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Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century

Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century

By John C. Tibbetts & James M. Welsh
Foreword by Kevin Brownlow
Hardcover : 9781628460063, 384 pages, 88 b&w illustrations, June 2014

A critical study of Fairbanks's acting career and his brand as the ultimate American


Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century brings to life the most popular movie star of his day, the personification of the Golden Age of Hollywood. At his peak, in the teens and 1920s, the swashbuckling adventurer embodied the new American century of speed, opportunity, and aggressive optimism. The essays and interviews in this volume bring fresh perspectives to his life and work, including analyses of films never before examined. Also published here for the first time in English is a first-hand production account of the making of Fairbanks's last silent film, The Iron Mask.

Fairbanks (1883–1939) was the most vivid and strenuous exponent of the American Century, whose dominant mode after 1900 was the mass marketing of a burgeoning democratic optimism, at home and abroad. During those first decades of the twentieth century, his satiric comedy adventures shadow-boxed with the illusions of class and custom. His characters managed to combine the American easterner's experience and pretension and the westerner's promise and expansion. As the masculine personification of the Old World aristocrat and the New World self-made man—tied to tradition yet emancipated from history—he constructed a uniquely American aristocrat striding into a new age and sensibility.

This is the most complete account yet written of the film career of Douglas Fairbanks, one of the first great stars of the silent American cinema and one of the original United Artists (comprising Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith). John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh's text is especially rich in its coverage of the early years of the star's career from 1915 to 1920 and covers in detail several films previously considered lost.


"An essential for any silent film fan's bookshelf, the analysis of the ever-active, ageless Doug should be required reading for anyone who loves the movies."

- Tracey Goessel, author of He Comes Up Smiling: The Life and Work of Douglas Fairbanks

"A literate, intelligent, and thoughtful study of the films of a cinema legend whose characterizations and unique personality strongly influenced the new American century."

- Anthony Slide, author of Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers

"Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century is a treasure. It stands as the definitive examination of Fairbanks's career, insightfully reassessed and sumptuously illustrated."

- Gary R. Edgerton, professor and dean of the College of Communication at Butler University and coeditor of the Journal of Popular Film and Television

"The authors have made careful use of recent feminist scholarship about masculinity so that their book is both an homage and a careful discussion of what Fairbanks's screen image means for those interested in 1920s America, and the importance of mass culture."

- David Culbert, John L. Loos Professor of History at Louisiana State University and longtime editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television