Archive for the ‘Silent Film Screenings’ Category

Our sincere appreciation and thanks to the Cinefamily for featuring an entire month of Douglas Fairbanks’ classic films at the Silent Movie Theatre, a Los Angeles landmark.(611 N. Fairfax Ave.)

All throughout the month of February, Fairbanks films will be playing every Wednesday night in this vintage Art Deco  movie house. All screenings are open to the public. For more information on this special series, show times, and ticket prices, see below or visit Cinefamily’s website.

Douglas Fairbanks / Silent Wednesdays in February


In this age of constant celebrity culture bombardment, we forget that once upon a time, there were only a handful of superstars that could truly galvanize the entire world — and that list was headed by silent film legend Douglas Fairbanks. His universal appeal lied in his astounding ability to be almost all things to all people: a man’s man, a ladies’ man, a lithe acrobat, a charming rogue, a ceaseless adventurer and a jaunty comedian. Within just a few years of his movie debut in 1915, Fairbanks rocketed to becoming the highest-paid Hollywood actor next to Chaplin, and is still known today as one of the greatest swashbucklers and stunt masters ever filmed. Join us in some of Fairbanks’ most stirring leaps into fantasy, which, over the course of almost an entire century, haven’t lost a speck of their ability to whisk us away to far-off lands.

2/2 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
His Majesty The American

Co-presented by The Silent Treatment

Silent superstar Douglas Fairbanks’ greatest asset was his boundless energy, his ability to bounce off the walls with an unlimited supply of daring-do — and the frothy 1919 romantic comedy/actioner His Majesty The American is one of the greatest showcases of this charismatic gift! Setting the stage for his slate of famous swashbuckling pictures to come in the ‘20s, His Majesty finds Fairbanks as an independently wealthy and bored young man in Manhattan; after putting in time as an amateur firefighter for kicks and heading off to Mexico to upstage Pancho Villa(!), he travels to a fictional European kingdom with an amazingly manic exuberance to single-handedly restore order to a riot-ridden landscape. The first feature produced under the United Artists banner (a company jointly formed by titans Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford and Griffith), His Majesty is one of the most rip-roaring romps ever created for our beloved “fire-eating, speed-loving, space- annihilating, excitement-hunting thrillhound!” Showing before the feature is Fairbanks’ notorious 1916 drug comedy/detective spoof The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish — and author/historian Jeffrey Vance will provide opening remarks on Fairbanks’ wild ‘n woolly career!
His Majesty The American Dir. Joseph Henabery, 1919, 16mm. (Archival 16mm print courtesy of The Douris Corporation)
Mystery of the Leaping Fish Dirs. Christy Cabanne & John Emerson, 1916, 35mm, 25 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of The Douris Corporation)

Tickets – $12/free for members


2/9 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
The Three Musketeers

“When Alexandre Dumas…said to himself ‘Well, I guess I might as well write a book called The Three Musketeers, he doubtless had one object in view: to provide a suitable story for Douglas Fairbanks to act in the movies.” – LIFE Magazine

1920’s The Mark Of Zorro established Douglas Fairbanks as the biggest action star of his day, and truly set the tone for the rest of his career — but it was in The Three Musketeers that he pulled off, with consummate ease, possibly his most fantastic stuntwork. Even though he was 38 years old at the time, Douglas Fairbanks makes for all-time the role of D’Artagnan (the hot-headed young turk who joins the titular troika of rapier-wielding 17th-century soldiers), and employs a tongue-in-cheek style that has remained a constant in the swashbuckling genre, all the way up through today’s Pirates of the Carribbean. Watch for one of the most stunning stunts in early film, as Fairbanks does a one-handed handspring while reaching for a sword!
Dir. Fred Niblo, 1921, 16mm, 120 min.

Tickets – $10


2/16 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
Robin Hood

After the successive successes of the spectacular The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, Fairbanks’ ambition became as bottomless as his physical prowess — and so naturally, the production of 1922’s Robin Hood was destined to become a staggeringly opulent action extravaganza! Rather than covering the usual time-honored origin story touchstones, Fairbanks’ version instead gives us an opening act where he plays the chivalrous Earl of Huntington, who is a participant in the sword-heavy Crusades. Only upon returning back to England does he find that Prince John has turned a once-idyllic empire into a Dante-esque sty of corruption. Executed on a herculean scale, the film’s sets were erected by an army of five hundred carpenters and towered ninety feet in the air, covering ten acres of land — historically accurate to the smallest detail. Add to that Fairbanks’ trademark gravity-defying stuntwork, and you’ve got one of the most joyous tellings of the beloved Robin Hood myth!
Dir. Allan Dwan, 1922, 35mm, 127 min.

Tickets – $10


2/19 @ 6:30pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
The Thief of Bagdad
(“re-imagined” by Shadoe Stevens, w/ score feat. the music of ELO, world premiere!)

One of the most rousing, lavish and extraordinary film adventures of the 1920s comes to the Cinefamily in a version never before heard! Over the past 30 years, broadcasting legend Shadoe Stevens (the Federated Group’s “Fred Rated”; television shows like “Hollywood Squares and “Dave’s World”; the voice of “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and so much more) has been obsessed with Douglas Fairbanks’s masterful fantasy The Thief Of Bagdad — and throughout the years, has been privately perfecting the ultimate lush, dreamlike soundtrack to accompany this favored silent. Tonight, we proudly present the world premiere of Shadoe’s “re-imagined” Thief of Bagdad, scored entirely to the legendary music of the Electric Light Orchestra, which inexplicably complements and enhances the action! It’s an exceptional experience, as if the music was written for the movie.

This eye-popping odyssey features Fairbanks as a street thief who, in order to prove his worth to a princess paramour, transforms himself and is whisked away through a variety of storybook scenarios. Leapfrogging from undersea kingdoms to cloud cities and lunar outposts. With a winged horse, magic crystals and flying carpets, it’s a film of breathtaking innovation and magic. Gorgeous art deco larger-than-life setpieces, thousands of extras, the best SFX of its era and Fairbanks’s physical mastery all meld with the timeless music of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra to produce a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience!
Dir. Raoul Walsh, 1924, digital presentation, 140 min.

