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.

Krapp's Last Tape at Kirk Douglas Theatre

--LA Weekly October 18, 2012

Let's not mince words, because Samuel Beckett doesn't. In the Irish dramatist's monodram Krapp's Last Tape, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through November 4, John Hurt is perfect. He's shabbily attired in a sleeveless vest, white peasant shirt, baggy trousers and shoes that squeak when he walks.

Michael Colgan's staging for the Gate Theatre, Dublin, offers a lovingly sculpted, slightly whimsical yet discomfiting portrait of a solitary man celebrating his 69th birthday. No birthday cakes here. No candles. Just a couple of bananas that Hurt plucks from one of the drawers of Krapp's rickety worktable, with a single lamp suspended overhead. In the play's first five minutes of silence, he trots arthritically, using a cane, to the front of the desk to withdraw one banana. The ritual of peeling it, tossing away the skin and then phallically holding it in his mouth for a moment or two is part of a clown routine, repeated with a second banana.

The production, staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year after having premiered in Dublin in 1999, shows all the benefits of the kind of international festival treats that have had years to settle in and grow assured. Such assurance lies in the very quality of Hurt's movements. His clowning, if taken too far, would turn frivolous, as though ridiculing the love of a woman whom Krapp rejected, the deep dull ache from the passage of time, and the looming prospect of the grave that lies in Krapp's weary bones.

Within that terrifyingly desolate frame of existence, Hurt crosses the stage with a slight bounce, enough to suggest that the man still has a sense of humor, however bitter than humor might have become. Yet that bounce is sufficiently subtle to preserve the production's core respect for the entropy at the play's heart, at the heart of all of Beckett's plays, poems and novels. That subtlety embodies the difference between aiming for a laugh and a smile.

He walks to the perimeter of designer James McConnell's wash of light, entering a wall of darkness before recoiling, like an old dog. This man, at the eclipse of what would now be called middle age, stands surrounded by walls of darkness, inexorably closing in. We don't actually see those shadows closing in, but that truth becomes unmistakable.

Krapp hobbles offstage to retrieve a vintage reel-to-reel tape recorder, a large, dusty logbook and a stack of boxes containing audio tapes. He spends considerable time plugging in the electrical contraption and spooling the tape he was saving for just this occasion. He relishes the word — "spoooooooool" — as though part of a song lyric.

The tape is a recording of himself some 30 years earlier, reflecting on himself at some pinnacle in life, at which his older self sneers in contempt. He listens to these words, from a recorded voice in a lower octave and with more force than his current treble. And he spits out his contempt for the "bastard" he was. He tilts back his head and roars with laughter at the presumptuousness of himself at the age of 39. And yet, he ruminates, perhaps the younger man was right. His younger self describes a moment of erotic contact with that woman: "We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side."

Upon hearing this, the elder Krapp, with his Beckett-like shock of silver hair, leans forward and cradles the old tape recorder — in case you thought our love affair with technical devices, and all that they conjure, was something new. And he stares forward at us, into the darkness, lips twisted in anguish, eyes brimming with heartache.

He spools a new tape and attempts a current entry, which he soon rips from the machine. What is the purpose of words? It's an early testament in Beckett's body of work to the conviction — harrowing for a poet — that perhaps silence is an improvement, more articulate and more to the point of what is, and what is to come.

 

Kirk Douglas on Film: UCSB Arts & Lectures

Date: Monday, October 1, 2012

Time: 7:30 PM

Place: Pollock Theatre, University of California Santa Barbara

 

 

Champion (7:30 PM)
In an Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance, Douglas plays ruthless prizefighter Midge Kelly, who battles his demons in the boxing ring. (Mark Robson, 1949, 99 min.)


Ace in the Hole (9 PM)
Douglas portrays an unscrupulous, hard-bitten reporter, who’ll stop at nothing to get back his job at a big city newspaper by manipulating the events of a story. (Billy Wilder, 1951, 112 min.)

