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.
Judi Dench Named Recipient Of Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Kirk Douglas Award Of Excellence
- Created on Monday, 09 October 2017
- Written by Pete Hammond
--Deadline Hollywood September 20, 2017
The award will be presented to the 82-year-old Oscar winning star on Thursday November 30 at a black tie gala dinner at Bacara Resort & Spa. It is often viewed as a precursor of awards season glory and Dench is once again in the race with two films set for release, including a reprisal of her role as Queen Victoria in Victoria & Abdul opening this Friday, as well as Murder On The Orient Express due November 10. The Douglas award has been presented since 2006 and past honorees include last year’s recipient Warren Beatty as well as Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, Forest Whitaker, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, Quentin Tarantino, and John Travolta.
“I am especially delighted to learn that Dame Judi Dench will accept the award that bears my name,” said the 100 year old Douglas who will turn 101 on December 9.
“She is a consummate artist of stage and screen who is a particular favorite of mine. I wish I could have had the joy of working with her, but I am happy for the pleasure of seeing my name coupled with hers in support of the Santa Barbara Film Festival.”
Dench won her Oscar in 1999 for Shakespeare In Love. She has been nominated a total of seven times , with other nominations coming for Mrs. Brown, Chocolat, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, and Philomena. She has also won an impressive 11 BAFTA awards out of 26 nominations, as well as two Golden Globe awards among many other career honors. She has also become well known to a whole new audience as M in no fewer than seven James Bond films from Goldeneye through Skyfall.
Show biz legends Kirk and Anne Douglas remember 'magical time' in Palm Springs
- Created on Thursday, 14 September 2017
- Written by Bruce Fessier
--The Desert Sun September 8, 2017
When conversations turned to the desert's biggest stars in the 1980s, the names bandied about always included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Gene Autry, Dinah Shore, Lucille Ball and Kirk Douglas.
Douglas, one of the first three honorees of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, is the now last person standing. At 100, the three-time Best Actor Oscar nominee lives in Beverly Hills and the Santa Barbara area, but still casts a giant shadow over Palm Springs.
A street near the city's international airport bears his name. The house he owned from 1957-1999 on Via Lola is being showcased Oct. 21 as part of the Modernism Week Fall Preview. And the Palm Springs Cultural Center nonprofit organization, on which his son, Indian Wells resident Joel Douglas, is a board member, is screening some of his greatest films through September in the Palm Springs Community Theatre at the Camelot Theatres. “Last Sunset” is screening at noon Sept. 11-15 and Sept. 18-20, followed by “The War Wagon” at noon Sept. 25-29.
For the past 63 years, and especially during their five decades in Palm Springs, Douglas and his wife, Anne, have been a formidable team. They had two children, besides Kirk’s sons from an earlier marriage, and Anne became president of Kirk’s production company at a time when women were mainly playing housewives on television. Anne, 98, also heads the family foundation, which has donated funds to sustain hospitals, theaters and playgrounds around the world, to name a few of their philanthropic endeavors. In Palm Springs, they co-chaired the first Desert AIDS Walk with former First Lady Betty Ford in 1989, raising $25,000.
Now they’ve co-written their first book, with long-time publicist friend Marcia Newberger, titled “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.” It’s based on a cache of love letters Anne had saved from Kirk since they met in France, where Kirk hired the bilingual native of Hannover, Germany, to handle his personal publicity while he was working in Europe.
They answered questions from The Desert Sun on a wide range of subjects:
THE DESERT SUN: First of all, I think everybody would like to know how you're doing.
KIRK DOUGLAS: Anne and I are as busy as always, except now we conserve our energies and have our meetings and social activities conducted at our residence in Beverly Hills whenever possible. We still spend a long weekend or two at our home in Montecito to catch up with our grandchildren (Peter’s kids) when they have time for their Pappy and Oma. Anne still runs the Bryna office and the Douglas Foundation. It’s a big job to give away money! I still study with Rabbi David Wolpe and work with my speech therapist. Anne and I continue our lifelong habits of writing sweet notes to each other and enjoying our nightly “golden hours” to discuss the news, to reminisce, and to just spend time together. I don’t use a computer except to play “Spider Solitaire,” but Anne and I both love our iPads, especially because we can magnify type. We even occasionally Facetime or Skype with each other, as well as Michael, Catherine and their kids who live on the East Coast. I’m a long way from “Spartacus,” but I still try to take little walks around the neighborhood and, on occasion, get in the pool for a little physical therapy.
