Reflections

A Letter and a Challenge

--Huffington Post, April 2, 2015

I am closing in on 100. When I reflect on the many satisfactory experiences of my long life, I must include my correspondence with some of the world's most fascinating people. There is a special sensory enjoyment involved in writing a letter, stamping the envelope and sending it on its way. Whether you are getting something off your chest (some letters are indeed written in anger) or writing a love letter (my own favorite), it remains the most personal way to communicate, especially when written by hand.

After my stroke, I had fans who wanted me to tell them about my road to recovery. Answering their letters became part of my therapy, and signing them in my own handwriting part of my pleasure. 

In a world where "everything old is new again," I am amazed to hear that young people are now buying vinyl records. Does this bode well for the return of letter-writing? I hope so.

Despite the convenience of the new technologies, this ancient form of communication remains impactful and should be used more often.

Imagine a child writing to Santa Claus in a letter parents can treasure; a Dear John or Dear Jane letter the recipient can stain with tears and reread when the heart has mended; a New Testament without the Epistles.

While no one doubts the ego-satisfying thrill of the 140-character tweet sent to a multitude of followers or the convenience of emails complete with acronyms that substitute for words and cute little emoticons substituting for feelings, I urge readers to rediscover the pleasure of communicating by what is known today by the derogatory term "snail mail." 

My wife Anne has kept a trove of letters and poems I've written to her over our 60 year marriage. She can even quote from some of them. She can also see in them the man I was and the man I became. Anne has also meticulously archived decades of letters between me and people like my friends Henry Kissinger, Francis Albert Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and others, as well as colleagues such as Lord Laurence Olivier and Dalton Trumbo. They all attest to a state of mind; they all reflect what was happening in their lives or mine; they all offer insight into the private thoughts and dreams of that moment in time.

I have written 11 books, and I was sure the one published on my 98th birthday would be my last. However, I have been reading through a lot of that saved correspondence and have decided on another book, much more ambitious than a man my age usually contemplates. I have already begun work on my book of "Letters."

Now, here's my challenge to all of you reading this open letter:

Write a letter today to someone you love that can be kept, savored, and passed along to family members when the time is right. Send a handwritten invitation by mail instead of an evite. Receive a gift and handwrite a thank-you note. Express your feelings to a member of government on an issue you care about and put it in a mailbox. Remember, when you sign a letter in your own hand, you are attesting that you and you alone are responsible for its content. I don't think that's possible with an email.

Let me hear from you, preferably not as a comment, but as a real letter between you and me. At first, rediscovering this form of communication may seem strange -- but I promise you, it gets easier the more you use it -- and ultimately more rewarding. 

I hope you will join my crusade to bring the art of letter-writing back into vogue.

Sincerely,
Kirk Douglas

A Life in Film: Kirk Douglas on four of his greatest roles

--Entertainment Weekley February 24, 2015

Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory

Kirk Douglas—the beloved screen legend who turned 98 in December—never tires for great conversation, especially when the subject is moviemaking and how to survive it. (One tip: Drag your hotshot director to therapy.) We invited the actor, still blessed with the playful masculinity and moral fiber of the Old Hollywood icon that he is, to reminisce about four of his greatest roles.

SPARTACUS (1960)

Douglas’ most indelible role—as a Roman slave leading an epic rebellion—is also the one that best allowed him to flex his muscle within Hollywood. “Spartacus represents all people who work for freedom,” he says, noting that as a producer he’d hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to pen the film under a pseudonym. “Then I decided—the hell with it! I’m going to put his name on it. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. It caused me a lot of trouble, but it was worth it.” Douglas admits there was a limit to the freedom even he could exhibit on set, though. “There wasn’t much to my outfit,” he laughs, referring to his wardrobe-malfunction-prone tunic. “I had to be careful. But I’m always careful.”

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)
Douglas earned one of his three Best Actor nominations (he got an honorary Oscar in 1996) for this acid-bath melodrama about Hollywood. “Usually it’s difficult to make a movie about making movies, and to make it believable,” he says. But the characters here, especially Douglas’ supermacho studio boss, are so venal that when one dies, extras are hired to attend his funeral. “I think the film is a very realistic story about Hollywood,” he jokes.

PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
In this extraordinary antiwar movie, Douglas stars as a colonel in the First World War who refuses to command his soldiers into a bloodbath. It’s as fresh, relevant, and technically dazzling—check out those tracking shots in the trenches—today as it was six decades ago. Douglas credits the film’s then-28-year-old director, whom he handpicked, for that: “The picture made Stanley Kubrick. He was such a talent, but very difficult and troubled. Sometimes he confided in me, so I had an idea: Why don’t we go see a psychiatrist together? And we went. The psychiatrist was very impressed with Kubrick’s mind and ended up pitching a film idea to him.” More than 40 years later, that idea became Eyes Wide Shut, the director’s final project.

 ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)
“It’s a very good film, but the critics gave it unkind reviews,” he says of Billy Wilder’s ink-black exposé of the media, which cast the actor as a journalist. “But I think it was because it was about an unscrupulous newspaperman and that hit too close to home.” In preparation, Douglas hung out in a New York City police station. “It was a rainy, cold day and someone was lying down in the courtyard. I asked, ‘What’s that?’ They told me, ‘Oh, that’s a dead guy. We’re trying to figure out who he is.’ I don’t know if they ever found out. Maybe he’s still there.”

