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.

kirkannebook

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 VikingsLust For LifePaths 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.

THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER Is a Kids' Movie and a Western in That Order

The Man from Snowy River is one of those movies I want to like way more than I actually do.  It’s a Western, made during a period where no one really made Westerns anymore, and—more to the point—it’s an Australian Western, meaning we Yanks get all sorts of visual displacement delights simply because our xenophobia precludes our seeing the rest of the world.  The characters are vivid archetypes, the movie moves like a bullet train, and the action and stunts are all 100% practical; the term “slam dunk” comes to mind just detailing the film’s elements.

Yet the final product leaves me more than a little flat.  The Man from Snowy River isn’t one of the great Westerns—I’d slot it just between the “good” ones and the “okay” ones—though I have no shame admitting that the fault lies with me rather than with it.  This is a dyed-in-the-wool film for children, and I am an adult (nominally).  Fifteen years ago, I would have gone crazy for this one, and with good reason: it’s a kid’s daydream.  Our hero, Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) is a kid himself, living with his father in Australia’s mountain range.  His idyllic frontier existence is shattered, however, when a herd of wild horses kills his pop; suddenly without a home or a family, Jim is forced to make his own fortune, and his quest for manhood (“quest for manhood” reads like a porno movie title) places him right in the middle of a decades-long feud between two twin brothers (both played by a scenery-devouring Kirk Douglas).  Along the way, Jim romances a beautiful young girl (Sigrid Thornton) and ends up facing the horses responsible for his dad’s death.

That’s a lot of incident, and some it reads pretty traumatic (plays that way, too; Jim’s dad bites it before we’re five minutes into the movie), but director George Miller (not the same George Miller responsible for the Mad Max and Babe franchises) pitches it squarely at the boys’ adventure realm.  What little death we see isn’t terribly graphic; the romance subplot is one of those chaste deals where Boy loves Girl because Girl can ride horses (almost) as skillfully as Boy can; and the characters are generally pretty likable—even Douglas’ evil twin qualifies as “grumpy” more than he does “evil,” and by the end we see the softy inside his grouchy shell.  Plus, we get some swell location shooting and one tremendous adventure setpiece—the contest at the climax—that maintains the film’s light tone without sacrificing thrills.  The Man from Snowy River is the Western equivalent of the Snuggles Bear, and for family viewing, it’s just about perfect.

Adults will want more.  This gentle quality may work like gangbusters for the young’uns, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of real stakes for those used to a little more amorality.  Once you realize that the worst thing that will happen in the movie happens at the very beginning (Jim’s dad’s demise), The Man from Snowy River becomes a series of set pieces prolonging the inevitable happy ending.  Maybe that sounds nice to you, and if so, Mazel Tov.  Me, I needed a little more uncertainty, a little more grit, and a whole lot less of Douglas’ cutesy mugging (his Spur, the nice twin, plays as such an exaggerated Gabby Hayes characterture as to make Gabby Hayes look like Daniel Day-Lewis).

But look: that isn’t the picture’s fault.  We so praise those kiddie flicks that work for both kids and adults that we forget those two audiences aren’t always mutually exclusive.  The Man from Snowy River is a sterling example of the adult-free kids’ pic, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Endnote: the film was a surprise smash back in 1982, grossing $40 million—adjusted for inflation, that comes to just under $100 million in 2012 dollars.  That amount belies how slight the end result is, but it does indicate the subcutenaneous connection between Westerns and audiences.  By 1982, the genre had been dormant in the mainstream consciousness for years; other than cheapo blaxploitation efforts and Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, the Western’s last great hurrah occurred in 1969 with the one-two punch of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch.

That a kiddie fantasy could do so well speaks volumes about our need for the genre.  Given enough time when the Western lies fallow, we’ll run to just about any oater, whether it’s Unforgiven or The Man from Snowy River.  We can’t help ourselves; we just love these damn pictures, whether we want to admit it or not.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Blu-ray provides reference quality picture.  The film looks like a new release—the print is so clean—with lots of good texture and little digital manipulation.  A beyond-commendable result, with a very strong 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track backing it up.

For bonuses, we get a trailer.  I wish we could have gotten a little more, especially considering The Man from Snowy River’s box-office fortunes, but as this is a value-priced Blu-ray (you should be able to find it in the $7 – $12 price range), the lack of features isn’t that galling.

If I were ten years old, The Man from Snowy River would probably be my favorite movie: it’s fast-paced, not too scary, and morally positive.  As an adult, it definitely lacks the nuance and edge of the best Westerns, but there’s nothing wrong with a kids’ movie made just for kids.  The Blu-ray has phenomenal A/V and a low price point to compensate for the meager supplements.

