Welcome to the Posts section of the official Kirk Douglas website. Its purpose is to let Kirk share his thoughts and activities with you, and to enable you to share your thoughts with him.
Below you’ll find links to the most recent "Reflections" and "Activities" posts.
Clicking the “Reflections” button to the left, you’ll be taken to a page where Kirk, a best-selling writer as well as a movie star, has posted his most recent thoughts and musings.
Clicking the “Activities” button, you’ll be taken to a page where you can learn about current and past goings-on in which Kirk is involved.
Clicking the "Kirk Douglas Theatre" button, you'll get the latest news about productions at the theatre, named to honor Kirk Douglas and established as the newest and most intimate of the Center Theatre Group's spaces, which include the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Theatres at the Los Angeles Music Center.
By clicking “Fan Mail,” you’ll have the opportunity to share your thoughts with Kirk.
Kirk Doulgas's new book, written with his wife Anne, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood is now available. This link will enable you to order a copy, and have part of the proceeds go to the work of The Douglas Foundation.
Film legend Kirk Douglas and Anne Buydens, his wife of nearly sixty-three years, look back on a lifetime filled with drama both on and off the screen. Sharing priceless correspondence with each other as well as the celebrities and world leaders they called friends, Kirk and Anne is a candid portrayal of the pleasures and pitfalls of a Hollywood life lived in the public eye.
Compiled from Anne's private archive of letters and photographs, this is an intimate glimpse into the Douglases' courtship and marriage set against the backdrop of Kirk's screen triumphs, including The Vikings, Lust For Life, Paths of Glory, and Spartacus. The letters themselves, as well as Kirk and Anne's vivid descriptions of their experiences, reveal remarkable insight and anecdotes about the legendary figures they knew so well, including Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, the Kennedys, and the Reagans. Filled with photos from film sets, private moments, and public events, Kirk and Anne details the adventurous, oftentimes comic, and poignant reality behind the glamour of a Hollywood life-as only a couple of sixty-two years (and counting) could tell it.
Anne Douglas, Philanthropist and Widow of Kirk Douglas, Dies at 102
- Created on Friday, 30 April 2021
- Written by Mike Barnes
--Hollywood Reporter, April 30, 2021
Anne Douglas, a film publicist who first met Kirk Douglas on the Paris set of Act of Love in 1953 and married him a year later, died Thursday. She was 102.
Douglas died at the longtime Beverly Hills home she shared with the legendary actor and husband of 66 years, her family announced. He died at age 103 on Feb. 5, 2020.
She worked for director John Huston as a location scout and assistant on Moulin Rouge (1952), then began a three-year stint in 1953 as head of protocol at the Cannes Film Festival, scheduling parties and making sure they were filled with celebrities and media.
Kirk was divorced from actress Diana Dill and secretly engaged to Italian actress Pier Angeli and Anne was married to a Belgian, Albert Buydens, when they met. He offered her a job as her assistant, and she immediately turned him down.
"She finally agreed to work with me on a trial basis, making it clear our relationship would be strictly business," he wrote in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, the 2017 book he co-authored with his wife.
"We talked for hours, and I had a strange feeling in my heart that I could fall in love with this man," she wrote. "I didn't want to, because I had seen too many young women enter into intense affairs with visiting movie stars — Dean Martin, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant among them. Then the film wrapped and the men returned to their wives and families."
Still, they began a complicated relationship on the Anatole Litvak-directed Act of Love that continued when Kirk relocated to Italy to shoot Ulysses (1954) — she was a publicist on that film, too — and then to the Bahamas, Jamaica and the U.S. making 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
Finally, during a rare moment when both were in Los Angeles, they spontaneously flew to Las Vegas and were married by a justice of the peace on May 29, 1954. Their sons, Peter and Eric, were born in 1955 and 1958, respectively. (Eric died in 2004 at age 46 of an accidental drug overdose.)
Hannelore Marx was born on April 23, 1919, in Hanover, Germany. Her father owned textile stores in the city and was the exclusive importer of a strain of silk that the government purchased to make parachutes. Her mother was a socialite.
After her parents divorced, she attended boarding school in Switzerland and became fluent in English, French and Italian.
