Kirk Douglas

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Kirk Douglas
Kirk douglas photo signed.JPG
Kirk Douglas, c. 1955
Issur Danielovitch

(1916-12-09) December 9, 1916 (age 102)
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesIzzy Demsky
  • Actor
  • producer
  • director
  • author
Years active1946–present
Political party Democratic
Diana Douglas
(m. 1943;div. 1951)

Anne Buydens (m. 1954)
Children Michael (b. 1944)
Joel (b. 1947)
Peter (b. 1955)
Eric (1958–2004)
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg United States of America
Service/branch Emblem of the United States Navy.svg United States Navy
Years of service1941–1944
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg LTJG [1]
Battles/wars World War II

Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch; Yiddish : ישור דניאלאוויטש; December 9, 1916) is an American actor, filmmaker, and author. A centenarian, he is one of the last surviving stars of the film industry's Golden Age. [2] After an impoverished childhood with immigrant parents and six sisters, he had his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Douglas soon developed into a leading box-office star throughout the 1950s, known for serious dramas, including westerns and war movies. During his career, he appeared in more than 90 movies. Douglas is known for his explosive acting style, which he displayed as a criminal defense attorney in Town Without Pity (1961).

Centenarian person who lives to or beyond the age of 100 years

A centenarian is a person who has reached the age of 100 years. Because life expectancies worldwide are below 100 years, the term is invariably associated with longevity. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that there were 316,600 living centenarians worldwide.

<i>The Strange Love of Martha Ivers</i> 1946 film by Lewis Milestone

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a 1946 American film noir drama directed by Lewis Milestone from a screenplay written by Robert Rossen, based on the short story "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John "Jack" Patrick. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, the film stars Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and features Kirk Douglas in his film debut.

Barbara Stanwyck American actress

Barbara Stanwyck was an American actress, model, and dancer. Starting as a Ziegfeld girl in the 1920s, she was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional for a strong, realistic screen presence. A favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Langand Frank Capra, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood before turning to television.


Douglas became an international star through positive reception for his leading role as an unscrupulous boxing hero in Champion (1949), which brought him his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Other early films include Young Man with a Horn (1950), playing opposite Lauren Bacall and Doris Day, Ace in the Hole opposite Jan Sterling (1951), and Detective Story (1951). He received a second Oscar nomination for his dramatic role in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), opposite Lana Turner, and his third nomination for portraying Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956).

Champion is a 1949 American film noir drama sport film based on a short story by Ring Lardner. It recounts the struggles of boxer "Midge" Kelly fighting his own demons while working to achieve success in the boxing ring. The drama was directed by Mark Robson, with cinematography by Franz Planer. The drama features Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, and Arthur Kennedy.

Academy Award for Best Actor Award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Award for Best Actor is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance in a leading role while working within the film industry. The award is traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Actress winner.

<i>Young Man with a Horn</i> (film) 1950 film by Michael Curtiz

Young Man with a Horn is a 1950 American musical drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael, and Juano Hernandez. It was based on a novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist. The film was produced by Jerry Wald. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North.

In 1955, he established Bryna Productions, which began producing films as varied as Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). In those two films, he collaborated with the then-relatively-unknown director Stanley Kubrick taking lead roles in both films. Douglas has been praised for helping to break the Hollywood blacklist by having Dalton Trumbo write Spartacus with an official on-screen credit. [3] He produced and starred in Lonely Are the Brave (1962), considered a classic, and Seven Days in May (1964), opposite Burt Lancaster, with whom he made seven films. In 1963, he starred in the Broadway play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , a story that he purchased and later gave to his son Michael Douglas, who turned it into an Oscar-winning film.

Bryna Productions was a film production company established by Kirk Douglas in 1955, inspired by the success of Burt Lancaster in moving into production. Named after Douglas' mother, Bryna Demsky, the company went on to produce 19 films between 1955 and 1986 with 6 more produced by Joel Productions, a Bryna subsidiary.

<i>Paths of Glory</i> 1957 Anti-war film directed by Stanley Kubrick

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb. Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack, after which Dax attempts to defend them against a charge of cowardice in a court-martial.

