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the flapper and the prince: joan crawford and douglas fairbanks, jr.


JOAN CRAWFORD AND DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR.

JOAN CRAWFORD was born poor whilst DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR., was born into HOLLYWOOD royalty, as the son of DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, SR., the original swashbuckler. Their romance was endlessly photographed, as at the time of their union, Fairbanks Jr.'s father had already re-married, to American's Sweetheart, MARY PICKFORD, whom established their home as second, only to the White House. Fan magazines ran articles on them and even had the couple right their own. And after an overly publicized romance, one that movie-goers thought would last until death do them part, the romance ended. 

THIS IS THE TALE OF THE FLAPPER AND THE PRINCE.

I.

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD once wrote, "Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart nightclubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurtful eyes. Young things with a talent for living." This would come true for pictures as well, as she would soon grace the screen, dancing madly to the Charleston, in the nineteen-twenty eight picture, OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS. The following year, fans watched as she fell even more head-over-heels for Fairbanks Jr., in the sequel OUR MODERN MAIDENS, becoming the perfect romance.


It was an October night in the autumn of nineteen-twenty seven. Joan Crawford set her eyes upon a young gent, the handsome Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. Hoping to score better picture offers, Fairbanks was starring the play YOUNG WOODLEY. The theater was a social event, attended by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Mary Pickford, as well as Charlie Chaplin, a close friend to the pair. Joan was never one to hide amongst the crowd at a social event such as this. She was still new to the picture business and thought of this event as a push to advance her fame. Though she was signed to MGM is nineteen-twenty five, she spent most of that time doing small roles where she received no billing, but on that night in nineteen-twenty seven, she was on the brink of her stardom, the entire future awaiting her, all while one of Hollywood's greatest romances was about to begin. 

II.

Sitting in the dark theater watching Fairbanks, Jr., she hadn't a clue of how well-known she was about to become. Nor did his father and stepmother see the problem that would occur. What was known at that moment, was that this man on stage had captured her interest, and when something catches her interests there is no turning back. She wore white fox and sat alone in an upper box. And after the performance, she walked down to hand-deliver a message to her new interest, she congratulated him and asked for a signed photograph and perhaps, a telephone call, if he would be ever so kind to do so. All of this was witnessed by Margaret Reid, a writer for Picture-Play magazine. Fairbanks would later write, "IMAGINE! ME! A NOTE FROM JOAN CRAWFORD."


DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR. IN THE YOUNG IN HEART, NINETEEN-EIGHTY EIGHT.

He called as soon as possible and during their first official meeting, Fairbanks asked her for an autographed photograph in return. In pure Crawford fashion, she wrote upon it, "TO DOUGLAS, MAY THIS BE THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP. JOAN." And according to Motion Picture Classic, the pair went for an evening ride after the play and told one another everything there was to know. Fairbanks would later remark, "AND SUDDENLY I WISHED THAT OPENING NIGHT – ALL THE APPLAUSE, THE CALLS FOR SPEECH, THE CHEERS OF THE MOTION PICTURE CELEBRITIES COULD HAPPEN AGAIN JUST SO JOAN COULD SEE IT ONCE MORE. I WANTED TO APPEAR BIG, TO MAKE GOOD FOR JOAN CRAWFORD." After this, the two were smitten and began seeing one another more and more. 

"IT WAS SORT OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT." - DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR.

III.

The budding romance would soon be in the hands of Hollywood. When in nineteen-twenty nine, MGM paired them in the sequel that made Crawford a star, OUR MODERN MAIDENS. It would become her first starring role, with Fairbanks as her love interest. And though the film was a hit and the two loved working together, Joan and Douglas felt more like "commercialized puppets". 


What followed delighted fans but shocked his parents, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and stepmother, Mary Pickford. Despite the obvious love the two had, his parents felt that he was too young, at nineteen. His father even calling it an "overexploited affair., and his mother called Crawford, "my son's current chorus-girl fling." But, Fairbanks Jr. didn't care a bit and married Crawford on the 3rd of June, nineteen-twenty nine. He later said of the familiar disproval of his marriage, "the opposition of my family actually had much less to do with the unsuitability of a glamourous movie-star Joan Crawford as my future wife than it had to do with my youth."

