Reflections

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."

Kirk Douglas: Lessons from a legend

--USA Today December 2, 2014

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A big birthday is just around the corner. Kirk Douglas, America's Spartacus, turns 98 on Dec. 9, and he's releasing a work of poetry and stories of his life, Life Could Be Verse (HCI, out Tuesday), for the occasion.

"I've written 10 books," says the witty legendary actor, as sharp and impish as ever, despite navigating a speech impediment that remains from a severe stroke suffered in 1996. "But this was the first time I was looking over the things in my life, and I was surprised to know how many poems I've written."Douglas has worked to regain his speech, but he continued writing all the while, and in 2012 published an in-depth account of his most famous film, I am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist. Now, he's reflecting on a life spent in Hollywood, from his first audition with Mae West (a solid rejection) to his changing relationship with son Michael Douglas. USA TODAY's Andrea Mandell catches up with the legend on life at (nearly) 98.

On technology

"Technology frightens me. I don't have a cellphone. I don't even have a watch," says Douglas. "My wife insisted on buying me a computer. I know nothing about computers. But one thing: I love having a place to play solitaire. I play all the time." So who handles his correspondence? "I have a good-looking secretary," he grins. "But really, technology changed the world. People don't write. It's a different world I'm about to leave." Not so fast, a reporter protests. "I'm about to be 98 you think, maybe?" Didn't Moses make it to 120? "Yes, but when they said that he got to 120 nobody has proof of it." And what ofPeople magazine publishing his obituary by mistake online just this past weekend? "The announcement of my death is premature," Douglas said on Monday, via an assistant. "I'm looking forward to turning 98 next week."

On what he watches today

"I watch the news," he says, but not many movies, although he keeps a library of classics in his home. "I have mixed feelings. I feel like for me to watch movies now I would feel like an intruder. Because I don't make any movies (anymore). I thought about making a movie, I was going to have a script written for two people, me and my grandson (Dylan, 14, son of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones), but I said, 'Oh Kirk, too much work.' "

On romance

"I have been in love with my wife for 60 years," says Douglas of his second wife, Anne, 84, who is running errands during the interview. "And I wrote a poem about that. I think romance begins at 80. And I ought to know, because I live with a girl who would tell you so!" Does he still romance Anne? "Of course! I send her a note, and put it on her pillow. She likes that." In Life Could be Verse, "I tried to take the poems and put them in the story (of my life). And the story ends with my wife and me."

On fatherhood vs. being a grandfather

Douglas acknowledged he's evolved as a father. "I didn't remain so self-centered. When you're trying to be an actor you're just thinking of yourself," says the star, who was nominated for a best-actor Academy Award three times (1950's Champion, 1953'sThe Bad and the Beautiful, 1957's Lust for Life) and awarded an honorary Oscar in 1996. "But when you have had some experiences …you have time to think more about others. You think what you can do to help others. And I think that should be the core of every living (being), to help other people." Today he spends "as much (time) as I can," with his grandkids. "I find my grandchildren very interesting."

On the gridlock on Capitol Hill

"We will always have problems that we have to deal with," says Douglas, who fought to credit writer Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted during McCarthyism) onscreen forSpartacus in 1960. "But life goes on. I think the important thing is that people must have a chance. A chance to do something in life. I feel I was given a chance. And I like to help other people get a chance."

 

Kirk Douglas Remembers Lauren Bacall: She Was My "Lucky Charm"

--Hollywood Reporter August 20, 2014

bacall

With the loss of Lauren Bacall, whom we all called “Betty,” a meaningful part of my history has been extinguished.

I met Betty when she was 17 and I was 24. We were both studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I was on my own in New York with meager funds. That winter, Betty saw me shivering in my thin overcoat. She didn't say anything, but she talked her uncle into giving me one of his two thick coats. I wore it for three years. That sort of unassuming kindness was one of her most endearing characteristics. When I had the honor of presenting Betty with her honorary Oscar in 2009, I told the audience: “People said Bacall was ‘tough.' She’s a pussycat with a heart of gold.”

After World War II ended, I was honorably discharged from the Navy in San Diego. Betty had been discovered by Howard Hawks and was now in Hollywood preparing for her first film, in which she was to star opposite none other than Humphrey Bogart. I wanted to see her before flying back to New York, so I called her, and we arranged to meet for dinner. Of course, she was late. When I stood up to greet her, I noticed that she had the script for  To Have and Have Not under her arm. We talked about it, and she read me a few lines: “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together – and blow.”

