Spartacus: the history, the book, the movie.
- Created on Saturday, 01 December 2018
- Written by Willow Arune
--Prince George Citizen November 17, 2018
The story of Spartacus has become known throughout the world.
Spartacus was from Thrace, now the northeastern part of Greece, and born in the early part of the first century BC. After deserting from the Roman Legions, he was captured and sold as a slave. Given his strength and fighting prowess, he was sent to a training school for gladiators near Naples. At some time during the training, Spartacus led the other gladiators in a revolt against their owner, captured sufficient arms and armour for his small band, and encamped on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. As other slaves joined up, he, along with two others, were elected leaders.
In what historians call the Third Servile War, Spartacus defeated a Roman Army sent to put down the revolt. Another army was sent out from Rome and it too was defeated. Word of the revolt spread and other slaves and peasants flocked to join. All in all, Spartacus' army swelled to an estimated 70,000. After a winter pause, the Romans sent another army to end the revolt. After an initial success, they too were defeated and Spartacus turned his army north, towards Rome itself.
The threat to Rome was real. Forty thousand troops were mustered to fend off the rebels. Part of this force was defeated but Spartacus was forced to turn south. When he and his army arrived in southern Italy he decided to start a further revolt in Sicily and made a bargain with some local pirates to move part of his force to the island. The pirates took his money but refused to sail. The rebel force was now trapped - the Roman army on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. Mobility was gone, the rebels under siege.
Suffice to say, the army of slaves and peasants was not up to this kind of warfare. One group after another fled. Finally, Spartacus launched an attack and was soundly defeated. He was killed in the final battle. Those captured and not killed - over 6,000 of them - were crucified along the Appian Way, the road that led to Rome.
The story of Spartacus is contained in several Roman histories written at the time and has long been used as a tale of rising against oppression.
Howard Fast was a successful American novelist. Starting in 1933, he produced many wonderful historical novels, most based on American history. Conceived in Liberty, The Last Frontier, Citizen Tom Paine', and Freedom Road were only a few of the well-written and very popular Fast books. But Fast had been a self-acknowledged member of the Communist Party in the U.S. and was summoned to testify before Senator Joe McCarthy and his House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1950.
Asked to name those who contributed to a fund for orphans of parents who died in the Spanish Civil War, he refused. Fast was sentenced to three months in prison for contempt of court and blacklisted by publishers. That meant even though his books had been very patriotic and popular, no publisher would dare publish any book written by him as the Red Scare swept America. It was a time of witch-hunts and civil rights abuse. To express any politically left-wing thought was to risk termination from any job, public or private, with little chance of getting another. McCarthy made Hollywood a special target for his many accusations.
In his later autobiography Being Red, Fast wrote of his experiences during these dark days. Again and again publishers would refuse to even consider any book or even any article written by him. As a way of expressing his turmoil in what he hoped would be a manner acceptable notwithstanding the blacklist, he seized upon the tale of Spartacus. He "brooded" about the book while serving his prison sentence, writing it after his release. Denied a passport, he could not visit Italy and had to rely on travel books on the country to describe where the events took place. It was submitted to publisher after publisher. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, had told publishers not to print anything written by Fast no matter how good it might be. While many editors praised the book privately, none would dare to publish a book written by a blacklisted author. =Nor would any bookstore dare to sell such a book even if it was published. =The blacklist was a powerful force in the early 1950s.
Although funds were tight, Fast and his wife were determined that his new novel would reach the public. They had a flyer prepared and distributed that by mail or in any place that would permit them - bookstores, coffee shops, drug stores, five and dimes, anywhere. The book was offered for $2.50 and would be mailed to any purchaser directly by Fast. Five thousand copies were privately published and sales went through the roof. In short order, the book was reprinted seven times in four months as sales soared. Each was marked "PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR, BOX 171 PLANTARIUM STATION, NEW YORK CITY". It was not until 1958 when Crown Publishers would take the book to the general public.
One of those who bought a copy was the actor Kirk Douglas (the father of Michael Douglas). Knowing how difficult it would be to produce, Douglas personally bought the screen rights from Fast and hired Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted screenwriter, to write the screenplay. Like Fast, the screenwriter had served time in jail for his views and had been forced to write under assumed names to survive (he had written the screenplay for the film Exodus under an assumed name). Douglas insisted that he be given full credit for the movie. In those troubled times that was risky. No studio would consider distributing the film until Douglas presented Universal with signed contracts with major film actors of the times - Curtis, Ustinov, Simmons, Olivier, and Laughton - each of whom had agreed to perform in the film at some considerable risk. A blacklisted composer, Alex North, was hired to develop the soundtrack music using an odd assortment of ancient instruments. The movie opened on Oct. 7, 1960.
