Strictly Speaking

--The Huffington Post, October 10, 2013

I had a stroke about 15 years ago. I lost my voice. Now what does an actor do who loses his voice -- give up? No, he waits for silent pictures to come back.

I can joke about it now, but it wasn't funny then. I work on my voice with a speech therapist, Betty McMicken. We get together at least once a week. Part of my homework consists of poems that she writes and sends to me. The poems contain many polysyllabic phrases. She expects me to practice reciting the poems out loud and exercise my speech. Many of her poems are very interesting. She wrote the poem "Words" recently. I want to share it with you:


By Betty McMicken

It seems the word mediocrity
Would sum up our Senate and House
They espouse
Weakness, limitations failings, frailty
Feebleness, flimsiness, debility, fragility
The House of Bums
The Senate of Bunglers
We should join the party of Grumblers
To lobby night and day
Till the bunglers and bums
Are hauled away
With only penurious pensions
It seems the word injurious
Could be substituted for penurious

As in:
Harmful, damaging, adverse
Detrimental, deleterious, ruinous
That sums their effect on this land
Wouldn't it be grand
If we all started over
Held the bums for libel
They all swore with hand on Bible
To uphold the Constitution
They need a thorough ablution
As the government grinds to a halt 

Deadlock, Impasse, Stalemate
Gridlock, Standstill, Log jam
Words we wish would cram
Delegates collective ass
We need to vote these bums out
Without a doubt, we need a turn about
Of representatives with common sense
What we have now is reprehensible
Blameworthy, liable, culpable, and guilty

Will Technology Replace Thinking?

--Huntington Post, October 3, 2013

When you get to be 96 years of age the road ahead is short, so you look back at the road you have traveled for almost 100 years.

The first thing you come up against is technology. One night we took our grandchildren out for dinner. I looked around the table. Jason, the youngest, was playing games with his cellphone; Ryan, 12 years old, had his head under the table and I assumed he was watching his cellphone; Tyler, 16, and his sister Kelsey, 18, were both involved on their cellphones too. Lisa, their mother, was frantically searching in her purse for her ringing cellphone; and Peter, their father, was leaning back, laughing loudly, on his cellphone. I looked across the table at my wife. We both shrugged.

Outside is worse. People walking down the streets, holding objects against their ears, either listening or talking. When they're speaking it looks like they're just crazy people talking to themselves. They cross the road without looking, still talking, and people driving their cars are doing the same thing. Is what they're saying really that important?

I don't have a cellphone. I don't want one. But my wife secretly had a computer installed in my room. They taught me how to play Spider Solitaire. I quickly became an addict -- just solitaire, nothing else. I don't press any other keys because I'm sure it would cause an explosion.

What will become of our world in the next 100 years? Will our children and grandchildren even learn how to write or spell? Will technology replace thinking?

I just realized that you're probably reading this on your computer or on your cellphone while you're driving or crossing the street.

Watch where you're going!

Reflections on the Day of Atonement

--Huffington Post, September 12, 2013

This Friday at sundown marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. In my faith, it is also called the day of atonement. On this day, Jews all over the world spend the day fasting and reflecting on our lives and deeds. It is a day of repentance.

There can never be forgiveness if we do not first admit our mistakes. Five years ago we surprised the world and elected our first black president. We thought we had finally turned a corner in the issue of race. Yet, polling shows that racism actually increased during Barack Obama's first term in office.

Racism is a sin for which we have never atoned. It is a grave injustice that must be addressed before we can ever truly move forward as one nation.

I organized a petition drive that called on the United States Congress to pass a resolution of apology. A reporter asked me at the time, "Why is this so important to you, Mr. Douglas? You're not black."

"But I'm a Jew. My people were slaves several thousand years ago in Egypt." While he was writing, I couldn't resist: "And you know, I'm still waiting for an apology from Egypt."

I was very disappointed that the resolution of apology did not pass the full Congress. I still am. Because since the end of the Civil War, racism continues -- even flourishes - in many parts of our nation.

The decision to include slavery in our new nation was morally wrong.

A month before he was assassinated, President Lincoln said, "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery, I fell a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

Since then, we've had 150 years of lynchings, segregated water fountains and lunch counters, fire hoses and dogs unleashed on civil rights activists and now, in 2013, new voter registration restrictions aimed directly at African-Americans.

Apologies are not excuses for bad behavior, but they are a good start on the road to repentance.