“Betty,” I said, “you will be a star.” My prophecy came true.

Back in New York, I continued the frustrating task of looking for a job, hopefully in a play that would last for more than a few performances. I had a wife and two children to support. I succeeded in getting the lead in The Wind Is Ninety, and I got good notices.

Shortly after the play opened, Betty attended a cocktail party for the famous producer Hal Wallis, who was going to New York the next day. Betty was always a girl who spoke her mind. She said, “Hal, when you are in New York, you must see The Wind Is Ninety.  My friend Kirk Douglas is in it and has gotten rave reviews.” He actually listened to her— did I mention she was persuasive—and soon after I was on my way to Hollywood with a meaty role as Barbara Stanwyck’s husband in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Over the years, Betty and I never lost touch. We even starred together in a film [1950’s Young Man with a Horn] before she went back to New York to achieve the Broadway success I had always longed for. We tried to see each other whenever we were on each other’s home coast, and we shared many special occasions in each other’s lives, including my 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 2004.

Throughout our friendship, I wrote her letters, mostly typed because I have bad handwriting. She always penned her replies, and they were almost illegible—handwriting worse than mine! My latest note wasn’t answered, which was unlike her. I wondered why. Then, on Aug. 12, like the rest of the world, I found out.

 

It’s hard to lose a friend, especially one with whom you have shared your dreams and your journey. In the case of Betty Bacall, I also lost my lucky charm—the girl who believed in me enough to talk Hal Wallis into giving me a Hollywood career. That was my first lesson in helping others without looking for thanks. I will continue to think about her whenever I put it into practice.

Hollywood Legend Kirk Douglas, His Wife Delve Into Their 60-Year Love Affair

Please note: The interview is preceded by a commercial.

CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO INTERVIEW

--July 25, 2014

Their story is the stuff of Hollywood romance.

Legendary actor Kirk Douglas, 97, has been married to his wife, Anne, for 60 years, and in an interview with CBS2’s Pat Harvey, he shares the enchanting stories and secrets to keeping the romance burning.

The pair met in Paris while Kirk was playing the role of Vincent van Gogh in “Lust For Life,” and Anne Buydens was handling the PR for the movie.

Anne, 84, said she played hard-to-get. The two became friends, but she eventually fell for Kirk’s charms.

The couple married in Las Vegas the following year in 1954.

Kirk, who already had two sons — Oscar-winning actor Michael and Joel — with his first wife Dianna Dill, went on to have two more — Peter and Eric — with Anne.

Their union has endured the test of time, but not without the occasional argument.

“We argued a lot. But I will tell you about a big argument,” Kirk said.

The scene opens in March 1958, when the Douglases were living next door to Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Mike Todd in Palm Springs. Todd asked Douglas to join him on his private plane on a trip to New York.

“And he said ‘yes,’ and as soon as they left, I said to Kirk, ‘I don’t want you to go,’ ” Anne said.

“We had such a big argument and I finally said, ‘Oh, what the hell, I won’t go.’”

Taylor came down with a cold and didn’t end up going either.

Todd’s plane infamously crashed, and everyone aboard was killed.

“So, from then on, I never argued with her. She saved my life,” Kirk told Harvey.

“I have instincts, and I’ve been right too many times,” Anne said.

The couple has made it through their share of obstacles. In January 1996, Kirk suffered a stroke as he was getting a manicure at home.

He sustained lingering damage to his speech and struggled with depression. The actor credits Anne with pushing him to work with speech therapists.

Just a few months later, Kirk would accept an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement.

“I intended to just say thank you, but I saw 1,000 people. I felt I had to say something more, and I did,” he said.

The entertainment legend said he was proud to be a part of Hollywood for 50 years and dedicated the statue to Anne.

But what this actor, who’s appeared in more than 90 films, said he’s most proud of is the philanthropic work he and Anne have accomplished together. They hope it will be their legacy.

The Douglases have sold pieces from their art collection to rebuild 409 playgrounds in Los Angeles.

They’ve funded the Alzheimer wing at the Motion Picture Retirement Home and started the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission, which gives homeless women a second chance.

All in all, Anne and Kirk Douglas have given $50 million to five nonprofit groups over the years. One such recipient is the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

The couple’s generosity doesn’t end there, and it’s the bond that holds them together.

