Douglas Fairbanks' 125th birthday at Hollywood Forever
May 22, 2008 | 12:00 AM
At the end of an impressive if murky reflecting pool in the middle of a lawn so verdant it seems out of place, the original Hollywood swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., lies buried in one of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery's most ostentatious mausoleums.
Even in death, he can schmooze with the best of them. Peter Lorre, Tyrone Power, Mel Blanc, Cecil B. DeMille, Edgar Ulmer, Jayne Mansfield and Fay Wray are fellow residents -- as is punk god Johnny Ramone, who's buried maybe 100 yards away. FOR THE RECORD: Hollywood Forever: In Thursday's edition of The Guide, an article about the 125th birthday celebration for Douglas Fairbanks Sr. incorrectly stated that Jayne Mansfield was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Mansfield is buried in Pen Argyl, Pa. The marker at Hollywood Forever is a cenotaph. —
Fairbanks died in 1939 at age 56, but the star of such classic silent films as "The Mark of Zorro," "Robin Hood" and "The Iron Mask" still has a posse. And every year on May 23, chief torchbearer for the Fairbanks Memorial, Sparrow Morgan, celebrates his birthday by screening a Fairbanks film on the side of a nearby mausoleum (the same one in which Rudolph Valentino is entombed).
A Web designer by day and a silent movie fan the rest of the time, Morgan's love for old Hollywood began as a child, but her appreciation for Fairbanks didn't bloom until much later. Raised in Texas in a low-key show business family -- her dad was a film editor who made travel documentaries while her mom tagged along "to make sure I wouldn't kill myself" -- Morgan's father taught her to splice film when she was 7 years old. "I couldn't do it with any competency now, but it gave me an appreciation for film I don't think I otherwise would have had," she says.
When she did start watching silent films in her 20s, Fairbanks' comedic displays of athleticism didn't entice her. In fact, she turned off her first Fairbanks film, "The Three Musketeers," after five minutes. "I was into Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Going from that to Doug Fairbanks just felt silly," Morgan says.
It wasn't until months later when she read a newspaper article about the last of Fairbanks' estate being sold off at auction that a spark kindled. "It struck me that no one was attempting to preserve any of these things," Morgan says. "They were just selling them to the highest bidder, packing them up and shipping them off. And I thought, 'What can I do to help preserve this?' "
She learned from Hollywood Forever that although Valentino and Power had memorials, Fairbanks didn't. She organized the first Douglas Fairbanks homage in 2003. The tradition is Champagne toast and cake cutting followed at dusk by a screening of a Fairbanks film.
For the last four years. Morgan has screened some of his best known silents. This year, in honor of his 125th birthday, she chose one of his later films, "The Private Life of Don Juan." The last of only four talkies he made, it's a lighthearted movie with a distinctly meta twist.
"By that point Doug was getting older and had never really come to terms with that fact. Here was a hopeless womanizer starring in a film about an aging womanizer who's trying to deal with his own mortality," Morgan says.
She also hopes early sound films might interest audiences in silent movies.
"I don't think people realize that silents are very accessible," Morgan says. "They don't tend to be really challenging, and they are some of the few films that you can talk through and it doesn't really matter."
DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS' 125TH BIRTHDAY
WHERE: Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday. PRICE: Free. Bring your own picnic. INFO: (323) 469-1181
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