DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR. completed nearly all his movies by 1951, when he was 42 years old. Thus he spent more than half his adult life not being a movie star. That was fine with him, for the family business wasn't acting; it was international celebrity, a trade his father Douglas Sr. virtually invented. It seemed his son, with whom I collaborated on a book and a 25-year friendship, wanted to see if he could retain his fame by appearing as little as possible in public.
At this he did splendidly--a chipper, light-spirited man, always with a fresh carnation on the lapel of his bespoke suits, telling well-turned anecdotes about his favored adulthood and pained childhood. A knighted Anglophile, he risked his career speaking against U.S. isolationism before World War II, fought bravely in it (he was childishly vain about his medals) and was a little resentful, later on, when show biz didn't give him any Old Guy awards. But by then he was the Scarlet Pimpernel of those illusive qualities, grace and charm. He made his living mysteriously--producing and arranging--but when he appeared, in drawing-room comedy revivals, his welcomes were thunderous. He pretended astonishment but basked in the warmth of these tributes to his essential quality: old-fashioned, unspoken gallantry.
--By Richard Schickel