Douglas Fairbanks in ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ opens the Denver Silent Film Festival

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Douglas Fairbanks - Thief of Bagdad
Lobby card for "The Thief of Bagdad," starring Douglas Fairbanks and released in 1924.

The Thief of Bagdad,” starring the late Douglas Fairbanks, is considered one of the greatest films of the silent era, and will be screened with live musical accompaniment when it opens this year’s Denver Silent Film Festival.

The event begins Friday night at the University of Denver’s Sturm Hall. The program includes 18 films over a three-day period, and as usual, all will be accompanied by live music. Also included in the program: "The Birth of a Nation" and a series of short films by D.W. Griffith, and "The Cheat," by Cecil B. DeMille.

Fairbanks was born in Denver in 1883. He attended East High School but was expelled just before his 16th birthday for "adorning the school’s statuary with green bows and silly hats as a St. Patrick’s Day prank," writes film historian Jeffrey Vance, author of a 2008 biography of the actor.

Young Fairbanks didn’t care, because he'd already been bitten by the acting bug as a student at a Denver drama school run by two former New York actresses. An 1898 theater program from the Tabor Grand School of Acting’s performance at Denver’s Elitch Gardens Theatre shows Fairbanks wrote and acted in a sketch entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Moffet," Vance says.

Fairbanks eventually made it to Broadway, and then Hollywood, where he became one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. He was famous for his swashbuckling roles in such films as “The Mark of Zorro,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “The Thief of Bagdad.” The latter was "the greatest artistic triumph of Fairbanks’s career,” Vance writes.

Vance spoke with host Ryan Warner about Fairbanks, and the film festival.