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?”
Kirk Douglas says wife Anne saved his life twice
- Created on Friday, 19 May 2017
- Written by Stephanie Nolasco
--Fox New Entertainment May 17, 2017
When Kirk and Anne Douglas released a new book that revealed intimate letters they shared over the years, readers were shocked to discover that Kirk's longtime wife was not only aware of his infidelity, but she willfully turned a blind eye to his lovers.
“Trust and honesty are two of the qualities I find essential in marriage,” wrote Anne in an email to Fox News regarding her bold admission in “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”
Anne, 98, and Kirk, 100, communicated with us over email. Kirk’s 1996 stroke has impacted his speech.
“I never wanted to hear gossip about my husband from a third party,” explained Anne. “I told him right from the start that I needed to hear from him directly if he was having or had had a fling. And since he can’t keep a secret, he always has — none of them serious and usually when he was lonely and on location without me.”
The German-born publicist, who currently serves as president of Kirk's production company Bryna, also stated that her European upbringing led her to feel it was “unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”
“European women are less likely to run to the divorce court in righteous indignation than Americans are,” she added. “I loved my husband and my life and our family, so why would I give all that up because of pride? We are together because we love and respect each other and share the same values.”
And it looks like the couple’s unconventional approach to love has worked just fine. Kirk married Anne in 1954 and they’ve been together ever since.
Kirk wrote to Fox News that he credited his spouse for saving his life, including the time when she refused to let him travel on a private plane named Lucky Liz in 1958 with director and friend Mike Todd, who was then married to Elizabeth Taylor. The plane crash, killing everyone on board.
“Anne has saved my life twice — once when she fought with me about flying on Mike Todd’s plane until I gave in, and the plane crashed over New Mexico,” he said. “Everyone was killed. She also drove me to the hospital after my stroke in record time and then gave me tough love to bring me out of my suicidal depression afterward. I think, once you read our letters to each other, you’ll understand my endless fascination with her.”
Kirk and Anne first met in Paris in the early 1950s while he was on location for an upcoming film and she was assisting with press. While the charismatic actor assumed he could easily win her over, his plans for seduction didn’t go over so smoothly.
“I had been a big movie star with two Oscar nominations by the time I met Anne, and I believed that any woman would be flattered if I asked her out,” he recalled. “Anne was the one who turned me down.”
Anne had her reasons.
“Of course, he was charming and sexy, but I had seen too many young women in Paris fall in love with American movie stars who went home to their lives and wives when their pictures wrapped,” she explained. “I certainly didn’t want to be another location romance casualty. I had survived war in occupied Paris, and knew instinctively how to protect myself from dangerous situations.”
But Kirk found a way to get close to Anne.
“I couldn’t convince her to go out with me, but I finally convinced her to do my publicity on the  film, ‘Act of Love,’” he said. “I knew it would be strictly business, yet she still fascinated me and I wanted to know all about her. She had a wicked sense of humor, spoke four languages and was the most sophisticated and elegant woman I had ever met. So I fell in love with her.”
The move eventually worked. Anne said she admired his work ethic, noting that he learned to speak fluent French in less than two months just so that he could act in the French version of the film. And thanks to the movie’s long, grueling hours, the duo became friends.
“Kirk is unable to keep a secret, so I knew all about his extracurricular life as well,” she said.
Despite her admirer's womanizing reputation, Anne eventually learned that she was falling for him.
“One night we went to the Cirque d’ Hiver charity gala and the producers asked Kirk to participate,” she said. “He surprised everyone by coming out after the elephant act still in his elegant tuxedo pushing a giant broom of a pooper-scooper. Everyone laughed and I fell in love.”
Kirk revealed that it was their numerous love letters from over the years that inspired his twelfth book. Fortunately, Anne saved all of their correspondences that chronicled their relationship.
