Did Douglas Fairbanks Really Graduate From Harvard University?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. attended Harvard University.

When it comes right down to it, it’s amazing how far you can go with a story just by flat-out lying.

For his entire life, the great star of the silent pictures (and right into the Sound era), Douglas Fairbanks, talked about attending Harvard University.

Even today, a quick glance at the internet finds statements about Fairbanks like…

After graduating from Harvard he became an actor.

His family moved to New York in 1900 and Douglas Fairbanks attended Harvard.

He attended Harvard, traveled to Europe, worked on a cattle freighter, in a hardware store and as a clerk on Wall Street

Naturally, it was all a pretty bald-faced lie on Fairbanks’ part.

He never attended Harvard University.

At least Harvard has no record of him ever being a student, plus his son Douglas Jr. said that the story was just another one of his father’s fanciful tales.

Fairbanks Sr. was a master at re-inventing himself. Heck, the Fairbanks name itself was invented in an attempt to hide his Jewish heritage, so it is not so surprising that the articulate actor would wish to create the impression that his well-spoken demeanor came attached to an Ivy League pedigree.

And once it made it into his official studio biography (which it did, in 1919), then it was part of the accepted history for Fairbanks.

Here’s a bio of Fairbanks from 1920 (a “Who’s Who in Hollywood” type deal):

Douglas Fairbanks was born in Denver Colorado, and as a boy attended a military academy, later entering the Colorado School Of Mines, and Harvard University. He has appeared in Vaudeville and under the direction of William A Brady in “The Pit.” He was co-starred with William H. Crane in the “New Henrietta” and featured in “A Gentleman From Mississippi” and starred in “He Comes Up Smiling.” Mr. Fairbanks enjoys a splendid following upon the screen, where he has appeared with great success, heading his own company. Mr. Fairbanks is an all-around athlete and has performed many marvelous feats of strength, cunning and endurance in his film work.

Once it is a part of “Who’s Who,” you’re set, whether true or not!

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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