 

 

 

Kirk Douglas Shares Secrets Behind His 60-Year Marriage

--Closer Weekly February 4, 2015

Kirk Douglas and Wife

In an exclusive interview with 'Closer,' Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, 98, shares the secrets behind his 60-year marriage to his beloved wife, Anne.

“I never thought of our marriage as unique,” Kirk tells 'Closer.' “I fell in love with a girl, and after 60 years, I still love her.”

So it’s no surprise that Kirk still knows how to turn up the charm. His new book of love poetry, 'Life Could Be Verse,' was written for Anne, he says. “There’s a poem in there I like that starts, ‘Romance begins at 80,’” Anne, 84, tells 'Closer' of her husband’s 11th tome. She winks. “It took him a long time.”

Anne’s playful wit is one of the first things that attracted Kirk, and it continues to keep him guessing. “She’s unpredictable,” he confides to 'Closer.' “I don’t know what she’s going to say or do. I love the intrigue.”

Kirk tells 'Closer,' “Marriage is not just about love, but friendship.”

Over the years, however, they faced serious challenges to their union. Kirk had affairs, but Anne forgave him. “After 60 years of marriage, you go through a lot of obstacles — and all of them were beautiful!” she says knowingly.

 

Kirk and Anne’s relationship is a rare example of an enduring Hollywood marriage, which has inspired son Michael Douglas. “We have a very close, loving and supportive relationship,” Michael exclusively tells 'Closer,' adding that his dad and stepmom “have been a great lesson in how to conduct and live your third act.”

 

For their 60th anniversary, Michael feted the couple by transforming Greystone Manor into an old-timey Cocoanut Grove–style nightclub. “It was easy to see my son is rich,” Kirk tells 'Closer.' “It was so lush. Michael is guilty of liking to do the unexpected.”

"That was the most emotional and loving evening -- so fantastic," Anne gushes. "the 60 years we spent together were all represented; they had photos adn mementos from way back. Michael is very romantic, and he organizaed it with all the affection and love he has for both of us."

 

At 98, veteran actor Kirk Douglas finds his poetic muse

--jweekly.com  January 29, 2015

Kirk Douglas (right) with son Michael and grandson Dylan at Dylan’s 2014 bar mitzvah. photo/infinity kornfeld studios

Kirk Douglas (right) with son Michael and grandson Dylan at Dylan’s 2014 bar mitzvah. photo/infinity kornfeld studios

 Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, the son of an immigrant Russian Jewish ragman, marked his 98th birthday on Dec. 9 with the release of his 11th book.

The legendary star of 87 movies (who can forget “Spartacus”?) can look back, in happiness and grief, on countless one-night stands with filmdom’s most beautiful women, a helicopter crash in which he was the only survivor, a stroke, two bar mitzvahs and the death of a son.

He has written about these and many other parts of his life in previous works. But there is something special about his latest, “Life Could Be Verse.”

“I have expressed my personal feelings and emotions more than in any other of my books,” said Douglas, sitting in his art-filled Beverly Hills home.

In the slim volume of poems, photos and anecdotes, Douglas is no longer the swaggering Hollywood star and serial philanderer of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. His trademark dimpled chin and bright blue eyes are still there, but his blond hair is now fastened into a gray ponytail, and he walks carefully and speaks with a slur, a legacy of his stroke.

What he has not lost is his sharp sense of humor, his pride as a Jew and his love for Anne, his wife of 60 years. The cover of “Life Could Be Verse” shows an early photo of Douglas and Anne fondly kissing and the subtitle “Reflections on Love, Loss and What Really Matters.”

In his previous 10 books, Douglas’ prose is marked by the artlessness of a man whose casual conversation has been surreptitiously taped. His poetry, as well, makes no pretensions to Shakespearean loftiness. But there is no doubt of his deep devotion when he serenades his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary in “Please Stay in Love With Me.”

Does fifty years together

Seem so long to you?

The older the violin, the sweeter the music

It is often said, and it’s true.

To me, it seems like yesterday

We met in gay Paree.

Now Paris is sad, but I am glad

You chose to marry me.

A lesser-known side of Douglas is expressed in “For Eric,” an elegy for the youngest of his four sons from his two marriages, whose drug-induced death still haunts his father.

I sit by your grave and weep,

Silently, not to disturb your sleep.

Rest in peace my beautiful son

It won’t be long before we are one,

While I lie down by your side.

And talk, no secrets to hide.

Tell me, Eric, what did I do wrong?

What should I have done to make you strong?

Now I sit here and cry,

Waiting to be with you when I die.

Neither Anne nor Douglas’ first wife, actress Diana Dills, are of Jewish descent. But Anne converted to Judaism 10 years ago, explaining, “Kirk has been married to two shiksas, it’s time he married a nice Jewish girl.” The conversion did not change the couple’s relationship except for one ritual: Anne has taken over the Shabbat candle lighting on Friday nights that Kirk handled in their first 50 years together.