She married Buydens, and they fled Belgium and moved to Paris during World War II. She got a job writing German subtitles for movies, then was hired in 1948 to produce a program for NBC called Paris Cavalcade of Fashion.
She later became president of Kirk's independent film outfit, the Bryna Co., and received producer credit on Peg Leg, Musket & Sabre (1973) and Posse (1975), two films directed by and starring her husband.
Kirk was married to Dill (the mother of two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas and his brother, Joel) from 1942 until their divorce in 1951. He said their marriage began to fray as he was preparing for his star-making turn in Champion (1949).
The couple split amicably, and Kirk and Anne became good friends with Diana and her new husband, Broadway producer and novelist Bill Darrid.
In 1958, Anne refused to allow Kirk to travel on a private plane from Palm Springs to New York with director Michael Todd. "I don't know what came over me, but I had a strange feeling," she wrote in their book. "Absolutely not, Kirk. I don't want you on that plane. You can fly commercial and meet him there."
Kirk was furious and said that if he couldn't fly with Todd, well, he wouldn't go at all.
On the car ride back to Los Angeles the next day, they heard on the radio that Todd's plane had crashed in New Mexico and that he and the three others on board had been killed. They pulled off to the side of the road and embraced.
"Darling, you saved my life. I will always trust your intuition from now on," Kirk told her.
As Dorothy Chandler's "lieutenant" in the campaign to build the Los Angeles County Music Center, she convinced moguls and movie stars to double and triple their initial contributions to the cause. After it opened in 1964, she served on the boards of the Mark Taper Forum and the Center Theater Group for decades and arranged the Douglas Foundation's large gift to build the CTG's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
In 2012, Anne and Kirk announced pledges totaling $50 million to five nonprofit organizations, including the Motion Picture & Television Fund, through their foundation. They donated another $15 million to the MPTF home in 2015. To date, their foundation has contributed more than $118 million to worthy causes.
Survivors include children Peter, Michael and Joel; daughters-in-law Catherine and Lisa; grandchildren Cameron, Dylan, Carys, Kelsey, Tyler, Jason and Ryan; great-grandchildren Lua Izzy and Ryder; and sister Merle.
"She brought out the best in all of us, especially our father," Michael Douglas said in a statement. "Dad would never have had the career he did without Anne's support and partnership. Catherine and I and the children adored her; she will always be in our hearts."
Donations in her memory may be made to the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission, 310 Winston St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Kirk Douglas, a Star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dies at 103
- Created on Thursday, 06 February 2020
- Written by Robert Berkvist
--New York Times February 5, 2020
Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age, whose rugged good looks and muscular intensity made him a commanding presence in celebrated films like “Lust for Life,” “Spartacus” and “Paths of Glory,” died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 103.
His son the actor Michael Douglas announced the death in a statement on his Facebook page.
Mr. Douglas had made a long and difficult recovery from the effects of a severe stroke he suffered in 1996. In 2011, cane in hand, he came onstage at the Academy Awards ceremony, good-naturedly flirted with the co-host Anne Hathaway and jokingly stretched out his presentation of the Oscar for best supporting actress.
By then, and even more so as he approached 100 and largely dropped out of sight, he was one of the last flickering stars in a Hollywood firmament that few in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater on that Oscars evening could have known except through viewings of old movies now called classics. A vast number filling the hall had not even been born when he was at his screen-star peak, the 1950s and ’60s.
But in those years Kirk Douglas was as big a star as there was — a member of a pantheon of leading men, among them Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, who rose to fame in the postwar years.
And like the others he was instantly recognizable: the jutting jaw, the dimpled chin, the piercing gaze and the breaking voice, the last making him irresistible fodder for comedians who specialized in impressions.
Three Movies a Year
In his heyday Mr. Douglas appeared in as many as three movies a year, often delivering critically acclaimed performances. In his first 11 years of film acting, he was nominated three times for the Academy Award for best actor.
He was known for manly roles, in westerns, war movies and Roman-era spectacles, most notably “Spartacus” (1960). But in 80 movies across a half-century he was equally at home on mean city streets, in smoky jazz clubs and, as Vincent van Gogh, amid the flowers of Arles in the south of France.