Let's Live Longer

--Huffigton Post August 28,2013

Children smoking cigarettes? Yes! The tobacco industry has encouraged the making of cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos for children. They are flavored: white grape, strawberry, pineapple and blueberry. They are selling like hotcakes to the future customers for smoking tobacco. The FDA is trying to put an end to it. Why are they so slow? They should have prevented the making of those cigarettes when they started. Smoking is a deadly thing (more than five million each year worldwide).

Movies should be blamed for encouraging smoking. Look at some of the old pictures, everybody is smoking. Actors love it because it gives them something to do with their hands. I came to Hollywood 68 years ago to play in the movie, The Three Loves of Martha Iverswith Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. I was very excited. In my first scene the director stopped me. "Oh," I thought, "what have I done wrong?"

"Kirk I think you should be smoking a cigarette in this scene."

"Oh, I don't smoke." "

"Well it's easy to learn."

And the prop man gave me a cigarette. I smoked my first cigarette and I continued the scene. I didn't finish it because I had to run to the restroom to throw up. But, the director was right, it's easy to learn and I became a two pack a day smoker for some time.

One day, after several years of smoking, I looked at my smoldering cigarette. What am I doing? I inhale the smoke, my lungs take all the impurities out of it and I blow out nice clean smoke.

I thought of my father. Years ago, the doctor told him, "Harry, if you continue to smoke you will die." My father stopped smoking immediately. Here's how he did it: He carried one cigarette in his breast pocket. When he had the urge to smoke he took out the cigarette, stared at it, and in his Russian accent he roared "Who's stronger, you -- me? I stronger!" He put the cigarette back in his breast pocket and never smoked again.

I tried the same thing. It worked! I haven't smoked in over 40 years (I am 96 years old). Of all the drugs, smoking has the highest death rate -- more than 400,000 people per year (which is more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined).

Stop smoking and live longer!

On Rejection

--Huntington Post August 16, 2013

Actors are often described as "people who love rejection." That's not true. Every year hundreds of young boys and girls come to New York or Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actor and having their name in lights. They never expect to meet with rejection. "Too fat! Too thin! Too loud! Too soft!" Most of them go home. I stayed.

I was excited about my first acting venture. My agent sent me to the apartment of Mae West. Most young people today don't remember her. She was a diva who traveled all over the world in a stage show with six adoring males. At the appointed time, 7:00 in the evening, I went to her apartment and was ushered into the living room. I found about ten good-looking guys also waiting for the audition. Mae West sashayed down the staircase. She was, surprisingly, a small woman walking on dangerously high heels. She looked around at the applicants. I was the first one to be rejected.

Finally, I got an audition for a small part in a Russian play with an all-star cast. My part was to be a young Russian soldier who was getting ready to go to war. He is saying goodbye to the trees around his house. In the middle of the stage, facing the audience, he cries out to the trees, "YAHOO!!" I didn't get the part. However, as a small consolation prize, they still gave me a job. When the actor who got the part for which I was rejected called out "YAHOO!!," I was his echo. I stood offstage and murmured, "yahoo!" softly from the wings.

I withstood many more rejections, but finally I got a part in the play The Wind is Ninety. The New York Times critic said, "Kirk Douglas was nothing short of superb." That night in bed I poked my wife in her ribs, "Nothing! Why did he say 'nothing'? Why didn't he just say, Kirk Douglas was superb?" It takes me a long time to get over rejection.

Fast forward two decades. I was the father of a college-age son, Michael. Now every Jewish father wants his son (and now his daughter) to become a doctor or a lawyer. When Michael entered college in Santa Barbara he was going to be a lawyer. I was happy. But after a month at school he told me he was going to be in a play. I was surprised. It was a small part in Shakespeare's, As You Like It. I drove up from LA to see it. He only had a few lines. After the performance, he asked me, "How was I, dad?" I said, "Michael, you were awful. I couldn't understand a word that Shakespeare had written for you." I thought my rejection of his performance would end any interest he had in becoming an actor. After a few months, I got call from him, "Dad, I'm going to do another a play." I thought, My God, doesn't this guy ever learn? But I went up to see it. It was a two-character play. After the performance he asked again, "How was I, Dad?" "Michael," I said, "you were very good."

Michael never asks me for anything. I went up to visit him in Santa Barbara; he was living in a ramshackle building. He insisted that I use the cot and he slept on the floor. During the night, I relieved myself outside over the porch. In the morning, I walked over to the toilet in another ramshackle building. I went in and there was a naked girl leaving the toilet with a cheery, "Good morning!" Of course, Michael never became a lawyer and embarked on a career as a professional actor. At the beginning, he suffered through the rejection that all actors experience. How they handle that rejection determines whether they ever have a career. Finally, he landed a part with Karl Malden on a TV series, The Streets of San Francisco. That was his first big break.