“I remember how much we depended on getting mail from each other when we were apart. So I asked her. And she brought a big battered file folder that she had kept hidden in a closet in our Montecito house,” he said. “My remarkable wife had kept everything — notes, cables, scrawled musings from plans and movie sets, starting in 1953 when we first met in Paris. At that moment, I knew this shouldn’t be my book, it should be ours.”
What has been the secret behind a high-profile Hollywood marriage that has thrived for over 60 years? While Anne does turn a blind eye to infidelity, the couple, who raised two sons, credit date night for sparking the romance every day.
“[Date night is] the same as it’s been throughout our marriage,” said Kirk. “We spend what we call the ‘golden hour’ together at around 6:30 each night. We’ll sit and talk and laugh and share our day and our thoughts with each other.
“Except now we are very 21st century and bring along our iPads,” she added.
Kirk Douglas’ beautiful love letters to his wife
- Created on Monday, 15 May 2017
- Written by Starts at 60
--Starts at 60 May 14, 2017
At 100 and 98-years-old respectively, Kirk Douglas and his beloved wife Anne are one of the ultimate Hollywood couples.
After 63 years of marriage, the couple have plenty of memories and a strong love for each other.
And now that’s been revealed in a new book released by Kirk and Anne.
The book, titled Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime In Hollywood by Kirk and Anne Douglas.
It chronicles their long courtship and how Anne tamed Kirk’s womanising ways, in their own words and with some of their most romantic and revealing love letters.
Like many from the older generations, Anne and Kirk regularly hand wrote each other beautiful and romantic love letters.
And while there are dozens published in their new book, there’s one that’s particularly poignant.
An excerpt of the letter, written by Kirk 60 years ago and published by the Daily Mail, is certainly moving.
“My darling wife,” Kirk wrote.
“At this moment you are thousands of feet above the earth, sleeping peacefully I hope but racing towards me. Airplanes fly so fast.
“Why am I writing? You will be here soon. But I know that when you get here, we will not have time to say all the things we want to say to each other.
“In fact, if we live to be 100, there will still be so many unsaid things — which is just as well, perhaps, because then, if there is a life after death, we will have many things to talk about later.”
It’s particularly poignant seeing as Kirk hit the big 100 last year.
In the book, the couple tell the story of their letter.
It was Anne who saved their letters, by keeping them carefully folded away and even collecting Kirk’s letters from the bottom of his suitcase when he’d return home from filming a movie.
But it was Kirk who decided the couple should publish them and share their love story.
“I hope our grandchildren won’t be shocked by the intensity of the letters,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
“Perhaps they will come to value, even in this world of instant communication, the joy of writing and receiving non-electronic letters — particularly when it comes to love.”
Kirk Douglas: How I Met My Wife at the Cannes Film Festival (Exclusive Book Excerpt)
- Created on Monday, 15 May 2017
- Written by Kirk & Anne Douglas
--Hollywood Reporter May 10, 2017
In this excerpt from their new joint memoir, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, the pair, who married in 1954, recall meeting in Paris in early 1953 and their time together at Cannes that year.
ANNE My friend Anatole Litvak, the director of Act of Love, convinced me to meet with Kirk, who was anxious to hire a bilingual assistant who could also handle his personal publicity. Kirk had already gotten quite a reputation in his first few weeks in town. The press had dubbed him "Le Brute Cheri," the darling brute, and he was photographed with a succession of stunning women. I was sure this would be a courtesy interview. I had signed a three-year contract to handle protocol for the Cannes International Film Festival starting in April.