Many of his earlier films were forgettable — variations on well-worn Hollywood themes — and moviegoers were slow to recognize some of his best work. But when he found the right role, he proved he could be very good indeed.
Early on he was hailed for his performances as an unprincipled Hollywood producer, opposite Lana Turner, in “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), and as van Gogh in “Lust for Life” (1956). Each brought an Oscar nomination.
Many critics thought he should have gotten more recognition for his work in two films in particular: Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (1957), in which he played a French colonel in World War I trying vainly to prevent the execution of three innocent soldiers, and “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962), an offbeat western about an aging cowboy.
Early on Mr. Douglas created a niche for himself, specializing in characters with a hard edge and something a little unsavory about them. His scheming Hollywood producer in “The Bad and the Beautiful” was “a perfect Kirk Douglas-type bum,” Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote.
Mr. Douglas did not disagree. “I’ve always been attracted to characters who are part scoundrel,” he told The Times in an interview in 1984. “I don’t find virtue photogenic.”
Yet he often managed to win audiences’ sympathy for even the darkest of his characters by suggesting an element of weakness or torment beneath the surface.
“To me, acting is creating an illusion, showing tremendous discipline, not losing yourself in the character that you’re portraying,” he wrote in his best-selling autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son” (1988). “The actor never gets lost in the character he’s playing; the audience does.”
‘Going Over the Line’
The only time that discipline nearly cracked was during the filming of “Lust for Life.” “I felt myself going over the line, into the skin of van Gogh,” he wrote. “Not only did I look like him, I was the same age he had been when he committed suicide.” The experience was so frightening, he added, that for a long time he was reluctant to watch the film.
“While we were shooting,” he said, “I wore heavy shoes like the ones van Gogh wore. I always kept one untied, so that I would feel unkempt, off balance, in danger of tripping. It was loose; it gave him — and me — a shuffling gait.”
Most people who worked with Mr. Douglas were either awed by his self-confident intensity or put off by it. He was proud of his muscular physique and physical prowess and regularly rejected the use of stuntmen and stand-ins, convinced he could do almost anything the situation required.
Preparing for “Champion,” he trained for months with a retired prizefighter. He took trumpet lessons with Harry James for “Young Man With a Horn” (although James did the actual playing on the film’s soundtrack). He became a skilled horseman and learned to draw a six-shooter with impressive speed, lending authenticity to his Doc Holliday when he and Lancaster, as Wyatt Earp, blazed away at the Clanton gang in the final shootout in “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957).
The engine that drove Mr. Douglas to achieve, again and again, was his family history.
The Ragman’s Son
He was born Issur Danielovitch on Dec. 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, N.Y., a small city about 35 miles northwest of Albany. As he put it in his autobiography, he was “the son of illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants in the WASP town of Amsterdam,” one of seven children, six of them sisters. By the time he began attending school, the family name had been changed to Demsky and Issur had become Isadore, promptly earning him the nickname Izzy.
The town’s mills did not hire Jews, so his father, Herschel (known as Harry), became a ragman, a collector and seller of discarded goods. “Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder,” Mr. Douglas wrote. “And I was the ragman’s son.”
A powerful man who drank heavily and got into fights, the elder Demsky was often an absentee father, letting his family fend for itself.
Money for food was desperately short much of the time, and young Izzy learned that survival meant hard work. He also learned about anti-Semitism. “Kids on every street corner beat you up,” he wrote.
Mr. Douglas once estimated that he had held down at least 40 different jobs — among them delivering newspapers and washing dishes — before he found success in Hollywood. After graduating from high school, he hitchhiked north to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and was admitted and given a college loan.
He became a varsity wrestler there and, despite being rejected by fraternities because he was Jewish, was elected president of the student body in his junior year — a first for the St. Lawrence campus.
By that time he had decided that he wanted to be an actor. He got a summer job as a stagehand at the Tamarack Playhouse in the Adirondacks and was given some minor roles. He traveled to New York City to try out for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and performed well, but he was told no scholarships were available.
It was at the Tamarack, the summer after he graduated from college, that he decided to change his name legally to something he thought more befitting an actor than Isadore Demsky. (When he chose Douglas, he wrote, “I didn’t realize what a Scottish name I was taking.”)
