Tag Archives: douglas fairbanks

Fit for a Pharaoh

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is sprinkled liberally with the graves of some of the most famous entertainers in history, like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Cecil B. DeMille.

But by far, the cemetery’s most imposing gravesite doesn’t belong to someone whose name you would recognize. This massive afterlife estate, which graces the center of a man-made lake, is a classical limestone-columned structure large enough to make one of ancient Egypt’s god-kings drool.

The mausoleum houses the remains of William Andrews Clark, Jr.

Who?

W.A. Clark’s father – W.A. Clark, Sr. – made a fortune to rival the Rockefeller’s from mining copper in the 1800s, which he used to purchase respectability by becoming a U.S. Senator.

I had heard that he left it all to Junior, who went through it donating lavishly to several charities and building a mausoleum fit for a pharaoh. His first wife died giving birth to his only son, who died in a plane crash in 1932. He married again, but his second wife died young as well. End of the family story, right?

Not even close.

Had I not been a frequent visitor to Hollywood Forever over the years, I would have never heard of the Clark family, or of its progenitor. So imagine my surprise when I saw William A. Clark, Sr.’s name in the paper yesterday.

It turns out that the Clark fortune wasn’t eaten up by inheritance taxes or completely done in by mausoleum construction costs after all.

As I learned yesterday, Clark Sr. had a daughter by his second wife named Huguette, who died earlier this week at the age of 104!

Huguette also got half-a-billion of the old man’s money. Not only was she one of the richest women in the country, but also one of the most reclusive. After collecting a string of mansions on both coasts, she left most of them vacant, hiding away from the world for the past half-century in a 42-room apartment on 5th Avenue.

Which goes to show you …  in America, old people still die, but old fortunes are eternal.

I haven’t heard where Huguette will be buried, but there’s certainly plenty of room in her half-brother’s spread in Hollywood Forever.

(BTW, if anyone would like a tour of Hollywood Forever, I’ll be there tomorrow at 2 pm with my film class. Post me a comment if you’d like to tag along.)

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The Sweet Prince of Pickfair

(Because I am completely immersed in another writing project, Kimi has graciously volunteered to author another day’s post. Thank you, my sweet princess!)

"… An eternal boy … His was a happy life. His rewards were great, his joys many. Now he pillows his head upon his arms, sighs deeply, and sleeps."

(Eulogy delivered by Charlie Chaplin for his best friend, Douglas Fairbanks.)

The impressive crypt of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, is a worthy testament to the glamorous life led by the original “King of Hollywood."

For those who can remember back that far, mention of the name Douglas Fairbanks conjures up images of romantic silent swashbucklers and Hollywood glamour on a grand scale.

Fairbanks’ accomplishments in Hollywood as an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter were legendary, as were his performances in Robin Hood, The Thief of Baghdad, and The Mark of Zorro.

For a time in film’s early era, Douglas Fairbanks was Hollywood.

Born Douglas Elton Ulman in Denver on this date in 1883, Fairbanks’ happy childhood ended at age five, when his alcoholic father abandoned the family. (Watching his father’s descent into alcoholism would inspire Fairbanks to abstain from drinking for most of his life.)

Like many actors of his time, Fairbanks began his career in summer stock as a teenager, and was an instant sensation. He was discovered in Denver by British actor Frederick Warde and offered a spot in his popular acting troupe.

Fairbanks made his Broadway debut in 1902. While in New York, he met and married his first wife, Anna Beth Sully, who gave birth to their son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., later a major star in his own right.

Fairbanks, Sr.’s career took flight when the family moved to Hollywood in 1915, where he signed a contract at Triangle Pictures with legendary director D.W. Griffith. Within 18 months, he landed a job at Paramount Pictures and was catapulted to stardom, becoming the most popular actor in Hollywood.

His long-time romantic association and marriage to actress Mary Pickford – “America’s Sweetheart” – is the stuff of Hollywood legend.

They met at a party in 1916 and immediately began their love affair. Just one year later, the couple joined Doug’s close friend and associate Charlie Chaplin selling WWI war bonds.

The trio would later team up with D.W. Griffith to form United Artists in 1919, the same year Fairbanks’ divorce from Sully became  final. Fairbanks and Pickford were married the following year, and moved into their well-known Beverly Hills mansion, “Pickfair." They came to be regarded as Hollywood royalty, and Pickfair was the place to see and be seen.

The decade of the 20s was a very good one for Fairbanks, and he was able to solidify his "royalty" status by hosting the very first Academy Awards ceremony.

The 30s witnessed the end of Fairbanks’ career and marriage to Pickford.

Fairbanks died quietly at the home he shared with his third wife, Lady Sylvia Ashley, in Santa Monica in 1939. His last words were, “I’ve never felt better.”

