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On Sunday, July 15th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

As Zorro, a masked champion of the people, Fairbanks displays the athletic prowess, humor, and rakish charm that would propel him to super-stardom. The film is a classic, and in it Fairbanks set the bar high for subsequent action-adventure films in what was his first-ever swashbuckler.

Set to introduce The Mark of Zorro is Jeffrey Vance, Fairbanks scholar and author of Douglas Fairbanks, which was published by the University of California Press. Vance is a film historian, archivist, producer, lecturer and the author of a trilogy of earlier books, each highly regarded, on film greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Vance will be signing copies of his books following the Sunday screening The Mark of Zorro.

Recently, I spoke with Vance about Fairbanks, silent film, his work as a film historian, and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival.

Jeffrey Vance

Jeffrey Vance in Hollywood

 

Thomas Gladysz: How did you become interested in Douglas Fairbanks?

Jeffrey Vance: I became interested in Fairbanks as a result of my early interest in Charles Chaplin. Fairbanks was Chaplin’s great friend, and a partner in the United Artists Corporation. He was also 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. Fairbanks’s namesake son also provided encouragement later on.

Thomas Gladysz: Fairbanks was more than a popular actor—he was an innovator and pioneer.

Jeffrey Vance: Yes. Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most creative producers in America and one of Hollywood’s great leaders. He came to films as a Broadway star, transitioned to films first as a screen satirist and then, of course, as the great screen swashbuckler. Beyond that, he was a civic leader, an independent producer, the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a developer of America’s first film school, now called the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Fairbanks helped pioneer and popularize Technicolor cinematography and original film scores. And, his film collection was one of the first important film deposits at the Museum of Modern Art; Fairbanks was also a pioneer of film preservation. In short, Fairbanks was at the forefront of many important things.

Thomas Gladysz: At this year’s SFSFF, you’re introducing The Mark of Zorro. What should viewers expect?

Jeffrey Vance: The Mark of Zorro is a landmark not only in Fairbanks’ career but also in the development of the action adventure film. With The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times, The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair. Prior to Fairbanks, most costume films had been largely turgid affairs; Fairbanks’ contribution to the costume film was his winning charm, humor, and athleticism executed in a modern manner.

Beyond re-energizing his career and redefining a genre, The Mark of Zorro also helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth century American fiction, a character that was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman. Bob Kane told me that Fairbanks’ Zorro costume, secret lair, and dual identity inspired Batman. And, of course, footage from the original The Mark of Zorro is cleverly interwoven into the Oscar-winning film, The Artist.

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Thomas Gladysz: Speaking of The Artist, Fairbanks’ persona obviously influenced the film’s lead character, George Valentin. What did you think of the film?

Jeffrey Vance: I think The Artist is a miracle. The fact is it raised a “dead” art form—the silent cinema—like Lazarus. It’s no longer perceived as irrelevant; someone else could conceivably make another silent film and it too could garner critical and commercial success.

Thanks to the Weinstein Company, I was able to attend several screenings and events promoting the film. It was gratifying to hear writer/director Michel Hazanavicius tell me that the creative team behind The Artist had my Douglas Fairbanks book, and that it was the book and all the screenings and events around the book that helped shape the character of George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin. They could have easily modeled the character on John Gilbert or Rudolph Valentino.

Thomas Gladysz: What draws you to silent film?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, a great draw is that the viewer is part of the creative process. The viewer is interpreting the images on the screen. Silent cinema is like opera and ballet; what’s not provided the viewer provides with their imagination. As a result, one is more involved with silent cinema than with other types of films. They mean more to the viewer.

Thomas Gladysz: As a film historian and author, what’s next?

Jeffrey Vance: I’ve done quite a few audio commentary tracks. Recently released, The Gold Rush for Criterion Collection is my best commentary work and my favorite. I’ve also recorded tracks for Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad for the Cohen Collection, as well as the 1944 British comedy On Approval for Inception Media Group. I’m recording another for Warner Home Video at the end of the month.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work in the past year for Roy Export, the Chaplin family organization that controls the copyrighted Chaplin films as well as the Chaplin image. A Chaplin film deposit now joins the Chaplin photographic collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I helped negotiate and arrange that collection. These two important collections will be celebrated by the Academy in the near future. Recently, I took the NBC Today Show on a Chaplin tour, it will air sometime after the Olympics.

