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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR.
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A man for all seasons


Six times he has received an advance to write his autobiography, and six times he has returned the money because of the enormity of the task. The life of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is too rich and varied to be condensed into a one-volume narrative.

The only child of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., America's first great matinee idol, he has acted in more than 75 feature films, produced 160 television plays and a dozen movies, performed in countless stage plays and musicals, made numerous recordings, written screenplays, published his articles and drawings in many of the nation's leading magazines, and given his time freely to at least 50 public service organizations. Ten countries on four continents have presented him with major awards for his diplomatic and philanthropic activities.

"One morning I woke up and said, 'I suppose I must have retired,'" notes the tanned, vigorous 69-year-old at his Madison Avenue office, from behind his huge antique desk with brass lions' heads for drawer pulls. But in our long discussion, it becomes obvious that he has never actually retired, either as an entertainer or as a force in public affairs. His office is fairly cluttered with mementoes of his world travels — swords, statuettes, novelty lamps, old photographs, oversized travel books. The white-haired, melodious-voiced actor sits looking very comfortable as he tells about his ongoing stage career.

"My favorite type of work right now is doing plays for limited periods. In 1940 I gave up stage acting, but in 1968 I did the first big revival of My Fair Lady, and since then I have been in several other plays. This summer I'm doing My Fair Lady again in Reno for eight to 10 weeks. … I didn't want to copy Rex Harrison, but I was prevailed upon by Lerner and Loewe to do this. I've known them since before they knew each other. They're going to make a number of adjustments for me. My other project, which is still in the planning stages, is a new Broadway show. But it's really too soon to talk about it."

On August 13, the classic 1939 film Gunga Din, in which Fairbanks co stars with Cary Grant, will be shown at 9 p.m. on Channel 9 with a single commercial-interruption. His other hit films include Sinbad the Sailor and The Prisoner of Zenda. He acted in his first movie in 1923 while barely in his teens, and in 1932 he was designated a star. He continued to make films until 1941, when he joined the U.S. armed forces and served for more than five years. Then he resumed his film career with much success before turning his hand to producing in 1952.

"Everybody misuses the wo............
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