Tickets – free for members (first-come, first serve)

NOTE: you must have a current Cinefamily 3-month, 6-month or yearly membership to gain admission to this show — and we’ll have staff on-hand at the box office for you to re-up your lapsed membership, or sign up for a new one (hint-hint!)


2/23 @ 8:00pm / Series: Douglas Fairbanks
The Black Pirate

Photographed in early two-strip Technicolor, The Black Pirate is, by design, nothing but pure entertainment, as it’s crammed to the gills with swordfights, gallivanting about, pretty maidens, underwater chases and sweet revenge! Fairbanks had been itching to do a pirate picture for years, after being beaten to the punch by the big smashes of both The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood — and this film tops them both with its tale of a shipwrecked young man who finds that the pirate enemies who killed his father are also on the same island, burying the treasure which they stole from him. Going undercover, Doug infiltrates their ranks, in an attempt to explode them from within! With exteriors shot on location at sea, this is one of Fairbanks’ most satisfying efforts, blending whimsical comedy, startling nautical realism, romance and violence into a rollicking ball that will leave you grinnin’ from ear to ear, arrrrrgh!
Dir. Albert Parker, 1926, 35mm, 94 min.

Tickets – $10


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Douglas Fairbanks in "The Mark of Zorro," coming to Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts




plays the original score to Douglas Fairbanks’

‘The Mark of Zorro’

January 30, 2011

4 PM

Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX


“Listening to a full band perform the complete scores, written and timed to the action, became a surprising delight…The audience chuckled along, as much to the music as the films.”

– The Washington Post


The MARK of ZORRO (1920) Together again at last – the swashbuckling silent classic with its original, Spanish-flavored score! Played by Rick Benjamin’s Paragon Orchestra.

Old Spanish California is the setting in which Douglas Fairbanks creates the prototype of the modern action-adventure hero, with surprising humor and athleticism, as “Senor Zorro.”

Slashing his trademark “Z” on the consciousness and sometimes the posteriors of the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, Zorro leads the way to “Justice for all!”

Rick Benjamin and his Paragon Orchestra reunite the zesty original score with the cinema classic as they have for 20 years with the films of Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Return to Full Season Listing


Buy Subscription Tickets

Buy Tickets


For more information, visit TheLongCenter.org

Fairbanks and Marguerite DeLaMotte in "The Mark of Zorro." Photo from the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

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January 10, 2011



(830) 444-0523


Original 1926 photo from "The Black Pirate," stolen in Dec. 2010 burglary.



Items dating back to the early 1900s and valued at more than $10,000 (USD) were stolen from the museum’s collections during a late night burglary over the New Year’s holiday.

Original one-of-a-kind photographic prints, negatives and slides, autographs, promotional materials for Fairbanks’ films, the star’s handwritten correspondence, vintage newspapers and magazines, and other rare silent film memorabilia were stolen from the archives.

Fortunately intruders did not gain access to the museum’s most valuable artifacts, which are housed separately in a secure storage facility off-site. However, the crooks did manage to make off with a goodly portion of the museum’s photo, video, and periodicals collections. These are the items most frequently requested by the public, media, filmmakers, other libraries, museums and galleries for reproductions, research and exhibition loans.

Items stolen include five archival binder boxes containing photographic prints, negatives and slides; two large archival albums containing film posters, playbills, programs, vintage theater tickets and other rare film memorabilia; two archival boxes containing newspapers, magazines and film periodicals nearly a century old, as well as copies of films by Fairbanks and other silent cinema stars on VHS tape and DVD from the museum’s circulation library.

The most valuable artifact the burglars got away with was (ironically) an original brass urn dating to approximately 1923, a set piece for the film The Thief of Bagdad. This urn has been a centerpiece of exhibits since the museum acquired it from a Los Angeles movie prop house in 2005. The object stands appx. 2 feet tall and features ornate lifting handles in the shape of two cobra snakes on each side. The rare prop urn was in the process of having a broken handle repaired at the time of the burglary; normally it would have been stored offsite.

1924 prop urn used in "The Thief of Bagdad"


The burglary took place at the domicile of museum curator Keri Leigh, who was out of town over the holidays. Leigh co-founded the small private museum in 1998 and for many years housed the collections inside her family residence. A lifelong silent film enthusiast, Leigh always enjoyed sharing her rare film memorabilia collection with other Fairbanks fans, filmmakers, researchers, students, and historians, welcoming visitors from all around the globe.

“We never really worried too terribly much about break-ins or petty theft because as a private museum, we’re not readily accessible to the general public. Our tours are by appointment only. We don’t have a location that people can just walk into off the street. ” Leigh explains. “So we avoided a lot of would-be thieves casing the place for valuables with that added layer of security.”

While the museum’s policy limits admittance and access to the collections only to those with a bona fide research or scholarly need, curator Leigh says “actually, we’ve never denied admittance to anyone over the years,” a decision she does not regret even in light of the burglary. “The whole point is to share the collections with people.”

“Silent film fans respect the historical value of these artifacts,” she stresses. “They would never want to deprive future generations of the chance to see and learn about Douglas Fairbanks. They’ve always treated the museum and the home with great care when they come to visit us. They are as upset as we are about this theft, because these collections rightfully belong to the people – to Doug’s fans; to history.”

The most distressing aspect of the theft, according to Leigh, is that “the people who stole these artifacts were probably unaware of their cultural value and importance. They probably just thought they were robbing a well-stocked private residence, maybe looking to make a quick buck by selling the contents. They likely had no idea they had stolen property belonging to a museum.” Leigh shook her head in sad disbelief. “It would not surprise me at all if they didn’t even know who Douglas Fairbanks was.”

Such a burglary is not at all uncommon: according to the Art Loss Register, 54 percent of art thefts occur in domestic dwellings. However, the next three highest areas of theft occur in museums and galleries (12 percent each) and in churches (10 percent.) For this reason, institutions housing valuables have set up organizations to combat and prevent art thefts. These include the Univeristy of Cambridge’s Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, which monitors and reports on the international trade of stolen antiquities, and MuseumSecurity.Org, which has a mailing list that provides regular reports on stolen museum items.