<i>Spartacus</i> (film) 1960 film directed by Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Dalton Trumbo, and based on the novel of the same title by Howard Fast. It is inspired by the life story of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in antiquity, and the events of the Third Servile War, and stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, Laurence Olivier as Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus, Peter Ustinov, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus, John Gavin as Julius Caesar, Jean Simmons as Varinia, Charles Laughton as Sempronius Gracchus, and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

As an actor and philanthropist, Douglas has received three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an author, he has written ten novels and memoirs. Currently, he is No. 17 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema, and the highest-ranked living person on the list. After barely surviving a helicopter crash in 1991 and then suffering a stroke in 1996, he has focused on renewing his spiritual and religious life. He lives with his second wife (of 65 years), Anne Buydens, a producer.

Academy Awards American awards given annually for excellence in cinematic achievements

The Academy Awards, also officially and popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the awards are an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar". The statuette depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Joint-highest civilian award of the United States, bestowed by the President

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the president of the United States. The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards of the United States. The presidential medal seeks to recognize those people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors". The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

American Film Institute Nonprofit educational arts organization devoted to film

The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.

Early life and education

Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch (Yiddish : איסר דניאלאָוויטש; Belarusian : Ісур Данілавіч) in Amsterdam, New York, the son of Bryna "Bertha" (née Sanglel; 1884–1958) and Herschel "Harry" Danielovitch (c. 1884–1950; citations regarding his exact year of birth differ). [4] [5] [6] His parents were Jewish emigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus), [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] and the family spoke Yiddish at home. [13] [14] [15]

Belarusian language east Slavic language

Belarusian is an East Slavic language spoken by Belarusians. It is the official language of Belarus, along with Russian. It is additionally spoken in parts of Russia, Poland and Ukraine by Belarusian minorities in those countries.

Chavusy Town in Mahilyow

Chaussy, Chavusy or Chausy is a town in the eastern Belarusian voblast of Mogilev. Chavusy serves as an administrative center of Chavusy Raion. As of 2009, its population was 10,692.

Mogilev Region Place in Mogilev

Mogilev Region, also Mahilyow Voblasts (Province) or Mogilyov Oblast, is a region (voblast) of Belarus with its administrative center at Mogilev (Mahilyow).

His father's brother, who emigrated earlier, used the surname Demsky, which Douglas's family adopted in the United States. [16] :2 Douglas grew up as Izzy Demsky and legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the United States Navy during World War II. [17] [lower-alpha 1]

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. It has the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

In his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son , Douglas notes the hardships that he, along with six sisters and his parents, endured during their early years in Amsterdam, New York:

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 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. [4]

College graduation, 1939 Douglas-graduation.jpg
College graduation, 1939

Growing up, Douglas sold snacks to mill workers to earn enough to buy milk and bread to help his family. Later, he delivered newspapers and during his youth he had more than forty jobs before becoming an actor. [18] He found living in a family with six sisters to be stifling: "I was dying to get out. In a sense, it lit a fire under me." In high school, after acting in plays, he then knew he wanted to become a professional actor. [19] Unable to afford the tuition, Douglas talked his way into the dean's office at St. Lawrence University and showed him a list of his high school honors. He received a loan which he paid back by working part-time as a gardener and a janitor. He was a standout on the wrestling team and wrestled one summer in a carnival to make money. [20]

Douglas's acting talents were noticed at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, which gave him a special scholarship. One of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske (later known as Lauren Bacall), who would play an important role in launching his film career. [21] Bacall wrote that she "had a wild crush on Kirk," [22] and they dated casually. Another classmate, and a friend of Bacall's, was aspiring actress Diana Dill, who would later become Douglas's first wife.

During their time together, Bacall learned Douglas had no money, and that he once spent the night in jail since he had no place to sleep. She once gave him her uncle's old coat to keep warm: "I thought he must be frozen in the winter . ... He was thrilled and grateful." Sometimes, just to see him, she would drag a friend or her mother to the restaurant where he worked as a busboy and waiter. He told her his dream was to someday bring his family to New York to see him on stage. During that period she fantasized about someday sharing her personal and stage lives with Douglas, but would later be disappointed: "Kirk did not really pursue me. He was friendly and sweet—enjoyed my company—but I was clearly too young for him," the eight-years-younger Bacall later wrote. [22]

Early career

Douglas first wanted to be an actor after he recited the poem The Red Robin of Spring while in kindergarten and received applause. [23] He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1941, shortly after the United States entered World War II, where he served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare aboard USS PC-1137. [1] He was medically discharged in 1944 for war injuries sustained from the accidental dropping of a depth charge. [24]