“Is there a formula [to staying together]?” Harvey asked them.

The actor responded with a smile: “Yes, there’s a formula. You have to fall in love.”

Correction: The Douglases did meet in Paris but it was during the film ACT OF LOVE rather than LUST FOR LIFE. 

 

Kirk Douglas looks back at 60 years of marriage

--Los Angeles Times June 20, 2014

1954: Las Vegas wedding

In 1953, I was a successful movie star arriving in Paris for the first time. I knew no one and spoke no French. It wouldn't be a problem. Beautiful Parisians might love to be seen with Kirk Douglas, the Hollywood leading man, even though they never would have looked twice at Issur Danielovitch, the ragman's son from Amsterdam, N.Y. The way I figured it, we both got pleasure from these fleeting entanglements.

So it was a big blow to my theory when I met Anne Buydens. She came in to help me with press and translation during the filming of "Act of Love." I offered her a job, and she said, "No, I can recommend someone else, but I will be going to New York soon." OK, I thought, I'll take this young beauty to dinner at the most romantic (and expensive) restaurant in Paris, La Tour d'Argent. She's sure to approve of my taste and my ability to get a last-minute reservation. Once again, she turned me down. "No, I think I'll stay in and have some scrambled eggs," she said.

The fact that I didn't impress her certainly impressed me, and I was determined to win her over. Anyone who knows my story knows the rest. She did join the production, and we courted in France and Italy. After I returned to the States, I invited her to come for a visit.

We had a wonderful time together. And then she announced she was going back to Paris. I'm not proud that it took me until then to realize how much I didn't want to lose her, and I'm not proud that I put so little thought into our wedding. I was making "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" for Walt Disney, working six days a week. I left the studio on a Saturday afternoon and picked up Anne, my lawyer and my publicist, and we flew to Las Vegas. Anne and I joined our lives before a hastily summoned justice of the peace. I was eager to get the vows over with so I could take everyone to my pal Frank Sinatra's show at the Desert Inn.

I don't know why Anne stuck with me through those early decades. 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. Everyone loved her, including my first wife and my two eldest sons, Michael and Joel.

Anne never tried to change me, but she never hesitated to speak her mind — usually gently and often with great humor and subtlety. But she did change me and very much for the better. I began to see my native land through the eyes of a naturalized American who had lived through Nazi occupation and the terrors of war. I learned not to take our rights and privileges for granted. Anne joined me as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. Information Agency, and we traveled to more than 40 countries, paying our own way. I received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but she should have received one too.

Over the years, Anne has run my production company, raised our sons and encouraged me to join her in good works. We rebuilt 401 Los Angeles Unified School District playgrounds. Through the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission, we have seen hundreds of women turn around their lives. There is Harry's Haven (named after my father) for Alzheimer patients at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills and, of course, the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

Kirk and Anne Douglas

 

Anne has saved my life more than a few times. With uncanny intuition, she refused to let me join Mike Todd on his fateful flight east. We stopped speaking over that one until we heard the news the next morning. Elizabeth Taylor became a widow, but not my Anne. When I had my stroke 17 years ago, she drove me to the hospital like a Formula One racer. And when I wallowed in self-pity because of my impaired speech, she made me get up and work with a speech therapist. To this day, I write her love poems; to this day, she continues to give me tough love.

On our golden anniversary in 2004, I finally gave Anne the wedding she never had at Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills, with some 300 guests sharing our happiness. She surprised me by converting to Judaism before the ceremony, which was held under the traditional wedding canopy with our friend Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple officiating.

This year, I was superstitious about planning a celebration too far in advance of our May 29 diamond anniversary. After all, I am only three years shy of my personal centennial, and my Spartacus days are well behind me. But my son Michael and his wife, Catherine, were determined to help us celebrate our 60th anniversary in style.

They surprised us with a magical night with family and friends. Once again, we were at Greystone Manor, now transformed into an alfresco Cocoanut Grove-style nightclub. Anne looked as glamorous as she had the day she walked into my life in Paris, and I was proud to be by her side. A newly engaged friend asked, "Kirk, why did your marriage last so long?"

"That's easy," I replied. "I just told my wife, if you ever leave me, I'm going with you!"

Douglas, an actor-producer and the author of 10 books, lives in Beverly Hills. He recently completed a book of original poems titled "Life Could Be Verse."