Returning to New York, he studied acting for two years, played in summer stock and made his Broadway debut in 1941 as a singing Western Union messenger in “Spring Again.”
The next year he enlisted in the Navy and was trained in antisubmarine warfare. He also renewed his friendship with Diana Dill, a young actress he had met at the American Academy. They married in 1943, just before he shipped out during World War II as the communications officer of Patrol Craft 1139. They had two sons, Michael and Joel, before divorcing in 1951. She died in 2015.
In 1954 Mr. Douglas married Anne Buydens, and they too had two sons, Peter and Eric. All his sons went into the film business, either acting or producing. Michael did both.
Eric Douglas died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription pills in 2004 at the age of 46.
In addition to his son Michael, Mr. Douglas is survived by his wife and his two other sons, as well as seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
After being injured in an accidental explosion, Mr. Douglas was discharged from the Navy in 1944. He returned to New York, did some stage work and then headed for Hollywood.
He made his screen debut in 1946 in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” playing a weakling who is witness to a murder. In a big-name cast that also included Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin and Judith Anderson, Mr. Douglas more than held his own. He was equally solid in “I Walk Alone,” a 1948 film noir in which he played the heavy in the first of his half-dozen pairings with his close friend Burt Lancaster.
First Shot at an Oscar
But it was the 1949 film “Champion,” produced by the young Stanley Kramer, that made him a star. As Midge Kelly, a ruthless young prizefighter, he presented a chilling portrait of ambition run wild and earned his first Oscar nomination.
He had to wait nearly 50 years, however, before he actually received the golden statuette, for lifetime achievement. He never won a competitive Oscar.
The doors opened wide for him after “Champion.” A year later he appeared in “Young Man With a Horn,” in the title role of a troubled jazz trumpet player modeled on Bix Beiderbecke.
In short order came “The Glass Menagerie” (1950), the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play about a timid young woman (Jane Wyman) who finds solace in her fantasies, with Mr. Douglas as the gentleman caller; “Ace in the Hole” (1951), in which he played a cynical reporter manipulating a life-or-death situation; and, also in 1951, “Detective Story,” based on Sidney Kingsley’s play, in which Mr. Douglas played an overzealous New York detective who invites his own destruction. Mr. Crowther of The Times wrote that Mr. Douglas’s performance was, “detective-wise, superb.”
Despite his film-star status and all the trappings that came with it — his autobiography chronicles his many sexual conquests — Mr. Douglas still hungered for success in the theater. As it turned out he had only one more opportunity.
In 1963 he seized the chance to play the lead role in the Broadway adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Ken Kesey’s novel about authority and individual freedom, set in a mental hospital. Mr. Douglas, to mixed reviews, played Randle P. McMurphy, the all-too-sane patient who is ultimately destroyed by the system. (Jack Nicholson played the part in Milos Forman’s 1975 film adaptation.)
A few years earlier Mr. Douglas, who had worked his way free of a studio contract and formed his own company, Bryna Productions, made waves in Hollywood when he embarked on a film version of “Spartacus,” Howard Fast’s novel of slave revolt in ancient Rome.
He decided not only to hire Dalton Trumbo — who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era on suspicion of Communist sympathies — to write the screenplay, but also to put Mr. Trumbo’s name in the credits rather than one of the pseudonyms he had been using.
“We all had been employing the blacklisted writers,” Mr. Douglas wrote in a 2012 memoir, “I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.” “It was an open secret and an act of hypocrisy, as well as a way to get the best talent at bargain prices. I hated being part of such a system.”
(Mr. Douglas’s role in Trumbo’s redemption — although some people say he overstated it — was dramatized in the 2015 biographical film “Trumbo,” a film he praised, telling The Telegraph of London that “its spirit is true to the man I admired.” Dean O’Gorman played Mr. Douglas.)
“Spartacus,” released in 1960, was Mr. Douglas’s third blood-and-thunder spectacle set in the ancient past. In “Ulysses” (1955), as Homer’s wandering hero, he survived legendary perils to return to his faithful Penelope (Silvana Mangano). In “The Vikings” (1958), he and Tony Curtis were cast as half brothers who, ignorant of their blood ties, battle for control of a Norse kingdom. And in “Spartacus” it was Mr. Douglas, in the title role, who led his rebellious fellow slaves against the Roman legions (played by 5,000 Spanish soldiers).
