Douglas Fairbanks On July 9, 2009, Thomas Gladysz of interviewed author Jeffrey Vance about his newest book, Douglas Fairbanks, which was published by UC Press in December 2008. Vance is a film historian, producer, and lecturer as well as the author of an acclaimed trilogy of books on the great triumvirate of silent-film comedy: Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian (with Suzanne Lloyd), and Buster Keaton Remembered (with Eleanor Keaton). To learn more about Jeffrey Vance and co-author, Tony Maietta, please visit their blog, Two Modern Guys in Classic Hollywood.

Below, is an excerpt from the interview entitled “Six Questions with…Film Historian Jeffrey Vance.” To read the interview in its entirety, please visit the website. Your earlier work examined silent film comedians. Now, you’ve written about an actor largely known as an action adventure hero, a swashbuckler. How was it that you came to be interested in someone like Douglas Fairbanks?

Jeffrey Vance: I became interested in Fairbanks as a result of my interest in Chaplin. Fairbanks was Chaplin’s great friend and partner in the United Artists Corporation. He was a Hollywood superstar along with Chaplin and Mary Pickford. I wrote Mary Pickford a fan letter at the end of her life. She responded with an encouraging letter. It was hard to track down and see any of her feature films besides Sparrows. I had an easier time pursuing my interest in Fairbanks as his best films were more readily available. I immediately fell under his spell with The Iron Mask and later The Thief of Bagdad and The Black Pirate. He was, as a French critic wrote in the 1920s, “a tonic.” But more than that, Fairbanks’s great action adventures of the 1920s were beautifully mounted works of art. There seems to be something of a Fairbanks revival going on. Along with your new book,
Flicker Alley has released a set of Fairbanks’ early movies – and lately, Fairbanks’ films like The Gaucho are being screened around the country. Why Fairbanks, and why now?

Jeffrey Vance: That’s no coincidence! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences commissioned me to write Douglas Fairbanks. They wanted to honor Fairbanks – the first president of the Academy – with a book. Once the agreements were made with the Academy and the University of California Press, my writing partner – Tony Maietta – and I began immediately to plan the book’s launch. The Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer DVD box set, the Museum of Modern Art retrospective, the Academy exhibition, the Academy screenings both in Los Angeles and New York City, and the new MoMA print of Douglas Fairbanks as The Gaucho (at the risk of pedantry, that’s its complete title) were all part of this effort to celebrate Fairbanks in conjunction with the release of the book. The only thing that wasn’t timed with the book was the unveiling of the Douglas Fairbanks statue on the campus of USC. That was just one of those wonderful things that reveal itself when you are on the right path.

To read the interview in its entirety, please visit the website.