 

 

 

Ace in the Hole – Philip French on Billy Wilder's masterly newspaper film noir

--The Guardian (U.K.) 7 June 2014

ace in the hole

Billy Wilder worked as a hard-nosed newspaperman on tabloids in Vienna and Berlin during the 1920s and brought this experience to bear on Ace in the Hole. Made immediately after the corrosive Sunset Boulevard, it was his first film as producer-director following the dissolution of his longtime partnership with the older, relatively conservative Charles Brackett, with whom he'd worked since arriving in California as an exile from Nazi Germany. Now regarded as an uncompromising masterpiece, it was a major box-office and critical failure in the States at the height of McCarthyism, despite a memorable performance by Kirk Douglas, who is at his most uningratiatingly forceful in virtually every scene.

Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a flamboyant reporter fired from big city papers for his unscrupulous conduct, drinking and lechery, trying to make a comeback in small-town New Mexico, working for a dull, honest editor whose motto, embroidered on framed samplers in his office, is "Tell the Truth". After a year of $60-a-week tedium, Chuck suddenly finds his ace in the hole by exploiting the plight of a sad loser, Leo Mimosa, who's managing a run-down diner and filling station in the desert with his disillusioned young wife Lorraine (a tough, vulnerable Jan Sterling). Leo is trapped underground in an ancient Indian cave dwelling, and Chuck manipulates Lorraine and a local sheriff into helping him protract the rescue so he can transform the incident into a national news story that will attract sightseers and catapult him back into the big time. "I've met a lotta hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you, you're 20 minutes," Lorraine tells Chuck, half admiringly.

Like the tarnished heroes of Double IndemnityThe Lost Weekend,Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment, Tatum is a characteristic Wilder protagonist, a self-loathing anti-hero on his way down and eventually finding redemption or salvation as he approaches rock bottom. Shot in a stark, tabloid black-and-white by Charles B Lang (the interior darkness contrasted with the blinding desert light), the film is closely based on a sensational real event from the 1920s that also inspired Robert Penn Warren's 1959 novel The Cave, and is morally gripping and unsentimental in its refusal to give the audience an easy point of sympathetic identification.

Why Billy Wilder's 'Ace in the Hole' Is Still Relevant Today

--from filmschoolrejects.com May 6, 2014

Ace in the Hole Movie Newspaper

Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now.

Today, Billy Wilder’s entertainingly cynical 1951 film, Ace in the Hole, gets a gorgeous Blu-Ray treatment from Criterion, and it’s a perfect movie to start this column with. In it, a down-on-his-luck reporter, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) stumbles upon a story about a man, Leo (Richard Benedict), trapped in a mountain tunnel. Tatum decides to sensationalize, exploit, and manipulate Leo’s misfortune into a media frenzy to help resurrect his career.

While the kind of print journalism we see in Wilder’s film may be dying, its representation of media and its consumers translates perfectly to our age of pay walls, YouTube and digital subscriptions.

Here are five ways Ace in the Hole evokes not only its own time, but ours.

 

The Battle of Content Styles

There’s two kinds of journalism at war in Ace in the Hole. On the one side is Jacob Boot (Porter Hall), the editor of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin. He cares less about how many people read his paper than he does about the quality and integrity of what they read. On the other side is Tatum (Kirk Douglas), who cares only about how many people read his writing. He achieves that with sensationalist, manipulative content that’s cynically designed to draw as many eyeballs as possible.

It’s the very same battle currently playing out between two content models: outlets that value quality writing that compels with ideas, and places like BuzzFeed that value writing that props up GIFs and quizzes designed solely to generate as much traffic as possible. Tatum is a linkbait pioneer.

Our Love of Viral Sensations

When hundreds of people catch wind of Tatum’s coverage of Leo’s story, they flock in droves – in cars, buses, trains – to experience the sensation for themselves.

Consider this: picture the Mountain of the Seven Vultures (where Leo is trapped) as a piece of online content, each of the cars pulling into its parking lot as a click of a mouse button, and every person as a unique page view. Now you’ve got yourself a perfect visual representation of behavior around an online viral sensation.

Internet may not have existed when Ace in the Hole was released, but the movie understands how content that amazes or outrages ignites our interest fast. What’s more, it understands why: our insatiable need to be in the know.