He married Diana Dill on November 2, 1943. They had two sons, Michael in 1944 and Joel in 1947, before they divorced in 1951. [25] [26]

After the war, Douglas returned to New York City and found work in radio, theater and commercials. In his radio work, he acted in network soap operas, and sees those experiences as being especially valuable, as skill in using one's voice is important for aspiring actors, and regrets that the same avenues are no longer available. His stage break occurred when he took over the role played by Richard Widmark in Kiss and Tell (1943), which then led to other offers. [21]

Douglas had planned to remain a stage actor, until his friend, Lauren Bacall, helped him get his first film role by recommending him to producer Hal B. Wallis, who was looking for a new male talent. [27] Wallis's film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), with Barbara Stanwyck, became Douglas's debut screen appearance. He played a young, insecure man, stung with jealousy, whose life was dominated by his ruthless wife, and he hid his feelings with alcohol. It would be the last time that Douglas portrayed a weakling in a film role. [28] [29] Reviewers of the film noted that Douglas already projected qualities of a "natural film actor", with the similarity of this role with later ones explained by biographer Tony Thomas:

His style and his personality came across on the screen, something that does not always happen, even with the finest actors. Douglas had, and has, a distinctly individual manner. He radiates a certain inexplicable quality, and it is this, as much as talent, that accounts for his success in films. [30]



Douglas's image as a tough guy was established in his eighth film, Champion (1949), after producer Stanley Kramer chose him to play a selfish boxer. In accepting the role, he took a gamble, however, since he had to turn down an offer to star in a big-budget MGM film, The Great Sinner , which would have earned him three times the income. [31]

Film historian Ray Didinger says "he saw Champion as a greater risk, but also a greater opportunity ... Douglas took the part and absolutely nailed it." Frederick Romano, another sports film historian, described Douglas's acting as "alarmingly authentic":

Douglas shows great concentration in the ring. His intense focus on his opponent draws the viewer into the ring. Perhaps his best characteristic is his patented snarl and grimace ... he leaves no doubt that he is a man on a mission. [32]

Douglas and Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn, 1950 Douglas - Bacall - Horn 1950.jpg
Douglas and Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn , 1950

Douglas received his first Academy Award nomination and the film earned six nominations in all. Variety magazine called it "a stark, realistic study of the boxing rackets." [31]

From that film on, he decided that to succeed as a star, he needed to ramp up his intensity, overcome his natural shyness, and choose stronger roles. He later stated, "I don't think I'd be much of an actor without vanity. And I'm not interested in being a 'modest actor'". [33] Early in his Hollywood career, he demonstrated his independent streak and broke his studio contracts to gain total control over his projects, forming his own movie company, Bryna Productions, named after his mother. [19] In 1947 Douglas made Out of the Past (UK: Build My Gallows High). He starred in this film with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Douglas made his Broadway debut in 1949 in Three Sisters , produced by Katharine Cornell. [34]


Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Douglas was a major box-office star, playing opposite some of the leading actresses of that era. He played a frontier peace officer in his first western Along the Great Divide (1951). He quickly became very comfortable with riding horses and playing gunslingers, and appeared in many westerns. He considers Lonely Are the Brave (1962), in which he plays a cowboy trying to live by his own code, as his personal favorite. [35] The film, written by Dalton Trumbo, was respected by critics, but did not do well at the box office due to poor marketing and distribution. [33] [36]

In 1950, Douglas played Rick Martin in Young Man with a Horn , based on a novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist. Composer-pianist Hoagy Carmichael, playing the sidekick role, added realism to the film and gave Douglas insight into the role, being a friend of the real Beiderbecke. [37] Doris Day starred as Jo, a young woman who was infatuated with the struggling jazz musician. This was strikingly opposite of the real-life account in Doris Day's autobiography, which described Douglas as "civil but self-centered" and the film as "utterly joyless". [38] During filming, bit actress Jean Spangler disappeared and her case remains unsolved. On October 9, 1949, Spangler's purse was found near the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. There was an unfinished note in the purse addressed to a "Kirk," which read: "Can't wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away". Douglas, married at the time, called the police and told them he was not the Kirk mentioned in the note. When interviewed via telephone by the head of the investigating team, Douglas stated that he had "talked and kidded with her a bit" on set, [39] [40] but that he had never been out with her. [41] Spangler's girlfriends told police that she was three months pregnant when she disappeared and that she had talked about having an abortion, which was illegal at that time.