The Man from Snowy River is now available on Blu-ray.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

The Bad and the Beautiful Review

Some films garner enough praise (or controversy) to keep them famous for decades – Citizen Kane a case in point. Others, including some truly extraordinary works, are inexplicably forgotten by all but the die-hard fans and classic cinema buffs. The Bad and the Beautiful is one of these.

Made in 1952 by Vincente Minnelli, the film’s working title was “Tribute to a Bad Man”. Told in flashback, it is three people’s stories of one man: producer Jonathan Shield (Kirk Douglas). Jonathan is an ambitious, hungry filmmaker determined to make a name for himself. In climbing this lofty ladder, he tends to stand on the shoulders (not to mention toes) of other talents, in particular actress Gloria Lorrison (Lana Turner, the “Beautiful” half of the film’s ultimate release title), director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell).

The film opens with each of the three declining to speak to Shield, before making their way to meet with Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), the former B-movie producer who, along with Shield himself, was instrumental in kick-starting each of their careers. Harry wants them, all now major stars in their own right, to make one more picture with Jonathan Shield, whose career has faltered. They refuse.

Each of them then tells their story: Fred formed a partnership with Jonathan when they were both starting out in the film business, only to have his “baby”, a script he’d worked on for years, stolen from under him by the man he trusted above all others. Gloria was an alcoholic nobody, picked up by Jonathan and made a star; when she fell in love with him, he betrayed her. James Lee was a professor with a best-selling novel who came reluctantly to Hollywood to write a screenplay. When Jonathan felt Bartlow’s beloved wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) was getting in the way, he arranged for her to spend the day with a movie star; their plane crashed, killing her.

Like many great Hollywood films about Hollywood – Singin’ in the Rain and The Player, for example – The Bad and the Beautiful represents both a love poem to the industry and a critique of the harsher, crueller aspects of the business. The casting is excellent. Kirk Douglas, with his expansive charm and clenched jaw, is marvellous as the charismatic and ambitious Jonathan, and Lana Turner (a big enough star to get the film’s top billing) evolves perfectly from the frightened, hard-drinking child of the early scenes into the poised, elegant star she becomes. The smaller roles – Sullivan, Powell, Grahame and Pidgeon – are just as well cast and performed.

The film’s best moments occur when the mechanics and thought processes of film production are revealed: perhaps the finest scene of all takes place when Fred and Jonathan are attempting to make a decent film of the last B-feature project given them by Harry. After a disastrous costume fitting in which all the actors look like cheap children’s party entertainers instead of the terrifying Cat-men they are supposed to be, the following exchange takes place:

Jonathan: Look. Put five men dressed like cats on the screen, what do they look like?

Fred: Like five men dressed like cats.

Jonathan: When an audience pays to see a picture like this, what are they paying for?

Fred: To get the pants scared off of ‘em.

Jonathan: And what scares the human race more than any other single thing?

[crosses to wall switch and turns out the light]

Fred: The dark!

Jonathan: Of course. And why? Because the dark has a life of its own. In the dark, all sorts of things come alive.

Fred: Suppose… suppose we never do show the cat men. Is that what you’re thinking?

Jonathan: Exactly.

Fred: No cat men!

During this conversation, Jonathan not only turns out the overhead light, he begins to pace in and out of the arc of illumination provided by the single lighted lamp in the room. Moving in and out of the darkness and speaking with increasing excitement, he evokes menace, cunning and hunger – almost like a cat-man himself.

It is worth noting at this point that this scene is famously based on the process used by producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur in making their classic thriller Cat People. (Lewton lends his name to the now all-too-familiar trope of building dramatic tension through sound, lighting and acting, raising the anxiety factor to an unbearable pitch – only for the big scare to be nothing much in particular – a cat, a friend returned for a forgotten handbag, a trick of the light. This is called a Lewton bus.)

It is not only from these true characters that the film cribs – many scenes are rumoured to be based on incidents in the life of famed super-producer David O. Selznick, the enfant terrible of classic Hollywood. Leo G. Carroll’s character, temperamental British director Henry Whitfield (who never goes anywhere without his wife in tow), is clearly based on Alfred Hitchcock (and the wife on Alma Reville, Hitch’s screenwriter wife). Another director, Von Ellstein (Ivan Triesault), is an absolute ringer for Erich von Stroheim.

It is a terrific film, and an even better film about filmmaking. The original title, “Tribute to a Bad Man”, would have been even more apropos: while Jonathan Shield is the villain of the piece, it is nevertheless the tale of an incredible storyteller willing to do whatever it takes to realise his dream.

The Bad and the Beautiful forms part of the British Film Institute’s Vincente Minnelli retrospective (3 April to 31 May) and will be showing at BFI Southbank from 20 April.