During an hourlong conversation, Douglas looked back on the lessons of a full and long life.

On God and religion: “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin. I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion. … I don’t think God wants compliments. God wants you to do something with your life and to help others.”

Douglas celebrated his first bar mitzvah at the Sons of Israel congregation in his hometown of Amsterdam, New York, and his second at 83, after the traditional biblical lifespan of 70 years, at Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles. He skipped his third bar mitzvah at 96, and plans to do the same at 109, when he would be entitled to his fourth bar mitzvah.

“That would be showing off,” he said. “I’m an actor, so I have already been showing off all my life.”

After the interview, Douglas emailed a final thought on a more serious topic.

“In the Jewish tradition, a birthday gives a person special power,” he wrote. “And if he issues a blessing, this blessing becomes true. So on my 98th birthday, I bless all people in the Land of Israel that the current conflict resolves itself, that no more people die or are hurt and that you can continue your lives in peace.”

 

 

How Spartacus and Kirk Douglas Defied the Hollywood Blackllist

--Sydney Morning Herald February 1, 2015

Kirk Douglas both starred in <i>Spartacus</i> and owned the company that produced it.

Remember that scene in Spartacus when Kirk Douglas tries to befriend a fellow gladiator, played by the great Woody Strode? "You don't want to know my name. I don't want to know your name," says Draba (Strode).

 

Spartacus is all about names. The most famous line is a claim to a name: "I am Spartacus", uttered by hundreds of slaves who refuse to give up their leader after the Roman general Crassus (Laurence Olivier) has defeated their rebellion.

 

It was obvious, even in 1958, that Spartacus was more about Washington than Rome. It's a denunciation of slavery and despots, a defence of rebellion, a critique of corruption within a powerful republic. But who wrote it and under what name? And who deserves credit for breaking the Hollywood blacklist, the event that triggered the whole film?

 

Was it that great scriptwriter Sam Jackson? Or Marcel Klauber or Ben L. Perry? These were all pseudonyms of Dalton Trumbo, who was the highest-paid writer in Hollywood before the blacklist. Trumbo was one of the 10 writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Committee on un-American Activities (HUAC) in late 1947. All had been members of the Communist Party of the USA but all refused to answer questions or name names. They went to prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress.

 

After a year in jail, Trumbo moved his family to Mexico, writing under aliases. The historical novelist Howard Fast also defied HUAC. While in prison, he began writing a novel about the Roman slave revolt. After warning visits from the FBI, no American publisher would touch it, so he self-published, shipping an extraordinary 48,000 hard copies from his own basement. One of those landed on Kirk Douglas's desk in December 1957.

Kirk Douglas as <i>Spartacus</i>.

 

Douglas was a huge star. Through his Bryna Company, he had produced and starred in Paths of Glory with a young director called Stanley Kubrick. Fast sold the film rights to Bryna for $100 and the promise that he could write the screenplay of Spartacus. By this time he had renounced his membership of the Communist Party and denounced its activities.

 

Lew Wasserman, Kirk's agent at MCA, smoothed the path for the project at Universal, the studio he was about to buy. He helped Douglas to secure Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton – they were all Wasserman's clients. The casting helped Douglas to defeat Yul Brynner's rival project about Spartacus, based at United Artists. UA owned the name Spartacus. They agreed to let Douglas have it only when they realised he would get his film made first.

 

Fast's attempt at a script was terrible, according to Douglas. He already had another writer working for Bryna, "Sam Jackson". Douglas often used blacklisted writers; they came cheap. "Sam Jackson" (Trumbo) moved on to Spartacus in secret. He and Fast did not like each other, despite their shared history. Universal had been nervous about having the repentant ex-communist Fast write the script; they would be apoplectic if they found out the unrepentant Trumbo was doing it, so Douglas lied. He told the studio that Eddie Lewis was rewriting the script. He even made Lewis tell that same lie to Howard Fast.

 

In his 2012 book I am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, Kirk Douglas says Fast exploded at this. Fearing that Fast might wreck the project, Douglas kept him writing, but using a new outline provided by Trumbo. Meanwhile, Trumbo laboured in secret on a separate screenplay. In a breathtakingly cynical sentence, Douglas writes of Fast: 'We knew that his work would never be used. He never had a clue about the parallel play that was being written simultaneously by 'Sam Jackson'."  

 

The deceptions multiplied. At Universal's insistence, Douglas hired veteran Anthony Mann to direct, then fired him after a week of shooting. Stanley Kubrick took over the next day, but the script was still unfinished. Peter Ustinov had been allowed to rewrite Trumbo's dialogue, to beef up his own scenes and those of Charles Laughton. When he found out, Trumbo resigned. Douglas went to his home to plead with him. Douglas says he decided on the spur of the moment at that meeting to break the blacklist. He told Trumbo: "When it's in the can, not only am I going to tell them that you've written it, but we're putting your name on it. Not Sam Jackson's name – your name, Dalton Trumbo – as the sole writer."

 

The rest, as they say, is history.  Spartacus became a huge hit, although Universal butchered it to appease the censors. Kubrick never again let anyone else control a film he was making. Kirk Douglas became a political hero, while playing a hero, for defying the blacklist. It was probably his finest hour, forced upon him by a crisis.

