STANSTED MOUNTFICHET, UK – Hollywood royalty comes to Sworders this spring. A stand-alone auction on March 2 includes more than 100 lots from the family collection of the legendary American actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1909-2000). The archive of photographs, cinema posters, personal jewelry, objets of vertu, furniture, paintings and clothing was amassed during Fairbanks’s life as a film star, naval officer, producer and family man. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
The material has been consigned for sale by his grandson, Dominick Fairbanks, a film producer who inherited the collection from his mother Daphne (Fairbanks’s eldest daughter). He commented: “I have great pleasure in offering this collection of family items from my late grandfather’s estate, so that they may be enjoyed by film collectors and Fairbanks admirers all over the world.”
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was among the biggest names of his generation. The only child of the silent film-era swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) and his wife Anna Beth Sully (1888-1967), he first tasted box office success as a 16-year-old in the 1925 Samuel Goldwyn picture Stella Dallas. He went on to star in more than 130 motion pictures opposite the likes of Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, John Wayne and Fred Astaire.
He was also a confirmed Anglophile. Fairbanks first lived in Britain in the 1930s after Warner Bros asked its stars to take a 50 percent Depression-era pay cut. He refused, was fired, and instead accepted an offer from the Elstree film studios to live and work in London. During the Second World War (his last film before enlisting was The Corsican Brothers, released in 1941) he was assigned to Lord Mountbatten’s Commando staff and became well known in the highest social circles. Knighted by George VI in 1949 for his post-war work in founding three hospitals for war wounded (making him the first American star to receive the KBE), he spent much of his time in the UK from the 1950s.
Key moments of Fairbanks family life are reflected in the collection. Dating to the earliest period is an ivory and gold bound prayer book celebrating the elder Douglas Fairbanks’s marriage to Ann Beth Sully on July 11, 1911, and also an early 19th century four-color gold snuff box hand-engraved with the name ‘Fairbanks,’ estimated at £7,000-£9,000. The latter had been a gift to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his second wife Mary Pickford, who honeymooned in London in June 1920. Made in Switzerland or Germany circa 1820, it was fitted as a minaudiere in the 1930s.
Many of the pictures and furniture lots can be seen in old photo albums showing various Fairbanks homes – among them a pair of tinplate three-light branch wall lights formed as crossed swords. Estimated at £300-£500, these were believed to have been created to celebrate Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1921 film The Three Musketeers – one of two films from the silent era in which Fairbanks Jr. was also given a small role as a boy (the other being American Aristocracy in 1916).
A 1941 watercolor view of the family home, Boxwood Farm in Hot Springs, Virginia, is estimated at £300-£500. This scene includes a horse-drawn gig waiting at the garden gate for three figures identified as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., his second wife Mary Lee Epling and their first daughter, Daphne.
A 1947 portrait of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. shown in a gray suit, by Dutch society painter Johan Van de Linde Jr (1887-1956) carries an estimate of £300-£500, as does a three-quarter length portrait of Mary Lee in a red dress dated June 1935 and done by American portrait painter Louis Betts (1873-1961).
The younger Fairbanks was himself a competent amateur artist. An oil painting of the garden at his Palm Beach home is estimated at £500-£700, and a book of pen and ink sketches is expected to bring £400-£600.
Fairbanks dated many famous and beautiful women. He was married to Joan Crawford from 1929 to 1933. Marlene Dietrich was another former girlfriend – a plaster sculpture of a female nude believed to depict her is included in the sale with an estimate of £100-£200. However, he remained devoted to Mary Lee until her death in 1988. The couple, who had three daughters, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, met and mixed with presidents and royalty. They hosted a reception at Syon House in 1981 to honor the new American ambassador. A bound book of thank-you letters (including copies of letters from HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Princess Margaret) is part of a group lot of related ephemera expected to bring £500-£700.
Fairbanks Jr.’s well-known sartorial elegance is reflected in a large quantity of his clothing – ties, shoes, suits and overcoats – coming to auction directly from his estate.
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.35.
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