Douglas on Tackling a Movie Epic, a Blacklist

--Philly.com Sept 23, 2012

At 95, Kirk Douglas has a helluva memory. Just read I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, and you will be amazed by his stories about the creation of the 1960 epic he starred in and produced.

Douglas, through his Bryna production company, wanted to make the best picture possible from the tale of the slave leader who led his followers in an uprising against the might of ancient Rome. To do that, Douglas had to enlist two writers blacklisted during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1940s.

One, novelist Harold Fast, self-published Spartacus, his exciting account of the slave rebellion, after he was blacklisted. Douglas optioned the book and gave Fast an opportunity to adapt it. When Fast had trouble translating the story for the screen, Douglas hired one "Sam Jackson" to rewrite the script.

"Sam Jackson" was Dalton Trumbo, who had been one of Hollywood's most famous and highest-paid screenwriters. Trumbo had not had his real name on a script since being imprisoned as one of the "Hollywood Ten" for refusing in 1947 to name names of friends who were Communists. Using the pseudonym "Robert Rich," Trumbo had won an Academy Award for "best writing" for 1956's The Brave One, about a Mexican boy who tries to save his bull from being killed in the bullring. Trumbo also won an Oscar posthumously in 1993 for writing William Wyler's 1953 romance Roman Holiday; credit for the script had originally gone to screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter, who had served as a front for Trumbo.

Bryna production executive Eddie Lewis initially served as a front for Trumbo on Spartacus, taking care of some of the potential problems the film faced during the preparation for shooting. But as Douglas recounts, a whole lot of other eye-opening incidents occurred. And he recalls them with insight, intelligence, and self-effacing humor. Ultimately, I Am Spartacus! offers a juicy look inside a film that once teetered on the brink of disaster and has since achieved classic status.

Referring to his own sometimes reckless physical prowess and indomitable spirit, Douglas draws parallels between his efforts to get the movie made and the efforts of the real-life Spartacus to lead a successful rebellion. Douglas also recalls that there was a prevalent element of anti-Semitism at work in the blacklist, which gave the son of Russian Jewish immigrants added incentive to stand up to McCarthyism.

I Am Spartacus! is chock-full of terrific anecdotes about the making of the film, which eventually became a big hit for Universal, taking in an impressive $60 million around the world on a then-substantial $12 million budget. There are entertaining tales concerning a competing project (The Gladiators, starring Yul Brynner), casting uncertainties (Gene Tierney, Jeanne Moreau, newcomer Sabine Bethmann, and others were considered for the role of the slave woman Varinia, but Jean Simmons got the part), directing changes after the film began shooting (easygoing Anthony Mann was replaced by temperamental wunderkind Stanley Kubrick), personality conflicts aplenty (involving costars Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Oscar-winning Peter Ustinov), and, finally, extensive recuts for political reasons by Universal.

Douglas' decision to use the name of Dalton Trumbo on the credits rather than "Sam Jackson" was a bold move that had major impact. Surviving writers, actors, directors, and others in Hollywood who had been living in fear or using others as fronts came back to life, discarding their anonymity to reclaim their names and work again.

Trumbo went on to write 1962's modern western Lonely Are the Brave, which Douglas considers his favorite film. Trumbo also went on to many other post-blacklist projects: scripting Exodus for Otto Preminger; adapting and directing his own antiwar novel, Johnny Got His Gun, for the screen; and writing the screenplay for Papillon, with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

Douglas is adept at telling personal stories, as he showed in his other books, especially his compelling 1988 autobiography The Ragman's Son. In I Am Spartacus!, he dives headfirst into the particulars of the era and the fear that the witch hunts spawned in Hollywood, where some of Douglas' friends tried unsuccessfully to stop U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's hunt for Communist influence in the showbiz community. Douglas says he was too unimportant to be noticed when this all began, his career just in its early years, although he was in movies written by such blacklisted writers as Carl Foreman and Ring Lardner Jr.

