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A Modern Musketeer

1918 Douglas Fairbanks movie in which Rose Wilder Lane was hired as an extra to appear in one scene.

“There are plenty of thrills, a dainty love romance, and other elements of entertaining quality in ‘The Modern Musketeer,’ shown yesterday.” -January 1918 review.

     
That’s Rose Wilder Lane on the right and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1883-1939) in the middle. In 1917, Rose interviewed Fairbanks. On a whim, she asked to be an extra in the movie he was currently starring in – A Modern Musketeer – and, to her amazement, was offered $5 to appear in one scene as a “rough girl.” She was sent to have makeup applied and was soon being filmed under hot lights and in the middle of a supposed bar-room brawl. Rose had earlier watched the brawl itself being filmed (one man had three teeth knocked out by Fairbanks, who also knocked out a professional boxer who was acting in the scene). In order to have pure fright show up on her face during closeups, the director threw whiskey bottles at the table where Rose and another woman were sitting. One came very close to hitting Rose in the face. Her fright was real.

When I first posted this in 2005, the only way to see A Modern Musketeer was on the videotape, Fairbanks Fragments, containing the surviving three of the movie’s original five reels. Fairbanks scholars speculated that Rose’s scene must have been part of the last two (missing) reels. The reels are now available online HERE, so take a look for yourself and see if you see Rose.

There are brief snippets of two fight scenes from A Modern Musketeer on Fairbanks Fragments. Pay attention to the fight scene that begins after the first five minutes (see screen caps below); this is the scene Rose’s closeup would have been part of. Looking out a window to the street below (5:25), Fairbanks witnesses a man in a physical altercation with a woman outside of a bar, and he jumps from the window (5:40) and slides down a pole and runs to the woman’s aid. Fairbanks (wearing a light-colored suit) follows the man into the bar, but the woman doesn’t enter the bar until after the fight is finished.

Is that Rose sitting at the table at the 5:49 mark? Rose wrote that as part of the scene, Fairbanks came over to the table where she and another “rough girl” were sitting, and he apologizes to the “ladies” that a fight is about to take place. Fairbanks then walked away from them, and they are left to “watch” the fight. After watching a while, they were to get up and flee the scene. While it may be Rose at the table in the background for a second (5:49), it’s clearly a man who turns towards the camera and stands up shortly after. You can see people going through a door to the left of the table shortly after (6:08), but none appear to be women. At one point during the scene, Fairbanks lights a cigarette from the overhead gas fixture, then jumps into a small room and smashes a bottle over a man’s head. The fight scene – as Rose pointed out – had already been filmed when Rose’s part was added.

A Modern Musketeer was directed by Allan Dwan; the story was by Allan Dwan and F.R. Lyle, Jr.; starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Marjorie Daw, Frank Campeau, Kathleen Kirkham, Tully Marshall, Eugene Ormonde and Zasu Pitts. The movie was based on the story “The D’Artagnan of Kansas,” written by F.R. Lyle. Due to his mother’s obsession with the French novelist, Alexandre Dumas, a Kansas lad is possessed by the spirit of D’Artagnan. He sets out across the West in his Model T to become a modern musketeer who must protect an innocent young girl from a lecherous old millionaire. Some of the movie was filmed at the Grand Canyon.

The movie was shown in theaters beginning in December 1917 and through the spring of 1918. Don’t you think that Laura and Almanzo went to see it?!

     

The Modern Musketeer