August 16, 2000 06:17pm
Documentary Identifies Fairbanks Jr.
(LONDON) -- The rakishly handsome Hollywood actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. had long been suspected of being the ``headless man'' photographed in a series of explicit sexual poses with the Duchess of Argyll more than 40 years ago.
But a British documentary program last week offered fresh evidence that not only did Fairbanks star in the compromising 1956 photos, but that the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan conspired to suppress the pictures, fearing an even wider sex scandal.
The sensational Polaroid pictures of society beauty Margaret were discovered by the Duke of Argyll in his wife's desk drawer and used against her in a raucous four-year divorce case.
At the center of the sex scandal was a handwritten, captioned photo of the so-called ``headless man.'' In it the duchess, wearing only pearls, was shown performing a sexual act on a naked man in the bathroom of her Mayfair apartment. The man was shown only from the neck down.
The Duchess steadfastly refused to reveal her partner. Fairbanks headed the list of 88 possible lovers submitted to the court by her husband.
Lord Duncan Sandys, then Britain's defense secretary, was also named as a possible paramour. Transport Minister Ernest Marples and Baron Sigismund von Braun, the diplomat brother of the German rocket scientist Werner von Braun, were among the many suspects.
According to the Channel 4 documentary, a court inquiry led by Lord Denning invited five suspects to the treasury office for questioning. Each guest signed the visitors' book, allowing a graphologist to compare their handwriting to the captions inscribed on the pictures. Fairbanks' signature was an obvious match.
The documentary alleged that the inquiry's findings were hushed up by Macmillan's government because of worries that Sandys may have also been involved with the Duchess.
Sandys, who was also Sir Winston Churchill's son-in-law, offered to resign during a cabinet meeting, Channel 4 said. But the thought of a sex scandal alarmed the government. Only three weeks earlier, War Minister John Profumo had left the government in disgrace after publicly lying about his involvement with a call-girl ring.
Peter Jay, a treasury official who assisted Denning in his inquiry, told the documentary program that although Fairbanks was identified, his name was not released in the inquiry's report.
Sandys, who died in 1987, admitted nothing, although he once referred to the duchess by saying: ``There's safety in numbers.''
The duchess, who died in 1993 at age 80, always refused to reveal her partners' names. Fairbanks, who died in May at age 90, maintained his innocence until the end.