KIRK I was fascinated by the lovely young Parisienne who sat in my dressing room, her slim ankles crossed under her a la mode blue suit. Within minutes, I offered her the job. She took only seconds to turn me down in her impeccable English. I was not used to rebuffs. A few hours later, in my most seductive tones, I called Anne to invite her to dinner at the romantic La Tour d'Argent. "Thank you, but I'm tired. I will just make some scrambled eggs and stay in tonight," said the voice on the other end of the phone. I was shocked and annoyed. I was determined to change her mind— at least about the job. I sent emissaries: Litvak, Irwin Shaw — Act of Love's screenwriter who remembered her from The Young Lions — and Anne's friend, [photographer] Robert Capa. She finally agreed to work with me on a trial basis, making it clear our relationship would be strictly business. We spent a lot of time together. Anne was efficient and had a wicked sense of humor. Everyone liked her — much more than they liked me! We often spoke in French, which I was studying. With no romance in the picture, I stopped talking about myself and trying to impress Anne. Instead, I began to listen to her. She had told me very little about her background; I didn't even know that she spent her early years in Hitler's Germany.
ANNE Kirk was invited to the annual charity gala at the Cirque d'Hiver, the famous Winter Circus. He wanted me to accompany him. We had been working through the afternoon at his lovely apartment near the Bois de Boulogne when he started asking me questions about my life. I was always reluctant to talk about myself, particularly as so much of my past was painful. Kirk was an attentive listener, and I found myself being very honest. I even opened up about my rift with my father. We talked for hours. I had a strange feeling in my heart that I could fall in love with this man. I didn't want to, because I had seen too many young women enter into intense affairs with visiting movie stars — Dean Martin, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant among them. Then the film wrapped and the men returned to their wives and families. At the circus, the producers spotted Kirk coming in. "You must participate." I took my seat, wondering what he would do with no preparation. After the elephants left the arena, there was the tuxedoed Kirk — the popular Brute Cheri — pushing a giant pooper-scooper of a broom across the ring to great hilarity. How could I resist a man who could laugh at himself? We went back to his place for a nightcap, which turned into something more.
KIRK As things became more serious with Anne, I warned her not to expect a commitment. I was secretly engaged to [Italian actress] Pier Angeli, I told her. I could have saved us both a lot of anguish if I had used my new fluency in French to read the movie magazines. Anne knew, but never breathed a word, that Pier was constantly in the news, always with another man at her side. My next picture would be filmed in Italy, so I was sure that would all change. The two producers of Ulysses, Dino de Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, were going to Cannes in April, and I would meet with them there. They had already hired Anne Buydens to do the unit publicity for the picture.
ANNE I was glad Kirk was in Cannes, though I didn't have much time for him. In the midst of everything, [Hotel Bel-Air owner] Joe Drown arrived from California and insisted on taking me to dinner. It was a disaster. Joe got drunk and gambled heavily. I left him and called Kirk, who was next door at the Carlton. He had been asleep. "How was your evening?" he asked. I burst into tears. "Just awful … and it's my birthday." "I'll get dressed and take you out," he said. We went to a small cafe near the beach, and he turned my tears into laughter.
KIRK Ponti invited us to his villa in the hills above Amalfi. We had a wonderful, romantic holiday in an ancient tower that served as their guest quarters. During that magical week, Anne and I would set off in a little rowboat. She would row; I would sing her Italian love songs …
Excerpted with permission from Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood by Kirk and Anne Douglas with Marcia Newberger by Running Press, May 25, 2017. © The Bryna Co.
Kirk and Anne Douglas Remember Elizabeth Taylor’s Precious Last Moments with Husband Mike Todd
- Created on Thursday, 04 May 2017
- Written by Sam Gillette
--People May 3, 2017
In a new book about their life together, Kirk and Anne Douglas reflect on their close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and her third husband, Mike Todd. Theirs was a bond laced with Hollywood glamour, but it took a tragic turn when Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958 — the very same plane that Douglas decided not to board at the last minute. Todd’s death left Taylor a young widow at 26.
“I had never seen Mike as besotted with any woman as he was with Elizabeth,” writes Anne, 98, in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, which she co-wrote with her 100-year-old actor husband. The collection of letters featured in the book released Tuesday showcases their romance and how they maintained their marriage for more than 60 years. (Their family includes Kirk Douglas’ two sons from his first marriage — including the actor Michael Douglas — and their two sons together, including youngest son Eric, who was bipolar and died of a drug overdose in 2004).