Upon release, the film Spartacus drew big audiences but was also picketed by those who regarded it as yet another "Red" movie from Communist Hollywood. Then President-elect J. F. Kennedy crossed a picket line to see the picture (of course, many of those manning the picket lines thought Kennedy was a Communist too). At the Oscars, Spartacus received six nominations and won four. In following years, the original film was reissued with substantial additional scenes that had been cut from the released version.
When Crown Publishers reissued the book and Universal released the movie, blacklisting was effectively over. The movie is even today rated amongst the best ever made, the book remains in publication, and a TV series, an animated version, a sequel (Son of Spartacus), and a ballet by Khachaturian have followed.
Read John Wayne and Kirk Douglas’ Hilarious, Never-Before-Seen Telegrams
- Created on Saturday, 05 May 2018
- Written by Brice Sander
--ET April 28, 2018
John Wayne’s legacy lives on in Hollywood -- and now, you can see a whole new side to “The Duke.”
ET can exclusively reveal that Mark Cuban’s HDNET MOVIES is hosting a special “Western Icons” movie event in honor of John Wayne starting May 18, running through the full week of what would have been the classic cowboy’s 111th birthday, May 26. John’s son, Ethan, hosts the special, revealing new secrets from behind the scenes of some of his dad’s biggest films. In addition to sharing stories from his time on his father’s film sets, Ethan is also opening up the Wayne family vault to share some never-before-seen pieces of memorabilia. That includes a series of exchanges John shared with co-star and friend Kirk Douglas via telegram at the end of his life.
“When my father was in the hospital and dying of cancer, he exchanged some letters with Kirk Douglas,” Ethan shares in ET’s exclusive first look. “As a joke, he wrote that he had an extra operation to add a cleft to his chin so he could be like Kirk.”
“Thanks for the telegrams,” John penned. “Oh, by the way, while I was here, I had a little sort of dimple put in my chin. I knew you wouldn’t mind -- Duke.”
“Dear John, Have you ever noticed that I never call you ‘Duke?’” Kirk wrote. “If I were to use a title, it would be no less than King. Please get your a** back here soon. Love, Kirk.”
‘Paths Of Glory’ - Stanley Kubrick's Anti-War Masterpiece
- Created on Monday, 27 November 2017
- Written by Kevin Reynolds
--The 405 November 26, 2017
“There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now". -Kirk Douglas on 'Paths of Glory', 1969.
Sixty years on, the title Paths of Glory remains as ironic as the first day this film was shown to an audience. There's no glory to be had in the 88 minute run time of Stanley Kubrick's anti-war masterpiece. It's a film that picks the audience up, spins them through a moral battlefield and then kicks them out the other side.
Kubrick was beginning to make a name for himself in the mid 1950's. His first masterpiece, 1956’s The Killing – a gritty noir crime film starring Sterling Hayden and inspired countless pretenders (Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs being one that references it) had brought him to the attention of Hollywood, despite its relative failure at the box-office.
Kubrick and his producing partner James B. Harris were set up at MGM and given a pile of scripts to sift through and find something they might want to shoot. They couldn't find anything, but Kubrick remembered a novel by Humphrey Cobb titled “Paths of Glory” that he had liked and he wanted to make into a war movie.
Kubrick hired Calder Willingham (Later famous for The Graduate) to write the screenplay, though the final credit would go to Kubrick himself, Willingham and the crime writer Jim Thompson, famous for his hard-boiled novels. Nobody at MGM had much faith in the commercial potential of the film and it eventually ended up being financed by United Artists.
The film starred Kirk Douglas, who himself had voiced concern over the commercial potential of the picture but, in his own words, “had to make it”. Indeed, Douglas's production company Bryna helped produce the film alongside Harris.
The film has a dark tone almost from the very start. In 1916, at the height of the WWI, a discussion is held between two high-ranking Generals in the French Army: George Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) and Paul Mireau (George Macready) about advancing on an Anthill – a key position that the Germans have managed to hold onto. Mireau is hesitant to begin with until he learns that if he accepts the offer, promotion is his – regardless of the result of the attack. Mireau knows that casualties will be large but sees the chance to advance his career prospects – the “Paths of Glory” title could be said to refer to this. Mireau passes the information onto the commanding officer in the trenches Colonel Dax (Douglas), who voices his concerns on how suicidal the mission sounds.
