- Created on Tuesday, 23 July 2013
- Written by Kirk Douglas
--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.
On Jews & Justice
- Created on Tuesday, 23 July 2013
- Written by Kirk Douglas
--Huffington Post July 1, 2013
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."
Kirk Douglas, Jewish ‘Ragman’s Son’ Turned Movie Star, Still Earning Accolades at 96
- Created on Saturday, 20 April 2013
- Written by Robert Gluck
--10 April 2013 JNS.org
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 JNS.org.
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 JNS.org. “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 Aish.com.
“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 Aish.com.
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 JNS.org 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
- Created on Saturday, 01 December 2012
- Written by Scott Feinberg
--Hollywood Reporter, November 20, 2012
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.
Kirk Douglas's Mission
- Created on Friday, 02 November 2012
- Written by Monica Parker
--from Express.co.uk October 26, 2012
Kirk Douglas with wife Anne, daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones and son Michael
THIS year Kirk Douglas handed charities £35m so why does Hollywood’s most generous star want to give even more away?
His name alone can conjure up Hollywood’s golden age when the stars really were stars. With his athletic physique, chiselled jaw and famously dimpled chin Kirk Douglas was one of the silver screen’s most iconic action heroes and a sex symbol to rival any of today’s A-listers.
Today at 95 he is one of the last few Hollywood greats still standing.
But he isn’t one to live off tales of past triumphs or spend his time gazing fondly on his Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and his honorary Oscar.
As distinguished as his film-making career has been there is another legacy Douglas is eager to leave behind – one which he considers of far greater importance than his acting.
He has become Hollywood’s most generous philanthropist, giving away his millions to causes aimed at helping the poor and disadvantaged.
Through the Douglas Foundation, the charity he set up with his wife Anne, he recently pledged a massive £35million to several non-profit organisations.
They include an Alzheimer’s unit at a home for retired fi lm industry workers, a Los Angeles shelter for homeless women and St Lawrence University in New York (his alma mater), so that it can extend its scholarship programme for ethnic minority students.
Previously he and Anne refurbished and equipped more than 400 run-down playgrounds in Los Angeles.
And he regularly talks to pupils at the Kirk Douglas High School in Northridge, California, which assists teenagers intending to drop out of school to complete their education – as an inducement he personally gives a $500 cheque
to each pupil who graduates.
How fitting that Douglas’s most celebrated movie role was that of the rebel Spartacus, who fought to lead the hopeless to a better life.
We are used to big-name actors intent on “making a difference” to people’s lives. Often it’s by sticking their noses into politics, which they generally do from a position of stunning naiveté.
At its extreme we had the case of Jane Fonda in her Hanoi Jane phase during the Vietnam war when she paid a
courtesy call on the enemy and denounced her own country.
(Lord Haw-Haw was hanged for that kind of thing.) More recently there was the spectacle of Sean Penn cosying
up to the Argentine president and making fatuous utterances about Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands.
Such crass Hollywood posturing is in sharp contrast to Douglas’s genuine contribution to the common good.
Politically he leans towards the Left but has remarked: “If you’re a Democrat or if you’re a Republican always do what’s good for your country. I, the product of immigrants, realise what this country has done for me.”
This simple statement goes to the heart of what drives his remarkable generosity: his origins as the son of Jewish refugees from Russia. Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916 in upstate New York.
As a boy he sold snacks to mill workers and delivered newspapers to earn enough money to buy milk and bread. He found living in a family of six sisters stifling: “I was dying to get out,” he said.
“It lit a fire under me.”
He discovered a love of acting while at high school but had to work at more than 40 different jobs before he could earn his living as an actor.
He battled his way to fame and riches but never forgot his tough background and its lessons.
“I am not the hero of my life story,” he once said.
“The heroes are my mother and father. They scraped together enough money to sail steerage class to America to give their family a better life.”
DOUGLAS continues: “All my life I heard my mother say, ‘America, such a wonderful land’. When she saw me work
my way through college and go into the field that I love, acting, I would constantly hear that phrase.
Finally after years of being so wrapped up in myself and my career I realised what my mother was saying.
"America is a land of opportunity and promise. A place where everyone has a chance.”
Many Left-leaning actors – Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris and Dustin Hoffman spring to mind – spend a lot of their time publicly criticising America, whose many advantages they take for granted.
Not so Kirk Douglas, who recognises how much he owes it and wants to give something back.
But over the past two decades his philanthropy has been spurred on by other crucial life experiences.
In 1991 (already wearing a pacemaker for his heart) a near-fatal helicopter crash left him with severe back pain.
Then five years later a stroke deprived him of the ability to walk and speak and triggered a deep depression.