Some years earlier, I'd read a book that I loved, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. I was enchanted by it. I thought the leading role, McMurphy, was perfect for me. I bought the rights to the book, but I had a lot of trouble getting a studio interested in it as a film. So I hired a writer and we turned it into a play. I went to New York and performed it on Broadway for six months. The critics weren't excited about it, so I went back to Hollywood to make it into a movie. I tried for years. No studio wanted to do a movie about an insane asylum. I didn't know what to do. I was so eager to play the part of McMurphy.

Michael was doing very well. He just finished shooting The Streets of San Francisco. One day, he said to me, "How is it going with Cuckoo's Nest"?

"Nobody wants to do it."

There was a long pause, and then he said, "Dad, can I try to do something with it?"

I looked at him and thought, I have been trying for years to get this produced. What can hedo with it?

But I said, "Okay, you can try."

Within a year he got the money, a director and was casting the picture. I was very proud of him, but I was so happy because now I would have the chance to play the coveted role of McMurphy. I went to visit him. "Michael," I said, "I'm so proud of you! Who's your director?"

"You wouldn't know him."

"But who is he?"

"He's a foreigner. Milos Foreman."

"I know Milos! I met him in Prague. He knows me!"

"Well, he thinks you're too old for the part. He wants Jack Nicholson."

Now I paused, for a long time. Finally I said, "Who's he?"

I was happy that Michael put it all together but I was so disappointed that I would not be playing McMurphy. I was secretly anxious to see how badly someone else would muck up my part. I saw the movie for the first time at the premiere. Despite my personal feelings of rejection, I had to admit it was a great movie. Jack Nicholson was brilliant!

But even as old as (apparently) I now was, rejection still hurt. Yet, for me, it was a valuable lesson. Sometimes what you think you want is not what you really need. At this point in my life, Michael's success was more important to me than my own.

Michael has gone on to a tremendously successful career. And he didn't need any help from me. On my birthday, he gave me a beautiful new car. I sat in the driver's seat and I saw a note on the wheel. I recognized Michael's handwriting:

"Dad, you always say I never asked you for anything but you gave me a lot. Love, Michael"

What is the opposite of rejection? Acceptance.

Not just from others -- from yourself.

Love Lasts

--Huffington Post July 16, 2013

I was pleased to read a front page article in the New York Times about my friend Rabbi David Wolpe. He recently made the morally courageous decision to officiate at the marriages of gay couples now that same-sex marriages is the law of California.

Last year, Newsweek named him the most influential rabbi in America. I know David well. We have discussed many subjects but we never touched on same sex marriages. Many in the congregation criticized him. They don't realize that to be against same-sex marriage is to be against love.

I asked him, "How did the young people react? How did your 16-year-old daughter Samara react?" The rabbi laughed, "She said, 'Dad, what took you so long?'"

Out of the mouths of babes.

Young people listen to the love songs that declare a love higher than the sky and deeper than the ocean. But they often confuse love with the sexual urges that now overwhelm them. As life goes on they will be saddened as those urges dwindle. Sex may fade, but love... love lasts. They don't realize that the most important element of love will be waiting for them. Romance. Beautiful romance. This is how I express it to my wife:

Romance Begins at 80 
And I ought to know. 
I live with a girl
Who will tell you so.

I sit by her bath
As she soaks in the tub.
Then help her out
For a strong towel rub.

She likes that a lot
But before I tire.
It's time to pour the wine
And start lighting the fire.

As the fire crackles,
We talk of the past
We met over 50 years ago
Did you think it would last?

The glasses are empty
The ashes are red
Thanks for a lovely evening 
But it's time for bed.

When you get to 90
Cherish the memories you had
Those are the only things
That can make you feel glad.

"Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." -Browning

On Jews & Justice

--Huffington Post July 1, 2013

I was six-years-old when I had my first contact with anti-Semitism. I came home from school one day with a bloody nose, crying to my mother -- "Yanak hit me!"

"Why?" my mother asked.

"He said I killed Jesus Christ."

"What? You killed who?"

"I didn't kill him. I don't even know who he is."

My nose stopped bleeding and soon I was playing again with Yanack as if nothing had happened between us. It wasn't his fault, because that was what he had been taught to believe by his father. And come to think of it, it wasn't Yanack's father's fault either because he'd certainly been taught the same thing by his father. Maybe none of them could read, because if they had actually studied their New Testament, they would have learned the truth: that the Romans were the ones who crucified Jesus. Only the Romans had the right of public execution. The Jews were a tiny people subject to the laws of the Roman empire.