His grave used to say, "Goodnight sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to rest." But with the internment of his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., inside the same tomb in 2000, the wording was changed to read, "Goodnight sweet princes."

(If you would like to see Fairbanks’ grave, we’ll be taking our “Newhallywood on Location” class to Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a tour this Saturday. Check the “My Class” tab for details.)


Charlie Chaplin’s Days

Last night in Santa Clarita’s city council chambers, a motion was approved proclaiming Saturday, February 5, 2011 “Charlie Chaplin Day” in the city.

This was done to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the release of Charlie’s final silent film Modern Times, which was partially shot near Santa Clarita.

The early part of February often proved significant during Chaplin’s long and storied career.

Charlie was a young English music hall performer on tour with the Fred Karno Troupe when he was discovered by producer Mack Sennett and given a contract to work in the flickers. He had not yet turned twenty-five when he first stepped through the gates at Sennett’s Keystone Studios near Glendale in January, 1914.

He was immediately thrust in front of the cameras, and on February 2, 1914 made his film debut in a 15-minute comedy called Making A Living where he plays a swindler who gets apprehended by the Keystone Cops.

Less than a week later, on February 7, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character debuted in a one-reeler called Kid Auto Races at Venice. Sennett loved to use whatever was happening in Southern California as a backdrop for his hastily constructed plots, and Kid Auto Races was no exception. A soapbox derby race was taking place down by the beach and Sennett hustled his cast and crew to Venice to capture the action. A plot was derived on the site requiring Chaplin to play a camera-crazy spectator at the races who sees the filming and does whatever he can to insert himself in the action.  

Chaplin hurriedly assembled a contrasting mélange of oversized and undersized clothing, dabbed on some greasepaint to create a moustache, doffed a derby, grabbed a cane, and just like that, one of the most enduring characters in cinematic history was born fully-grown.

Chaplin appeared in two more films over the next few days, including one that until recently was thought to have never existed.

On February 19, Charlie played a Keystone Cop in a film called A Thief Catcher. It was soon forgotten and all copies were thought to be lost. Chaplin, possibly because he was unsatisfied with the finished product, later claimed that the film had never been made.

A couple of years ago, a film historian was browsing in an antique shop in Michigan when he discovered the long-lost film. (We will be presenting A Thief Catcher, along with Modern Times on February 5 in Newhall as part of ChaplinFest. Leonard Maltin will be hosting a Q&A session with Tippi Hedren before the film. Ms. Hedren, who is most famous for starring in The Birds for Alfred Hitchcock, also starred in Chaplin’s final film, A Countess From Hong Kong in 1967.)

February 5 also proved significant to Chaplin in 1919. That was the day that he, along with film pals Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith, created United Artists.

It’s interesting that the February 5th “Charlie Chaplin Day” proclamation will be presented in a special ceremony down the hill from the William S. Hart mansion in Santa Clarita since Bill Hart would have been the 5th member of the United Artists team had he not pulled out of the deal at the last moment.


“Modern Times,” Part 1

The entrance to The Jim Henson Company lot at La Brea and Sunset in Hollywood. The lot was built by Charlie Chaplin in 1918, which explains the statue of Kermit the Frog dressed as the "Little Tramp" over the entrance.

In 1935, Charlie Chaplin – the most famous of the silent clowns – came to the Santa Clarita Valley to shoot the final two scenes of the silent era.

Chaplin was over twenty years into his enormously successful film career at the time, having first arrived in Hollywood from his native England in 1914 to make films for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios. By the end of that year he had completed 35 films and his character, the Little Tramp, was the world’s most recognizable star.

Chaplin, as the Little Tramp, peeking out the door next to the entrance.

He left Keystone the following year and continued to make dozens of Little Tramp shorts for other producers for the next few years. These films were so successful that by the end of the decade he was able to build his own studio on La Brea in Hollywood, and to partner in the creation of United Artists with his friends Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith.

Chaplin was in essence a pantomime artist and feared that if people heard the voice of the Little Tramp that the character’s magic would be lost forever. As the star, director, producer, writer, editor, and composer of his films, as well as the studio owner, he was the only man in Hollywood with the power and resources to buck the talkie trend. But he knew that the time had come to evolve. By 1935, he finally admitted to himself that talking pictures, which debuted in 1927, were here to stay, and were not the novelty that he had hoped would eventually wear off with the world’s audiences.

Chaplin's footprints and autograph in the steps outside of the "Chaplin door."

He decided to end his silent career with a film called Modern Times. It would be his biggest gamble to date, coming eight years into the talkie era. It would prove to be one of his greatest triumphs, but no one knew that on August 20, 1935, when he came to the SCV to film.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the filming date for the penultimate scene, which was shot on Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce. Ten days later Chaplin returned to the same lonely road to film what would be the final scene of not only Modern Times, but of the entire silent era. I will write about that on August 30.

To be continued …