One of Anne’s favorite memories of the couple? When Taylor was pregnant with their daughter Liza. Though Taylor was already in bed with chocolates, the Cleopatra star asked Todd (a film producer) for more treats. Anne remembers him calling back, “Just shut up and be beautiful!”
Later that evening, he chartered a plane and flew in a meal from Paris to their London hotel at Taylor’s behest.
“We ate that dinner at 10 o’clock,” Anne writes. “Now that’s a showman!”
In the book, Kirk remembers one of his last interactions with Todd. The producer invited Kirk and Anne to see the gifts he’d arranged on the lawn before Taylor woke up. There were all types of jewelry “encrusted with precious stones and shimmering like a mirage in the late-morning sun.”
He remembers Todd saying to Taylor: “‘Go ahead. Pick whatever you want.'”
“It wasn’t her birthday; it wasn’t their anniversary; it wasn’t a holiday,” Kirk writes. “Mike didn’t need a reason to indulge his passion for his young wife.”
According to Kirk and Anne, the next day Todd invited Kirk to fly with him to New York.
“Mike asked me to go on his private plane with him, and we were going to stop and see Harry Truman and then go on to New York,” the actor told PEOPLE in July 2015, adding, “I was very excited.”
After Kirk shared the invite with Anne, she had “a strange feeling.” She writes that she was six months pregnant and told him she didn’t want him on the plane.
“Kirk gave in. He was furious,” she writes. “If he couldn’t fly with Mike, he wouldn’t go at all. I was ruining his fun for no logical reason. He stomped off to bed without kissing me goodnight.”
On March 22, 1958, Todd and three others died when the plane crashed in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico. According to a report from that time, Taylor was sedated after she heard the news. She had planned on flying with him, but didn’t go because she had a cold.
Shortly after Todd’s death, Taylor began her famed romance with his friend Eddie Fisher, who was married to Debbie Reynolds at the time. The pair wed fourteen months after the fatal crash.
“I loved them both passionately and dearly,” she said to Larry King in 2006 of her feelings for Todd and Fisher.
Looking back at that fateful day when he decided not to get on that plane, Kirk said the incident made him even more thankful for his wife.
“Why was I spared? I was so grateful,” Kirk told PEOPLE. “My wife has saved my life many times.”
Anne and Kirk heard the news of the accident on the radio while he was driving.
“I pulled onto the shoulder of the road immediately. Shakily, I got out of the car. Anne joined me.” Kirk writes, “We stood, wrapped together in a strong embrace, tears streaming down our faces.”
He remembers eventually telling her: “Darling, you saved my life. I will always trust your intuition from now on.”
Anne Douglas Writes Openly About Kirk Douglas’s Extramarital Affairs
- Created on Wednesday, 03 May 2017
- Written by Hilary Weaver
--Vanity Fair May 2, 2017
Kirk and Anne Douglas have been married since 1954. Together, they share two sons, Peter and the late Eric, and more than six decades of partnership. But their marriage hasn’t been a completely monogamous one. Anne wrote about this in her new book with her husband, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, per People.
“Kirk never tried to hide his dalliances from me,” Anne details in the book, noting that her husband’s infidelities were something she accepted as a part of marriage. “As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”
Kirk Douglas, now 100, wrote about his extramarital affairs in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son. “I’m a sonofabitch, plain and simple,” he said then, per The New York Post. He detailed sexual conquests with Joan Crawford's daughter, Christina Crawford, Rita Hayworth, and Patricia Neal. He tried and failed to seduce Lauren Bacall.
“Kirk secured my permission before including stories of his trysts . . . I’m positive his candor helped him make the book a major bestseller,” Anne said.