The Official Walt Disney Fan Club to Present 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

For the second consecutive year, the TCM Classic Film Festival will celebrate the legacy of The Walt Disney StudiosTurner Classic Movies (TCM), in collaboration with D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, will present a 75th anniversary screening of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs(1937), Disney’s first hand-drawn feature-length animated film. In addition, legendary actor Kirk Douglas will present the first general public screening of the newly restored (from original camera negatives) live-action adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

On Friday, April 13, at 2:45 p.m., Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas will be present at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for the first public screening of the newly restored 1954 adventure film epic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the first live-action feature film shot at Walt Disney’s Burbank studios. Disney recruited an A-list cast including Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Paul Lukas, and a set budget of $9 million, the largest in Hollywood history at that time.

Walt Disney had originally planned to turn Jules Verne’s tale of Captain Nemo’s battle to wipe out warfare into an animated feature. But when he saw designer Harper Goff’s preliminary sketches, he decided to make the switch to live action. To film the massive production – the studio’s first in CinemaScope – Disney added a water tank and a third soundstage to his studio, rented additional space from 20th Century-Fox and Universal, and sent cast and crew to the Caribbean for underwater shooting. His technicians also had to develop new equipment for the film’s many underwater scenes and create a giant, two-ton squid for the film’s most impressive sequence.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea went on to earn two Oscars®, one for the eye-popping visual effects and one for John Meehan and Emile Kuri’s art direction and set decoration. The film earned a third nomination for Elmo Williams’ editing.

Operation Undersea, an episode of the Disneyland TV series highlighting the creation of the film, won Emmys® for Best Individual Program of the Year (1955) and Best Television Film Editing.

Culture Clash's 'American Night' at Kirk Douglas

Speak softly and carry a big schtick: That’s the guiding principle of “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” Richard Montoya’s fast-paced fantasia on U.S. history, now running rampant at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Developed in collaboration with Culture Clash, the gleeful “Night” uses sketch comedy, song and a dizzying number of wigs to survey the glories and pratfalls of the American Dream. 

Dream, as in emphasis on slumber. The night before taking his citizenship exam, an exhausted Juan José (René Millán, nicely understated) tries to wrap his head around constitutional amendments and the logic of the Spanish-American War. Dozing off, he takes a picaresque spin through two centuries of “democracy,” bumbling into the famous (Jackie Robinson), the infamous (the Ku Klux Klan) and the obscure (see below). Consider “Night” as revisionist vaudevillian history of the United States from a (Howard) Zinn-master. Bemused, sly and sometimes moving, the evening affirms that we the people are indeed free to pursue happiness, despite metered parking in Culver City until 11 p.m. 

Fluidly directed by Jo Bonney, who shares a development credit with Culture Clash, “Night” is nimblest when it exposes the strange bedfellows of the American project. Shawn Sagady’s projections slide along upstage corrugated panels, leaving the stage a free-for-all where, for instance, Sacagawea (Stephanie Beatriz) is imagined as a brainy Ugly Betty, wearing a retainer and in need of a quick trip to REI to procure appropriate footwear.  (Her response to her face on the dollar coin? “I look fat.”) 

Juan also meets Viola Pettus (Kimberly Scott), an African American woman who even nursed KKK members during the virulent 1918 Spanish flu outbreak in West Texas. He hangs with Ralf Lazo (Daisuke Tsuji), a 16-year-old of Irish and Mexican descent who insisted on joining his Asian American classmates after they were interned at Manzanar Camp in 1942.  The chameleon cast shifts identities at top speed, and Montoya himself does Bob Dylan that would give Cate Blanchett pause. 

Yes, “Night” leans left, but it has about as much patience for political correctness as it has for Rush Limbaugh. So don’t look for the play’s take on the current immigration debate to shed new light on the issue; that would be missing the point. Montoya understands that history itself is theater, a series of showdowns in which competing narratives vie for supremacy. 

In the end, it’s America’s imperfection that propels an ambivalent Juan toward his new life. Our racists, radicals, imperialists and divine seekers show us who we are and who we would rather not be. And we all came here from somewhere else. The best quote of the night is from a source compiled around the time of the first Mayan hieroglyphics. See Exodus 22:21: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were a foreigner in Egypt.”

thank you

I spent the whole morning reading the fan mail on my website.  I was so touched by the outpouring of affection.  I wish it would be possible to answer each and every one of you.  But I must confess, you made my day by the flattering things you said. 

You know, when we make a movie or write a book, we have no idea of the reactions of the people who see it or read it.  I have now finished writing my last book, "I AM SPARTACUS".  I write about the making of the film and the breaking of the blacklist.  It's strange to write about something that happened over fifty years ago.  You forget so many things but the important things you remember like it was yesterday. 

Again, I thank you all and I hope you will keep writing.

Gratefully,
Kirk Douglas