In April 1932, Warner Bros. Pictures and First National Pictures put out a movie titled “It’s Tough to Be Famous” starting Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Brian. Based on the novel “The Goldfish Bowl,” the movie offers excitement and a lesson in what life is like living under a constant spotlight. The movie did well at the box office and it helped both actors improve their careers. The movie also offered lessons that can be applied to today’s culture.
In the movie, Fairbanks Jr. plays a character named Scotty. When Scotty’s submarine is sunk by an excursion boat, he jumps into action and saves the lives of his fellow crew members. Scotty is followed by the local community, which treats him like a saint. Everything Scotty does makes news, including his engagement.
Fairbanks Jr. had an interesting life. He is the only son of actor, producer and co-founder of United Artists, Douglas Fairbanks and Ann Beth Sully. Born in New York, Fairbanks Jr. starred in “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “Little Caesar” and “The Exile.” At the age of 19, Fairbanks Jr. married actress Joan Crawford, who was four years his senior. They started dating during the filming of “Our Modern Maidens.”
While Fairbanks Jr. was the son of Hollywood royalty and made great movies himself, there was a darker side to him. Allegedly, Fairbanks Jr. was involved in a headless sex photo scandal with Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, in London in the 1960s. According to a New York Times’ article, “For years, the two most prominent suspects have been Winston Churchill’s son-in-law, Duncan Sandys, and the American actor and society figure Douglas Fairbanks Jr.”
The duchess supposedly took her secret with her when she died, never revealing exactly who the man in the naked photo (chest down) truly was. However, in 2013, Lady Colin Campbell, Margaret Campbell’s stepdaughter-in-law, told newspapers that the man in the photo was actually Bill Lyons, sales director of Pan American Airlines. Colin Campbell’s claims are taken as fact but have not been proven outside of her own word.
Many Fairbanks Jr. fans still take to internet chat rooms with a cultlike drive to prove that the naked man was indeed the actor. For good or bad, Fairbanks Jr.’s alleged naked photo probably forged the way to today’s selfie and sexting culture, where many are using phones to exchange scandalous photos from the neck down.
Brian wasn’t involved in any scandals, outside of having numerous engagements but only two marriages. Brian worked in silent films, talkies and in 1941 went on to entertain with the U.S.O. and traveled all over Europe, including Italy and North Africa. She died in 2000 of natural causes at the age of 96 in Del Mar, California. Fairbanks Jr. died the same year of heart-related issues. Both had successful careers and earned stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“It’s Tough to Be Famous” was one of movies to be shown at the Boulder Dam Theatre and it is my Throwback Thursday movie recommendation. Between the headless nude photo Fairbanks Jr. was rightly or wrongly tied to, and the subject matter of the film, sometimes the attention we get within social circles and on social media isn’t something we desire or need. In fact, fame doesn’t always translate to embraced brand endorsements, product sales, ratings on a TV show, etc. Sometimes the only popularity fame brings is an onslaught of unwarranted opinions and a lack of privacy.
Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.