I am also working on a book project about Mary Pickford. The late Robert Cushman, a leading Pickford expert and photo curator at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote several chapters for a critical study of Pickford. Robert also conducted interviews with cinematographers Hal Mohr, director George Cukor, and others in the early 1970s. Manoah Bowman, the executor of Robert’s estate, has allowed me exclusive use of these materials to develop into a complete book. I intend to augment Robert’s materials with my own interview materials and research. I believe it will be an important Pickford book.

The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro (1920), stars the masked Douglas Fairbanks (left)

 

Thomas Gladysz: Besides The Mark of Zorro, which films at this year’s festival most intrigue you?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, there are three must-see films. Mantrap is a comedy gem. With a capacity Castro crowd, Mantrap may very well bring the house down. It’s Clara Bow’s best film. I find we’re still catching up with Clara Bow! She was very much of her time yet ahead of her time. Another is Pandora’s Box. Silent films are all about picture quality. In an inferior print, you’re taking away vital information. Louise Brooks really comes alive in the new restoration. To see additional detail in her performance is to see the film for the first time. And Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box is a performance for the ages!

Finally, I’m keen to revisit The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna. The film co-stars Francis Lederer, and I remember being seated next to him when the film was shown in his honor at Cinecon in Hollywood in the 1990s. It was an amazing film, and Mr. Lederer was flabbergasted at this silent picture he made early in his long career. At the film’s conclusion, he kept repeating, “I can’t believe how good this picture is. That man Schwarz [Hanns Schwarz, the film’s director] was a genius!”

These films are just shells of themselves on home video or screened in museums/archives. They were designed and timed for the big screen, large audiences, and live music. Anything else isn’t the authentic silent film experience. I’m very grateful to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the opportunities they provide to revisit and rediscover the very fragile art form that is the silent cinema.

*****

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on their website at www.silentfilm.org. The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 – 15th.

Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks’ films around the world. He will be signing copies of his “Louise Brooks edition” of Margarete Bohme’s classic novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl, following the screening of Pandora’s Box at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

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The Douglas Fairbanks Museum will be closed from Nov. 21-27 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We will close on Dec. 19, 2011 for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and reopen to the public on Jan. 2, 2012.

Thanks for all your support this year and happy holidays!

 

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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
MEMBERS-ONLY SCREENING, SPECIAL SATURDAY SHOW:
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

ZORRO SLASHES INTO AUSTIN!

 

Rick Benjamin’s PARAGON ORCHESTRA

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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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 10, 2011

CONTACT:

THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM

(830) 444-0523

Email

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

BURGLARS NAB RARE FAIRBANKS FILMS, PHOTOS,

ARTIFACTS IN HOLIDAY HEIST

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"

UNHAPPY HOLIDAYS

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.

A RUDE AWAKENING

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.

TO CATCH A THIEF

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.

BE OUR EYES AND EARS

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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The Douglas Fairbanks Museum recently provided research materials to the History Channel for an upcoming  documentary about the use of language in film.

Vintage news articles from the museum’s newspaper and magazine archives were requested by the network specifically pertaining to the 1916 Douglas Fairbanks comedy, The Habit of Happiness – reportedly the first Hollywood film to contain a curse word. And this was in the silent days before spoken dialogue!

Although there are no swear words in the printed title cards, Fairbanks reportedly swore up a blue streak in one particular scene, sparking a nationwide lip-reading movie controversy.

 

 

From the 1917 book "Laugh and Live" by Douglas Fairbanks. Original in the museum's library.

 

 

Fairbanks fans may already be familiar with the story of Sunny Wiggins, the film’s central character. He’s convinced that laughter can cure any ailment and to prove his point, he conducts an experiment: find the saddest, sickest characters on earth and heal them with happiness. He decides to test his theory on a group of street-hardened “bums” at the local homeless shelter.