In 1951, Douglas starred as a newspaper reporter anxiously looking for a big story in Ace in the Hole , director Billy Wilder's first effort as both writer and producer. The subject and story was controversial at the time, and U.S. audiences stayed away. Some reviews saw it as "ruthless and cynical ... a distorted study of corruption, mob psychology and the free press." [42] Possibly it "hit too close to home", says Douglas. [43]

It won a best foreign film award at the Venice Film Festival. The film's stature has increased in recent years, with some surveys placing it in their top 500 films list. [44] Woody Allen considers it one of his favorite films. [45] As the film's star and protagonist, Douglas is credited for the intensity of his acting. Roger Ebert described "Douglas's focus and energy ... as almost scary. There is nothing dated about [his] performance. It's as right now as a sharpened knife." [46] Biographer Gene Philips notes that Wilder's story was "galvanized" by Douglas's "astounding performance", and no doubt was a factor when George Stevens, who presented Douglas with the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1991, said of him: "No other leading actor was ever more ready to tap the dark, desperate side of the soul and thus to reveal the complexity of human nature." [47]

Also in 1951, Douglas starred in Detective Story , nominated for four Academy Awards, including one for Lee Grant in her debut film. Grant said Douglas was "dazzling, both personally and in the part. ... He was a big, big star. Gorgeous. Intense. Amazing." [48] To prepare for the role, he spent days with the New York police department and sat in on interrogations. [49] Reviewers recognized Douglas's acting qualities, with Bosley Crowther describing Douglas as "forceful and aggressive as the detective." [50]

With Eve Miller in The Big Trees (1952) Douglas - Big Trees - 1952.jpg
With Eve Miller in The Big Trees (1952)

In The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), another of his three Oscar-nominated roles, Douglas plays a hard-nosed film producer who manipulates and uses his actors, writers, and directors. Bacall and Doris Day played two very different types of women in his life. [51] In 1954 Douglas starred in Ulysses from Homer's epic poem Odyssey, with Silvana Mangano as Penelope and Circe, and Anthony Quinn playing Antinous. The film director Mario Camerini co-wrote the screenplay with writer Franco Brusati.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Douglas showed that in addition to serious, driven characters, he was adept at roles requiring a lighter, comic touch. In this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel, he played a happy-go-lucky sailor who was the opposite in every way to the brooding Captain Nemo (James Mason). The film was one of Walt Disney's most successful live-action movies and a major box-office hit. [52] He managed a similar comic turn in the western Man Without a Star (1955) and in For Love or Money (1963).

In one of his earliest television appearances, Douglas was a musical guest (as himself) on The Jack Benny Program (1954). [53] In 1955, Douglas formed his own movie company, Bryna Productions, named after his mother. [19] To do so, he had to break contracts with Hal B. Wallis and Warner Bros., but began to produce and star in his own films, including Paths of Glory (1957), The Vikings (1958), Spartacus (1960), Lonely are the Brave (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964).

While Paths of Glory did not do well at the box office, it has since become one of the great anti-war films, and one of early films by director Stanley Kubrick. Douglas, a fluent French speaker, [54] plays a sympathetic French officer during World War I who tries to save three soldiers from the firing squad. [55] Biographer Vincent LoBrutto describes Douglas's "seething but controlled portrayal exploding with the passion of his convictions at the injustice leveled at his men." [56] The film was banned in France until 1976. Before production of the film began, however, Douglas and Kubrick had to work out some major issues, one of which was Kubrick's rewriting the screenplay without informing Douglas first. It led to their first major argument: "I called Stanley to my room ... I hit the ceiling. I called him every four-letter word I could think of ... 'I got the money, based on that [original] script. Not this shit!' I threw the script across the room. 'We're going back to the original script, or we're not making the picture.' Stanley never blinked an eye. We shot the original script. I think the movie is a classic, one of the most important pictures—possibly the most important picture—Stanley Kubrick has ever made." [56]

Douglas played military men in numerous films, with varying nuance, including Top Secret Affair (1957), Town Without Pity (1961), The Hook (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), Heroes of Telemark (1965), In Harm's Way (1965), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), Is Paris Burning (1966), The Final Countdown (1980) and Saturn 3 (1980). His acting style and delivery made him a favorite with television impersonators such as Frank Gorshin, Rich Little and David Frye. [57] [58] [59]