"FOR TWO YOUNGSTERS ALREADY OVER THEIR HEADS IN THE CHOPPY WATERS OF LIFE IN A HUGE GOLDFISH BOWL, IT WAS A NEVER-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN DAY. WE WERE RELIEVED AND HAPPY. WE WERE TRULY MARRIED. AND WE LIVED HAPPILY...FOR A WHILE." - DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR.


IV.

Much speculation on whether Crawford used Fairbanks to advance her own career. I think this is a false statement, after reading articles, biographies, and watching documentaries I believe she did love him and even respected him as well. It was known as well at this time, that to be truly accepted in the motion picture business, you had to be invited to Pickfair, the home of Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford. Though disapproving at times, Crawford credited Pickfair for being influential in turning her into a more sophisticated and proper woman. "I WAS OUT TO TEAR UP THE WORLD IN THE FASTEST, BRASHEST, QUICKEST WAY POSSIBLE. AND THEN I SAW MYSELF THROUGH THE PICKFAIR EYES, AND EVERY LAST BIT OF MYSELF, CONFIDENCE DROPPED AWAY FROM ME. SHYNESS OVERWHELMED ME, AND I GOT A TERRIFIC INFERIORITY COMPLEX. IMMEDIATELY, I SET OUT TO CHANGE MYSELF IN EVERY WAY." 

A famous Pickfair tale comes to mind. Fairbanks, Sr. lashed out on his son after he and his new wife had been found canoodling in the dark corner of the movie room. After this, the couple was not invited back for a while. And Fairbanks, Jr. said that that next time they were invited back, "we took good care to sit well apart from each other."

THE FANS.

The fans made up for the skepticism found within his own family. The couple received thousands of letters and had hundreds of articles written. One article in nineteen-thirty one, that Crawford herself had written, she describes their marriage: 

"We study together, we work together; pray together, play together, and love together. We admire and respect each other's ability and are proud of each other's success. Doug has developed such charm! He is so versatile in his talents. Oh no - we shall never be divorced. We understand each other too well."
- - - -
It would seem that these two were soulmates, unable to be torn apart, no matter what was thrown, till death do them part. Though what these magazines fail to report (as magazine gossip has been around since the start of stars) is the fact that the marriage had problems quite early on. Soon the cute nicknames and the baby voices disappeared, though normal, as the honeymoon phase is not meant to last forever, it was a slight warning sign, the overly bubbly attraction that married them in the first place was sinking. The gifts had also died down. Married life, which can be less exciting than when dating, was starting to set in. Fairbanks remembers his wife leaving for the studio an hour early and staying an hour late and even working on her days off. 

Joan working as hard as she did, this wasn't a red flag to her husband, who knew that she was known as the hardest working women in the business, something that would always remain for the rest of her career. However, something was starting to feel unbalanced. Crawford had begun a love affair with Clark Gable, an affair that would become one of Hollywood's worst kept secrets, almost everyone had known about it. 


JOAN CRAWFORD AND DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR. ARRIVING IN ENGLAND.
JULY NINETEEN-THIRTY TWO.

Around this time, Crawford and Louis B. Mayer, apart of MGM went to work. Crawford on the film RAIN, where she played Sadie Thompson, a role that she put much importance on. So much so, that she told her husband she needed to be alone and moved into a bungalow on Catalina Island, where the film was being shot. Once filming ended and she returned home, she was fresh-faced and ready for the honeymoon that the two had to put off because of work. This is where Mayer's own work comes in, he was growing nervous about the Crawford-Gable affair becoming public knowledge. Studios took control of forthcoming scandals, and Mayer gifted the couple a honeymoon as a belated wedding gift, a plan that would prove to the world that the couple was much still in love. The couple headed off for Europe, Fairbanks thought they were having a wonderful time, he would later go on to explain: 

