Douglas Fairbanks (Jr)


  1. Lew Ayres, All Quiet On The Western Front, 1930.      Some careers never recover from losing such an important film. The book’s German author, Erich Maria Remarque, was also considered to play   Paul, the universal soldier.
  2. Lloyd Hughes, Moby Dick, 1930.       Ahab was John Barrymore, vastly improving on his first version (The Sea Beast, 1926).   Head brother, Jack Warner, moved Junior to The Dawn   Patrol – which   won him a longterm pact, with rapid Senior-like   powers on scripts and directors.
  3. Clark Gable, The White Sister, 1932.       Mr Gable is pleased to announce the birth of a (Fairbanksian) moustache… Yeas, this was the first time MGM’s new star find – since slapping Norma Shearer in A Free Soul, 1930 – sported his celebrated tash. (Well, he was subbing Fairbanks in the soap). Apart from Mutiny on the Bounty, 1934, Gable never shaved his upper lip again! He did, however, work again with the director Victor Fleming. On a little something called Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  4. Gary Cooper, Design for Living, 1933.      Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Noel Coward – what a creative line-up.  (Well, actually the first two kept just one line from the third’s play, “For the good of our immortal souls!”). Lubitsch wanted   Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard. He settled for Fredric March and Fairbanks. However, Junior Doug then got croup (and pneumonia)  and Lubitsch got Coop (and perfection). Five years later, Cooper took over a role intended for Senior Doug –  The Adventures of Marco Polo, 1938.
  5. Franchot Tone, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1934.  Gary Cooper was Lieutenant  Alan McGregor.  No question about that! But who should have second  billing as Lieutenant John Forsythe?   There were (at least) seven candidates…  Colman, Douglas  Fairbanks Jr (high-jacked by The Rise of Catherine the Great), Cary Grant (he headlined Gunga Din, a far better three Brit soldiers in India actioner in 1938; better writer, too – Rudyard Kipling!),  Philip Holmes,  Fredric March, Ray Milland and Henry Wilcoxon – involved, as always, with Cecil B DeMille’s latest endeavour, The Crusades. Henry was the English King Richard – his nickname for evermore.  
  6. Robert Taylor, Magnificent Obsession, 1935.  Lucky to escape Universal’s the top ten-hanky weepie. …  Borrowed from MGM, Robert Taylor became such a sensation that Metro kept him for their films and never loaned him again for 24 years!  “It would have been stupid ol me to have forgotten that,” declared Universal’s  future production chief Ed Muhl (in a much lowlier position at the time). Which is why he arranged for his 1953 re-make to do exactly the same for Rock Hudson. “He was ready.” (Despite often needing up to 40 takes for a  scene). And  the film was so successful  that  MGM offered Rock $1m to play Ben-Hur.
  7. Joel McCrea, Private Worlds, 1935.      Both actors had the same agent, Frank Vincent (who also handled Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Cary Grant!). But McCrea was Gregory La Cava’s pal, so no room for Fairbanks or producer Walter Wanger’s choice, Robert Montgomery. McCrea started work without a contract – wound up being paid double his normal salary.   Now that’s an agent!
  8. Gary Cooper, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935.     Director Henry Hathaway’s first lancers were Junior Doug, Richard Arlen, Henry Wilcoxon.
  9. Leslie Howard, Romeo and Juliet, 1936.         Howard was 43!  Even Junior Doug was too old   for Romeo at 27.
  10. Franchot Tone, Quality Street, 1936.       Producer Pandro Berman had telephone talks Junior Doug –  working in the UK – but  finished up borrowing MGM’s Tone to co-star with Katharine Hepburn (in her second consecutive JM Barrie tale). 

