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
--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.