went to Hollywood and worked under D.W. Griffith. The following year he formed a production company under his own name. He made very successful early social comedies, then highly popular swashbucklers during the 'twenties.

Mary Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She began in the theater at age seven. Then known as "Baby Gladys Smith", she toured with her family in theater companies. In 1907, she adopted a family name Pickford. She began in films in 1909 with director D.W. Griffith. In 1913 she joined the Famous Players Film Company under Adolph Zukor. She then joined First National Exhibitor's Circuit in 1918. Arguably, Pickford is the silent era's most renowned female star. She was the first artist to have her name in marquee lights, the first international star, and the first woman to earn a million dollars through entertainment. She was also the first movie actress to receive a percentage of a film's earnings, and the subject of the first "close up". Pickford also received the 2nd Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal in Coquette (1929). A somewhat dubious award since she and Fairbanks were two of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who present the yearly "Oscar" award ceremony.

Both actors married three times. Fairbanks first married Anna Beth Sully, the daughter of wealthy industrialist, in Rhode Island in 1907. They had one son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who later became a noted actor in his own right. Pickford first married Owen Moore, a silent film actor, on January 7, 1911. They had numerous marital problems, most notably Moore's alcoholism, his insecurity about living in the shadow of Pickford's fame, and bouts of domestic violence.

Pickford became secretly involved in a relationship with Douglas Fairbanks when they toured the U.S. together in 1918 to promote Liberty Bond sales for the World War I effort. Pickford divorced Moore and married Fairbanks just days after on March 28, 1920. The couple went to Europe for their honeymoon where fans in London and Paris caused riots trying to get to the Hollywood royalty. The couple's triumphant return was witnessed by vast crowds who turned out to hail them at railway stations all across the United States.

The public nature of their marriage strained it to the breaking point. Both had little time off from producing and acting in their films. They were also constantly on display as America's unofficial ambassadors to the world, leading parades, cutting ribbons, and making speeches. When their film careers both began to flounder at the end of the silent era, Fairbanks' restless nature prompted him to overseas travel (something which Pickford did not enjoy). When Fairbanks' romance with Sylvia, Lady Ashley became public in the early 1930s, he and Pickford separated. They divorced officially on January 10, 1936. Fairbanks' son (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) claimed his father and Pickford long regretted their inability to reconcile.

In March of that year Fairbanks married an ex-chorus girl and retired from acting. On June 24, 1937, Pickford married her third and last husband, actor and band leader Buddy Rogers. The "Sound Age" was well upon the industry and both actors suffered from the transition. Although the their time together was relatively brief (sixteen years), theirs was a union admired and envied by all. There wouldn't be another Hollywood couple like them until Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960s.

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