Other major law enforcement agencies have their own databases of stolen artwork, including the Interpol database of stolen art. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is also devoted to International Cultural Property Protection.

The problem has become so prevalent that in 1991 the art and insurance communities jointly began the Art Loss Register in an attempt to fight art thefts around the globe. The register allows major auctioneers, collectors and art buyers to check their catalogues to determine whether a valuable piece is stolen property. The ALR lists about 1,200 new items each month and has a total of more than 120,000 stolen paintings, sculptures, furnishings and other valuable artifacts on file.

A rare image of Fairbanks with his custom Cadillac, circa 1928. This photograph, along with hundreds of others, was stolen in the Dec. 2010 burglary.


In the early morning hours of December 30th, museum curator Leigh was awakened in her hotel room miles away by a phone call from her neighbors. They had witnessed the bandits driving away in the middle of the night and alerted police.

When a panicked Leigh returned home, she discovered that the front door lock had been cracked. Her home surveillance cameras were of no use, either — electrical lines to the house were cut before the looters entered. Inside, she found a ransacked mess of her personal possessions strewn about the floor; all drawers, closets, and cabinets were picked through by the criminals. Everything of value in the home had been taken.

Leigh (who is also a renowned musician, recording artist, writer, and radio personality) lost an invaluable collection of rare tapes, photographs, concert posters and music memorabilia documenting her 25 year music career in the heist. Leigh has previously authored biographies of Douglas Fairbanks and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, her late friend and musical mentor.

Items taken from the home include Leigh’s original onstage costumes; many were handmade custom designs given to her by fans and friends through the years. She also lost master tapes for her band’s studio albums, a treasured 1940s Stella acoustic guitar, as well as her collection of her band’s live recordings, radio interviews and broadcasts, demo tapes, notes, song lyrics, notes, research and chapters for a book she was writing at the time of the break-in. While the actual cash or replacement value for these items exceeds $20,000, Leigh says their practical and sentimental value is incalculable: “You just can’t put a price tag on things like that.”

“”They took the deepest part of me – my music.” She says. “Songs I wrote, recorded, mixed and produced. They took my demo tapes and a 20-year archive of recorded performances of the band in concert, in the studio and on the radio. That’s a lifetime of work – my whole heart and soul – was in there. And they took it all. I could write an album’s worth of blues songs about how I feel right now, but don’t even have a guitar left to write them on.”

Hundreds of CDs, DVDs, 45 and 78 rpm records were stolen from Leigh’s sizable music collection. Designer clothing items were also pilfered; medicines and nutritional supplements nicked from her kitchen pantry. (“Seriously — what kind of burglars steal your vitamins?” Leigh mused.) The peckish prowlers also helped themselves to food items in her pantry. To make matters worse for Leigh personally, the burglars found her spare sets of keys and copped two cars. Until the stolen property is recovered and returned, Leigh is without even the basic necessities of daily life. “They totally cleaned me out,” she says.

“About the only thing they didn’t take were my books,” Leigh sighed. “I guess they weren’t very literary burglars.”

So far, no arrests have been made in the case.


Leigh’s friends, family, fans, and Fairbanks museum supporters have organized an online community watch effort to catch the crooks. They scour web auction and classified sites such as Craigslist looking out for her stage clothing, guitars, master tapes, personal effects, and museum artifacts to emerge. (Many of Leigh’s stolen stage costumes can be seen in the photo galleries of her band’s Official MySpace and in her music videos on YouTube.)

Music and film memorabilia dealers, auctioneers, other museums, and the general public are being urged to keep their eyes peeled for these items and to report any suspected stolen property to their local police or the FBI. Leigh has also retained a private investigator to help track down her stolen property and locate the thieves.

“These things nearly always wind up on eBay sooner or later.” Leigh says. “Art thieves routinely approach museums, galleries and memorabilia dealers trying to sell stolen goods. With the eyes of the public watching them, they are far less likely to succeed. Most art thieves are caught by one person who recognizes a piece of cultural property offered for sale as stolen and reports back to the rightful owner.”

Perhaps the only consolation for Leigh is that most of the items stolen from her home are unique and one-of-a-kind, and thus easily identifiable. “For the most part, these are not the typical sorts of items that can be sold off to pawn shops, such as TVs, computers, stereo equipment and electronics.” She explained. “It would take a very sophisticated fence operation that deals in stolen art and cultural property to handle them on the black market. I rather doubt these thieves are that clever or that connected.”

The museum is offering a 90-day “no questions asked” amnesty period for the safe return of the property. Should the burglars — or anyone currently in possession of the stolen items — return them to the museum, the band’s management, or to Leigh personally before March 30, 2011, they will not face criminal prosecution.

“The most important thing is getting the items returned promptly,” Leigh says. “The museum is scheduled to re-open in May 2011, and I can only pray we will have this substantial part of our collections back in time for that. Otherwise, our ability to present exhibits and fulfill research requests will be greatly diminished. To say the least.”

An alert and vigilant public will play a crucial role in recovering both Leigh’s own musical treasures and the Fairbanks Museum artifacts taken from her home.”Working together, I hope and pray that we can catch the thieves and get these rare items returned to the museum, so that the public may continue to have access to them for hundreds of years to come.” Leigh says. “This collection was intended to survive well past my earthly lifetime. I built it for the education, enjoyment and cultural enrichment of future generations. To think that all that time, effort and expense was in vain absolutely breaks my heart.”

Signed Fairbanks photographic print, circa 1920. Stolen.


Anyone with information about the burglary or reports of artifacts from the museum’s collections being offered for sale is encouraged to contact the museum immediately via email or phone at (830) 444-0523. Tips leading to an arrest and/or return of museum property may also qualify for a cash reward.

As the inventory of stolen property contains hundreds of items and is too extensive to include here, 100 images and descriptions of artifacts taken in the Dec. 30th burglary are sampled below. Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with them.

Many more of the stolen photographs, posters, and museum artifacts can be seen in the 2005 documentary film Douglas Fairbanks: The Great Swashbuckler. You can watch this film on the museum’s official YouTube Channel.