In Lust for Life as Vincent van Gogh Kirk Douglas Lust for Life.JPG
In Lust for Life as Vincent van Gogh

His role as Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), directed by Vincente Minnelli and based on Irving Stone's best-seller, was filmed mostly on location in France. Douglas was noted not only for the veracity of van Gogh's appearance but for how he conveyed the painter's internal turmoil. Some reviewers consider it the most famous example of the "tortured artist" who seeks solace from life's pain through his work. [60] Others see it as a portrayal not only of the "painter-as-hero," but a unique presentation of the "action painter," with Douglas expressing the physicality and emotion of painting, as he uses the canvas to capture a moment in time. [61] [62]

Douglas was nominated for an Academy Award for the role, with his co-star Anthony Quinn winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Paul Gauguin, van Gogh's friend. Douglas won a Golden Globe award, although Minnelli said Douglas should have won an Oscar: "He achieved a moving and memorable portrait of the artist—a man of massive creative power, triggered by severe emotional stress, the fear and horror of madness." [52] Douglas himself called his acting role as Van Gogh a painful experience: "Not only did I look like Van Gogh, I was the same age he was when he committed suicide." [4] His wife said he often remained in character in his personal life: "When he was doing Lust for Life, he came home in that red beard of Van Gogh's, wearing those big boots, stomping around the house—it was frightening." [63]

In general, however, Douglas's acting style fit well with Minnelli's preference for "melodrama and neurotic-artist roles," writes film historian, James Naremore. He adds that Minnelli had his "richest, most impressive collaborations" with Douglas, and for Minnelli, no other actor portrayed his level of "cool": "A robust, athletic, sometimes explosive player, Douglas loved stagy rhetoric, and he did everything passionately." [64] That level of passion in Douglas's persona was also used effectively by Minnelli in The Bad and the Beautiful , four years earlier, for which Douglas was nominated for Best Actor, with the film winning five Oscars.


Spartacus (1960) Spartacus - 1960 - poster.png
Spartacus (1960)

In 1960, Douglas played the title role in what many consider his career defining appearance [65] as the Thracian slave rebel Spartacus with an all-star cast in Spartacus (1960). He was the executive producer as well, which raised the $12 million production cost and made it one of the most expensive films up to that time. [66] Douglas initially selected Anthony Mann to direct, but replaced him early on with Stanley Kubrick, with whom he previously collaborated in Paths of Glory . [67]

When the film was released, Douglas gave full credit to its screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who was on the Hollywood blacklist, and thereby effectively ended it. [16] :81 About that event, he said, "I've made over 85 pictures, but the thing I'm most proud of is breaking the blacklist." [68] However the film's producer Edward Lewis and the family of Dalton Trumbo publicly disputed Douglas's claim. [69]

In the film Trumbo (2015), Douglas is portrayed by Dean O'Gorman. [70]

In the Broadway play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1963), with Joan Tetzel. Kirk Douglas - 1963.jpg
In the Broadway play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1963), with Joan Tetzel.

Douglas bought the rights to the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest from its author, Ken Kesey. He turned it into a play in 1963 in which he starred, and it ran on Broadway for five months. Reviews were mixed. Douglas retained the movie rights, but after a decade of being unable to find a producer, gave the rights to his son, Michael. In 1975, the film version was produced by Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, and starred Jack Nicholson, as Douglas was then considered too old to play the character as written. [2] It won all five major Academy Awards, only the second to achieve that, including one for Nicholson. [71]

Douglas made seven films over the decades with Burt Lancaster: I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Devil's Disciple (1959), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Tough Guys (1986), which fixed the notion of the pair as something of a team in the public imagination. Douglas was always second-billed under Lancaster in these movies but, with the exception of I Walk Alone, in which Douglas played a villain, their roles were more or less the same size. Both actors arrived in Hollywood at the same time, and first appeared together in the fourth film for each, albeit with Douglas in a supporting role. They both became actor-producers who sought out independent Hollywood careers. [63]

John Frankenheimer, who directed the political thriller Seven Days in May in 1964, had not worked well with Lancaster in the past, and originally did not want him in this film. However Douglas thought Lancaster would fit the part and "begged me to reconsider," said Frankenheimer, and he then gave Lancaster the most colorful role. "It turns out that Burt Lancaster and I got along magnificently well on the picture," he later said. [72]

In 1967 Douglas starred with John Wayne in the western film directed by Burt Kennedy titled The War Wagon .