The attack inevitably fails and – on accusations of treason – three of Dax's men are forced to stand trial (portrayed by Kiss Me Deadly’s Ralph Meeker, the always interesting to watch Timothy Carey, and The Shining’s bartender, Joe Turkel) -A token amount that is suggested by Broulard. Dax himself decides to represent them in court.
What follows from there onwards is a stunning account of the follies of war and the power-grabs at the heart of the military. One that still shocks and surprises new viewers today.
The reasons for this are myriad. The stunning black and white photography is haunting and features some of Kubrick’s early attempts at his now infamous tracking shots. One particular camera move down the trenches has real significant emotional impact later on, revealing to the audience the human side of the self-centred decision that causes the soldiers to be there. The battle is beautifully shot too, showing the futile nature of attacking the position from Dax’s point of view.
When the action moves into the makeshift court room, Kubrick deliberately emphasises the distance between the soldiers and the generals via his framing. Lots of wide angle photography highlights the chasm of morality and it's clear, even more so than The Killing, that Kubrick's earlier eye for still photography has translated into cinema in an astonishing manner.
The acting is excellent too. Douglas, all clenched jaw and glaring eyes is brilliant as Dax, the moral centre of the film. When late in the film he is forced into pointing out a mistake by one of his superior officers, it's worth stating that his acting choices are emphasised by what he doesn't do or doesn't say. He's terrific here, in one of his favourite roles. McCready has most of the fun as the horrendous Mireau, a role of a cowardly superior in it all for himself and Menjou plays Broulard as an affable head teacher, quick to pass the responsibility down as long as he personally isn't implicated.
The power of the film resonates today but at the time it stood out on its own. The First World War and the decision making process behind its military operations hadn't been openly questioned in such an uncompromising manner before. Indeed, the film was banned in France – because of its obviously unflattering portrayal of the French army being regarded as an anti-French statement – for many years. The box office results were as disappointing as many feared, with the film just about breaking even on its $1 million budget, but the initial reviews were strong and United Artists were delighted.
For one person though, the film would have a personal life-long impact on their private life. That was its director, Stanley Kubrick. The film's final sequence had an emotional moment where a group of the French soldiers sit in a bar and await a show. A young singer, portrayed by Susanne Christian, as she was credited, performed a track that soon silences the room from its bawdy atmosphere and has grown men crying. It's a rare moment of emotional release in a film that's all about understatement and one of the most humane sequences Kubrick ever shot. Susanne Christian would fall in love with her director and go on to be his second wife, separated only by Kubrick's own passing in 1999.
Indeed, for her and for cinematic history, Paths of Glory leaves quite a legacy.
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!
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.
Dear Trump: I’ve Lived Through The Nazi Regime. Don’t Let History Repeat Itself.
- Created on Thursday, 24 August 2017
- Written by Anne Douglas
--Huffinfron Post August 23, 2017
I was living in occupied Paris under the Nazis in 1941 when President Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to Congress. He talked with passion about bedrock American values, the “four freedoms”―freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In my native Germany and in France―as well as all other countries Hitler conquered―each of these fundamental freedoms of a democratic society had completely disappeared. You cannot imagine the joy and sense of rebirth in Paris when the Americans liberated us in 1944.
A decade later, I became a naturalized American after I married Kirk Douglas. My husband believes, because I lived for so long under fascism, I love my adopted homeland with a ferocity that few native-born citizens can imagine.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” said John F. Kennedy when he became the 35th President of the United States. Soon after, he created many opportunities for citizen participation like forming the Peace Corps and suggesting to my husband that an American movie star, representing the U.S. as a goodwill ambassador, could enhance our understanding among nations.
Kirk solidified the arrangement with the State Department and for the next 20 years―under both Democratic and Republican presidents―Kirk and I traveled to more than 40 countries at our own expense to talk about America. Some of the countries had totalitarian or military regimes. We always came home relieved to report that, even behind the Iron Curtain, there was affection and respect for America.
Kirk is now 100, and there’s little he hasn’t experienced during his lifetime. He’s eternally grateful his parents escaped the anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia so that all of their children could be born in America. He’s seen the greatness of our country, but also its dark side of discrimination against minorities, immigrants, and its Native American populations.