If you spot the same or similar item(s) being offered for sale and suspect these may be museum property, please contact the museum to confirm provenance via catalog/accession numbers and identifying tags/marks on the object(s) right away. Time is of the essence in reclaiming these historic museum artifacts before they are lost forever.

Samples of property/objects stolen from the museum’s collections:

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Mold found growing on a water damaged support beam beneath the museum's floor


MAR. 7, 2010


PHONE: (830) 444-0523


Since the discovery of mold inside the Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s new building over a month ago, museum staffers have been busy packing and moving the collections to safe climate-controlled storage offsite. The move was completed in mid-February.

“I’m happy to report that the collections do not appear to have suffered any damage as a result of the mold infestation,” museum curator Keri Leigh announced at the March board meeting in Austin. “Luckily the problem was discovered early on — about 10 days after we moved in — so we hadn’t uncrated any significant artifacts or hung anything on the gallery walls yet. We were so fortunate in that sense.”

The unfortunate news is that the museum’s planned re-opening, originally scheduled for March 1, has been postponed indefinitely pending repairs to the sick building. Extensive mold remediation, moisture intrusion repairs and replacement of key structural members will be required before the building can be safely opened to the public.

It’s obviously a major health issue,” Leigh said. “In addition to the dangers mold poses to the museum’s collection itself, my biggest concern is the health risks to staff and visitors.

“Most of the museum’s visitors have always traditionally been kids and the elderly, and those are the age groups most suceptible to harm from mold,” she explained. “Until the mold is remediated and the underlying moisture problems are fixed, there’s just no way we can continue to occupy this building or even consider opening it as a museum.”

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Numerous case studies have shown mold to pose serious health risks to normal, healthy persons. The effects are even more severe and dangerous to the elderly, small children and infants, persons with compromised immune systems, asthma, breathing problems or mold allergies.

To make matters worse, Leigh herself is highly allergic to mold. Shortly after moving into the home in January, Leigh soon found herself suffering spells of dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of short term memory and motor coordination, unexplained fatigue, joint pain, swelling of her face and extremities, skin rashes, and flu-like symptoms that just wouldn’t go away.

“For a couple of weeks there, I thought I just had the flu.” Leigh says. “But my symptoms weren’t getting any better and I couldn’t figure out why I was having all these other symptoms but no fever. It didn’t make sense.”

Then the mold was discovered about a week later. “While that was the worst news possible for the museum, it was kind of a relief to at least know what was making me so sick. As someone who has dealt with severe mold allergies from birth, finding out the home was ridden with mold explained all those symptoms. So at least I knew what the cause was, but of course it didn’t help me feel any better.”

“The only thing to do was for me to get myself and the museum collections out of the house as fast as possible.”

Leigh and museum staff quickly packed up the museum’s artifacts and put them in safe storage offsite. The next step was to get Leigh moved to temporary shelter for her own health.

“Once I got out of the house and into a mold-free environment, I started feeling better immediately,” she said.

But Leigh still has to travel to the museum frequently to deal with business matters once or twice a week. “It’s amazing – almost as soon as I step in the door, I’ll start sneezing. My eyes get all puffy and watery and it’s hard to breathe,” she says. “Within an hour or two I’m itching and scratching and have red bumps coming up on my skin. My brain will start to feel foggy and I can’t concentrate. The effect is instantaneous. So I’m trying to spend as little time here as possible.”

Severely water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic

Although she is terribly disappointed, Leigh has come to accept the fact that the museum will not be opening in the building anytime soon. The repairs needed to remediate the mold, fix the moisture intrusion problems, and stabalize the structure are too extensive to be performed while the building is occupied.

“It’s really sad,” Leigh says. “I had such high hopes for this place just a few short months ago. It’s a lovely old Victorian home and I saw a lot of potential for the museum here. To find that this grand old house has sick building syndrome just breaks my heart because I love historic homes and hate to see something like this happen to them. It’s entirely preventable with proper care, conservation and maintenance. If homes are not cared for, these types of problems – termites, mold, wood-destroying organisms – set in and eventually just overtake the whole house.”

“It’s sort of like a cancerous growth in your home,” Leigh explains. “Early detection is key. If you can find the cancer early and remove it, it’s much less likely to come back. If it is not caught until the late stages, the cancer will spread like wildfire and be much more difficult and costly to get rid of. It may recur again and again, or it may prove fatal.”

For now, Leigh is just relieved that her health is improving and the museum’s collections are safe. “Luckily we discovered the mold and moisture problems quickly before the collections were uncrated or on the walls,” she says.

“While this is certainly a nightmare, it would have been so much worse had we actually been open to the public at the time. I have often shuddered to think of one artifact getting damaged or even one visitor or staffer getting sick from the mold. One is one too many,” says Leigh. “So I guess we were fortunate, if we try to look on the bright side of this.”

While Leigh looks for the bright side, the museum’s future hangs under a dark cloud. With grants and donating funding for nonprofit arts and cultural groups at an all-time low nationwide, many small museums like the Douglas Fairbanks are having to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently.

“The last two years have been particularly tough for us,” she says. “With the downturn in the economy, many of the funding sources we could always count on for support were either cutting grants altogether or giving much less. And the trend across the country is for even more cuts to arts, culture and educational organizations.

“When I see the Governors of big states like California and New York closing major parks and recreation facilities, and shuttering museums and libraries due to massive budget cuts, I really have to wonder how a small private museum like ours is going to stay afloat in this economy.” 

“Right now, our greatest obstacle is to have a permanent location that we can call our own,” Leigh explains. “We thought we had one here, and then we discover the building needs repairs to extensive for us to stay in it. So we’re basically right back to square one — using temporary office and exhibit space until we can settle into a new home.”

Leigh says just having a bricks-and-mortar location would most likely save the museum. Even in these tough and uncertain economic times, Leigh feels that the museum can stand on its’ own two feet without taxpayer funds.

“We’re always been self-supporting,” Leigh says. “The museum has been open since 1998 and has never accepted any public funds. All of our funding comes from donations and grants from private individuals and businesses, admission fees, gift shop sales, fundraisers and special events. We’re very proud of the fact that we’re not a burden to the taxpayer.

“We believe that if the silent film and local community think we provide a valuable service to the public, they will support us, and they always have before,” she says. “These are just tough times for everyone. We’re trying to weather the economic storm, like everybody else.”