Douglas uses letters and recollections of conversations to add color to his memoir. He is particularly sharp in discussing Trumbo, an iconoclastic writing machine who worked furiously while naked in his bathtub, sipping bourbon and chain-smoking cigarettes. There is also no shortage of insight into the obsessiveness of director Kubrick, who dismissed Spartacus throughout the rest of his career and relieved crack cinematographer Russell Metty of his duties - only to find Metty winning an Oscar for his work.

Douglas has come in for some criticism over his assessment of his importance in ending the blacklist. Members of the Trumbo family and others have claimed that the actor-producer has taken too much credit and undervalued the efforts of Eddie Lewis and others.

But Douglas, while not shy about tooting his own horn, has no problem acknowledging Lewis' input or willingness to help him when it came to protecting, then exposing Trumbo's work when the time was right.

I Am Spartacus! deserves mention with other great "making of" Hollywood tomes such as Steven Bach's Final Cut - about the production of Michael Cimino's disastrous Heaven's Gate - and Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy, detailing Brian De Palma's misfire on Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.

I Am Spartacus! brings readers up close and personal with the temperamental talent, the creative forces, and the movers and shakers engaged in the high-wire act of making a major movie - one with much more at stake than most.

Weekend Film Recommendation: I Walk Alone

--September 21, 2012

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas had remarkably parallel careers. They both made their first film in 1946, quickly became huge international stars, and maintained their cinematic dominance for decades. Both were handsome, athletic men who were also intelligent enough to play parts with nuance and depth. Both ultimately broke away from the studio system to become independent producers. And last but not least, they made seven films together, the first of which is this week’s recommendation, the 1948 crime melodrama I Walk Alone.

The story commences with Frankie Madison (Lancaster) getting out of the joint after a 14 year stretch. He was arrested for bootlegging with Noll “Dink” Taylor (Douglas), but Taylor eluded the cops, never did any hard time and indeed never even bothered to visit Frankie in prison. Frankie’s old friend Dave (Wendell Corey, in a quietly effective performance), who has stayed true to him, is under Dink’s thumb as the bookkeeper of his swanky nightclub. Frankie feels entitled to half of the club, but Dink isn’t feeling generous. Dink sends his moll, a singer in the club (Lizabeth Scott) to sweet-talk Frankie; he’s lost interest in her anyway because he wants to marry a blue blood (a sultry and perfectly bitchy Kristine Miller) who will secure his place among the posh people.

The emotional power of the film comes from the conflict between Frankie and Dink. Lancaster’s Frankie is a pacing, rough cut ex-con who would like nothing better than to slug it out. Douglas’ Dink is all suaveness and reassurance, an oleaginous modern businessman who claims to have left the world of guns and fists. This contrast produces the best scene in the movie, in which Lancaster shows up with some thugs to take over the club by force, and Douglas humiliates him by explaining that because of multiple holding companies and escrow agreements, there is nothing to take over (without a vote of the board and amendment of the by laws of course). As Dink himself says, Frankie is a dinosaur, unable to cope with the realities of the modern world. But Dink still fears him enough to commit a terrible crime and frame his former pal as the culprit.

There are some flaws in this film. It was Byron Haskin’s first directorial outing, and he doesn’t seem in full control of the material. He got much better later, for example in Treasure Island, recommended here recently. This isn’t Lizabeth Scott’s best work either. She seems one-note off in I Walk Alone, for a reason I cannot guess (Bad direction from Haskin, maybe). Charles Schnee was a great script writer (The Bad and the Beautiful, starring Kirk Douglas, being one of his gems). His script here includes some pungent dialogue but the story drags at times, particularly in the second half. But no matter what slow spots intrude on the viewer’s enjoyment, the film always roars back to life as soon as the two lions of post-war cinema are tussling on the screen again.

