The Story Of A Real Hollywood Legend

DamianRoss

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Real Life Martial Arts and Close Combat Hero


Look at today’s Hollywood Action stars you see a lot of window dressing without a lot of substance. If you're a patriot, Hollywood can be a pretty lonely place, but during World War II Hollywood's some of the brightest stars went to war and among them was Douglas Fairbanks. He didn’t serve in the rear either. He chose to take to war to the enemy using deadly close combat techniques that included combat martial arts.

Film legend Douglas Fairbanks Jr is best known for the over a hundred films he made, but many of his real life heroics remain classified by the United States Navy. Fairbanks was among the first to pioneer unconventional warfare tactics and commando training. While you can’t count on celebrities to even make their own court appearances, Fairbanks didn’t back down when his country was at war and he chose to become a clandestine warrior.

At the beginning of the war Fairbanks held a number of important civilian positions before being commissioned a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserves. His first assignment was on Lord Mountbatten's staff in England as part of an exchange program. Mountbatten was a very vocal supporter unconventional warfare, and encouraged all the Allies to create Special Forces units. Fairbanks trained at the H.M.S. Tormentor Advanced Training and Amphibious Operations Base and at the Commando Training School at Ancharry Castle, Scotland. As part of his top secret training Fairbanks learned martial arts, knife fighting, sentry removal, and other close combat techniques from martial arts legend William E. Fairbairn.

After taking part in cross-channel raids with British commandos Fairbanks returned to the United States and organized the Beach Jumpers, a specially trained unit that was designed to deceive and distract enemy forces. The new special boat unit also rescued POWs, and landed commandos. Although he was supposed to be an organizer Fairbanks still participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea and was decorated multiple times by several countries for his heroics. The Beach jumpers would take part in dangerous operations in the Pacific theater and combat operations in other wars before being incorporated into other units. After the war Fairbanks continued his interest in martial arts and encouraged others to learn the combatives he learned for self defense.

Douglas Fairbanks chose to become an actor, but he could have been successful in any career. Like his father actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. he was very athletic, and excelled at many sports. He wasn't just a good athlete. e was an excellent student and well as a successful businessman. In addition to acting, he was also a skilled painter and sculptor. Before the outbreak of WWII he did several films including Catherine the Great, The Prisoner of Zenda, and Gunga Din, a close combat classic, where three British Army officers take on a cult of thieves and assassins who worshiped the Indian blood goddess Kali.
Fairbanks would remain in the reserves after the war until he retired with the rank of captain and continued to work, splitting his time between Hollywood and London. Like most veterans he seldom spoke of his wartime service, and most of the operations Fairbanks took part in remain classified, but it clear that he served bravely and honorably. Fairbanks also saw the potential of martial arts, and summed up his thought when he wrote:

“In the early days of the cattle country, the six-shooter was the means of leveling all men to the same size. Now that the sale of the six-shooter is prohibited, every one should have some knowledge of the art of self-defence in cases of emergency.”

Most people know Douglas Fairbanks for his film work, but his greatest role was as a real life hero. Without seeking reward, or even the applause of an audience he did his part to win the war and showed uncommon valor. He could have taken a non-combat assignment, but instead he took on the most dangerous missions and hardest training. He took on the Nazis using close combat and deception, and proved martial arts could turn an athlete into a warrior.

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Steel Tiger

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Just a quick rundown of Douglas Fairbanks' military awards

  • Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valour) (US)
  • Silver Star (US)
  • War Cross for Military Valour (Italy)
  • Legion d'Honneur (France)
  • Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)
  • Distinguished Service Cross (Britain)
  • Knight Commander of the British Empire (Britain)
That's not a bad little list of accomplishments.

Try these books about the man:

The Salad Days (an autobiography)
Knight Errant (a biograhpy by Brian Connell)
 

shesulsa

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Another one was James Stewart. I won't ruin the hunt by providing links - search on your own, folks. :D
 

Sukerkin

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Some very surprising background on Mr Fairbanks there - I never knew about his being an honourary Knight Commander of the British Empire :eek:. I'm assuming that it was honourary given that he was not native British?

Jimmy Stewart is a personal hero of mine. As a youngster he was the one I looked up to in the films of the day. I know some of his real-life actions but I think I feel myself being motivated to find out more :).
 

shesulsa

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Jimmy Stewart is a personal hero of mine. As a youngster he was the one I looked up to in the films of the day. I know some of his real-life actions but I think I feel myself being motivated to find out more :).

Okay, okay. He was the first Hollywood star to enter the service for WW2 - he joined about a year before Pearl Harbor was bombed, was initially rejected enlistment to the US Air Force for being underweight and eventually flew 20 counted and other uncounted missions over Germany.

From Wiki:
In August 1943 he was finally assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group in Sioux City, Iowa, first as Operations Officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and then its commander. In December, the 445th Bombardment Group flew its B-24 Liberator bombers to RAF Tibenham, England and immediately began combat operations. While flying missions over Germany, Stewart was promoted to Major. In March 1944, he was transferred as group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had been experiencing difficulties. As a means to inspire his new group, Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. These missions went uncounted at Stewart's orders. His "official" total is listed as 20 and are limited to those with the 445th. In 1944, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. In July 1944, after flying 20 combat missions, Stewart was made chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force. Before the war ended, he was promoted to colonel, one of only a few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.
At the beginning of June 1945, Stewart was the presiding officer of the Court-Martial of a pilot and navigator who were charged with dereliction of duty when they accidentally bombed the Swiss city of Zurich the previous March - the first instance of U.S. personnel being tried over an attack on a neutral country. The Court acquitted the accused.[32]

Reat the Wiki article - lots of good stuff about Stewart and his off-screen endeavors.
 

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