Can you describe how your love letters evolved into a book?
KD: Although I’ve been writing poetry since I was in high school, and published a number of fiction, non-fiction, and autobiographical books while I was still making movies, a lot of my later books came out of my own need to explore my feelings and actions. By being honest, I came to know myself better; I was able to give up the anger that drove me in my earlier years and become a nicer and more forgiving person. After surviving a helicopter crash, a stroke and my 90th birthday, I explored in writing how each of these had changed me and what I learned from the experiences.
I didn’t think I had anything left to say after 11 books. As my 100th birthday approached, I thought I’d look at all of the correspondence and memorabilia Anne has been saving throughout our 63 years of marriage and maybe craft a book of letters. But there were no letters between the two of us. That puzzled me. I knew we had always written each other since I traveled so much. In the 1950s and up until the last decade or so of the 20th century, letters, telegrams and cables, and very expensive long-distance phone calls were our main means of communication when we were apart. So, one night in Montecito during our “golden hour,” I asked Anne if she had kept any of our love letters. I was shocked when she laughed and asked if I would like to see them. A few minutes later she came back with an ancient manila folder from a secret hiding spot in her closet and started reading a few of the letters to me. I could not believe she had kept them. I was very excited. “This is the book,” I told her. “Our book.” We worked separately on the commentary and I think my 12th book (and Anne’s first) is very interesting.
I was surprised to read Anne say that it’s always been easier for you to write about your feelings than to talk about them. If that’s true, what has come easier for you, acting or writing?
KD: It’s always easier to play a role, knowing you can shed it and get back to reality. When you write about your own life, you really have to do a lot of self-analysis. But this new book allows for an unusual perspective on the past. Because letters are written in the moment and are meant for no other eye than the recipient, they ring with an honesty that shows exactly the emotional state of the writer. As you can see when you read them, I was a pretty complicated guy and Anne was an extraordinary woman who lived through a Hitler-dominated childhood in Germany and survived wartime in Occupied Paris. I gave her a hard time, but she was tough enough to stick with me. She is my rock and I wouldn’t be here without her – literally. She saved my life when she wouldn’t let me go (because of a premonition) on Mike Todd’s plane that crashed, making Elizabeth Taylor a widow; she saved me from economic disaster when she discovered how my best friend and business manager had defrauded me for nearly 15 years, leaving me broke and in debt to the IRS for close to a million dollars. And, of course, when I had my stroke and couldn’t talk, she administered the kind of tough love that brought me back from the brink of suicide.
I had to laugh at how Robert Mitchum tried to order 15 cases of champagne to take a bath with “my naked companion” and charge it to the Cannes Film Festival, where Anne was chief of protocol. Have you guys ever seen that kind of excessiveness from other celebrities or did Robert Mitchum take the cake?
KD: It’s always easy to be extravagant with someone else’s money. As a producer, I dealt with many outrageous demands. Sometimes you say yes, often you say no. But the most extravagant person I knew with his own money was Mike Todd, the greatest showman in the world. As I wrote in “Kirk and Anne,” Mike lived across the street from us in Palm Springs when he was married to Elizabeth. He called Anne and me to come over one morning to see the display of jewels he had spread across the front lawn to surprise Elizabeth. When she came down, he told her to pick anything she wanted. This was a few days before that fatal crash.
ANNE DOUGLAS: Also, I told the story about Mike asking Elizabeth what she wanted for dinner when she was in bed at the Dorchester Hotel in London, pregnant with their child. This was the year before the crash. Elizabeth wanted to replicate the meal they’d had in Paris the previous week. so Mike ordered it, chartered a plane to pick it up in Paris and fly it back to London. Kirk and I shared it with them. She could ask for the moon and he would have gotten it for her somehow.
You declined Hal Wallis’ seven-year contract and later started your own production company at a time when most actors, even Clark Gable, were insecure about their futures. Did any other actors inspire you to take that risk?
KD: I was a loner, and I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I had never wanted to be a movie star. I wanted the independence to work on Broadway. In our original arrangement, I made one picture a year for Hal for five years. I had seen how miserable people were under those seven-year contracts, where you had to do films you hated or be sued or punished, so it was easy for me to refuse the contract. If I had signed it, I would not have been able to do “Champion” for Stanley Kramer or work on anything else that wasn’t under Hal Wallis’s banner. When I worked for Hal again for “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” I got more than double Burt Lancaster’s salary because I was an independent and Burt owed Hal one final picture on his seven-year contract. I knew the only way to get creative independence and financial security for my family was to form my own company. United Artists was the model for all of us who started our own production entities, like my friends Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra. I never regretted taking the risk.