He helped to break the blacklist that grew out of Congressional hearings that destroyed lives of those who had once belonged to the Communist Party, a party whose existence was never made illegal. He knew people who were terrified that their sexual orientation would be exposed. He saw how easy it was for people in power like Senator Joseph McCarthy to persecute with impunity until a courageous lawyer for the Army named Joseph Welch destroyed him with these damning words, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency.”
Those are words I wish our congressional leaders would have quoted to the current inhabitant of the White House when he blamed “both sides” for the tragic events at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The American-bred racists and neo-Nazis who gathered there have never experienced firsthand what a totalitarian regime inflicts upon its people when it takes power. I have. They have lived all their lives in a country which protects their free speech even when it is hateful.
As a child in Germany, I had to join Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) where we were indoctrinated with Nazi beliefs and encouraged to spy on our parents and neighbors. Later, when I was surviving in Paris by writing German subtitles for films, my maid denounced me to the Gestapo, eager to report the strange phrases on the work I brought home. I was picked up at 5:00 a.m. and interrogated for hours. I finally convinced the officer I was not a spy, but only because I could speak German. It was the most terrifying moment of many for me during World War II.
Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan seem convinced that President Trump is their friend. He has said little to dissuade them. His first wife Ivana said her husband kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, so I wonder where his sympathies lie.
Movements like these openly share their goals of taking over the government. Our president, our elected representatives, and our military and law-enforcement leaders must tell them in no uncertain terms that there is no place for hate groups in America.
Celebrities remember Barbara Sinatra through the years
- Created on Wednesday, 26 July 2017
- Written by Bruce Fessier
--The Desert Sun July 25, 2017
Barbara Sinatra, who rose to social prominence as "Lady Blue Eyes" and then developed a legacy of her own, has died at her Rancho Mirage home at age 90.
Among the quotes gathered about her over the years is the following:
Anne Douglas, friend and wife of actor Kirk Douglas, from their book, 'Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood," by permission of co-author Marcia Newberger
"Back in 1985, Barbara approached me to help her build a home for abused children. She said I had a reputation for fundraising and organization and she was going to open a facility at Eisenhower. I had no idea there was such terrible thing as child sexual abuse. I said yes of course, and the fabulous journey began! We created a board and the children came.
"Barbara's passion and dedication became mine, and I had the pleasure of working with her, as President for several years, and sharing the joy of healing our kids. At this time, we have worked with and healed over 20,000 youngsters...and my own life was changed because of Barbara Sinatra."
Kirk Douglas on Surviving a Childhood Home With Little Food and No Heat
- Created on Tuesday, 11 July 2017
- Written by Marc Myers
--Wall Street Journal June 20, 2017
Kirk Douglas, 100, has starred in more than 90 films, including “Spartacus,” and has won an Oscar and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the author of 12 books, including “Kirk and Anne,” a joint memoir (Running Press). He spoke with Marc Myers.
We were the poorest family on a street of poor families. My father, Harry, had emigrated from Russia and settled in Amsterdam, N.Y. Then he sent for my mother, Bryna. But he couldn’t do much to make money. So he bought a horse and became a ragman.
We were seven kids, and my father was an indifferent provider. My mother always pleaded with him for money. He’d say, “Haven’t got it,” in Yiddish. Growing up, we never had enough food.
When I was hungry, I stole food—an egg from under a neighbor’s hen or a tomato from a garden. I also swiped fruit and vegetables from a stand. For years, I felt guilty about those little sins.
Anti-Semitism was common in Amsterdam. I suppose my personality and charm developed as a way to survive. It also helped that I loved to act and won awards in school.
I also was a hard worker. I’d invent jobs, like selling soda and candy to workers at the mill at the end of our street. Amsterdam was one of the largest mill towns in the country. There were dozens of factories, but no jobs for Jews.
Our house was a rundown, two-story gray clapboard next to the factories, the railroad tracks and the river. It didn’t have heating. Before the winter, my father and I would take dried manure from his horse, Bill, and spread it around the foundation for insulation. It didn’t help.
By the time the family was complete—six girls and me, fourth in line—I slept on a shabby living-room sofa. The girls were in two bedrooms, and my parents in another. I hated sleeping on my own.
I loved my father, but I wondered if he loved me. I wanted to win his praise and affection. But he was distant.
My mother worked hard to feed and clothe us. There wasn’t much money. She took care of the house with no hot running water, washing machine or decent stove.
She was ingenious. The girls would buy a pound of the cheapest meat at the kosher butcher and beg for free bones. The soup my mother made fed us for days.