 

 

Turns out many were Spartacus, after all.

At 98, Kirk Douglas finds his poetic muse

--JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) December 19, 2014

Kirk Douglas grandson bar mitzvah pic

Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, the son of an immigrant Russian Jewish ragman, marked his 98th birthday on Dec. 9 by launching his 11th book.

The legendary star of 87 movies (who can forget “Spartacus”?) can look back, in happiness and grief, on countless one-night stands with filmdom’s most beautiful women, a helicopter crash in which he was the only survivor, a stroke, two bar mitzvahs and the death of a son.

He has written about these and many other parts of his life in previous works. But there is something special about his latest, “Life Could Be Verse.”

“I have expressed my personal feelings and emotions more than in any other of my books,” said Douglas, sitting in his art-filled Beverly Hills home.

In the slim volume of poems, photos and anecdotes, Douglas is no longer the swaggering Hollywood star and serial philanderer of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. His trademark dimpled chin and bright blue eyes are still there, but his blond hair is now fastened into a gray ponytail, and he walks carefully and speaks with a slur, a legacy of his stroke.

What he has not lost is his sharp sense of humor, his pride as a Jew and his love for Anne, his wife of 60 years. The cover of “Life Could Be Verse” shows an early photo of Douglas and Anne fondly kissing and the subtitle “Reflections on love, loss and what really matters.”

In his previous 10 books, Douglas’ prose is marked by the artlessness of a man whose casual conversation has been surreptitiously taped, and his poetry as well makes no pretensions to Shakespearean loftiness. But there is no doubt of his deep devotion when he serenades his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary in “Please Stay in Love With Me.”

    Does fifty years together
    Seem so long to you?
    The older the violin, the sweeter the music
    It is often said, and it’s true.
    To me, it seems like yesterday
    We met in gay Paree.
    Now Paris is sad, but I am glad
    You chose to marry me.

A lesser-known side of Douglas is expressed in “For Eric,” an elegy for the youngest of his four sons from two marriages, whose drug-induced death still haunts his father.

    I sit by your grave and weep,
    Silently, not to disturb your sleep.
    Rest in peace my beautiful son
    It won’t be long before we are one,
    While I lie down by your side.
    And talk, no secrets to hide.
    Tell me, Eric, what did I do wrong?
    What should I have done to make you strong?
    Now I sit here and cry,
    Waiting to be with you when I die.

Neither Anne nor Douglas’ first wife, actress Diana Dills, are of Jewish descent. But Anne converted to Judaism 10 years ago, explaining, “Kirk has been married to two shiksas, it’s time he married a nice Jewish girl.” The conversion did not change the couple’s relationship except for one ritual: Anne has taken over the Shabbat candle lighting on Friday nights that Kirk handled in their first 50 years together.

During an hourlong conversation, Douglas looked back on the lessons of a full and long life.

On God and religion: “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin. I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion … I don’t think God wants compliments. God wants you to do something with your life and to help others.”

Douglas celebrated his first bar mitzvah at the Sons of Israel congregation in his hometown of Amsterdam, N.Y., and his second at 83, after the traditional biblical lifespan of 70 years, at Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles. He skipped his third bar mitzvah at 96, and plans to do the same at 109, when he would be entitled to his fourth bar mitzvah.

“That would be showing off,” he said. “I’m an actor, so I have already been showing off all my life.”

On attracting women: “When I was courting Anne in Paris, I couldn’t get through to her,” Douglas said. “One day she agreed to go to the circus with me, and when the circus performers recognized me, they insisted that I participate in the show. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but as a string of circus elephants trotted out, I followed them in my tuxedo with a shovel and broom and started to clean up what the elephants had left behind.”

Anne was still laughing when Douglas took her home and she bestowed her first goodnight kiss on him. The poet in him celebrated the triumph by noting: “Anne thought I was a big hit, As she saw me shoveling s***.”

After the interview, Douglas emailed a final thought on a more serious topic.

“In the Jewish tradition, a birthday gives a person special power,” he wrote. “And if he issues a blessing, this blessing becomes true. So on my 98th birthday, I bless all people in the Land of Israel that the current conflict resolves itself, that no more people die or are hurt and that you can continue your lives in peace.”

 Kirk and Anne Douglas in the pool together, circa 1960. (Courtesy of Kirk and Anne Douglas)

 

 

Kirk Douglas and wife Anne reflect on life and a 60-year romance

--Associated Press December 11, 2014

Kirk Douglas is done with writing.

The rakish screen legend with the famously dimpled chin made that abundantly clear on a recent afternoon at his Beverly Hills home, a few days before the release of his poetry collection "Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters."

"To me, this is my best book, and my last book," said Douglas, seated next to Anne Douglas, his wife of over 60 years.

It was a pronouncement that came up more than a few times. The "Spartacus" star, who just turned 98, has 87 films to his name, 11 books, and is one of the last living members of old Hollywood. By now, the world probably thinks it knows Kirk Douglas.

But in some ways, "Life Could Be Verse" is his most personal work, featuring poems from throughout his life along with essays and private family photos that help paint a picture of Douglas as a man, a father and a husband.