Rodgers and Hammerstein dealt with the subject of learned prejudice when they wrote the highly successful musical comedy South PacificSouth Pacific was a hit on Broadway but when they started the tour in the Southern states they ran into trouble. The state of Georgia introduced a bill outlawing South Pacific because it contained "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." The claim was based on one song, "You've Got to be Carefully Taught." Here are the lyrics:

"You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" (Lyrics from South Pacific)

You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.

The Southern legislators maintained that this "song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life." Rodgers and Hammerstein fought stubbornly against them and the song stayed in.

I've lived a long time. Almost 97 years. I've seen a lot of fear-mongering, bigotry and discrimination. But now I'm also seeing a modern generation of children who view the world very differently than their parents and grandparents. For them, no amount of teaching will make them hate people simply because they're different. That gives me hope.

 Meanwhile, I will never forget my first bloody nose. It always reminds me of why I'm proud to be a Jew. As Mark Twain wrote, "[the Jew] has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him."

America's Cowboy Days Are Over

--Huffington Post June 6, 2013

Under the flooring of my dressing room is a safe. In it are two guns that I used to shoot the bad guys in movies and a silver plated revolver with my name engraved on it which was given to me by some crazy fan. People take their movie heroes very seriously. I often played the good cowboy on screen, riding in to save the day. Now, everybody thinks he is a cowboy too. That frightens me. We have become a cowboy country with too many guns.

I put my guns in the floor safe very long ago so that my children would not be able to find them. I was reminded of that safe when I read in the papers that a five-year-old boy shot and killed his two-year-old sister. How did he get the gun?

I remember many, many years ago when I was a little boy. Somehow, I was climbing around in the house and I found a revolver on top of a cabinet. I took the gun, ran into the kitchen waving my find. My father grabbed the gun from me and gave me a spanking. It was really his fault because I learned later that he had been in a fight at the saloon with a guy who had a gun. My father was a tough guy in those days and he subdued the guy and took his gun. I guess he thought he had placed it in a safe spot. There is no safe spot for kids.

I cannot understand the people who are against some form of gun control. They should be the first to welcome a message on making it more difficult to get a gun. Many of them seem to propose more guns being available to everybody. Why? Are they interested in making more money for the gun manufacturers? Are they politicians who just want to oppose the president in anything he endorses? It's incomprehensible to me.

I am 96-years-old. I have many grandchildren. I would hate to leave them a world where guns are easily accessible. Children don't vote, adults do. It's time to do something to make our children safer. America's cowboy days are over.

Kirk Douglas, Jewish ‘Ragman’s Son’ Turned Movie Star, Still Earning Accolades at 96

--10 April 2013

Kirk Douglas with Zubin Mehta, director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, in March 2011. Photo credit: Angela George.

Kirk Douglas and conductor Zubin Mehta


Film historian Bob Birchard describes an anti-Jewish prejudice in American culture that existed well into the 20th century, not at the level of the Nazi desire to exterminate the Jews, but rather looking down upon Jews as inferior to the mainstream Protestant class that developed in the U.S. Famed actor Kirk Douglas was raised against that social backdrop.

“This [anti-semitism] came about because of the large number of Jewish immigrants that came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the perception that they were undereducated and undercapitalized and somehow lesser than the old Anglo-Saxon stock. I think that is reflected in Kirk Douglas’s persona,” Birchard told

The 96-year-old Douglas—who was born Issur Danielovitch in New York to poor, Yiddush-speaking Jewish immigrants from Gomel (now Belarus) and embraced Judaism late in life after surviving a helicopter crash—has appeared in 70 films and has been nominated for the Academy Award of Best Actor three times, for “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” and “Lust for Life,” over the course of a six-decade acting career. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and the National Medal of the Arts in 2001. Listed by the American Film Institute lists as its 17th-greatest actor of all time, Douglas’s latest accolade came this February when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG).

According to Steven Poster, national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, when Douglas took the microphone at the ICG Publicists Award Luncheon, his vibrancy and youthful exuberance belied his 96 years.

“The ICG [at its ceremony this February] had just recognized a publicist member who is still active at 95 years old,” Poster told “The first thing Mr. Douglas said was, ‘I’d give anything to be 95 again. I’m 96.’ The audience erupted in laughter and applause. The depth of his career as an entertainer and the quality of the work that he did as one of America’s most important talents belies the fact that he has committed his life to his work in philanthropy and his involvement with his community.”

Growing up, Douglas sold snacks to mill workers to earn enough to buy milk and bread. Later, he delivered newspapers and worked at more than 40 jobs before becoming an actor. He legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II.