One of the last cast-of-thousands spectacles to come out of Hollywood, “Spartacus” was notable as well for its international cast, which included Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons and Peter Ustinov, and for its talented young director, Stanley Kubrick, who had also directed Mr. Douglas in “Paths of Glory.” Most critics were not impressed, but the movie’s popularity has been long lasting. It was restored and rereleased in 1991.
Of all his films, Mr. Douglas was proudest of “Lonely Are the Brave,” also written by Mr. Trumbo, which Mr. Douglas insisted on making on a small budget and against studio advice. “I love the theme,” he said, “that if you try to be an individual, society will crush you.”
Mr. Douglas made many more films in the years ahead, but none quite lived up to his work of the 1950s and early ’60s. There were more westerns: “The Way West” (1967), with Robert Mitchum and Richard Widmark; “There Was a Crooked Man ...” (1970), with Henry Fonda; and “A Gunfight” (1971), with Johnny Cash. “Tough Guys” (1986), a comedy, was the last movie he made with Burt Lancaster.
There were more military roles. He was a Marine colonel who foils an antigovernment plot in “Seven Days in May,” a 1964 Cold War thriller that also starred Lancaster. He was a naval aviator in “In Harm’s Way” (1965) and a Norwegian saboteur in “The Heroes of Telemark” (1966). In “Is Paris Burning?” (1966) he played Gen. George S. Patton, and in “The Final Countdown” (1980) he commanded a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
As fewer film roles came his way, Mr. Douglas turned to television. In the HBO movie “Draw!” (1984), he was an aging outlaw pitted against James Coburn as a drunken sheriff. In the CBS movie “Amos” (1985), he was a feisty nursing-home resident battling a tyrannical nurse played by Elizabeth Montgomery.
Setbacks and Triumphs
There were setbacks in his personal life. In 1986 Mr. Douglas was fitted with a pacemaker to correct an irregular heartbeat. In 1991 he survived a helicopter crash that left two other people dead. In January 1996 he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him with seriously impaired speech and depression so deep, he later said, that he considered suicide.
But he fought his way back, and by March he was able to appear at the Academy Awards ceremony, speaking haltingly, to accept an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.
By then he could add that statuette to his other lifetime awards: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by President Jimmy Carter just days before Mr. Carter left office in 1981, and a Kennedy Center Honors award, presented in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
In addition to acting and producing, Mr. Douglas found time to write. Besides “The Ragman’s Son,” he was the author of a number of books, including the novels “Dance With the Devil,” “The Gift” and “Last Tango in Brooklyn.” Besides his book on “Spartacus,” his memoirs include “My Stroke of Luck” (2001), about his recovery and comeback, and “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning” (2007).
In his later years he devoted his time to charity, campaigning with his wife to build 400 playgrounds in Los Angeles and establishing the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women, for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction; the Kirk Douglas High School, a program to help troubled students finish their education; and the Kirk Douglas Theater, to nurture young theatrical artists.
In 2015, on his 99th birthday, he and his wife donated $15 million to the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills toward the construction of the Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion, a $35 million facility for the care of people in the industry with Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Douglas’s comeback from illness extended to acting as well. In 1999, at 83, he starred in the comedy “Diamonds,” playing a former boxing champion who, while recovering from a stroke, embarks on a hunt for missing jewels. It was his first film appearance since his illness. Critics judged the movie forgettable, but Stephen Holden, writing in The Times, found Mr. Douglas’s “hard, gleaming performance” a saving grace.
The last films in which he starred shared something of a theme: the reconciliation between fathers and sons. One was a comedy, “It Runs in the Family” (2003), in which his son was played by his actual son Michael. The other was the drama “Illusion” (2004), in which he played an ailing father in search of his estranged son.
Perhaps, together, they were a fitting finale for the ragman’s son, an actor whose boyhood poverty and absent father were never far from his mind. “That’s what it’s all about,” he said in describing what had driven him. “That’s the core, that early part of you.”