  11. Ronald Colman, The Prisoner of Zenda, 1936.       Junior Doug as reportedly devastated when losing the famous dual role to Colman.  Producer David O Selznick compensated him with the rakish Rupert of Hentzau because  “nobody else stood a chance!”    In a go-for-it speech, Senior Doug declared it was the best role and advised his heir on costumes. And billing! (Playing Colonel Zapt,  C Aubrey Smith remarked: “In my time I’ve played every part in Zenda except Princess Flavia.”)
  12. Adolphe Menjou, Stage Door, 1936.          Change of heart about the Broadway producer Tony Powell meant upping his age from Junior’s  27 summers to Menjou’s 46. He played  a similar  character  in Morning Glory, 1932, also opposite Katharine Hepburn.
  13. Richard Greene, Four Men And A Prayer, 1937.       For Greene, fresh in from London, this was a big deal. His first starring role, after a bit back home in Gracie Fields’ Sing As We Go, 1933. For director John Ford, it was nothing. “I just didn’t like the story, or anything about it.”
  14. Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1937.        Senior Doug had made been to Sherwood in 1921, and Junior had no wish to be competing with him. He agreed, however, agreed to be King Richard in the 1967 musical version, The Legend of Robin Hood.  (Alan Hale was Little John in the Senior Doug version, and  again here  and yet again, 28 years later, in Rogues of Sherwood Forest, 1949  – one of the delights of my childhood). 
  15. James Stewart, Vivacious Lady, 1937.        When Stewart fell ill and then had to report to his next MGMovie, Of Human Hearts, Fairbanks and James Ellison were seen as possible substitutes. Director George  Stevens wisely  waited until Jim was available again. 
  16. Louis Hayward, The Man in the In Mask, 1938.        Idem. Again, Pop had been there, done that Dumas tale – ten years earlier. So… not me!
  17. Gary Cooper, The Adventures of Marco Polo, 1938.       Dad’s idea. Senior   Doug planned it in the mid-30s.   As his star diminished, he suggested it to producer Samuel Goldwyn for Junior Doug.   Sam pushed both of them out of the deal and made it as Cooper’s first under his new contract.   His first flop, too, after three directors tried to make sense of it.
  18. Laurence Oliver, Wuthering Heights, 1938.
  19. Richard Greene, Four Men And A Prayer, 1938.        Second John Ford film for Greene that year (afterSubmarine Patrol, when he also replacedanother guy). True Brit Greene had a Fox contract and almost as much fan mail as Tyrone Power.Once back home, he was born again as Robin Hood for 143 TV episodes during 1955-1960.
  20. Cary Grant, Gunga Din, 1938.  “From the pages if history and the pen of Rudyard Kipling…”  The always nervous Grant persuaded producer Pando Berman to let him swop roles with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and play Cutter. OK, said Berman, And the ex-Archibald Leach renamed him Archibald Cutter. In 1936, Berman had first attempted the tale  with Ronald Colman (or Robert Donat) and Spencer Tracy. In 1937, he wanted Ray Milland and Franchot Tone. By the 60s, Cannon Films’ Go Go Boys – Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – sought Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Roger Moore for a re-make.  
  21. Cary Grant, In Name Only, 1939.  Or The Kind Men Marry or Memory of Love when Junior Doug was supposed to be the guy trying tp discard his gold-digger wife for Carole Lombard.  But Cary Grant pulled rank.  OK,  he wanted to switch from rom-coms and actioners,  but neither  he,  nor the public, understood this…what? Melodrama? Soap?   Comedy? Satire? No matter, he his next movie was His Girl Friday.
  22. Joel McCrea, Primrose Path, 1940.       McCrea’s director pal, Gregory La Cava, put Junior off it by deliberately recounting the story to in such a way that   his character was fairly meaningless.
  23. Victor Mature, My Darling Clementine, 1945. Sam Peckinpah’s favourite Western…The screen heroes were home from WWII… Henry Fonda, ex-US Navy, was set for Wyatt Earp and wanted his pal (indeed alleged ex-lover), USAF Colonel James Stewart, as Doc Holliday. Also just back from the war, John Ford felt Jim couldn’t handle the part – but thought Junior Doug could. “He might be terribly good in it…. and as it’s a flamboyant role it is quite possible he could kick hell out of it. ”  That was his memo to head Fox Daryl F Zanuck.  DFZ passed on Fairbanks, Tyrone Power and Vincent Price and gave Ford the contracted hunk, Mature. Fonda called this one of Ford’s biggest mistakes… And 15 years later, Ford gave in and agreed with him!
  24. Richard Derr, When Worlds Collide, 1950.  Wandering star Bellus is is on a collision course with old mother earth… Unusually, the first script (by Jack Moffitt) came complete with a cast list. Producer George Paul rewrote both.  Moffitt’s choices were too pricey: Junior Doug, Ronald Colman, Susan Hayward. Pennsylvanian Derr was a disconcertainly dead-ringer for Danny Kaye. I kept expecting him to sing’n’  dance through this George Pal sf production – goofy enough to have utilised the real Kaye.   Derr was everywhere, from the two of the 47 Charlie Chan programmmers, to the Atoman series, 1983, by way of The Outer Limits, Star Trek, American Gigolo and Sex Hygiene, a 1942 anti-VD propaganda for GIs, directed by… John Ford!   Future Superman George Reeves was also involved.
  25. Robert Taylor, Knights of the Round Table, 1953.        Junior finished up in UK films (and was knighted in 1949), but not all his London projects bloomed.
  26. Peter Finch, Elephant Walk, 1954.        Not this one, either…   First to secure  rights to Robert Standish’s novel in October 1951 was Dougfair – Junior Doug’s company (formed with Alexander Macdonald). Fairbanks  planned to co-star with Deborah Kerr – before selling out to Paramount in June 1952, in order to concentrate on TV production.