The museum also raises additional funding from licensing and duplication fees charged to film producers and book publishers seeking to reproduce items from its’ collections, as well as fees charged to other museums when artifacts are loaned out for long-distance and traveling exhibits. The museum also has an online gift shop where Fairbanks fans can purchase books, DVD’s, apparel and memorabilia, with a percentage of sales going to the museum. “Every little bit helps right now,” Leigh says. “Especially when we don’t have a building that is open to the public where we can raise funds through admission fees, events, and the gift shop.”

“Our first priority now has to be finding either temporary or permanent space for the museum to operate,” she says.

Will the museum eventually return to the old house on St. George Street? Leigh says it’s possible.

“Sure, once the home is repaired and stabalized structurally, we could move right back in.” She says. “But there is a lot of serious work to be done here before the house will be fully repaired, and who knows how long that’s going to take? By that time, we may well be in a new permanent location with a long term lease commitment. And that’s what I hope will happen, the sooner the better. Finding us a new building is my only focus now. We desperately need to get our doors open to the public again.”

Anyone who has a suitable historic home or building they would consider donating or leasing to the Douglas Fairbanks Museum is encouraged to email or call (830) 444-0523 to discuss a resident curatorship, possible tax incentives or other options for your property. The museum is willing to relocate anywhere within the United States.

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1890s vintage residence housing the museum in Gonzales, TX


MAR. 1, 2010


PHONE: (830) 444-0523



On January 1, the Douglas Fairbanks Museum relocated to Gonzales, Texas, after nearly four years of occupying temporary office and exhibit spaces during their search for a new permanent location.

The museum moved into an 1890s vintage home on Saint George Street in Gonzales, with 800 square feet of space donated to the museum for library and gallery space, along with separate housing quarters for onsite staff.

Plans were underway to re-open the museum on March 1, just in time for Texas Independence Week festivities.

Museum staff and volunteers were working fast and furious to uncrate exhibits when on one rainy day in January, somebody noticed a strong and unmistakeable smell in the museum’s entry hall — mold.

“At that moment, it was like the sound of tires screeching to a halt,” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “Everything stopped until we could investigate further and see how severe the mold problem was, and most importantly, until we could find out what level of action and resources was going to be required to fix it.”

Museum entrance hall (wall where mold was initially discovered is to the R of desk/chair).

Unpacking museum artifacts, January 2010


Photo of mold and water damaged sub floor directly beneath entry hall area

“So I put on my coveralls, got out the flashlight, camera, clipboard, toolkit and got to work,” says Greg Jackson, the museum’s onsite facilities manager.

Jackson, who was also a licensed structural pest control inspector in California for many years before moving to Texas, began inspecting the home top to bottom; taking samples of the mold with scotch tape and petri dishes for further lab testing to find out the exact types and levels of mold present within the structure.

“At first, we thought the mold was contained to just one wall of the home since we were only smelling it in that one area,” says Jackson. “However, once I inspected the attic and crawled the home’s sub area, it became clear that this infestation was far more widespread than we originally thought. Mold is present and live throughout the home.”

The inspection revealed extensive evidence of roof leaks in the attic – water had severely damaged the sheathing and in many spots had completely rotted out the wood.  Mold and fungus were found to be growing on wood and metal flashing throughout the attic area.

Jackson also found another surprise while inspecting the attic:  a severe termite infestation. “Apparently termites have found this home a delicious treat,” says Jackson. “They’ve obviously been eating here for several years, and have simply chewed a lot of the wood away. Between the water damage, dry rot and termite damage, it’s a real mess.”

Water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic


Closeup of same area

Jackson was in for an even bigger surprise when he inspected under the house: “Turns out a little mold growing inside a wall was the least of our problems,” he said. “It’s not only inside that one wall, but is growing underneath the entire house.”

When Jackson inspected the subarea beneath the home, he found evidence of prior flooding which had severely damaged the flooring and sub flooring. “And because these are wood floors, they became a magnet for termites and fungi,” Jackson says. “I discovered extensive evidence of termite infestations, dry rot, mold and fungus all throughout the sub area.”

Jackson says that because these water problems appear to have been present for some time and were not treated or remedied before, the infestation has had lots of time to fester and spread, which is going to make treatment and remediation both costly and time-consuming.

But what concerned Jackson even more than the evidence of water intrusion, termites and mold itself was the damage these problems have caused to the home’s structural system and foundation. “Key support beams and piers beneath the home have been severely weakened in spots due to prior water damage, dry rot, and termite infestations,” Jackson reported. “Some of these key support systems are so weakened that they could fail at any time.”

Rotted wooden support beam rests precariously atop brick pier which is slipping to the R

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Water damage, dry rot and mold on support beam

Moldy sub floor

Mold and termite damage to load bearing wall

Cedar support pier base exhibiting severe water, fungus and termite damage

 One area of particular concern to Jackson was the bathroom. Upon entering the subarea directly beneath, he made a startling discovery:  the floors were so badly water damaged that portions of the sub flooring had disintigrated away. 

“The wood in that area is so far gone that it literally crumbles into dust when you touch it,” Jackson says. ” The floor is in danger of collapse.”

“Ever since I made that discovery, I’m very nervous every time I sit down on the commode,” he said with a light chuckle. “Let’s put it that way.”

Jackson, who also lives onsite, had noticed previously that the bathtub was leaning slightly off-level and leaked water on to the floor every time the tub was used. “That’s not a really difficult repair to make, so I wasn’t too worried about that so long as it as attended to quickly,” he said. “But when I looked under the house and saw how extensively water damaged the support beams directly beneath the bathroom area were, I knew the problem was much more serious.”

“There’s nothing quite like the possibility that the tub or commode could just fall through the floor to get your attention,” Jackson said. “Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed just using the bathroom, and that’s a risk the museum obviously won’t take with the safety of its’ visitors.”

Severely damaged flooring and support beam under commode


Rotted flooring and cut support beam under museum bathroom

When Jackson turned in his inspection report and photos to the museum’s curator, Leigh was shocked by what she saw: “Needless to say, this was not good news,” she said.