The two even renewed their vows in 2004. The ceremony, on their 50th anniversary, was Kirk’s fulfilled promise to give Anne a real wedding. Their first was a casual affair in front of a justice of peace in Las Vegas, where Anne accidentally said, “My awfully wedded husband.”
In June 2014, Kirk wrote about his 60-year marriage to Anne in The Los Angeles Times, crediting her with helping him keep people around. “I don't know why Anne stuck with me through those early decades,” he said at the time. “If anyone I worked with is still alive, they will attest that I wasn't Mr. Popularity. I had a lot of anger matched by a lot of arrogance. Some people put up with me, I think, simply because I had such a wonderful wife.”
Kirk and Anne Douglas’ Unconventional Love Affair: It’s ‘Unrealistic to Expect Total Fidelity in a Marriage’
- Created on Tuesday, 02 May 2017
- Written by Sam Gillette
--People May 2, 2017
Legendary actor Kirk Douglas has been candid about his extramarital affairs in the past, and his wife of more than 60 years says she accepted his infidelity — and willfully turned a blind eye to his lovers.
“Kirk never tried to hide his dalliances from me,” Anne Douglas, 98, writes in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, a new book out Tuesday that reveals intimate letters between the longtime couple. “As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”
This “European” attitude toward love created the space for their unconventional romance to bloom. When they first met, the German-born Anne married a Belgian friend during World War II for safety reasons, and the already-divorced Kirk was “secretly engaged” to actress Pier Angeli.
“This self-possessed beauty was very different from the women I had been involved with in Hollywood since Diana [his ex-wife] left me,” writes Kirk.
He and Anne met in Paris in the early 1950s while he was there for a film and she was helping with press. When he first asked her on a date, she refused him.
“The fact that I didn’t impress her certainly impressed me,” Kirk once wrote in an article about his long-lasting marriage, “and I was determined to win her over.”
“[Anne] wasn’t neurotic like Gene Tierney, who always insisted I arrive for our nocturnal ‘dates’ by climbing the tree outside her bedroom window,” Kirk writes in the new book. “She wasn’t reckless like my much-married oil heiress, Irene Wrightsman, whom I found in our bed with Sydney Chaplin when I came home early from the studio.”
“When things got a little too warm between us, [Kirk would] say, ‘Don’t forget, I’m engaged,’ ” said Anne while reflecting on the early stages of their relationship in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I said, ‘I won’t forget.’ ”
Kirk eventually broke off the engagement to Angeli, and Kirk and Anne wed in May 1954 after she threatened to leave him. The actor recalls seeing Anne packing her bags and realizing he would be “lost without her.” (The pair went on to have two sons together, Eric and Peter, who joined Kirk’s two sons from his previous marriage — Joel and Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas.)
There may have been a wedding, but that didn’t mean their interactions with ex-lovers were over — a fact Kirk initially documented almost 30 years ago.
“Kirk secured my permission before including stories of his trysts in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son. I’m positive his candor helped him make the book a major bestseller,” Anne writes in the new book.
She also reveals that she’d remained friends with a “former lover,” and visited him in Paris while she was applying to become an American citizen. Once, when she visited him in his hotel suite, he was intoxicated and begged her not to return to Kirk.
“In no mood to be reasonable, he ran to the open window and started climbing through it, swearing he would jump unless I changed my mind. I pulled him away and tried to leave,” writes Anne. “This elegant man, whom I had known so well, lunged at me with a lit cigarette. ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t want you,’ he snarled as he ground it into my face.”
Anne writes that she had a doctor come in to sedate her ex and treat her face. After she shared this story with her husband, he took her in his arms.
” ‘I promise, Anne, ‘as long as we both shall live,’ I will keep you safe,’ ” Anne recalls Kirk saying to her.
She adds, “It’s been sixty-two years as I write this, and Kirk has always kept his word.”
Kirk Douglas on wife Anne: "The most difficult woman I ever met!"