  27. Alec Guinness, The Bridge On The River Kwai, 1957.    
    About Doug, producer Sam Spiegel  wrote to his   director, David Lean:   “Please react after having first overcome the inital shock.” (Not sure his reaction is printable…).  Sam also sussed out: Ronald Colman, John Gielgud, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson – and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly  told Spiegel that the mad Colonel 
    had to  be an Englishman. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours,” said Guinness. Spiegel took him to dinner. “He was very persuasive.” (Of course, he was. In the 50s/60s,  to “Spiegel” was  LA parlance meaning: to cajole, manipulate or downright  con. That’s how he won his deals, casts, women – and Guinness. “I started out maintaining that I wouldn’t play the role and by the end of the evening, we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.” 

  28. Richard Todd, Chase a Crooked Shadow, 1957.       More heroics? No, Junior Doug changed his mind and gave the lead to the UK star in in the thriller made by Fairbanks’ London combine, Associated Dragon Films.
  29. Anthony Nicholls, The Champions, TV, 1968-1969.  The role of Commander Tremayne was always  intended for Junior Doug but he passed the head of Nemesis – and wig and fake beard to Nicholls in one of the better Lew Grade series aimed at conquering the US. It didn’t.  It should have.  Secret agents with super powers and all!
  30. Charles Grodin, King Kong 1976.         Who cared about Grodin…?   All the publicity was attuned to beautous Jessica Lange and the 3,100 ft of hydraulic hose and 4,500 ft of electrical wiring required for the $1.7m   Kong.

  31. Christopher Plummer, The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975.        David Niven would not repeat his gentleman thief (or not until Peter Sellers was dead!).   Doug   took over – before being passed over. This was Prince Charles’ favourite Sellers film. “I laughed so much,” he told Peter, “that I wet the dress of the woman in the next seat.”
  32. EG Marshall, Superman II, 1980.
  33. Murray Matheson, The Twilight Zone,1982.        Steven Spielberg directed Kick The Can, second of three re-made tales from the classic 50s/60s TV series.  Joe Dante shot the third, George Miller the fourth and John Landis the prolouge and the conroversial first tale, Time Out, that resulted in the death of actor Vic Morow and two Vietnamese child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, during an on-set helicopter crash.  Spielberg was talked out of canceling the film. He still never got Doug Jnr for old geezer learning the importance of being young at heart.
  34. Cesar Romero, Falcon Crest, TV, 1985-1988.        Three other suave movie kings were also looked over for the billionaire Greek shipping magnate Peter Stavros (involved with Jane Wyman for 50 episodes): Junior Doug, Louis Jourdan and Gregory Peck.



 Birth year: 1909Death year: 2000Other name: Casting Calls:  34