"She hated it all!" he said. "She put on a brave, well-trained smiling fave, said the right words of gratitude, but she was really only peripherally interested. She felt she confessed, like fish out of water, gasping for breath, longing for something familiar to cling to. She would have been, she said, just content to read about these things, and anyway, the pictures she'd seen seemed better than the real things! She was frightened and felt so alien, that it was like a bad dream. All she wanted to do was get home as quickly as possible, home to the United States, home to California, home not to Cielito Lindo (the couple's home) but to MGM studios, home to the security of what she could recognize, home to her work. So home we went, ahead of schedule. She didn't return for years."

V.

The couple continued to depart from one another once returning home. Crawford moved to a cottage in Malibu, without telling her husband where she was staying. Fairbanks wrote, "It was hard to find time or reason to be together. We had become familiar strangers, helpless to prevent our relationship’s slide from intense romance into even easy companionship. Whatever emotions or thoughts we once had in common had been fogged over and lost." 

When the two separated, Crawford re-appeared at their home and accused Fairbanks of seeing another woman. She decided, to live under the same roof as he soon to be ex-husband while living separate lives. She also still claimed to have hopes of somehow saving the failed marriage. Fans flooded magazines with sad stories of the couple's separation, all while Crawford performed as the lone bride, the bride still holding on to her marriage.

And after a long day of shooting in nineteen-thirty three, Fairbanks was getting undressed when his agent, Mike Levee, knocked on the door and tried to make small talk. Fairbanks knew it was odd for his agent to be visiting him at such an hour and finally got Levee to splurge on why he was really there. His agent then told him that he would have to spend the night at Beverly Hills Hotel, as Joan was throwing him out of the house. She had arranged to have all his belongings taken to a room at the hotel and changed her private phone number. The news blindsided Fairbanks. He wrote, "WHAT THE HELL HAD HAPPENED? BILLIE (nickname for Crawford) HAD THROWN ME OUT OF OUR HOUSE, JUST LIKE THAT. NO WARNING. NO DISCUSSION. NO ROW, NOT RECENTLY ANYWAY. IF ANYTHING, THE ATMOSPHERE AT HOME HAD SEEMED A LITTLE MORE RELAXED AND EVEN, AT TIMES, FRIENDLY." He would go on to read about the separation in a magazine before even being able to talk with Joan.


"YES, DOUGLAS AND I ARE GOING TO SEPARATE," says Joan Crawford."

FAIRBANKS THEN LEARNED THE REASON OF THE SEPARATION. 

Crawford had spent the last two years of the marriage in the arms of Clark Gable. Everything began to click and make much more sense, early days at work, late nights at the studio. The affair pair had been meeting at Joan's decorated dressing room, a gift from Fairbanks. It should also be noted that Fairbanks has only the nicest things to say of Gable and never blamed him for what had happened.

IT SHOULD ALSO BE MENTIONED THAT FAIRBANKS, JR. ALSO HAD AFFAIRS, THOUGH THEY WERE MORE WELL KEPT.

THE END.

The Flapper and the Prince had come full circle since that glamourous night at the Belasco Theater. Her in white fox and him dazzling on stage. Fairbanks had his wish, parts had come in and he had finally made it in the film business. Crawford had become what she worked so hard for, superstar status. On April 29th, 1933, she filed for divorce and a year later it became finalized, ending the most celebrated love affair of the early thirties. 

THEY WERE A SYMBOL OF HOLLYWOOD AND GLAMOUR.
A TALE NOT EVEN A SCREENWRITER COULD HAVE WRITTEN BETTER.
A YOUNG STARLET, BORN INTO A POOR TEXAN FAMILY, WHO LAUNCHED WAS THROWN ON THE FLICKERING SCREEN OF THE JAZZ AGE AND HAD FALLEN MADLY INTO LOVE WITH THE SON OF HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY.

A FAIRY TALE ROMANCE.


R.