18 July 2018

Every word was affectionately devoured and savoured

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford met in 1927 after Joan had seen Doug Jr. perform on stage in the play Young WoodleyCaptivated by the young and handsome Doug, Joan (who was on the brink of stardom) sent him a note which led to their first meeting. Soon after, the two fell in love and had a much-publicised romance, eventually leading to marriage in 1929.

Doug Jr. was only nineteen years old when he married Joan who was four or five years his senior*. While Joan grew up in near poverty, Doug came from a wealthy and influential family. His father was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his stepmother Mary Pickford, two of the greatest stars of the silent era and regarded in Hollywood as royalty. Fairbanks Sr. and Pickford were against Doug's marriage to Joan and didn't invite the couple to their legendary home Pickfair until eight months after the wedding. Later Fairbanks Sr. did warm up to Joan but the relationship between Joan and Pickford remained cool.

[* Joan's year of birth is uncertain; read here]

Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Joan Crawford photographed by Edward Steichen in Malibu, February 1932.

About a year and a half into their marriage, Doug and Joan started having marital problems. Possibly during the filming of Possessed (1931), Joan began an on-and-off love affair with co-star Clark Gable that would last for several decades. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer was well aware of the affair and in order to separate Joan from her lover and to show the world that everything was fine between her and Doug, Mayer sent Joan and Doug on a belated honeymoon to Europe in June 1932. But by then it was already too late. While Doug wanted to save the marriage, for Joan it was over. The couple divorced in May 1933.

Doug and Joan maintained a friendly relationship for the rest of their lives. After Joan's death, Doug was one of her friends who defended her when Christina, Joan's adopted daughter, published Mommie Dearest (1978) in which Joan was accused of abuse. Doug couldn't bring himself to read the book and said: "The Joan Crawford that I've heard about in Mommie Dearest is not the Joan Crawford I knew back then." 

The letter below was written by a then 67-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Joan Crawford in January 1977 (with Doug addressing Joan by her nickname "Billie"). It's a reply to a note which Joan had sent earlier. Apparently Joan had said something nice about a painting on a Christmas card she had received from Doug, and with his letter Doug wanted to let her know how much her words meant to him (having just had a difficult year)Sadly, Joan would pass away four months later, so they probably never had that drink together like Doug suggested.


The Brook Club
111 East 54th St. 
NYC 10022

January 26, 1977

Billie dear,

Few things have happened to me this past year or so which have given me more pleasure, made me feel so nicely warm deep inside, than your sweet letter about my painting on my Christmas card. This may not sound like the compliment or thanks I mean to convey because this past year or so have (has?) been lousy! I've had a great deal of professional success and that was, of course, very gratifying-- especially as I consider myself virtually "retired" (professionally, that is).  I've been very lucky with the plays I've done-- but otherwise I've been in less than robust health, have worked too hard on too many things, have had more problems than Prof. Einstein and got thoroughly run down + depressed. I'm now down in Florida for a while trying to get in condition before going off to Australia where, at the end of February, I'm to play the same play I did in London last summer- "The Pleasure of his Company". However, I must also go up to N.Y. a couple of times before then-- for dentists, doctors, my regular office business, getting a bit more settled in a new apartment, having meetings of all sorts- with all sorts. All of which is to show the kind of state I was in when your dear, dear note came!

It arrived at just the right time, in every way -- and every word was affectionately devoured and savoured-- not only am I glad -indeed delighted- that you liked it but your reaction to it, and the way you phrased your note, was more appreciated than I can say.

Perhaps someday we can have another drink (the last was over a year ago I think!) and, with luck, another-- and we can do some more "catching up". Meanwhile, if you ever have reason or inclination to write me again, I suggest you send it to me c/o The Brook Club, 111 East 54th St., NYC, 10022, marked "Personal". In that way, no secretary or anyone else is apt to see it before I do (your last note did, happily, get to me directly, with no "interception" en route). This is a long-winded way of Thanking you  for thanking me-- but I did appreciate it so very much. 

Love, dear

If I'm not in N.Y, I leave word at the Club where to forward such mail as I may receive there (usually bills of some sort!).

Above: Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at Pickfair with Mary Pickford circa 1932. Below: Apart from being an actor, Fairbanks Jr was also a painter and had even studied art for a while in Paris.

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