Can you describe Anne’s challenges as a woman of that era becoming Bryna company president? Anne: You say even Kirk’s business manager dismissed you as someone who should “stick to what to buy at Saks or Magnin’s.” What was the most important obstacle for you to overcome and how did you do it?
KD: Anne’s father, who owned textile companies in Hannover, Germany, talked to his younger daughter about business all the time, and she really learned well. Even before I met her, she supported herself in Paris, producing a television series on fashion, and doing location work and publicity for films, including John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge.” I always took her advice and discussed contracts with her because I just wanted to be “the artist.” Of course, when people like my crooked business manager, Sam Norton, tried to keep her in the role of little housewife, she was furious. As I’ve said many times, I wouldn’t have a penny without Anne, and we would never have been able to give millions away through our foundation without her capable leadership. When the children were a little older, I insisted she formalize her role and become president of Bryna. She was already signing the contracts for me, so it was important that she have an official role. She has excellent judgment, helped in casting, and even produced my film “Scalawag” in Italy and Yugoslavia. She has looked out for me for more than 63 years, and I would only wish we had 63 more.
Many people learned about your work to break the Hollywood Blacklist from the film, “Trumbo.” What did you think of that film and the actor who played you?
The producer and the writer were very kind and showed the script to me before the production began. I made a few suggestions and they modified some of it. Of course, for dramatic purposes, they put in a few things that never happened, like having Otto Preminger and me meet at Dalton Trumbo’s house. I loved Dalton, who wrote my films “The Last Sunset” and “Lonely Are the Brave,” as well as “Spartacus.” He was a fascinating guy and a brilliant writer. Dean O’Gorman contacted me when he was cast, and I told him just to play the part as he felt best and I knew he’d be fine. And he was.
You note that Anne turned the premiere of "Spartacus" into a benefit for the Women's Guild of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. How pioneering was that in terms of your joint philanthropy?
AD: I wasn’t the first to hold a premiere for fundraising, but I was the first to insist that the studios buy tickets rather than getting them for free. I think it set a precedent, but I can’t be sure. We held other charity premieres for films everywhere. Kirk’s name has always been a big draw.
What was the favorite charity event you guys were involved with in Palm Springs?
AD: I was chosen to get a big donation from Walter Annenberg for the Palm Springs Desert Museum (now Art Museum) before it opened (in 1976). He was reluctant to write a check for the $400,000 I asked for, and offered $100,000. I said I couldn’t take less than $200,000 and, with Lee Annenberg’s help, I got it. I had the official title of co-director of the museum and we were very active there for all our many years as part of the community. Kirk donated the temperature-control system for the art galleries. Probably our favorite museum event was when Vincente Minnelli was honored with a “From Stage to Screen” exhibition with a Gala Opening Night. Kirk and I were the honorary chairs and we got $1,000 a ticket from every guest, no comps.
We both played in charity tennis tournaments and Kirk played golf in Frank Sinatra’s and Bob Hope’s and Dinah Shore’s tournaments. We loved Palm Springs, and would have stayed forever if the grandchildren weren’t in Montecito.
Can you recall what you liked most about living on Via Lola?
AD: I was called the Mayor of Via Lola. There were no sewer lines, and I self-appointed myself to work with the mayor and the city officials to get them put in. I also campaigned to get rid of the ugly poles which provided our telephone, TV and electricity but marred the look of the street. I raised $4,000 from each house to get them put underground and improve the area.
Kirk and I would take walks on the street with friends from the block. We would buy ice cream around the corner and then walk past the mailbox and jam our cones in it, like naughty juvenile delinquents. Every Thanksgiving, and at Christmas, Susie Johnson would cook turkeys and we’d have all of our pals over for dinner and then we’d sit around playing gin rummy. Our regulars included Edie and Lew Wasserman, the Annenbergs, Greg Bautzer, the Jack Bennys, the Sidney Sheldons, and whoever else was visiting. At one time, Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle were neighbors and one of the Mirisch brothers (who owned a powerful independent film production company). Dinah Shore would come over to play tennis with me, and sometimes she would cook. Some of our neighbors were so competitive with the gin rummy games they would still be dealing the cards when Kirk went to sleep. I once came downstairs in the morning and found the game still going strong. It was a magical time.