- Created on Sunday, 30 April 2017
- Written by Andrea Mandell
--USA Today April 30, 2017
BEVERLY HILLS — A romantic interlude with Kirk Douglas or a night in with a plate of eggs?
The woman who captured Spartacus' heart opted for the eggs.
Douglas, who turned 100 in December, and his wife, Anne, 98, have been married for 63 years. But when they met on the Paris set of Act of Love (she, a film publicist, he, a famous film star), “she was terrible!” he recalls, sitting for a joint interview with Anne in their stylish living room.
“She was the most difficult woman I ever met. I mean, I was a big movie star! And I invited her to dinner and she said, 'Oh thank you very much, but I’m so tired —' "
Their sour meet-cute is detailed in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood (Running Press). The book is "my last," says Kirk. Co-written with his wife, it reveals candid letters the couple sent each other during their courtship and marriage.
Today, Anne, a colorful silk scarf wrapped around her neck, remembers their fateful meeting differently. With Kirk on the lookout for a bilingual press aide (Anne was fluent in German, French and English), she was led to his dressing room, coined “the lion’s den” by her cinematographer guide.
The movie star “took a look at me and then he said, ‘Would you like to have dinner tonight with my friends at some chic restaurant?’ And I said, 'No, thank you, I think I’ll go home and make myself some scrambled eggs.' ”
“Well,” she adds, “that was not what he expected.”
Kirk jumps in. “And to myself I said, 'You b----!' ” he says. Everyone — the couple's aides gathered in a corner, the onlookers from the publishing house, this reporter — breaks out in surprised laughter.
Kirk hired Anne, but things stayed platonic. "With no romance in the picture, I stopped trying to impress Anne," Kirk writes in their book. "Instead, I stopped talking about myself and began to listen to her."
Anne devilishly invited all his latest Parisian conquests over to his apartment on his birthday. Weeks later they attended a charity gala held at a circus, and Anne watched Kirk willingly jump into the fray, scooping elephant dung while wearing his tuxedo.
"That’s what got me,” says Anne today. “It was not only funny, it was showing me that he was able to do things that are not expected from him.”
But the lesson, to be blunt? Anne didn’t take any crap. “That’s right,” Kirk nods. “And she still doesn’t.”
Writing Kirk and Anne, the legendary actor's 11th book, was not the original plan. The star intended to publish a book full of letters he received from celebrities and dignitaries all over the world, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Tony Curtis and Barack Obama. Anne retrieved a box in which she kept important documents — including their old love letters.
"Darling," Kirk writes in the spring of their courtship, after a fight. "I have a feeling 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 ... but I hope that you are here to read this and that I find you when I get back. Suddenly it seems stupid that I am going to dinner without you — Because believe it or not I love you!"
Kirk and Anne married in May 1954 and welcomed their son Peter the following year, but often were separated, thanks to his film shoots.
In May 1956 Anne, with a 5-month-old at home, closed out her contract with the Cannes Festival. "I am so sad and depressed — I don't think I ever wanted to be near you as much as right now," she writes. "The toilet paper is too hard, the coffee is too strong ... the telephones are impossible. Don't I sound like a true American? But even being a European broad, what on Earth am I doing here!!!"
Sifting through their fervent transatlantic writings, “I thought, 'My god, they don’t write letters anymore,' ” says Kirk.
Letters are "so personal, something that touches you or disappoints you," says Anne. "But today, you get an email. It does nothing to you! It’s cold. It’s the new world. I like the old world better."
And so the focus changed.
Wives of famous men are generally glossed over in the history books; it’s partly what makes Kirk and Anne such a fascinating piece of reclaimed Hollywood history. In early passages, Anne describes her well-heeled life before Kirk, a sharp contrast to his poor upbringing in New York as Issur Danielovitch, where Yiddish was the only language spoken at home. Anne was born in Germany to a successful businessman and was schooled in Switzerland before fleeing the Nazis and moving to Paris.