In an industry not known for domestic stability, Kirk and Anne Douglas may be one of the great Hollywood romances. Seated closely on a cozy couch in a home that is elegant, modest and lived-in, the couple recalled their first meeting in Paris. He was working on the film "Act of Love." She was the publicist.

"I thought she was so beautiful, and I lowered my voice and said, 'Would you like to have dinner?'" he said. "I waited for an answer and she said, 'No, I think I will go home and make some eggs and go to bed.'"

Anne Douglas (then Buydens) had her own thoughts about transient movie stars. A lot of her friends were going out with actors at the time. "I said to myself, I'm not going to do that. I will work and I will do my work for the movie that I was hired for, but no intimate connection with the movie stars," she said.

Then she attended a charity event where actors played the parts of circus performers. Kirk Douglas, sporting a tuxedo, decided his talent would be cleaning up after the elephants.

"I held on until he picked up the elephant doo," she said, laughing heartily. "That did it for me."

Douglas, not missing a beat, chimed in: "Obviously she was looking for a garbage collector."

Still, a cute beginning is hardly noteworthy. Longevity is. "Romance begins at 80, and I ought to know," he said, referencing one of his poems.

"I'm a romantic guy. You think I'm always shooting guns with John Wayne, but I can be romantic. And, listen, we're sitting here. We have been married for 60 years. A few poems help."

Romance is just one of their secrets. Over the years, they have devoted themselves to philanthropy. The shared passion has been important for the couple, who've endured tragedy and loss, including his stroke in 1996 and the death of their youngest son, Eric Douglas, in 2004.

"Our goal has been, since we're able to do that, to help a little bit and to share what you have with those in need. That has been a very big bond between us," said Anne Douglas.

They've sold art from their personal collection to help fund various causes, including the restoration of over 400 playgrounds in the Los Angeles area and the development of a shelter for homeless women downtown. In 2012, the couple pledged $50 million to five charitable organizations.

Giving has been in Kirk Douglas' bones since childhood. "I was a boy who didn't have enough to eat. I had six sisters, no brothers. We were living by the railroad tracks and every night, hobos would come and knock on the door. And even though we didn't have enough, my mother always saved something so when they came to the door, she had something to give them. She taught me at an early age to help other people."

His career is pointedly on the back burner as he reflects on his life. A rebel on the screen and off, he counts crediting blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on "Spartacus" as his most rebellious move. "I was much younger then, and I was much more stubborn," he said.

Now, Kirk and Anne Douglas are focused on their home, family and reflecting on a life well-lived. They recently hosted Thanksgiving at their home near Santa Barbara. Among the 14 attendees were Michael Douglas, his children and Michael Douglas' mother, actress Diana Dill, whom Anne Douglas refers to as "our ex-wife."

 

"We are living in a town of make-believe. I have done about 90 movies. That means that every time I was pretending to be someone else. There comes a time in your life when you say, well, 'who am I?'" he said. "I have found writing books a good substitute to making pictures. When you write a book, you get to determine what part you are playing."

 

At 98, Kirk Douglas Looks Back On His Start in Hollywood

--Variety December 9, 2014

Kirk Douglas

Legendary actor Kirk Douglas is celebrating his 98th birthday Dec. 9, with a book of poems called “Life Could Be Verse” (HCI Books). His storied career began on the Broadway stage, where he says, “I got a few bit parts, and absolutely no press notice” — that is, until “The Wind Is Ninety.”

Do you remember your  first mention in Variety?
In June 1945, I opened in a drama called “The Wind Is Ninety,” playing the ghost of a World War I soldier who takes the ghost of a World War II pilot back to his family to watch them receive news of his death. Although the critic gave it a mixed review — he mostly summarized a plot he found confusing — it was the first time I saw my name in Variety. Miraculously, the play was a hit. In January of 1946, the producers bought an ad in Variety quoting other critics about my performance: “Kirk Douglas is nothing short of superb” and “Kirk Douglas does an inspired job with a difficult role.”

 

How did you get to Hollywood?
My good friend Lauren Bacall — the toast of Hollywood after her film debut in “To Have and Have Not” — saw the ad. She told producer Hal Wallis to see me in the play. He listened to her. I had a major part in his next movie, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” with Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. It was a bigger paycheck than I’d ever gotten. That’s why I came to Hollywood — for the money. It took me a few more flops on Broadway to “settle” for movies. I got used to seeing my name in Army Archerd’s column in Variety.

 

What acting achievements are you proudest of?
I opted to play Midge Kelly in “Champion” rather than listen to my agents who advised me to join the A-list cast of “The Great Sinner” at MGM. Ever hear of it? I thought not. Instead I was the antihero in a black-and-white low-budget film by independent producer Stanley Kramer and written by his talented partner, writer Carl Foreman. It won me my first Oscar nomination, and made me a genuine star. That enabled me to start my own production company, Bryna, to make the films that no one else wanted to do, but that I considered important. Like “Paths of Glory,” with Stanley Kubrick; like “Spartacus” from a book by a blacklisted writer, Howard Fast. I hired the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo under the name Sam Jackson. Against advice, I decided to put Dalton’s true name onscreen.