The Dangers of Journalistic Overreaching

The degree to which Tatum in Ace in the Hole pursues and inserts himself into his story is undoubtedly hyperbolized. But it isn’t implausible. Even today. Watch Douglas’ character keep pushing his story until it eventually results in a death, and it’s easy to recall this year’s controversy around Caleb Hannan – a Grantlandreporter who kept pushing a story until it resulted in a death.

On a lesser scale, there was also how Jezebel made itself the news when they offered $10,000 for untouched images of a Lena Dunham Vogueshoot.  What should have been a worthy story about magazines’ tendency to digitally manipulate actresses images, became all about the outlet instead.

All of which recalls a point in Ace in the Hole where Douglas’ character says, “I don’t make things happen. All I do is write about them.” His eventual betrayal of that is perhaps the movie’s greatest cautionary tale. It’s a warning that’s clearly still worth listening to today.

“Everybody in This Game Has to Make Up Their Own Mind”

Towards the end of Ace in the Hole, Herbie Cook, the young Albuquerque News-Bulletin photographer, finds himself with a career choice: stay with Boot or go to New York with Tatum. The specifics of Cook’s decision may not readily apply to our media careerists, but the situation does. Aspiring writers now are presented with no end of diverging paths. One of the most significant ones was highlighted by Entertainment Weekly’s announcement that they would move toward not paying writers, but instead offering vague promises of prestige.

Some people argued it’s worth it for aspiring writers to work for free in order to build a portfolio so they can eventually move on to paying gigs. Others argued writers should never write for free and doing so damages the profession for everyone. Which is why Tatum’s sentiments feel truer now than ever. Increasingly writers – like Cook – are going to have to think hard about what they’re willing to do to achieve the success they want.

What’s News Today is Ancient Tomorrow

“It’s a good story today. Tomorrow, they’ll wrap it in fish,” says Tatum, predicting the fate of his own story. He’s proven right. The moment Leo dies, the army of rubberneckers – who gathered to be near Leo’s sensationalized plight – disappear as quickly as they appeared. Their return to their normal lives restarts the moment their cars hit the road.

It’s a familiar phenomenon today: our interest in news events can flare up as suddenly as they’re extinguished, moving on to the next outrage or story in the 24/7 news cycle. And then we forget so easily. How often do we think about the victims of a tragic event months after press coverage has dwindled? Or, consider this: are we as invested now in the horror of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as we were several weeks ago? It’s not a pleasant truth about human nature, but it is one Ace in the Hole understands, and one that’s grown all the more true: No matter how captivating a story may be, it can be quickly forgotten when we move on with our lives and stop peering into the keyhole of someone else’s.







Pope Francis Is a Good Man for All Religions

--Huffington Post January 9, 2014

 I am a Jew who loves the Pope. I have always said, "don't be too religious." However, Pope Francis is a good man for all religions. He is a humble person who identifies with the poor.

Those qualities are how the Pope has conducted his papacy so far. During his New Year's Day message he encouraged us all to "search for peace" and "build a society that is truly more just and united." He reprimanded a German bishop for his lavish spending. And, when asked about his views on same-sex marriage he responded, "Who am I to judge?" He has made hard decisions while also being kind and loving to those in need.

He is a man who wants us to understand each other no matter what our differences may be and to do our best to help one another. And that is the core of what every religion should be.

Fiddler on my Roof

--Jerusalem Post  November 3, 2013

Chaim Topol 521

My old friend Chaim Topol recently came to Los Angeles for the day. We had lunch and reminisced about 1966.

At that time, I was making the motion picture Cast a Giant Shadow in Israel. I gave the young Israeli actor a job.

From then on, we kept our friendship alive with visits to London and New York. I think the most impressive thing about Chaim Topol was his portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. I saw him play it three times.

Of course, Fiddler on the Roof was a tremendous hit. The last time I saw Chaim in the play was a few years ago. He drew a wonderful portrait of me. I thought a long time about how I could pay him back.

Finally, it came to me – everyone talks about Fiddler on the Roof, but did they ever see a fiddler on the roof? I had the sculptor Aris Demetrios make a sculpture of a fiddler, and I placed it on top of my roof. At night the lights make it visible to everyone. Finally, fiddler on the roof is on the roof! Chaim Topol always makes me think of the many times I have been to Israel. I am unable to travel so far now, but I have wonderful memories of Israel. And it was satisfying to discuss them with my friend Chaim.