As a note on the actors, this was the fourth film for both men and they apparently spent little time with each other off-screen. Their friendship/rivalry was to blossom much later during the making of Gunfight at the OK Corral. About 10 years ago, I had the good fortune to hear from Douglas’ own lips that the rivalry was largely a studio and trade press invention, when in reality they had always been good friends. But who knows or cares? Whatever their personal relationship was like off screen, they were a terrific duo onscreen.

Hollywood gladiator Kirk Douglas has his eyes set on a third barmitzvah

--Jewish Chronicle Online, September 20, 2012

Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

‘When you have a stroke you must talk slowly to be understood,” Kirk Douglas is saying, “and I’ve discovered that when I talk slowly people listen. They think I’m going to say something important!

“Well, I do have something important to say because I have been working in Hollywood over 60 years and I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”

We are sitting in the actor’s den in his Beverly Hills home, surrounded by piles of oversized art books. African masks mingle with wall hangings and metal sculptures; the bookcases lining one wall are stacked floor to ceiling. On the wall hang a few Toulouse Lautrecs, the first art he ever bought. There used to be Picassos and Miros too, but he sold them to fund his wife’s charity campaign to renovate the 400 ageing playgrounds in Los Angeles.

It has been over 50 years since the infamous McCarthy witchhunt and the preceding blacklist which ousted so many writers and performers from their jobs because of a hysterical fear of communism. It is a period that Douglas still feels passionate about and it has led him to write his latest book, his 10th, Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.

On this boiling hot day, Douglas is looking cool and relaxed; by his side, his two faithful labradors, black-haired Banshee and snowy white Danny (short for Danielovich, Douglas’s birth surname).

“I was living in a terrible time when people were being accused of being communists, and they attacked the movie industry, especially the writers,” he recalls. “People couldn’t work if they were on the blacklist. The studios banned them. It was the most onerous period in movie history. I don’t think we have ever had a period so dark as that. People committed suicide, people died, people suffered. It wiped out lives.”

When he made Spartacus, he hired writer Dalton Trumbo, one of ‘the Hollywood 10” who had been jailed for refusing to testify whether they were communists, but Trumbo was on the blacklist and had to work under a pseudonym.

“When the film was finished I felt terrible not to give him true credit,” Douglas says. “It was so wrong. I agonised. People said: ‘Kirk, if you use his right name you’ll never work in this town again’. But 50 years ago
I was very stubborn. In the end I did it. I used his name on the screen. I was scared to death but I insisted on doing it.

“One columnist attacked me and I was lambasted,” he recollects the public vitriol. “She called the picture filth and encouraged people not to go and see it. Such venom! She saw this as if we were spreading communism! But in the end the sky didn’t fall in and life went on. The blacklist was broken.”

Spartacus became a massive success. The film starred Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Douglas, who also was producer — it was a rare occurrence in those days for an actor to be an independent film producer. At the time — 1960 — Spartacus was the most expensive film ever made.

Originally, Olivier wanted to play the role of Spartacus, the slave who fought the Romans for years before being captured and crucified, but, says Douglas, “we thought he was too, I don’t want to use the word effete, but too intellectual and too gentle.”

He breaks off to kiss goodbye to wife Anne who is off to see the opthomologist. They have been married 58 years and are still “a couple in love”. When he and Anne renewed their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary Anne converted to Judaism — “she said I deserved to marry a nice Jewish girl”, says Douglas. Now it is she instead of him who performs the Friday night ritual of lighting the Sabbath candles.

“When we light the candles we have a little service and say in Hebrew a small prayer where we’re thanking God for everything we have. I like that. I think that is a prayer that everybody should say.”

Twelve years ago, Douglas had a second barmitzvah. “I thought it was something I should do at 83 because of all that had happened to me. Now I’m going to be barmitzvah’d for the third time in December. That’s if I live to be 96! I’m 95 now and you say I’m in good shape, so everything looks promising.”