 

What advice do you have for up-and-coming actors?
You want to know what I wish I could tell my younger self? Don’t do your own stunts! I pay the price every day for my machismo derring-do. Two knee replacements, bad back, etc. But, then, I never anticipated I’d reach 98. I still can’t believe it, but I’m grateful to be here.

 

 

I've Made About 90 Feature Films, but These Are the Ones I'm Proudest Of

--Huffington Post December 9, 2014

Editor's note: For the release of Kirk Douglas' new book, Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters, HuffPost Entertainment asked the decorated actor to recall some of the fondest memories from his storied career. We sent Douglas a list of select films, and he graciously responded with a personal reflection on his work. Read on for what Douglas had to say of his 68 years in the business.

 

Over some 70 years, I made about 90 feature films, starting with The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946 and ending with It Runs in the Family in 2003 -- a wonderful experience, because I got to work with my son Michael, my grandson Cameron and my first wife, Diana Dill. I have forgotten most of them, and so has the public. However, I am proud of the ones I will tell you about, especially those I made through my own production company Bryna. They include Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Seven Days in May, and my favorite of all, Lonely Are the Brave. A few films are sentimental favorites that mark meaningful times in my off-screen life and milestones in my rise to stardom. Others are meaningful to me because, while entertaining the public, they also gave insight into serious issues. I will tell you my choices.

 

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Let's start with my first film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a film noir made at Paramount. You know, I never wanted to be anything but a New York stage actor, but that was a precarious career for a man with a young family. I was in a play called The Wind Is Ninety -- don't ask me what the title means -- when I got a visit backstage from an important Hollywood producer, Hal Wallis. My friend Lauren Bacall had urged him to see me when he was in New York because I had gotten good reviews. He offered me a job. I could not turn down a movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. Besides, it was a better paycheck than I could get on Broadway. All across the country on the train, I memorized my part so I could hold my own with the seasoned film stars. I remember saying my lines perfectly during the first rehearsal. Pretty impressive, I thought, until I saw the way everyone was looking at me. I had learned Van Heflin's part instead of the role of the weak, alcoholic husband of Martha Ivers. How mortifying! My next humiliation was not far behind. The director told me to light a cigarette. I didn't smoke, but I obeyed. It made me dizzy and nauseous, and I ran to my dressing room to throw up. After the film wrapped, I went back to New York and got parts in a few more flops. So I became a film actor out of necessity, and soon I was working regularly in Hollywood -- as well as smoking four packs a day.

 

Champion (1949)

Champion was a turning point in my young career. I had an opportunity to make a big Technicolor picture at MGM called The Great Sinner starring Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck, and Lionel Barrymore. I turned it down to play Midge Kelly, a not-very-likeable boxer in a small independent film put together by young unknowns -- producer Stanley Kramer, writer Carl Foreman, and director Mark Robson. My agent was very unhappy. I was in pretty good shape, but I had never boxed. I didn't want them to use a body double, so I went into serious training with Mushy Callahan, an ex-welterweight champion. You know, it's hard to make a movie punch look real. In the scene where my opponent was to catch me with a faked uppercut as I bounced off the ropes, he actually knocked me out. Now that's movie realism! Champion got me a Best Actor nomination for an Oscar and made me a star. And that other film, The Great Sinner? It was a flop.

 

Ace in the Hole (1951)

To no one's surprise, I again played the self-serving bad guy in Billy Wilder's drama about a disgraced journalist trying to reinvent his big career in small-town Albuquerque. When a tunnel collapses outside a small town, he sees a big opportunity in his exclusive coverage of the man trapped below, convincing him to delay rescue for the sake of the headlines. My co-star was Jan Sterling, playing the the victim's scheming wife. In one scene I am supposed to choke her. Before the cameras rolled, I told Jan to let me know if I was being too rough. When she turned blue and went limp, I released her. "Why didn't you stop me?!"  I demanded when she came to. "I couldn't," she rasped, "because you were choking me." Ace in the Hole, redubbed The Big Carnival in America, was not a hit at the time, but it became a cult favorite. I loved working with Billy, who became a good friend.

 

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Wasn't I lucky that Clark Gable turned down the role, since it earned me my second Academy nomination? Lana Turner played my beautiful discovery. We shot at MGM with Vincente Minnelli directing. One day I had a chat with Francis X. Bushman, who had a small part. Bushman had been a major star in the silents and talkies, but he had just faded away. Now I learned why. At the height of his fame, he inadvertently offended the all-powerful Louis B. Mayer by keeping him waiting a few minutes. Mayer, in turn, banned him from MGM and blackballed him in the industry. This was his first time on the lot in 25 years. Bushman's story gave me some useful insight into the ruthless, selfish character I was playing -- still another tough-guy antihero. I was doing well with these roles.

Act of Love (1953)

I don't know if this is a good film, but to me it's a great film because that's where I met my wife, Anne Buydens, to whom I have been married for 60 years. I write about our strange romance in Life Could Be Verse. Anne was hired to do publicity for Act of Love, and we became friends. I, of course, wanted more (she was beautiful and had a fantastic sense of humor), but she didn't want to be a movie star's latest fling. One evening I took her with me to a charity event at Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, in which French movie stars were the featured performers. I was known as "The Darling Brute" in French media, so the organizers asked me to participate. I went backstage, where they found something "appropriate" for me. Right after the elephant act, I came out -- still in my tuxedo -- with a broom and shovel to clean up the droppings. Anne laughed so hard that I knew I had won her over.