After high school in 1934, I didn’t have enough for college tuition. So I hitchhiked 200 miles to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., with a friend who was a sophomore there. I took all my high-school acting awards, transcript, essays and poems. I also took a letter of recommendation from my English teacher and champion, Mrs. Livingston.
I met with Dean Hewlitt, head of faculty, and delivered my pitch. It worked. He helped me get a college loan, and the following semester I won a scholarship.
During the summer after my freshman year, I took a job wrestling in the circus. I was a shill. When the wrestler asked if anyone in the crowd cared to challenge him, I stepped forward. I was head of the varsity team at college and an undefeated champ, so we made a show of it.
It was hard for a Jewish kid to find work at any of the hotels and resorts up there and my name was Izzy Demsky.
Future summers were spent acting at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant. One day, a few of my friends insisted I needed a more American name. Someone suggested Douglas. My new first name took longer. Someone finally said Kirk. My new name sounded masculine and strong.
The big turning point for me was meeting Betty Perske. By then she was Betty Bacall and would soon become Lauren Bacall. We met at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan.
Betty was 17 and I was 25. One winter I only had a lightweight coat. Betty talked her uncle into giving me one of his warmer coats. I loved her from that moment on.
Betty became a huge star with her first film, and she urged film producer Hal Wallis to see me on Broadway. That’s how I came to Hollywood. I co-starred in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946).
Today, my wife, Anne, and I live in Beverly Hills. We decided about 30 years ago to downsize from the large house we owned to a cozy one-story house.
I fell for Anne in 1953. I still see her as an elegant and sexy Parisienne, but it’s her character and wit and how her eyes light up when she sees me that delight me.
I never expected to live to be 100. A stroke in 1996 affected my speech, but it hasn’t stopped me from laughing. You live a long life if you enjoy the things that make you happy and don’t worry too much. You can’t do much about those things anyway.
Love like a fine wine must pass the test of time: Married for 63 years, Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne reveal how their love has endured
- Created on Saturday, 17 June 2017
- Written by Barbra Paskin
--Daily Mail (U.K.) 16 June 2017
Kirk Douglas is looking decidedly pleased. He’s just learned that his new book, written with his wife Anne, is into its second print run just weeks after its release.
It’s a belated birthday present for the acting legend who just six months ago took on his latest role – that of centenarian.
He and Anne have been married for 63 years and the book, Kirk And Anne: Letters Of Love, Laughter And A Lifetime In Hollywood, is a revealing memoir of their life together.
In letters written during their courting days and early years of marriage they exchanged their every experience and sentiment.
Unknown to Kirk, over the years Anne had kept all the letters locked away and it was only last year that she revealed their existence.
Reading through them Kirk realised they would make a compelling book, and today they’ve invited Weekend to their Beverly Hills home to talk about it.
The home is modest by movie star standards, but large enough to house the Douglases’ prized art collection.
From a Picasso urn that enchanted Anne who bought it for £175 during their courtship (it’s now valued at £750,000) to a large Robert Graham nude sculpture, their passion for art is on display the moment you walk through the front door.
The walls are covered in paintings, many by contemporary artists who rest alongside Dali, Vlaminck and Utrillo. Three Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs fill one wall in a hallway.
Through the French doors there’s a lush garden with rose bushes and hanging baskets dangling over the patio. Beyond lies a rectangular pool, its azure water sparkling in the Californian sunshine, with sculptures around the perimeter. Place of honour goes to a Seward Johnson stainless steel sculpture of two heads – young Kirk and older Kirk.
And there, around the corner, is The Walkway. This is Kirk and Anne’s personal Hollywood Walk of Fame: almost two dozen massive square paving stones in which are embedded the signatures of a galaxy of stars from Claudette Colbert, Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan to Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand and Shirley MacLaine.
When friends came for dinner they’d scrawl their signature on cardboard, and the local cemetery would cast it in stone.
Anne, looking and sounding nowhere near her 98 years, is resplendent today in purple slacks and cardigan. Kirk in comfortable tracksuit bottoms and sweater sits upright facing her.
The book is both poignant and riveting, and I wonder if he had any reservations about sharing such intimacies with the world. ‘No,’ he says. ‘It was something I really wanted to do. Reading some of the letters from 60 years ago was often emotional but I wasn’t embarrassed about them.’
He’s frail now but his spirit is as indomitable as ever. He talks haltingly, his speech slurred from the stroke he suffered 20 years ago. He is Hollywood’s eldest statesman and looks remarkable for his age. ‘No one was more surprised than I was when I reached 100!’ he exclaims. ‘My God, I couldn’t believe it! 100!’ So how does it feel to be a living legend? ‘At least I’m still living!’ he jokes without missing a beat.