Three barmitzvahs. Surely a record. Douglas laughs. “My rabbi says I’ll be in the Guinness Book of Records”
After his first barmitzvah he moved away from religion for many years, greatly affected, he says, by the story of Abraham and Isaac. “I resented that it was said God ordered Abraham to kill his son. Only much later did I realise that it was a metaphor.

“I was not a very good Jew. I never practised what Judaism tells you to do, to teach your kids all about Judaism.”

His first wife, actress Diana Dill with whom he had two sons, Michael and Joel, was not Jewish. Neither was his second, German-born Anne Buydens, with whom he had sons Peter and Eric.

“My four sons all knew I was a Jew but they were allowed to be whatever they wanted to be. The only thing important to me was that they be good people who help other people because all religion should try to make you a better person and a more caring person. Whenever religion does that for you, it’s a good religion.

“In general I am against religion because they do so much harm. There are things even in the Jewish religion that I hate and things that I like. But I’m proud to be a Jew.
He was heartened when son Michael came to him recently and told him he agreed that life needed to be lived “based on helping other people”.

“That goes back to when I was a very small boy and we lived in a little house by the railroad track,” Douglas explains slowly. “We were very poor. My father had left and my mother had to raise and feed me and my six sisters. We barely had enough. But very often there would be a knock on the door and there would be a dishevelled hobo asking for food. I was frightened. I was just a little kid. But my mother was not frightened and she always found something to give him. And she said ‘Issur’ — that was my name — ‘even a beggar must give to another beggar who’s worse off than he is’. And that encouraged me to do my philanthropy. My wife feels the same way.”

Through his Douglas Foundation, he recently donated $50 million to the Motion Picture Home which provides assistance to industry members. In Jerusalem, his latest accomplishment has been to build a theatre near the Wailing Wall for aspiring actors, similar to one he established in Los Angeles.

Tell him there os a reward for these mitzvahs and he shrugs it off. “I think being generous and doing things to help other people is a selfish act because it makes you feel so good. That is the reward.”

Douglas’s parents were illiterate Russian Jews who dren. he was their only son. From a very early age, little Issur Danielovich, was hell-bent on becoming an actor. The local community wanted to raise money to send him to a yeshivah, “but I was frightened because I didn’t want to be a rabbi. I just always wanted to be an actor.”

There was never any doubt that the movies would win out over the synagogue. Douglas won a wrestling scholarship to university and worked as a wrestler in summer carnivals. A second scholarship, from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, moved him closer to his dream and he soon made his Broadway debut in 1940, as a singing-telegram boy in the play, Spring Again.

War intervened and he enlisted in the US Navy where he served as communications officer in anti-submarine warfare.

Despite his preference for theatre, in 1946, fate intervened in the form of Hal Wallis who cast him in the classic film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. He hung on to his famous chin dimple (barely, the studio wanted to remove it) and won plaudits for his work.

His eighth film, Champion, in which he played a boxer, made him a star and netted him his first Academy Award
nomination. After that he varied his performances and was never easily typecast, although his “tough” image largely dominated his career, despite a mix of gentler, romantic roles.

Over 50 years he was one of Hollywood’s most prominent actors. Many of his films have become classics, among them Gunfight at the OK Corral, Paths of Glory and Lonely Are the Brave (his favourite). He has won three Oscar nominations — for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust For Life, a biopic of the artist Vincent Van Gogh “He should have won the Oscar for that”, the film’s director Vincente Minnelli said and Douglas thought he deserved it too. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award for his outstanding contribution to films.
It is a contribution that has travelled far and wide. Although he never took an official role, he has flown around the world as a goodwill ambassador for the US State Department.

“Being a movie star was a great credential,” he grins. And it is true that it has given him a unique entrée to the elite of the world. In 1980 he flew in the first private jet from Jerusalem to Cairo and met President Sadat. Back home, he testified before Congress about the shocking abuse of the elderly. For all his efforts, he was awarded the highest civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom.

At 95, Kirk Douglas is still something of a powerhouse. “I can walk, I can talk and I can see,” he beams. “So I must be doing something right.”