Mold is a museum’s worst enemy,” Leigh explained. “For a museum like ours where the majority of our collections are very old and porous paper products such as newspapers, books, posters, photographs and documents, mold just attaches itself to them. It feeds on cellulose. Air where the relative humidity (RH) is above 80% will support mold on cellulosics — cotton or linen — and most of our collections are made from those materials.”

Leigh has expressed great concern about high humidity levels in the home. Several months ago, even before the mold was discovered, Leigh was setting up an exhibit case in the main gallery when she noticed the gauge used to monitor humidity levels was giving off very high readings. “My thermo hygrometer was reading at 80-95%, based on the weather that day. On dry sunny days, the levels were at about 60-65%, but on humid or rainy days, the recorded humidity levels were just off the charts. I couldn’t figure out why.”

Leigh had also noticed excessive condensation appearing on glass doors and windows inside the museum, even on and inside the exhibit cases. “Now that’s a problem.” Leigh said. “You can’t have water droplets collecting inside an exhibit case filled with rare artifacts. Without airflow inside a case, those artifacts would start growing mold in no time.”

Extreme water condensation on windows in museum office

“So from all previous indicators, I could tell the museum building had some kind of moisture instrusion problem,” Leigh says, “but didn’t know just how widespread or severe the problem really was until I saw Greg’s photos and report of what was going on in the attic, underneath the building and within the walls. The whole building is a petri dish. Live mold and fungus are growing everywhere.”





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FEB. 15, 2010


PHONE: 830-444-0523
The Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s re-opening, originally scheduled for Monday, March 1, 2010 is being postponed due to the discovery of toxic mold in the walls of its’ new building.
The historic 1890s home on Saint George Street was recently renovated and restored prior to the museum’s planned re-opening. Then mold was discovered in the main entrance hall area and inside the curator’s private office.
Inside they had already dedicated more than 800 square feet to gallery and exhibit spaces designed to showcase the history of American cinema and honor the memory of a pioneering silent film star.
Plans were in place to open the museum in early March, just in time for Gonzales’ Texas Independence Day celebrations. But that has all suddenly and unexpectedly changed.
“We were so incredibly excited to be here. We just couldn’t wait to contribute to the Gonzales community and economy.” said Leigh. “Now, we don’t know what we are going to do.”
The one thing they do know is the museum’s March 1st opening has been postponed. In fact, they aren’t sure when it might re-open. Depending on how long the mold remediation process takes, and how rapidly the Saint George Street flood control project can be completed, they may also consider having to relocate within Gonzales or move the museum to another city.
“It’s our worst nightmare. Mold is not only extremely harmful to the structural integrity of the house itself, but also to the health of the home’s residents and museum visitors. We are already feeling the negative health effects ourselves, and the last thing we want is other people getting sick when they come to visit the museum. All of our artifacts and collections are now in imminent danger, as well as our personal property, and that’s a risk we simply can’t afford to take.” said Leigh.
“We had an allocated budget of $5,000 to re-locate the museum to Gonzales, and exhausted that just getting here.” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “We didn’t worry since we planned to have our doors open by March 1st and would start bringing revenue in right away. Now, because of mold being discovered inside the home, we haven’t been able to uncrate a single artifact or hang any of our rare posters on the walls. Everything is on hold until this mold problem can be resolved. We can’t even open our doors to the public or begin to generate any revenue, which the museum desperately needs.”
“Since we are renting the home, getting the mold repaired is the owner’s responsibility.” Leigh explains. “Mold remediation can be a costly and time-consuming process, and even if the owner takes care of it quickly, there is a strong possibility that the mold could return in a few weeks or a few months. Until the source of moisture that causes mold to grow is completely eliminated, mold will always come back. That’s the unfortunate nature of the beast.”
“Being from out of town, we were unfamiliar with the flooding history of St. George Street when we moved here.” Leigh explains. “No one told us. It wasn’t until after we arrived that we learned of the St. George Street Drainage Project and the flood control measures the city is taking. We’re so happy that the city of Gonzales is making strides towards bringing commerce back to this street and has great plans for it in the future. We’d like to be a part of that growth, but how long the repair process will take could decide the fate of our museum. With mold growing in the house at an alarming rate, we can’t wait several more months for work on the street project to be completed. There’s just no way.”
“Of course we totally understand that these delays are beyond the city’s control.” She says. “I share their frustration. This has been one of the rainiest seasons on record, and work on the street drainage project has had to be extended due to soil instability on St. George Street. All the recent rains have only made the situation worse for everybody: the city work crews, the business owners, and the residents here. Just recently we had nine straight days of rain, and I saw for myself just how serious the flooding problem is. We had rainwater ponding all around our property, and the street itself looked like a small lake. My greatest concern is that water may be collecting under the house’s foundation, and that’s the most likely source of this mold growth inside the structure.”
“So now we are faced with two choices: either repair the mold in the home and wait for the city to complete the St. George Street Drainage Project, or move to another location immediately, either in Gonzales or Austin or elsewhere.”
Leigh said the museum board would consider another location in Gonzales because they like the city and want to have the museum located here.
“We have met some great people,” said Leigh. “We’d like to help this town thrive because everybody benefits. We want to help bolster the local economy with more historic tourism. Most of our visitors come from outside the state of Texas and all over the world. These are serious film fans and history buffs. They would love Gonzales and all it has to offer. We came here to open a wonderful museum for the people of Gonzales, and that is exactly what we are determined to do. One way or another. There just has to be a solution.”