Not bad for a man who’s survived a near-drowning as a child, a war injury when he served in the US Navy, a helicopter crash, a massive stroke, heart surgery to implant a pacemaker and the replacement of both knees.
‘It’s because I come from peasant stock,’ he says. ‘My mother and father were peasants, they escaped from Russia. And peasants had to be fighters.’
Kirk – born Issur Danielovitch in New York – was the only son, among six girls, of illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrants. He was devoted to his mother, but not close to his father who spent much of his time drunk. It was a poor existence during which ‘we barely had enough to eat’.
German-born Anne came from an affluent family and spoke four languages. She lived in Paris after fleeing Belgium at the outbreak of war, became a publicist and was chief of protocol for the Cannes Film Festival.
The couple met in Paris when he was making the 1953 film Act Of Love, on which she became the publicist. He was smitten although at the time he was engaged to the nubile Italian actress Pier Angeli. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Anne.
‘I found her difficult,’ he admits, ‘because she kept me at a distance.’ She capitulated the night he took her to the circus where, asked to perform an impromptu act, Kirk followed a line of elephants around the ring with a huge pooper-scooper. ‘Watching him in his tuxedo picking up the dung was quite a sight,’ Anne recalls.
‘Everybody was in hysterics – and I fell in love!’ Kirk’s eyes twinkle. ‘It gave her a different idea of who I was, and she expressed it to me when I kissed her goodnight!’
When she met Kirk Anne was still married to Albert Buydens, with whom she’d fled Belgium, although they were no longer living together. With Pier Angeli back in Hollywood, Kirk discreetly romanced Anne.
Still, he was insensitive enough to ask her to help him choose an engagement ring for Pier. All Kirk’s dates with the young Angeli had been in the presence of a chaperone, but on their first date alone back in LA, Kirk realised he felt no passion for her and broke it off. Anne gave him an ultimatum: marry her or she’d leave him.
It made Kirk realise how much she meant to him and he proposed, but with astounding gall gave her the ring they’d chosen for Angeli. Anne accepted his offer but disdainfully told him, ‘This little thing. It’s not something I would wear.’
With Kirk away on film locations and Anne working in Cannes and Paris, separation made their hearts grow fonder and their letters became increasingly intimate. ‘Never,’ Anne wrote from Cannes while he was in California, ‘have you been loved so much and so exclusively.’
Kirk responded, ‘Often I have daydreams about us while I’m driving home from the studio. I pretend you’re waiting for me.’
Many of their letters were written in a mixture of English, German and French, which Kirk learned in two months. They still speak in French sometimes when they don’t want to be overheard. After one argument, Kirk wrote a letter that Anne found the following day.
‘Darling, I have a feeling that you’re not coming back tonight. I hope I’m wrong! It’s been a bad day for me and probably a worse one for you. Because my bad day means all of my problems added to yours. Forgive me. But I hope that you are here to read this and that I find you when I get back.’
In so many of his letters, Kirk expressed his longing for Anne. ‘Darling. I am now in Acapulco staying at a most beautiful little house. How I wish you were here. The bed next to mine is empty and I wish you were in it.’
Anne was even more open about her feelings for Kirk. ‘Sweetheart, write to me, call me, come over, do anything. I want to be close to you. I want to be loved and loved and loved again and again! This is what Doctor Kinsey would call, “A dangerous case of starvation”!’
Throughout their 63 years together, Anne has been his anchor. ‘My un-abated admiration and need for this remarkable woman still astounds me,’ says Kirk, who 60 years ago wrote, ‘If we live to be a hundred there will still be so many unsaid things.’ Together they’re like a pair of teenagers, laughing at each other’s jokes and finishing each other’s stories. Kirk starts telling me about a visit to the White House...
Kirk: ‘We went to Washington – remember, honey...’
Anne: ‘...for our second anniversary...’
Kirk: ‘...and we had dinner with Bobby Kennedy and friends. And the President [JFK] was supposed to go...
Anne: ‘...to the country with the ambassador to England but it was terrible weather so the President called Bobby because he knew we were all there. And he said, “Why don’t you all come over here...”
Kirk: ‘...so we went over to the White House with Bobby and all our friends and we were upstairs in the private quarters and we had a wonderful evening...’