He also reconciled himself to advanced age. In 2008, in an essay in Newsweek (“What Old Age Taught Me”), Mr. Douglas wrote:
“Years ago I was at the bedside of my dying mother, an illiterate Russian peasant. Terrified, I held her hand. She opened her eyes and looked at me. The last thing she said to me was, ‘Don’t be afraid, son, it happens to everyone.’ As I got older, I became comforted by those words.”
Kirk Douglas, Indomitable Icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, Dies at 103
- Created on Thursday, 06 February 2020
- Written by Mike Barnes & Duane Byrge
--Hollywood Reporter February 5, 2020
The actor starred in such films as 'Champion,' 'The Bad and the Beautiful,' 'Lust for Life,' 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' and 'Spartacus,' to name just a few.
Kirk Douglas, the son of a ragman who channeled a deep, personal anger through a chiseled jaw and steely blue eyes to forge one of the most indelible and indefatigable careers in Hollywood history, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 103.
“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” son Michael Douglas wrote on his Instagram account. “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the Golden Age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”
Douglas walked away from a helicopter crash in 1991 and suffered a severe stroke in 1996 but, ever the battler, he refused to give in. With a passionate will to survive, he was the last man standing of all the great stars of another time.
Nominated three times for best actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — for Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956) — Douglas was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1996. Arguably the top male star of the post-World War II era, he acted in more than 80 movies before retiring from films in 2004.
"Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life, and I'm honored to have been a small part of his last 45 years," Steven Spielberg said in a statement. "I will miss his handwritten notes, letters and fatherly advice, and his wisdom and courage — even beyond such a breathtaking body of work — are enough to inspire me for the rest of mine."
The father of two-time Oscar-winning actor-director-producer Michael Douglas, the Amsterdam, New York native first achieved stardom as a ruthless and cynical boxer in Champion. In The Bad and the Beautiful, he played a hated, ambitious movie producer for director Vincente Minnelli, then was particularly memorable, again for Minnelli, as the tormented genius Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life, for which he won the New York Film Critics Award for best actor.
Perhaps most importantly, Douglas rebelled against the McCarthy Era establishment by producing and starring as a slave in Spartacus (1960), written by Dalton Trumbo, making the actor a hero to those blacklisted in Hollywood. The film became Universal’s biggest moneymaker, an achievement that stood for a decade.
Douglas’ many honors include the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The broad-chested Douglas often bucked the establishment with his opinions, and he had the courage to back them up. “I’ve always been a maverick," he once said. "When I was new in pictures, I defied my agents to make Champion rather than appear in an important MGM movie they had planned for me [The Great Sinner, which wound up starring Gregory Peck]. Nobody had ever heard of the people connected to Champion, but I liked the Ring Lardner story, and that’s the movie I wanted to do. Everyone thought I was crazy, of course, but I think I made the right decision.”
Never one to toe the line with synthetic, movie star-type parts, Douglas played classic heels in a number of films. In 1951, he showed a keen flair for portraying strong-minded characters like the sleazy newspaper reporter in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival (aka Ace in the Hole) and the sadistic cop in William Wyler’s Detective Story. He played more sympathetic types in Out of the Past (1947), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) as Doc Holliday, Paths of Glory (1957) and The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).
Douglas was very particular in his role selection. “If I like a picture, I do it. I don’t stop to wonder if it’ll be successful or not,” he said in a 1982 interview. “I loved Lonely Are the Brave and Paths of Glory, but neither of them made a lot of money. No matter; I’m proud of them.”
His independent nature led him in 1955 to form his own independent film company, Bryna Productions. In the post-World War II era, Douglas was the first actor to take control of his career in this manner. Captaining his own ship, he soon launched a number of heady projects. Most auspiciously, he took a risk on a young Stanley Kubrick with Paths of Glory and Spartacus, films that feature two of Douglas’ finest performances. (He hired Kubrick for the latter after firing Anthony Mann a week into production.)
Indeed, Douglas backed his artistic and political opinions with action: His public announcement that blacklisted writer Trumbo would script Spartacus was a key moment in Hollywood’s re-acceptance of suspected communist figures.