 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

This was the first movie Walt Disney made with live characters. We were on a six-day-week shooting schedule, so Anne and I flew up to Las Vegas after work on Saturday to get married, took in Sinatra at the Sahara, and flew back to L.A. the next night. I played the banjo and sang in the film. I also recorded "Gotta Whale of a Tale," and it became a hit. It even topped Sinatra's latest record for a few weeks -- which I enjoyed teasing him about over the years. It became a song my kids and I liked to sing together. During a scene in It Runs in the Family where Michael, Cameron and I are fishing in a canoe, Michael suggested we warble it together. I enjoyed that.

 

The Indian Fighter (1955)

When I started Bryna, my own production company (named for my mother), this was our first picture. It was a Western shot in Oregon, and I offered my ex-wife Diana a good part. Anne was pregnant with our first son, Peter, but she readily agreed to have my older boys, Michael and Joel, stay with her in Beverly Hills while Diana and I were on location. To this day, we call Diana "our first wife" and remain good friends. The film did well, and the Bryna Company was on its way.

Lust for Life (1956)

I wanted to make Lust for Life at Bryna, but it turned out that MGM owned the rights. I still wanted to play Van Gogh, especially since John Houseman and Vincente Minnelli, my team from The Bad and the Beautiful, were attached. I loved being back in France, and we shot in all the places where Van Gogh had lived and painted. But it was also horrible. I became so immersed in his tortured life that it was hard to pull back. In makeup I looked like him, and he had been my age when he died. Sometimes I would reach my hand up to touch my ear to make sure it was still there. After its release, I was contacted by Marc Chagall to do his life story. I admired him greatly, but I never wanted to play another artist. My friend John Wayne was not happy with me playing Vincent. He said we owed it to our public to play only strong, tough characters. I told him that I would continue to play any role I considered interesting. Despite my difficulty in shedding the Van Gogh persona, I did eventually come back to myself. On the other hand, I don't think John (I never called him "Duke") ever dropped the role of John Wayne that he so carefully crafted for his life.

 

Paths of Glory (1957)

I had seen an interesting film called The Killing by a young director named Stanley Kubrick. I contacted him to see if he had any other projects. He gave me Paths of Glory, and I loved it even though I knew it would never be a commercial success. I got financing from United Artists, and we headed off to Germany to shoot around Munich. When I arrived, Stanley had completely rewritten the script. It was awful. He wanted to make it more commercial, he explained. As it was a Bryna film, I insisted we use the script I loved. I was right. It didn't make money, but it was a critical success. I found Stanley to be supremely talented but extremely difficult. With a bigger budget and a bigger payday on Spartacus, he became twice as difficult, but what a talent!

 

Spartacus (1960)

"I am Spartacus" is the most remembered line of the film and is often parodied. I used it as the title of my 2012 book about the making of the movie. Believe it or not, Stanley Kubrick hated the scene where all of Spartacus' men claim to be him. He didn't want to shoot it, but I insisted. After all, I was not only the star but also the producer who signed his paycheck. Our screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo, working under the pseudonym "Sam Jackson" because he was on Hollywood's notorious blacklist. What a shameful period that was, especially since we were all hypocrites, hiring the blacklisted to use their talents at reduced wages. I wanted Dalton to write The Last Cowboy, which Universal retitled Lonely Are the Brave, but I asked him to write Spartacus first. I was in a race to show a finished script to my dream cast of British actors -- Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, and Charles Laughton -- before Yul Brynner, with a rival project called The Gladiators, could approach them. Spartacus was a demanding movie, and I was crucified not only on screen but off of it, by the likes of powerful columnist Hedda Hopper and the American Legion, for using a book written by Howard Fast, a Communist, and giving Dalton screen credit. But the public embraced it, especially after the popular new President John F. Kennedy came to see it in a Washington theater and then proceeded to praise it.

 

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

As I have said, this is my favorite movie. I love the theme that if you try to be an individual, society will crush you. I play a modern-day cowboy still living by the code of the Old West. Dalton wrote a perfect screenplay -- one draft, no revisions. My character gets into a bar fight with a vicious one-armed man. He was actually Burt Lancaster's stand-in, who had lost his arm in the war. It was a tough shoot in and around Albuquerque -- high altitude, snow, fog and freezing rain in May! I didn't get along with the director very well; plus, he had no regard for safety. When we were shooting on a narrow ledge with a steep drop, he asked me to walk around my horse on the outside. I wanted to be on the inside against the wall, because the horse instinctively would protect itself. Even after I explained, he argued with me, but I had seen too many unnecessary accidents to agree. The best relationship I had on this film was with my horse, Whisky. Of course, the horse couldn't talk back.