Anne: ‘...and Jackie wanted to make a joke, she wanted to take us to see Rose [JFK’s mother] in her bed and so we snuck in and opened the door and there was Rose reading a book and we all went in and said “Hello!” And then we went back and all the Kennedy boys were singing. And there was Gene Kelly...
Kirk: ‘My name is Kirk in case you forget it!’
Anne (ignoring the interruption): ‘...and everybody was dancing and singing and having a good time upstairs in the private quarters. The president was drinking champagne out of Jackie’s slipper! These are moments in life you will never forget!’
Acting was always Kirk’s passion. He was six when the bug bit him. He recited a poem in kindergarten, the audience applauded and the seed was planted. ‘I never had any desire to be a film actor,’ he once told me. ‘All of my training was so that I could become an actor on the stage.’
Still, his friend Lauren Bacall persuaded him to give movies a try and it wasn’t long before he was propelled to stardom. It was his tough guy image that dominated his career, despite other gentler, romantic roles. He didn’t think of himself as ‘the good-looking movie type’ but he was one of the most handsome stars in Hollywood.
In 1960 Kirk became a different kind of hero when he broke the infamous blacklist that barred anyone connected with Communism. He hired blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for Spartacus and gave him a credit, despite fearing it could mark the end of his career.
‘I was scared to death,’ he remembers, ‘but I insisted on doing it.’ It was the first acknowledgement of a blacklisted writer in 13 years and it marked the end of one of the darkest chapters in America’s history. The scandal was portrayed in the 2015 film Trumbo with Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren.
‘Giving Trumbo the credit and helping to break the blacklist is the achievement I’m proudest of,’ says Kirk. His pride is palpable.
It’s no exaggeration to say Kirk has amassed a fortune. But he has given much of it away, a lesson drummed into him by his mother. Despite their poverty, she always found something to give the tramps who came begging for food.
‘Even a beggar must give to a person who has less,’ she told him. ‘I’ve tried to pass that message to the children,’ Kirk says. ‘If all religion were based on helping others, a lot of problems in the world would be solved.’
For years the couple has enjoyed a traditional ‘golden hour’. Each night at 6.30 they sit and talk. During the day Kirk reads the NY Times and Anne reads the LA Times and both have iPads for research so there’s plenty of news to discuss. ‘At that moment of the day,’ Anne says softly, ‘we’re just two people who love each other.’
They keep mentally fit by playing word games and solitaire. Asked for a recipe for longevity, the answer is their ability to be with each other. ‘Love,’ Kirk says, ‘like a work of art or a fine wine, must also pass the test of time.’
It’s done that in spades for the Douglases, and rather touchingly, 63 years on the letters continue to flow. ‘We still like to write a little note to each other,’ says Anne. ‘I’ll find one on my pillow at night or he sends it in a formal letter and tells me how much he appreciates something. It’s lovely.’
Kirk And Anne: Letters Of Love, Laughter And A Lifetime In Hollywood, Running Press, £16.99.
New book reveals a lifetime of love letters between Kirk Douglas and wife
- Created on Saturday, 27 May 2017
- Written by Tom Tugend
--Jewish Journal May 25, 2017
“If I live to be one hundred, there will still be so many things unsaid,” Kirk Douglas wrote his wife, Anne, in 1954, shortly after their marriage in Las Vegas.
Some 62 years later, after marking his 100th birthday, the movie star wrote, “As I have now reached that milestone, I can attest that it is still true.”
Both declarations are included in the couple’s newly published book, written with Marcia Newberger, “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”
The book, Kirk’s 12th and Anne’s first, chronicles the ardent, if sometimes stormy, relationship between two strong personalities — he the son of a hard-drinking Jewish immigrant ragman and junk collector, she the daughter of a prosperous German family.
During his 60-year film career, Kirk was frequently away for long periods on location shoots, and husband and wife wrote to each other constantly. Fortunately, the couple started writing on actual paper stationary and continued the habit even after the start of the email era. And it helped that Anne kept every letter, both ways, preserving one stack in the couple’s temperature-controlled wine cellar in Beverly Hills.
Along the way, the reader learns not only about the couple’s love life — including Kirk’s infidelities with various movie queens — but also about the affairs of fellow Hollywood stars, sparing few graphic details.
But that’s only part of the book. The couple befriended U.S. presidents and their wives, from John and Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson through to Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Barack and Michelle Obama.
The Douglases also played and worked with Los Angeles’ rich and famous and cast a frequently jaundiced eye on the predominantly Jewish — and often imperious — magnates who dominated the studios, before these transformed into bland corporations.