(Her keen eye would inspire the couple’s vast art collection, leading to a 1990 Christie's sale of their Chagalls, Mirós and Braques, filling coffers of the Douglas Foundation.)
When Anne finally agreed to date Kirk in 1953, his finances were a wreck, a fact unbeknownst to him. It was her questioning of his business manager that ultimately revealed her movie star beau was flat broke.
“So I’m going out with a man that’s poor?!” Anne recalls her shock, realizing their lavish life was funded not by Kirk, but by Hollywood studio daily allowances. "That is when my business education from my father rose to the surface, and I got somebody very knowledgeable about how to invest the salary that he gets when he makes a movie. It became a success. Today he is very, very philanthropic.”
On a warm afternoon, the two sit comfortably side-by-side, glasses of water on small tables within reach, an impressive pot of white orchids on the coffee table. Kirk’s 1996 stroke, from which he had to completely rebuild his ability to speak, slows his speech considerably, but the centenarian's faculties are razor sharp, as are Anne’s — proving it amusing, to say the least, to watch them razz each other.
At one point, Kirk reaches for his wife’s water. “You have some on your side,” she chides. “Oh!” he replies. "Yes.” Anne peeks impishly at him. “Mine tastes better," she says.
Kirk still refers to the time his wife refused to let him travel on a private plane from Palm Springs to New York with director Mike Todd (then married to Elizabeth Taylor), where Douglas was to present the director with an award. “My wife says, 'Why don’t you take a regular airplane?' ” recalls Kirk. “She kept insisting. And we had a big fight. I said, “ 'OK, I won’t go.' But I was very mad at her.”
On the car ride back to Los Angeles, “we didn’t talk,” says Anne, so Kirk turned on the radio to fill the silence. That’s when news broke that Todd’s plane crashed and everyone aboard was killed. “She saved my life,” he says.
How did Anne know to put her foot down? “I didn’t like private planes. Because I was afraid. Now, I’ve changed completely,” she laughs. “Sixty years have passed by and I like them!”
The past weaves with the present as they tell tales of their grandchildren (like everyone else's, glued to iPhones), the Space Race era that found Russian cosmonauts surreptitiously filling orange juice glasses with vodka in their living room, goodwill trips around the world and Sinatra cooking Italian suppers in their kitchen. “I was not a good cook,” says Kirk. “I was a good helper. He was a good cook.”
For those wondering, yes, Anne knew of her husband's marital transgressions, she writes in Kirk and Anne. "As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage," she writes. Her famous husband told her about those dalliances "himself, because I wanted to hear it from him directly, not via an idle piece of gossip."
Framed family photos decorate various surfaces, and as this reporter exited, Michael Douglas was striding in. Douglas, whose mother is Kirk's first wife, Diana Dill, writes the foreword to Kirk and Anne. (Anne and Kirk also had son Eric, who died in 2004; Kirk also fathered producer Joel Douglas with Dill.)
The couple still speaks French together occasionally at home (“not all the time,” says Kirk, “because my wife is so much better than I am”) and follows the news closely. Kirk, a longtime Democrat, says President Trump “better improve. … I hope he does better than he has. Because he has made a lot of mistakes.”
Politics bubbles up at the close of the day, "because whatever goes on in the world, including in this country, we talk about it," says Anne. "Because we feel sorry for the next generation. Because we have known the better life, the better years. And they are gone. And they won’t come back.”
“You’re a pessimist!” exclaims Kirk.
Technology to the rescue. “I gave him the iPad for his 100th birthday,” says Anne. “Every night we always have our what we call ‘golden hour’ about 6, 6:30 until 7:15 p.m., and then dinner. And during this golden time we each have our drink and used to talk about what happened during the day.
“Nowadays he takes his iPad that I gave him, I take my iPad and we both look at CNN or something like that. And we don’t talk!”
Now that is a modern marriage.