In The Arrangement (1969), a drama directed by Elia Kazan, based upon his novel of the same title, Douglas starred as a tormented advertising executive, with Faye Dunaway as costar. The film did poorly at the box office, receiving mostly negative reviews, while Dunaway felt many of the reviews were unfair, writing in her biography, "I can't understand it when people knock Kirk's performance, because I think he's terrific in the picture," adding that "he's as bright a person as I've met in the acting profession." [73] She says that his "pragmatic approach to acting" would later be a "philosophy that ended up rubbing off on me." [74]


Between 1970 and 2008, Douglas made nearly 40 movies and appeared on various television shows. He starred in a western, There Was a Crooked Man... (1970), alongside Henry Fonda. The film was produced and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

In 1972, he was a guest in David Winters' television special The Special London Bridge Special , starring Tom Jones. [75] [76]

In 1973, he directed his first film, Scalawag . That same year, Douglas reunited with director David Winters and appeared in the made-for-TV musical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (nominated for three Emmys) alongside Stanley Holloway, and Donald Pleasence. [77] [78] [79]

He returned to the director's chair for Posse (1975), in which he starred alongside Bruce Dern. In 1978, he costarred with John Cassavetes and Amy Irving in a horror film, The Fury , directed by Brian De Palma. In 1980, he starred in The Final Countdown, playing the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which travels through time to the day before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. It was produced by his son Peter Douglas. In 1982, he starred in The Man from Snowy River , an Australian film which received critical acclaim and numerous awards. In 1986, he reunited with his longtime costar, Burt Lancaster, in a crime comedy, Tough Guys , which included Charles Durning and Eli Wallach. It marked the final collaboration between Douglas and Lancaster, completing a partnership of more than 40 years. [80]

In 1986, he co-hosted (with Angela Lansbury) the New York Philharmonic's tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. The symphony was conducted by Zubin Mehta. [81]

In 1988, Douglas starred in a television adaptation of Inherit the Wind , opposite Jason Robards and Jean Simmons. The film won two Emmy Awards. In the 1990s, Douglas continued starring in various features. Among them was The Secret in 1992, a television movie about a grandfather and his grandson who both struggle with dyslexia. That same year, he played the uncle of Michael J. Fox in a comedy, Greedy . He appeared as the Devil in the video for the Don Henley song "The Garden of Allah". In 1996, after suffering a severe stroke which impaired his ability to speak, Douglas still wanted to make movies. He underwent years of voice therapy and made Diamonds in 1999, in which he played an old prizefighter who was recovering from a stroke. It costarred his longtime friend from his early years, Lauren Bacall.

In 2003, Michael and Joel Douglas produced It Runs in the Family , which along with Kirk starred various family members, including Michael, Michael's son, and his wife from 50 years earlier, Diana Dill, playing his wife. In March 2009, Douglas did an autobiographical one-man show, Before I Forget, at the Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California. The four performances were filmed and turned into a documentary that was first screened in January 2010. [82]

Douglas appeared at the 2018 Golden Globes at the age of 101 with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones; he received a standing ovation and helped to present the award for "Best Screenplay - Motion Picture". [83] This was a rare appearance for Douglas, who suffered a stroke 20 years prior, [84] and his first at a major awards show since the Oscars in 2011.[ citation needed ]

Style and philosophy of acting

Kirk is one of a kind. He has an overpowering physical presence, which is why on a large movie screen he looms over the audience like a tidal wave in full flood. Globally revered, he is now the last living screen legend of those who vaulted to stardom at the war's end, that special breed of movie idol instantly recognizable anywhere, whose luminous on-screen characters are forever memorable.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. [2]

Douglas stated that the keys to acting success are determination and application: "You must know how to function and how to maintain yourself, and you must have a love of what you do. But an actor also needs great good luck. I have had that luck." [85] Douglas had great vitality and explained that "it takes a lot out of you to work in this business. Many people fall by the wayside because they don't have the energy to sustain their talent." [86]

That attitude toward acting became evident with Champion (1949). From that one role, writes biographer John Parker, he went from stardom and entered the "superleague," where his style was in "marked contrast to Hollywood's other leading men at the time." [27] His sudden rise to prominence is explained and compared to that of Jack Nicholson's:

He virtually ignored interventionist directors. He prepared himself privately for each role he played, so that when the cameras were ready to roll he was suitably, and some would say egotistically and even selfishly, inspired to steal every scene in a manner comparable in modern times to Jack Nicholson's modus operandi. [27]