The pair also take particular pride in their Douglas Foundation, which has contributed some $120 million for charitable projects, among them numerous playgrounds for poorer communities in the United States and Israel.
Anne addressed her love letters to “Isidore” or “Izzy,” and Kirk wrote back to “Stolz.” Thereby, like almost every other entry in the book, hangs a story.
Back in Russia, Kirk’s father’s name was Herschel Danielovitch, but after settling in New York, he “Americanized” his name, sort of, to Harry Demsky. When his son (born Issur Danielovitch) entered St. Lawrence University in northern New York state — on a wrestling scholarship – he enrolled as Isidore Demsky. He was usually called Izzy, a salutation adopted later by his wife.
Anne’s family left Germany shortly after the Nazis came to power and moved to Belgium, where Anne married and became a Belgian citizen. With Hitler’s quick conquest of Belgium, Ann took a train to soon-to-be occupied Paris.
As a multi-linguist, she quickly found work in the French movie industry in public relations and as a writer of movie subtitles. When Kirk, who had divorced his first wife, actress Diane Dill, came to Paris in 1953 to star in “Act of Love,” he met the pretty and brainy Anne Buydens.
Kirk already had established an impressive reputation for his outsized ego and appetite for bedding an endless parade of women, and at the moment was engaged to marry Italian-American actress Pier Angeli. Nevertheless, he made a play for Anne and immediately asked her out for dinner. He was stunned when she declined this and subsequent invitations. That’s when Kirk started to label her “Stolz,” a German word usually translated as “proud,” but, Anne said, also meaning “stubborn.”
Kirk, now 100, and Anne, 98, recently opened their spacious, but not ostentatious Beverly Hills home for an interview with the Journal. To compress a lively courtship, the couple married in 1954 in Las Vegas, and when the justice of the peace asked her if she would take Kirk as her lawful husband, she replied, in yet-imperfect English, “I take thee, Kirk, as my AWFUL husband.” After the laughter died down, the flustered Anne explained that she thought the word meant “full of awe.”
Despite this rocky start, after 49 years of marriage, Anne decided, on her own, to convert to Judaism under the tutorship of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles. She described her mikvah experience to the Journal.
“After removing all nail polish, I entered the swimming pool and put my head under the water,” she recalled. “I came out looking like a wet dog – but I was Jewish.”
She announced her new status at a large party marking the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. “Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she opened. “It is time he got a nice Jewish girl.”
One immediate impact was that Kirk, who had lighted the Friday evening candles at their home throughout the marriage, now transferred the honor to his wife.
Kirk has developed his own definition of Judaism. “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin, but I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion,” he said. “I believe in God and I’m happy to be a Jew. But I think too much religion has not helped civilization. Caring for other people is my religion.”
The sons and grandchildren from Kirk’s two marriages follow the elective-choice pattern of many interfaith families. Of Kirk’s children, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, born of his first marriage, identifies most strongly as Jewish and two years ago used a $1 million prize to launch an outreach program to connect children of mixed marriages with their Jewish heritage.
None of Kirk’s four sons had a bar mitzvah, but four of his seven grandchildren insisted on celebrating their b’nai mitzvah.
Kirk, who changed his name to Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II, learned about anti-Semitism early on. His father couldn’t get a job at the local mills because they didn’t hire Jews, and young Issur was turned down for a newspaper delivery route for the same reason. When Kirk was elected class president at St. Lawrence College, a major donor threatened to withhold major donations unless the election result was nullified.
Even as a bona fide movie star, Kirk and the likes of Walter Matthau, Peter Lorre and Billy Wilder couldn’t escape prejudice in the 1950s and ‘60s.
In his new book, Kirk writes, “Sometimes it was easy in Hollywood to forget that anti-Semitism, polite or overt, was still mainstream. Jews ran the major studios. With Anglicized names and beautiful blonde shiksas replacing their starter wives, they lived like the wealthy WASPS of their movies: entertaining lavishly at their grand estates; presiding over screenings in projection rooms hung with museum-quality art; voting Republican.”
In the mid-1950s, Douglas formed his own independent production company, naming it Bryna, in honor of his mother, who also gave birth to six daughters. Among the company’s first productions were “Paths of Glory,” followed by “Spartacus,” arguably Kirk’s most famous movie.
Kirk took his mother to one of his film premieres, with the words “Bryna Productions Present” high up on the marquee. When his mother saw this she turned to her son and whispered in Yiddish, “Isn’t America a wonderful country?”