During a Tonight Show appearance in August 1988 to promote his first book, The Ragman’s Son, Douglas told Johnny Carson that he often drew from personal experience for his work on film.
“What I found out when I wrote this book is I have a lot of anger in me,” he said. “I’m angry about things that happened many, many years ago. I think that anger has been a lot of the fuel that has helped me in whatever I’ve done.”
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in the industrial town of Amsterdam. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, raised seven children, and as soon as he was old enough, Douglas went to work to help support the family.
He put himself through St. Lawrence University by working as a janitor. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree, he moved to Manhattan where, as a result of a single reading for the head of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, received a special scholarship.
Soon after graduating from the academy in 1941, Douglas made his Broadway debut in Spring Again, starring Grace George and C. Aubrey Smith, playing a singing messenger boy. In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy, attending the Midshipman School at Notre Dame, and was commissioned an ensign. He served on anti-submarine patrol in the Pacific as a communications officer until 1944, when he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant.
Returning to civilian life and Broadway, he replaced Richard Widmark as the juvenile lead in Kiss and Tell and appeared in Trio and Star in the Window. It was his widely praised performance in The Wind Is Ninety that brought him to Hollywood’s attention. The year was 1946, and, at the suggestion of Lauren Bacall, producer Hal Wallis invited him to come to California for a screen test. Wallis was so impressed with Douglas that he cast him in the lead opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).
Douglas would work with some of the century’s top directors, starring in such memorable films as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and There Was a Crooked Man (1970), John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger.
For Bryna, Douglas also starred in The Indian Fighter (1955), The Vikings (1958), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Seven Days in May (1964) and The Brotherhood (1968).
One regret the actor-producer had was with one of his longtime pet projects, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Douglas starred as Randle Patrick McMurphy in the 1963 Broadway adaption of the Ken Kesey book and had optioned the project, but he never managed to make it into a film.
His son Michael and Saul Zaentz eventually produced the movie, and released in 1975, it collected five Academy Awards, including one for best picture. He received half of Michael's share of the profits, and his son often joked that it was the most money dad had ever made as a producer.
"He's completely inspirational," Michael said during an interview at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival. "When you finally reach an age when you're not feeling like you have to compete with your father and you can look at him [as an equal] … of course, that took me until I was 60."
A man of restless energy and various interests, Douglas supported many causes and worked in public service. During the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson eras, he toured widely for the U.S. Information Agency and the U.S. State Department as a goodwill ambassador, going on missions to South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.
In 1966, on behalf of the State Department, Douglas visited six Iron Curtain countries: Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. He often regaled acquaintances about a visit to Yugoslavia, where he managed a private visit with President Tito, much to the chagrin of the British ambassador who had been waiting for weeks for such an opportunity.
When the baffled British ambassador asked Douglas how he’d managed it, he replied, “Mr. Ambassador, how many movies have you made?” Realizing that a Hollywood star was in a unique position to enter domains beyond even established professionals, he sagely used his celebrity status to meet important people from all walks of life.
Successive presidents recognized Douglas’ good works: A citation of his efforts was inserted into the Congressional Record. In 1981, he received the Medal of Freedom for his “significant cultural endeavors as an actor and a goodwill ambassador.”
Further honors came to him in 1968 when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, during its Golden Globe ceremony, presented him with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. (In January 2017, he made a surprising visit to the Globes, serving as a presenter with his daughter-in-law, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.)
His humanitarian efforts earned him the American Award, presented by the Thomas A. Dooley Foundation. He was perhaps most proud of the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts conferred on him by his alma mater, St. Lawrence.
In March 2009, Douglas starred in an autobiographical one-man show, Before I Forget, at the Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
While making a film in France, Douglas met Parisienne Anne Buyden. They were married in 1954 and had two sons, Peter and Eric. She's 100 and survives him.
In May 2017, the actor's 11th book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, was published. (His first was his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son.)
On his 99th birthday, Douglas and his wife donated $15 million toward a new $35 million care center at the Motion Picture Television Fund home in Woodland Hills.
Sons Michael and Joel (a producer) were from Douglas’ 1943-51 marriage to actress Diana Dill, who died in 2015 at age 92.