Incidentally, the current owners of our house are Canadian and good friends of Michael and Catherine (Zeta Jones). For one of the music festivals, Michael and Catherine and Dylan and Carys (their children) were their guests.
How does it feel to be remembered in Palm Springs with your own street and now a month-long retrospective of your films at the Camelot Theatres? If you could pick another film from your career to be included in the series, what would it be?
KD: I’m honored that this month the Palm Springs Community Theatre will be playing some of my films in their Best Actor Series. You ask what film I would like to see them add to the schedule. How about “Cast A Giant Shadow,” which Anne and I wrote about in our book. John Wayne found the project and told me I had to play Col. Mickey Marcus. To round out the cast, we got my good pals Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner. I took Michael along to be my driver (and he played a small part) and Joel to be my bodyguard. Joel still lives in the desert. He makes sure that Kirk Douglas Way has no potholes!
Broadway Caricaturist Sam Norkin Subject of Online Exhibition This Fall
- Created on Saturday, 02 September 2017
- Written by Broadway World News Desk
--Broadway World August 31, 2017
Sam Norkin (1917-2011), who drew Broadway for decades, honoring opening nights with the caricature of a star or the entire company, most notably for The New York Daily News, is the subject of an online exhibition at Broadway Design Exchange, beginning now through November 19.
Ink on board drawings of several iconic Broadway productions, including the original GYPSY with Ethel Merman and the 1974 revival with Angela Lansbury, the original SOUND OF MUSIC with Mary Martin, FLORA THE RED MENACE with Liza Minnelli, and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST with Kirk Douglas, among many others, are being offered. One oil painting, BACKSTAGE, THE AMBASSADOR, is part of the exhibition.
Broadway Design Exchange founder, and Tony Award nominated set designer, Anna Louizos said, "Norkin loved the theatre and that emotion is evident in his artistry. He loved drawing the theatre."
Celebrating 30 Years Of 'Fresh Air': The Kirk Douglas Interview
- Created on Friday, 01 September 2017
- Written by Terry Gross & Kirk Douglas
--Fresh Air August 28, 2017
One of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s and '60s, Douglas went on to run his own production company. His film credits include Spartacus and Lust for Life. Originally broadcast in 1988.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
In 1988, I also spoke with actor Kirk Douglas, who helped break the Hollywood blacklist when he produced the 1960 film "Spartacus," which he also starred in. Douglas decided to hire a blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, to write the screenplay for "Spartacus."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Dalton Trumbo was writing it under a pseudonym like he was writing all of his screenplays at the time because he was blacklisted. And you insisted that for this movie he actually use his real name. Did you think that the time was right where you could say, this is Dalton Trumbo who wrote the movie and where it would actually be accepted, that the time was right to break the blacklisting and have it be accepted at least in part of Hollywood?
KIRK DOUGLAS: Well, I'm not so sure. I did it rather impulsively. I don't think I was aware until a couple years later as I reflected upon it. And like, you know, I explain in my book, I began to see, you know, the significance of it. What bothered me when I did "Spartacus" was the hypocrisy in Hollywood that these people, some of them who spent a year in jail for a crime that was never very clearly stated, I mean were denied using their talents except behind the scenes. Studio heads would look the other way while a lot of these unfriendly 10 writers would be writing scripts for very little money.
So it was so hypocritical that it annoyed me to the extent that I said, well, what happens - we had a discussion of, whose name are we going to put on the script of - on the screen of "Spartacus"? And suddenly I said, well, what happens if I put Dalton Trumbo's name on? And they said oh, Kirk, you're - they say, oh, you're going to get out of the business and all that. I said no, to hell with it. I'm going to do it.
And the next day I left the past. Dalton Trumbo hadn't been on a set in ten years. I left the past for Dalton Trumbo, no Sam Jackson. Of course even Sam Jackson we wouldn't have allowed on the set. Somebody might've recognized him as Dalton Trumbo.
GROSS: That was his pen name for this movie.
DOUGLAS: Yes. And from then on - I'll never forget when Dalton Trumbo walked on the set, came over me and says Kirk, thanks for giving me back my name. There were people who - I got letters from different organizations. Hedda Hopper attacked me. But the sky didn't fall in. And after that - a few months after that, Otto Preminger announced that Dalton Trumbo was going to be writing this script, and the blacklist was broken.
GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Kirk Douglas, and we'll hear my 1988 interview with director Sidney Lumet in the second half of the show as we continue the FRESH AIR 30th anniversary retrospective. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX NORTH'S "MAIN TITLE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our 30th anniversary retrospective featuring some of our favorite interviews from our early days. We'll pick up where we left off with my 1988 interview with actor and producer Kirk Douglas. He was one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s and '60s and was also one of the first actors to run his own production company. He's also the father of actor and producer Michael Douglas.