Entrance hall where the mold was found

One of the challenges they are facing is that wherever the museum is located, it also needs to accommodate living quarters since there are two live-in caretakers of the residence and collections. The historic home they are now in is just under 1,500 square feet, which she said is the minimum needed to house the museum and private living spaces.
Time, too, is another factor. They are hoping to find some resolution to this problem in the next few weeks because the museum’s priceless artifacts, as well as their own personal property is at risk.
Both Leigh and the home’s caretaker Greg Jackson have been suffering mold-related health problems over the past few humid and rain-soaked weeks, and they know they can’t stay in a home riddled with toxic mold. They want to get the museum up and running as soon as possible, a big reason being to generate much-needed income.
“We need something resolved in the next couple of weeks,” said Jackson.  “The museum is losing money in admission fees, donations, and gift shop sales every day it remains closed.”
“We’re not in a financial position to delay the museum’s opening, or even to turn right around and move again,” Leigh stressed. “We are actually now over-budget with all the unexpected flood control project delays and now this toxic mold crisis. We didn’t see it coming, but the situation is what it is, and we somehow have to deal with it.”
” Things were finally looking up again,” said Jackson. “We’d found what seemed like the perfect new location to invest in, and now this. It’s a disaster.”
“We’re not independently wealthy people who have a private museum as our personal little lark,” Leigh laughed. “This certainly isn’t the Guggenheim Museum, or the Smithsonian.  It’s a very small, humble museum run out of our own home. We both work for a living to make ends meet, just like everybody else. The museum has always been something we do as a hobby part-time, a passion of ours that we love to share with others. We do it for educational and cultural enrichment, not financial. This is our service to the community. It’s how we give something back.”
The two moved here January 1st from Austin, where the museum had been located inside their private residence for several years before finally moving into a larger building. After a flood wiped out the entire downstairs of the structure where the museum was located, the search began for a new place in 2007. The nationwide search took more than 2.5 years.
The very high property values in Austin proved too much for their small budget. They even looked in California and Denver, Colo., the birthplace of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (Jackson is also a Denver native) but found the property costs even higher there than in Texas. In the end, they decided to come to the Gonzales are because a longtime friend of the museum suggested it could be a good location with reasonable rent and a nice, historic atmosphere.
After paying a visit in December, they decided to take the leap and secured the house in Gonzales. They packed a moving truck and headed to Gonzales with high hopes of having a new place to live and re-opening their museum which had not had a permanent home for close to three years.
Everything seemed to be on track, said Leigh, and then they discovered the mold problem inside the house, leading to their current situation. “The home was completely renovated before we moved in, and for the first week or so all we could smell was fresh paint. It wasn’t until the rains came in mid-January that we began to notice that unmistakeable, dreaded smell of mold. We experienced it after the flood and know mold when we smell it. We just looked at each other and smacked our foreheads saying, `oh no, not again! Is this a bad dream?'”

Leigh (L) and Jackson (R) give a tour at the museum's former Austin location

But both stressed they’d like to remain in Gonzales if at all possible. Leigh and Jackson said though their private museum is about the film industry, it’s also about vital American history and they think that could be a good fit with Gonzales.
“It brings a bit of Tinseltown glamour to the city. It boosts the local arts and culture scene, something that I feel will be a hit both with locals and tourists. There are so many talented people here, and a surprisingly vibrant artists community for such a small town. I could easily envision Gonzales eventually becoming another Fredericksburg, or Luckenbach, or Gruene, small towns famous not just for their history, but for music, theatre, art and cultural attractions. Which in turn generates a great deal of prestiege and revenue for the city.”
Leigh also points out that Gonzales is one of a handful of small cities which has two theatres, something which excites her because showing silent films has become very popular across America.
“We would love to do regular screenings of silent films, as well as help sponsor children’ theatre workshops for kids who are interested in acting and the arts at both the Lynn and Crystal Theatres.” She explains. “Our goal is to partner with the local arts groups; to give presentations at the local schools, working with them to schedule field trips and group tours to the museum. Douglas Fairbanks’ biggest fans during his lifetime were children – he was every little boy’s hero, and we know the kids will love his movies. His appeal is timeless, even if his films are more than 80 years old. A love of the arts starts at an early age, and if you learn an appreciation for classic films as a youngster, you’ll love them all your life.”
In fact, it was the silent films Leigh watched as a child which led to her own appreciation of the art form and her eventual decision to start the Douglas Fairbanks Museum. In her research, Leigh said she discovered almost all of the great stars of the silent film era had museums, with the glaring exception of Fairbanks. He was a pioneer in the movie industry and literally helped shape that industry in the multi-billion dollar mammoth is has become today.
“Besides writing, producing, and starring in more than 35 now-classic films, Fairbanks also founded the nation’s first film school at the University of Southern California, helped to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as it’s first president, hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929, among so many other accomplishments. His vast contributions to the film industry are too important to be forgotten,” Leigh stresses.
That, said Leigh, was a driving force in founding the museum. They have since collected many artifacts from the silent movie era documenting Fairbanks’ remarkable life and career, all exhibited at the museum. They have roughly 1,200 artifacts which are displayed, including rare movie posters, original still photographs, programs, props and other memorabilia.

Fairbanks Museum Curator Keri Leigh

Leigh, who is classically trained as a musician, journalist and historian, also worked at Austin’s O. Henry House Museum for six years. It was there she honed her knowledge of the preservation and display of rare artifacts, interpretation and narrative of history, as well as caring for and preserving historic structures, a skill that certainly comes in handy as she is forced to evaluate the effects of mold on a century-old home.
“It’s such a great old house,” she muses, looking wistfully around the mold-damaged home on St. George Street. “These old Victorians were built to last by craftsmen who not only made them functional, but works of art. I love this place and would like to see it saved. Of course there is still be hope for the home if repairs are made quickly and the street drainage project completed, but we may not be able to stay in the home long enough to see that come to pass. Unfortunately, our first concern has to be the museum’s collections, our health, and the health of the visitors. So if we have to move out, it will be terribly sad, but that’s what we may have to do.”
“All I know is that we have to do something soon,” Jackson adds urgently. “Time is of the essence in the battle against mold. Given all these factors and variables, our fastest option may be to move to another building. How we’re going to do that, or where we’re going to go, I have no idea. I just hope the community of Gonzales will come to our aid and lend a helping hand.”
For now, what will happen next remains a mystery. They are hoping there may be an affordable, mold-free historic house or downtown commercial property available which they could utilize as a home and place for the museum, and that some kind of emergency relocation grant or funding may be available to offset the costs.
“Perhaps there is a property owner out there reading this who would be willing to donate use of their property as a substantial tax write-off and that there are some incentives available to them from the city, county, or state for doing so” says Leigh. “Hopefully, someone would be at least willing to negotiate a rental at a substantial discount that we can afford. There are always options when people come together with a common goal and work towards a solution. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s amazing what people can do when they put their hearts and minds into something.
“We made a concious decision to relocate the museum to Gonzales because we love the amazing history of this town and we see the potential of what it can become in the future,” she says. “We’re willing to work very hard to help make that happen. We’ve invested in Gonzales – now we’re hoping Gonzales will invest in us.”
Anyone who might have a solution or who would like to volunteer with the effort can call the Douglas Fairbanks Museum at 830-444-0523 or visit them online at DouglasFairbanks.org.

