When I was 13, my father was a uniquely well-known and loved man. At the top of his chosen profession, he was what every boy from six to 60 wanted to be. And when, for a number of reasons, I decided to become an actor, too, my father, strangely enough, became my first major obstacle. He was dead set against any such goings on.
While I can understand much of his reasoning now, I was, with the arrogant myopia of youth, determined to proceed. He told me in very straight language that he would do everything in his power to prevent my entering his profession, at that time. Despite this—and maybe because of it—I went ahead with unyielding determination, tempered with what small fund of discretion is given to a 13-year old. There were many disappointments and disillusionments, but these setbacks only angered rather than discouraged me. Eventually, I succeeded, a victory the extent of which was measured by my father’s pleased acknowledgment of it.
I learned early that one must set oneself an objective, a goal of some kind and keep heading for it, welcoming the while all the deviations or obstacles encountered on the way. If it is my good fortune eventually to arrive—or nearly arrive—at the goal set, so much the better. But what matters more to me, I find, is the fun in the doing, in the attempt to achieve, more than achievement itself. At what might be called a ”high spot” of my professional career, I felt the need of a new objective. My off duty experience and study had, by the accidents of my life, been in the world of national and international affairs. Hence, though there was no exact moment of decision, I realized one day that my new interest lay in official or semi-official public service.
Close friends and advisors warned me against taking on a government assignment. This was too radical a change of character for the public to accept, they said. It preferred its theatrical personalities to be that, and nothing else. An actor would be unacceptable in any diplomatic capacity because of a preconceived bias about show folk. Hence, it was argued that I might fail in any assigned mission, as well as damage my professional career at one and the same time; thus, falling between two stools.
I made up my mind, however, that I could accomplish certain missions, and that the issues involved in the world at that time—it was some time before the last War—were far more important than any possible detrimental effect on my business. I would not, in my view, be true to myself if, so to speak, I played it safe. After a number of unpublicized assignments, I was summoned by President Roosevelt and accepted an appointment to come into the open as a presidential envoy on a special mission to certain Latin American countries. This first “open mission” was accomplished, and my subsequent public affairs activities did indeed affect my professional career—almost as predicted.
So, immediately after the War years in the Navy, I managed to set myself still another objective, which was to repair the damaged fences of my private business and to keep on with public affairs as well. I fortunately succeeded in having my cake and eating it, with modifications, or course. But had I failed completely, I don’t believe I would be too distressed. When I have a deep faith in an objective, the loyalty to it follows easily and the effort leading toward it is not even noticeable, because as I believe in the pot at the end of the rainbow, it really doesn’t matter if I ever get there. The fun of chasing it is reward enough for me.
The son of another Hollywood legend, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. acted in more than 100 movies, including “The Prisoner of Zenda" and “Gunga Din." He served in the U. S. Navy during World War II and received the Silver Star and was made honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.
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