Kirk Douglas made about 75 films, including "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea," "Paths Of Glory," "Spartacus," "Lonely Are The Brave," "Gunfight At The O.K. Corral" and "Lust For Life," in which he played painter Vincent Van Gogh. Douglas is the son of poor, illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrants. Our interview was recorded when his autobiography was published.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: You had starred in "The Vikings." And you write in your new autobiography, "The Rag Man's Son," that, after starring in "The Vikings," you thought, that's it - no more epics for me. And then you go and turn around, and actually produce one of the real big epics, "Spartacus." Why did you want to make an epic?
DOUGLAS: Well, I didn't want to make an epic. And one of the first things I said to my group - I said, look, if we do this picture "Spartacus," let's make it as if it were a small picture. And to me, if you look at "Spartacus" again, you will find that the characters dominate the background. Most pictures, "Ben-Hur" and all that, the background is so enormous.
But in "Spartacus," Olivier, Laughton, Ustinov, Jean Simmons - the characters are stronger than the background. And that's what I tried to do. In spite of the fact that it was an epic picture, I wanted the characters to be - for them to be larger than life.
GROSS: You mentioned the characters and some of the actors. You ended up casting Jean Simmons in the role of Spartacus' lover and the woman who he has a baby with. And initially, you didn't want to cast her because she's British, and you thought that that would ruin the linguistic pattern of the movie. And I'd love for you to explain what you meant by that.
DOUGLAS: Well, I have a very simple - for example, when I did "The Vikings," all the Vikings are Americans. We have a rougher pattern of speech. The English have a more elegant pattern of speech. So that makes it work. In Spartacus, you'll notice that all the aristocratic Romans are English.
GROSS: That's right. They're great...
DOUGLAS: The slaves...
GROSS: ...Stage actors (laughter), great British stage actors.
DOUGLAS: The slaves, like myself, were Americans.
GROSS: Not only that, ethnic - right? - Jewish, Italian. You, Jewish, Tony Curtis, Italian - no, Tony Curtis is Jewish, too, actually. Isn't he?
DOUGLAS: That's right.
GROSS: Yeah, that's right. (Laughter) I always forget that (laughter).
DOUGLAS: But it doesn't matter, you see. It's just that Americans have a rougher speech pattern. For example, I often think that Shakespeare very often is better played in - when it's done in the United States because those beautiful lines take on a rougher quality that I think Shakespeare really intended it to...
GROSS: So the slaves have the rough quality.
DOUGLAS: That's right.
GROSS: And the Romans have the more genteel, educated, refined sound.
DOUGLAS: Exactly. Of course, "Spartacus" - you picked on a picture that plays a big - is a big section in my book because so much happened during the making of "Spartacus." The most historical event was the breaking of the blacklist.
GROSS: Since we're talking about "Spartacus," let me play a clip from the movie. And this was toward the end of the first half of the film. Remember, this movie had an intermission (laughter). And Spartacus and many other slaves have escaped from slavery. And after they've escaped, many of the slaves are just drinking wine. They're having Romans fight each other as if the Romans were slaves. And Spartacus is saying, what are you doing with your lives? You should be doing something more productive. And he suggests that they actually fight the Roman Empire.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPARTACUS")
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) Have we learned nothing? What's happening to us? We look for wine when we should be hunting bread.
NICK DENNIS: (As Dionysius) When you've got wine, you don't need bread.
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) We can't just be a gang of drunken raiders.
DENNIS: (As Dionysius) What else can we be?
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) Gladiators - an army of gladiators. There's never been an army like that. One gladiator's worth any two Roman soldiers that ever lived.
JOHN IRELAND: (As Crixus) We beat the Roman guards here, but a Roman army is a different thing. They fight different than we do, too.
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) We can beat anything they send against us if we really want to.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It takes a big army for that, Spartacus.
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) We'll have a big army. Once we're on the march, we'll free every slave in every town and village. Can anybody get a bigger army than that?
DENNIS: (As Dionysius) That's right. Once we cross the Alps, we're safe.
IRELAND: (As Crixus) Nobody can cross the Alps. Every pass is defended by its own legion.
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) There's only one way to get out of this country - the sea.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What good is the sea if you have no ships?