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Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (Left) in his final film, "The Private Life of Don Juan" (1934)


The Gonzales Cannon

January 22, 2010

The city of Gonzales is known for its history and museums.  Now there is a new attraction to add to the list of tourist destinations.

“I have been a silent movie fanatic since I was about five years old,” said Keri Leigh, curator of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum, scheduled to open March 1 in Gonzales.  “I remember falling in love with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney — that was my first favorite film.”

Leigh recalls fencing with the boys in her neighborhood as a child, and watching the films of legendary actor Douglas Fairbanks.

“I used to reenact his stunt scenes from his movies when he played Robin Hood, Zorro and a pirate,” said Leigh.  “I grew up but I never fell out of love with silent movies.”

As a musician, Leigh toured the globe for several years, but in 1998 she decided to make a change.

“I was getting tired of life on the road living in a suitcase,” she said.  “It’s fun to do when you’re in your twenties, but I was finally ready to do something else.”

Silent films went through a revival in the 1990’s.  Old reels were turned into DVDs and cleaned up in the archives, so Leigh returned to her love of old films and the stars that made them shine and her life became engrossed in the world of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and Douglas Fairbanks.  It was then that she decided to preserve his memory.

“I saw a growing interest in old films, with museums and libraries being dedicated to other stars, but then I thought, ‘What about Doug?’” said Leigh. “Doug, Mary and Charlie were known as the big three, and I wanted to make sure their contributions were not forgotten.”

In 1999 she held film screenings in Austin to raise money for the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.  With her former bass player Greg Jackson (now the museum’s live-in caretaker) they set up the museum in their home for two years, and eventually moved it into another building. 

Nearly three years ago the museum building’s first floor was flooded by rain water. They were renting the building and the owner sold it after flood damages were repaired.  After a two year search for a new location, Leigh said that’s when she realized that it may be time to take her friend’s advice and consider moving to Gonzales.  She admires the history of the city and its appreciation for the arts.

“This is one of the few small towns I’ve ever seen with two theaters – the Lynn and the Crystal – and I think we will fit right in,” said Leigh.

Leigh and museum mascot "Jack," her current leading man.



His real name was Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman Fairbanks, Sr., and he was raised in Denver, Colorado. Fairbanks was a serious stage actor, and according to Leigh that is exactly what Hollywood producers were looking for when silent films became popular.

“They wanted someone respectable to be on the screen to legitimize movies. At the turn of the 20th century, it was  mostly immigrants and lower income people who went to the movies. They could watch a film and get lost in another world, a better world, for 20 minutes.  And it only cost a nickel! Nickelodeons operated out of shop fronts in seedy neighborhoods. So-called “respectable” people wouldn’t go anywhere near them. The producers essentially wanted to attract a higher class of audience, so they had to start bringing in a higher class of star.”

In fact, Leigh said the job of a film actor wasn’t really respectable at all in the beginning.

“There would be signs in boarding houses that said, ‘No dogs or actors allowed!’”

The stage to screen theory paid off, and movies began to make huge profits.

“Doug was skeptical at first, but his attitude changed and he was taken by the technology of the movie camera and the freedom of film, he was no longer limited to the stage,” Leigh said.  “Movies made it possible for him to be famous all over the world, not just in New York City.”
In the late 1910s, when Fairbanks was the #1 male box office attraction, Mary Pickford was the world’s most popular female star, affectionately known as “America’s Sweetheart.” They married in 1920, and together they ruled the film industry.  Leigh describes them as the first Hollywood power couple.

“Back then, a celebrity was usually a president or politician, but they were something different. The world had never seen anything like it before. They truly were the first great Hollywood stars.” Leigh said.  “The crowds that came out to see them when they traveled were outrageous mobs. It was like Beatlemania.  In one case, Doug had to carry Mary on his shoulders through the crowd to protect her from their own fans.”

Museum curator Leigh

Fairbanks was truly a pioneer in the film industry. He earned enough money to start his own production company and was a founding member of United Artists. Fairbanks was also a founding member of The Motion Picture Academy, served as the Academy’s first president and hosted the first Oscars Ceremony in 1929.

His debut film was “Martyrs of the Alamo” in 1915, in which he plays five separate uncredited small characters.  One of the few movies about the Texas stand-off against the Mexican Army which includes the town of Gonzales in the story.  Leigh hopes to screen the film in Gonzales in the near future.

Fairbanks was part German and Jewish.  His family had moved to the United States in the 1800s.  Leigh said she often wonders how he felt in the years preceding World War Two, when his family’s homeland and people were under siege from Hitler.  In fact, she said if she could ask Fairbanks one question it would be about that.

“I would ask him why he didn’t use his celebrity to make a difference and stand up against Hitler and what was happening,” Leigh said.  “He must have been terrified, but he had the power – if he had made just one film about what was happening in Germany, and presented it the right way, who knows what impact it might have had?”

She has written and edited several books, including Douglas Fairbanks:In His Own Words. She carefully preserves the treasures she has gathered through the years, from film set props to books and photographs, Leigh, Jackson and museum mascot Jack the Cat are very excited to share the accomplishments of Fairbanks with visitors at the museum.
Leigh believes it will draw students and silent film fans from all over Texas and the country to Gonzales.

“I’m a steward of history and I feel like I work for him (Fairbanks). I’m merely taking care of his things for a few years, then the collection will be passed along to someone else one day who will continue to care for them and share these important pieces of history with others.

“I want to make sure he is not forgotten.  He was always a crusader and a defender of freedom and liberty, and that’s a very important part of his message. To this day his acting, writing, production skills and amazing stunt work are still looked at in awe,” said Leigh. “He was a force of nature, and an all-American hero.”

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