Douglas’s 1988 biography, The Ragman’s Son, notes that his father was denied work in the carpet mills because he was Jewish.

“So my father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. Even on [New York’s] Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”

Looking back on his career, Douglas has said the underlying theme of some of his films, including “The Juggler,” “Cast a Giant Shadow,” and “Remembrance of Love,” was “a Jew who doesn’t think of himself as one, and eventually finds his Jewishness.”

In February 1991, Douglas survived a helicopter crash in which two people died. This sparked a search for meaning that led him, after much study, to embrace the Jewish faith in which he was raised. He documented this spiritual journey in his 2001 book, Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (2001). In The Ragman’s Son, he wrote, “Years back, I tried to forget that I was a Jew.”

But Douglas’s attitude changed after the helicopter crash, and he went on to say that coming to grips with what it means to be a Jew “has been a theme in my life.” He explained his personal transition in a 2000 interview with

“Judaism and I parted ways a long time ago, when I was a poor kid growing up in Amsterdam, N.Y. Back then, I was pretty good in cheder, so the Jews of our community thought they would do a wonderful thing and collect enough money to send me to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. Holy Moses! That scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to be a rabbi. I wanted to be an actor. Believe me, the members of the Sons of Israel were persistent. I had nightmares—wearing long payos and a black hat. I had to work very hard to get out of it. But it took me a long time to learn that you don’t have to be a rabbi to be a Jew,” Douglas told

Although his children had a non-Jewish mother, Douglas has said in interviews that they were “aware culturally” of his “deep convictions,” and that he never tried to influence their own religious decisions. At the age of 83 in 1999, Douglas celebrated a second bar mitzvah ceremony.

Birchard—editor of the American Film Institute’s Catalog of Feature Films and the author of several books including Cecile B. DeMille’s Hollywood and Silent-era Filmmaking in Santa Barbara—told that Douglas “is interesting not only because of his presence as an actor onscreen but also for his role as a pioneering independent producer.”

“He’s produced a number of films that are classics, such as ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Paths of Glory,’” Birchard said. “He is one of the people who helped form a new approach to filmmaking. As the studio system began to break down in the 1950s, Douglas was among the pioneering independent producers who was able to cash in on his screen popularity in order to make films that might not otherwise have been made.”

Douglas is one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 1996, he received the Academy Honorary Award for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community. He also played an important role in breaking the Hollywood blacklist (also known as the “Hollywood Ten,” a list formed in the mid-20th century of actors, directors, musicians, and other entertainment professionals who were denied employment in their field due to political beliefs or associations) by making sure that screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s name was mentioned in the opening and ending credits of “Spartacus.”

“Trumbo had been blacklisted in the early 1950s, and his only credits after 1953 were under another name because he couldn’t write under his own name,” Birchard said. “It was certainly a principled stand by Douglas. Douglas felt Trumbo wrote the script so he was entitled to the credit. There were a few other companies and producers, not many, who defied the blacklist before, but Trumbo was certainly one of the more important of the blacklisted Hollywood people and it essentially broke the back of the blacklist.”



Blacklist Profile: An Actor Who Defied Hollywood

--Hollywood Reporter, November 20, 2012

Guest of Honor

Kirk Douglas -- who took a stand and hired banned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for "Spartacus" -- is one of several who talk to THR about putting their careers on the line by opposing the Blacklist.

In the late 1950s and early '60s, few people in Hollywood possessed as much power or popularity as the dimple-chinned Kirk Douglas, who was not only a matinee idol but, through his own production company, a behind-the-scenes player. In other words, he had as good a shot as anyone at taking the controversial stance of opposing the Blacklist, but he also had more to lose than most by doing so. So Douglas went out on a limb when he decided to make noted lefty Howard Fast's novel Spartacus into a film, and went even further when he hired Dalton Trumbo, who was one of the first writers to be blacklisted, to adapt it. Trumbo was one of the original Hollywood Ten who had refused to cooperate with HUAC, spent 11 months in prison and was still on the Blacklist.

Douglas ultimately decided that it was the right thing to do -- both professionally and morally -- to hire and give credit to Trumbo. And, as director Otto Preminger also found when he hired and gave screen credit to Trumbo for Exodus (1960), even though the move raised eyebrows, the world didn't end -- and the Blacklist began to fade away. "I have a letter he wrote to me thanking me," says Douglas, 95. " 'Kirk, I thank you for giving me back my name.' It was very touching. … It's nice to make a movie that people enjoy and that does something." In 1996, just two months after Douglas suffered a stroke, the Academy gave him an honorary Oscar "for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community." He recently chronicled his battle with the Blacklist in his 10th book, I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.