DOUGLAS: (As Spartacus) The Cilician pirates have ships. They're at war with Rome. Every Roman galley that sails out of Brundisium pays tribute to them.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They've got the biggest fleet in the world. I was a galley slave with them. Give them enough gold, they'll take you anywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We haven't got enough gold.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Take every Roman we capture and warm his back a little. We'll have gold, all right.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Spartacus is right. Let's hire these pirates and march straight to Brundisium.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, screaming).
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Well, they get their army. And you, as Spartacus, lead them against the Roman army. There is a scene at the end that is a mass crucifixion. And you are one of the many actors on the cross (laughter) at the end of the movie. And I'd really like to know how you were attached to the cross so that you could hang there without really hurting yourself.
DOUGLAS: Well, as a matter of fact, playing that scene, we learned an awful lot about crucifixion. We learned that it would be impossible to be crucified the way, very often, you see the crucifixion. You know, the body would sag right down. But to make our scenes effective, it was very easy. Every cross had a bicycle seat. It just kept the body up high enough so that you wouldn't be sagging down in a very unattractive position.
GROSS: OK, so that's the secret. You started off in your first movie playing someone who was pretty weak in the film "The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers."
DOUGLAS: That's right.
GROSS: And you went on to become a character who was seen as very strong. In fact, you were - mentioned that Elia Kazan refers to you in his autobiography. And I'd like to read one of the things that he says when he was making the film "The Arrangement," based on his best-selling novel. You wanted to be in the film. And he cast you in it, although he says he - there was something about the role that he thought Marlon Brando would've been better for.
And Elia Kazan writes, there was one problem with Kirk. Eddie, the character, has to start defeated in every personal way. The film rests on how basic and painful his initial despair is. Kirk has developed a professional front, a man who can overcome any obstacle. He radiates indomitability. Marlon, on the other hand, with all his success and fame, was still unsure of his worth and of himself. Acting had little to do with it. It was all a matter of personality.
Did you ever think of yourself that way, as just radiating indomitability, and that affecting the kind of roles that you could or could not do well?
DOUGLAS: Working with Kazan in "The Arrangement" was a wonderful experience. He's a great director. But I disagree with him completely. When I did "Lust For Life," which I consider one of the most intriguing roles that I've played, I played a man completely unsure of himself. As a matter of fact, I sometimes tell my fellow actors that no one can play weakness better than I, starting with the very first movie that I did, "The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers."
And then when you go to a character like "Lust For Life," I remember the first time we showed that - and I described this incident in my book where John Wayne was drinking at a party after a showing. He was very annoyed. He motioned me, brought me out on the balcony and said he was very annoyed. He said, Kirk, how can you play such a sniveling, weak character? I said, well, John - I said, well, you know, I'm an actor. It was an interesting role. I wanted to play it. No, no, he says. Kirk, we've got to play tough, macho guys. And he was really upset that I would be playing such a weak character, although most people, I think, think of me - the last movie I did with Burt Lancaster was called "Tough Guys" - as sort of a tough guy.
But I loved to play parts or try to find parts with different dimensions. You see, Terry, if I play a strong man in the film, I look for the moments where he's weak. And if I play a weak character, I look for the moments where he's strong because that's what drama's all about - chiaroscuro, light and shade.
GROSS: I want to ask you something about you physically, in terms of your acting. People think of you. They think of your voice. Physically, they really think of the dimple in your chin. And when you started acting, was there ever a time where that was seen as a disadvantage? Did anyone ever try to cover that up with makeup?
DOUGLAS: Oh, yeah. The first time I came to Hollywood, you know, and they're looking at this Broadway actor - and they did. They filled it up with putty.
GROSS: Oh, really?
DOUGLAS: Yeah. It had to be an awful lot of putty because I don't have a dimple in my chin. I have a hole in my chin. And it annoyed me. I said, look. I just pushed the putty out. I said, look; this is what you get if you want it. I'm not going to change it. So let me know if this is what you want, or I'm going back to New York. And since then, I've never - you know, it's a part of me.
GROSS: So you never let them actually shoot you with the putty in your chin?
DOUGLAS: Oh, I would do that if there was a real reason where I wanted someone to have, like, a big, lantern jaw and covering up this dimple on my chin would give me that effect. I would do it if the reason was to play a certain character or it's covered up when you have a beard. I mean I do whatever I feel you have to do to play the character, not for, you know, vanity sake. I am what I am. I can't change that.
GROSS: My interview with Kirk Douglas was recorded in 1988. He turned 100 in December.