Seven Days in May (1964)

I was advised that making this movie would be risky because it concerns an attempted military overthrow of the U.S. government. But I ran into President Kennedy in Washington at a fancy buffet dinner. He had loved the book and spent 20 minutes telling me why it would make a great film. I could have played either of two roles: the bad guy behind the takeover plot or the good guy who blows the whistle to the president. I sent the script to my pal "Boit" Lancaster, telling him to choose whichever role he wanted to play. I would take the other. I did enjoy playing a nice guy for a change. We needed a shot of me entering the Pentagon, and nothing but the real thing would look authentic. We stole the shot, concealing the cameras in a van parked across the street. I was dressed in my Marine colonel's uniform. The guard saluted me. I saluted back and walked in, waited a bit, and walked out. Seven Days in May had its first sneak preview the night I closed in the play of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which limped along for five months -- my final attempt to make it as a major Broadway star.

 

Bonus: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

And that brings me to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a movie I neither produced nor starred in despite all my best efforts. My son Michael asked if he could take a crack at producing it, so I gave him the rights, not at all sure whether he would have any more luck than I did. Well, it opened to raves, and on Academy Awards night, the film won all five major Oscars. I couldn't have been prouder of Michael, even though he wouldn't let me play McMurphy. "You're too old," he said. And this was in 1975, some 40 years ago! I forgave him. Jack Nicholson was superb.

 

 

Kirk Douglas proves a sublime master of rhyme on page and in person

--Los Angeles Times December 9, 2014

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas may be one of the biggest actors of his era, with starring roles in 1960's "Spartacus," 1949's "Champion" and 1951's "Ace in the Hole." But on a recent crisp morning, he was having a grand time simply reciting his poetry by heart for an audience of one. With a twinkle of his blue eyes, he proclaimed:

Romance begins at 80

And I ought to know.

I live with a girl

Who will tell you so.

Douglas, who survived a near-fatal stroke in 1996 that affected his speech, has been a part of the Hollywood landscape since he made his film debut in the 1946 noir "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers." He earned three Oscar nominations for lead actor for "Champion," which made him a star, 1952's "The Bad and the Beautiful" and 1956's "Lust for Life," in which he played Vincent Van Gogh, and he received an honorary Oscar shortly after his stroke.

A savvy producer, he also helped to break the Communist blacklist in Hollywood when he insisted that blacklisted "Spartacus" screenwriter Dalton Trumbo receive screen credit.

 

These days, though Douglas walks with a cane and is on the frail side, he's sweet and full of good humor. He now wears his white hair pulled back into a ponytail.

A savvy producer, he also helped to break the Communist blacklist in Hollywood when he insisted that blacklisted "Spartacus" screenwriter Dalton Trumbo receive screen credit.

These days, though Douglas walks with a cane and is on the frail side, he's sweet and full of good humor. He now wears his white hair pulled back into a ponytail.

"I let it grow, and it grew so long someone said, 'Let's make a ponytail,'" Douglas said. "Do you think I'm good-looking?"

 Douglas has written several books since the publication in 1988 of his autobiography, "The Ragman's Son," and his latest is "Life Could Be Verse," which chronicles his "reflections on love, loss and what really matters." It was released Dec. 2, a week before his 98th birthday Tuesday.

The slim book includes poems he's written over the last seven decades, autobiographical stories and professional and family photographs.

"This is my last book," said Douglas, sitting in his favorite chair in the family room of the Beverly Hills home he shares with wife, Anne. The two met in Paris in 1953 when she was the publicist on his film "Act of Love."

"I think it is the best book I have ever written because I have done something I have never done before," Douglas said.

For years Douglas "hid" his poetic side. "But when you get to be 98, you begin to be brave," he said. "You get to be strong enough to be weak."

"Life Can Be Verse" is also a love letter to his wife.

"We've been married over 60 years and that's something," he said, breaking into a warm smile.

As a college student at St. Lawrence University, Douglas used poetry to get the attention of the girl with the flaming red hair who sat in front of him in class.

How oft have I sat behind thee

In awe and watched thy titian hair

Resplendent in the rays

Of morning's golden light

The poem worked. "We had two years," he said.

Douglas not only recited poetry during the interview but also broke out into song, remembering when he was cast in the landmark 1944 musical "On the Town." He was dismissed from the show when he couldn't reach the high notes in "Lonely Town."

"A town's a lonely town," Douglas started to croon. "When you pass through and there is no one waiting there for you."

Though his Broadway musical career never came to fruition ("such a disappointment because I loved that musical," he said), Douglas and frequent costar Burt Lancaster did three song-and-dance routines for the Oscars, he said. He also performed "A Whale of a Tale" in the 1954 Disney classic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

"They made a commercial record of it," he noted with pride.

Some of his poems in the book are darker and brutally honest, especially "For Michael," which deals with his eldest son, Oscar-winning actor-producer Michael Douglas, with whom he has a close relationship.

"Am I a good father?" I asked my son

He took a pause, too long for me

I waited and waited for him to answer

And finally he said, "Ultimately"

"He never asked me for anything," said Douglas of his son when he was just starting out. "Once I said, 'Michael, I am your father, you can ask me.'"

 

As for his wife, Douglas said he's more in love with her than ever. "She usually sits there," he said, pointing to her spot. "I sit here. We talk about things that have happened. We call that the golden hour."