Douglas Fairbanks (always a stickler for authenticity) decided to make the scene as realistic as possible, hiring actual direlects from skid row instead of professional actors.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however; despite Doug’s many attempts to crack them up with his best gags, the men weren’t at all amused. At wits’ end, Fairbanks thus began to tell some extremely ribald and off-color stories – only this got the sad sacks to elicit a genuine chuckle before finally erupting into all-out belly laughs.

When the film was initially released by Triangle Pictures in 1916, complaints from deaf lip-readers who could grasp the flurry of Fairbanks’ profanities caused the offending scenes to be re-shot and distributed anew to theatres.

“It’s a hilarious story,” museum curator Keri Leigh says, “and I always enjoy telling it to our visitors. Although I still maintain that no one could tell the story better than Doug himself.”

Fairbanks did write his own version of the now-infamous event in an article called “Combining Play With Work,” which originally appeared in the American Magazine for July 1917.

A complete reprint of the 1917 article appears in the book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words, a literary collection of Fairbanks’ writings published by the museum in 2006.

 

Leigh says that consulting with the producers on this documentary film was “a wonderful opportunity for the museum to further our mission of educating a younger generation about who Douglas Fairbanks was. We want kids especially to learn of his importance to the history and development of the cinematic arts.”

The educational documentary, which is geared towards school-age children, will be broadcast in early 2011. Stay tuned to the museum’s blog for further announcements as the air date nears.

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Dominick Fairbanks, grandson of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., great-grandson of Fairbanks Sr.

LONDON — A £75 million ($120 million) movie based on Baroness Orczy’s classic “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is front and center of seriously ambitious production plans for Fairbanks Productions, the U.K.’s newest and big-talking filmmaking banner on the block.

Dominick Fairbanks, the great grandson and grandson of Hollywood legends Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., plans to bring his famous Hollywood family name into the 21st century with his production banner upstart.

His team for the launch includes cult British writer and director Michael Armstrong, who takes the role of head of creative development, and executive producer James Black.

On hand at an extravagant old school launch for the next generation of Fairbanks’ royalty at a private function held here in the famous Dorchester Grill in the central London hotel, the third generation Fairbanks unveiled his team and plans.

The company aims to launch a slate of productions in early 2011 but Black told The Hollywood Reporter a remake of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” starring upcoming Brit actor Neil Jackson, whose big screen credits include a turn in “Quantum Of Solace,” is front and center.

“We want to try and do to the story of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” what Guy Ritchie did to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ [for Warner Bros],” said Black.

Plans are to shoot the picture sometime in the latter half of next year, “somewhere in Eastern Europe,” according to Black, with a host of “high profile cameos” in the movie.

But the production banner is not all about big-budget dreams.

Black, Fairbanks and Armstrong are all committed to the family dynasty’s commitment to nurturing and creating talent behind the camera for the future.

The upstart banner has already committed to make “Kill The Dead,” an original script from award-winning short filmmaker Shaune Harrison, its first fully-financed picture.

Harrison’s script, which he will direct, is set in the near future and details a reality TV show where contestants kill people recently brought back to life for that purpose.

With a budget of a moderate £5 million ($8 million), “Kill the Dead” will set out the company’s stall for supporting fresh talent and storytelling. Harrison said he has just delivered the second draft of “Dead” to Fairbanks and hopes to make it next year. Harrison’s day job is as a prosthetic make up artist of repute whose credits include “Captain America” and the “Harry Potter” movies.

The company has backing from a “tapestry of high-networth individuals,” according to Black and also has commercial relationships with U.S. bank Metro Bank, whose Anthony Thompson was on hand to talk up the proposed launch of the U.K.’s latest retail banking enterprise and HSBC.

Fairbanks Productions has also engaged U.K. legal eagles Harbottle and Lewis to add gravitas to the ambitions.

Douglas Fairbanks starred in a myriad Hollywood productions and was one of the founders of United Artists in 1919. His son, Fairbanks Jr., a decorated soldier on both sides of the Atlantic after serving in PT boats and gunboats in WW2 followed in his father’s footsteps carving out a successful career in movies also.

From The Hollywood Reporter

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