He later wrote: “After my stroke the thought that I would never make another movie echoed in my brain. I just wanted to lie in bed and do nothing. But my wife would say, ‘Get your ass out of bed and work on your speech therapy.’ That helped.”
He worked hard to regain his mobility and his speech. But best of all he found an antidote to his despair: “Depression is the greatest obstacle of old age. You lose so many friends, you get lonely and think too much
about yourself. Try to think of others. I felt better if I did something for other people. That satisfaction is priceless. In
my golden years I’ve leaned thatt you can’t know how to live until you know how to give.’
Another consequence of his stroke was that after decades of being preoccupied with his career and enjoying the glamorous lifestyle typical of a star – along with the infidelities which that generally entails – he rediscovered his
religious roots and embraced Judaism.
Always a supporter of Israel, with his customary impartiality Douglas sponsored playgrounds and community
centres in both Jewish and Arab areas of Jerusalem.
AT the Jerusalem International Film Festival in 2000 the city’s mayor Ehud Olmert honoured Douglas with an award for his philanthropy and “love for the city”. Douglas told an adoring audience that his stroke had given him a renewed commitment to Judaism and that he felt very close to Israel.
“Maybe I’ll move here some day,” he quipped.
The festival included a screening of his film Diamonds which marked his return to the cinema. In it he played the part of a Jewish boxer recovering from a stroke.
The previous year after studying with a rabbi he’d had his second bar mitzvah at the age of 83.
“What an event!” he recalled in his 2007 memoir Let’s Face It: 90 Years Of Living, Loving And Learning.
“It happened at the Sinai Temple in Beverly Hills. So many people came to witness this grey-haired man say
a young boy’s prayer, Larry King, Karl Malden, my son Michael, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Red Buttons, Don Rickles, Roddy McDowall.
Most people present didn’t understand the service but they all understood the speech I made, ‘I promise to be a good boy.’ ”
I think we can all agree he has kept that promise and then some.
Kirk Douglas on Life & Spartacus
- Created on Saturday, 20 October 2012
- Written by Proof Interactive
MY parents were illiterate Russian peasants. They escaped by boarding a ship to America.
Because of that, I had the opportunity to go to college and go into the field I wanted. Everybody here can become a moviestar or a millionaire.
In America, you have the chance to be anything, anyone. One of our most famous presidents, Ronald Reagan, was an actor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California.
When you've had a stroke, you have to talk slowly to be understood. I've discovered when I do that, people listen - they think I'm going to say something important! Well, I do have something important to say. I've been working in Hollywood for more than 60 years and I've made more than 85 movies.
The thing I'm most proud of is breaking the blacklist. I wrote my new book, I Am Spartacus!: Making A Film, Breaking the Blacklist, about that period in my life. It was a terrible time when people were being accused of being communists and the movie industry came under attack. The studios banned people who were on the blacklist.
When I made Spartacus, I hired the best writer, but I couldn't use his real name. He was on the list, so he started off under a pseudonym. But when the film was finished, I felt terrible about not giving him his true name. I agonised. People said, "If you use his real name, you'll never work in this town again!" But I was stubborn and did it anyway. The sky didn't fall in and the blacklist was broken. I'm very proud of that.
At the time, Spartacus was one of the most expensive films ever made. The budget started at $4 million, which was a lot of money 50 years ago, and it crept up to $12 million. That's the same as making a picture now for $100 million.
It was a beautiful film. The script attracted Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis and me. There was a wonderful scene with Laurence and Tony in the pool, but there were undertones of homosexuality and they wouldn't allow that scene to be shown. But now, in the new version they're releasing, that scene has been included.
At 95, I'm always asked, "What are the lessons you've learnt from life?" To me, the most important thing is that a person should always try to help another person. My charity, The Douglas Foundation, recently gave $50 million to the Motion Picture & Television Fund's retirement home. It made me feel so good to do that. Helping other people makes me happy.
My greatest joy comes from my wife, Anne. We've been married for 58 years, and married twice! [Douglas has four sons, Michael, 68, Joel, 65, Peter, 56,and Eric, deceased.] The first time was in Las Vegas. I thought my wife, whom I'd met in Paris, spoke perfect English, but when the justice of the peace said, "Repeat after me: I, Anne, take thee, Kirk, as my lawful wedded husband," she misunderstood him and said, "I take thee, Kirk, as my awful wedded husband." I said we'd get married again, and we did, in 2004.
I know I'm lucky; people in Hollywood don't always stay married. There's a secret to our success. In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote, 'Let there be spaces in your togetherness.' I think my wife has always been her own person and she allows me to be myself, too. We have a ritual where we sit in front of the fireplace to talk every night before dinner. Communication is so important. At that moment of the day, we're just two people who love each other.