As a producer, Douglas had a reputation of being a compulsively hard worker who expected others to exude the same level of energy. As such, he was typically demanding and direct in his dealing with people who worked on his projects, with his intensity spilling over into all elements of his film-making. [30] This was partly due to his high opinion of actors, movies, and moviemaking: "To me it is the most important art form—it is an art, and it includes all the elements of the modern age." He also stressed prioritizing the entertainment goal of films over any messages, "You can make a statement, you can say something, but it must be entertaining." [33]

As an actor, he dived into every role, dissecting not only his own lines but all the parts in the script to measure the rightness of the role, and he was willing to fight with a director if he felt justified. [86] Melville Shavelson, who produced and directed Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), said that it didn't take him long to discover what his main problem was going to be in directing Douglas:

Kirk Douglas was intelligent. When discussing a script with actors, I have always found it necessary to remember that they never read the other actors' lines, so their concept of the story is somewhat hazy. Kirk had not only read the lines of everyone in the picture, he had also read the stage directions ... Kirk, I was to discover, always read every word, discussed every word, always argued every scene, until he was convinced of its correctness. ... He listened, so it was necessary to fight every minute. [86]

Douglas with Zubin Mehta, March 2011 KirkDouglasZubinMehtaMar11.jpg
Douglas with Zubin Mehta, March 2011

For most of his career, Douglas enjoyed good health and what seemed like an inexhaustible supply of energy. He attributed much of that vitality to his childhood and pre-acting years: "The drive that got me out of my hometown and through college is part of the makeup that I utilize in my work. It's a constant fight, and it's tough." [86] His demands on others, however, were an expression of the demands he placed on himself, rooted in his youth. "It took me years to concentrate on being a human being—I was too busy scrounging for money and food, and struggling to better myself." [87]

Actress Lee Grant, who acted with him and later filmed a documentary about him and his family, notes that even after he achieved worldwide stardom, his father would not acknowledge his success. He said "nothing. Ever." [48] Douglas's wife, Anne, similarly attributes the energy he devotes to acting to his tough childhood:

He was reared by his mother and his sisters and as a schoolboy he had to work to help support the family. I think part of Kirk's life has been a monstrous effort to prove himself and gain recognition in the eyes of his father ... Not even four years of psychoanalysis could alter the drives that began as a desire to prove himself. [57]

Douglas has credited his mother, Bryna, for instilling in him the importance of "gambling on yourself", and he kept her advice in mind when making films. [30] Bryna Productions was named in her honor. Douglas realized that his intense style of acting was something of a shield: "Acting is the most direct way of escaping reality, and in my case it was a means of escaping a drab and dismal background." [88]

Personal life


In The Ragman's Son, Douglas described himself as a "sonofabitch", adding, "I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood. And I feel pretty good about it. Because that’s me…. I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive." [89] Co-workers and associates alike noted similar traits, with Burt Lancaster once remarking, "Kirk would be the first to tell you that he is a very difficult man. And I would be the second." [89] Douglas' personality is attributed to his difficult upbringing living in poverty and his aggressive alcoholic father who was neglectful of Kirk as a young child. [89] [90] According to Douglas, "there was an awful lot of rage churning around inside me, rage that I was afraid to reveal because there was so much more of it, and so much stronger, in my father." [90] Douglas' discipline, wit and sense of humor is also often recognized. [89]

Marriages and children

Anne Buydens and Douglas at the 2003 Jefferson Awards for Public Service ceremony Kirk & Ann attend Jefferson awards.jpg
Anne Buydens and Douglas at the 2003 Jefferson Awards for Public Service ceremony

Douglas and his first wife, Diana Dill, married on November 2, 1943. They had two sons, actor Michael Douglas and producer Joel Douglas, before divorcing in 1951. Afterwards, in Paris, he met producer Anne Buydens (born Hannelore Marx; April 23, 1919, Hanover, Germany) while acting on location in Lust for Life. [91] [92] She originally fled from Germany to escape Nazism and survived by putting her multilingual skills to work at a film studio, doing translations for subtitles. [93] They married on May 29, 1954. In 2014, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. [94] They had two sons, Peter, a producer, and Eric, an actor who died on July 6, 2004, from an overdose of alcohol and drugs. [95] In 2017, the couple released a book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, that revealed intimate letters they shared through the years. [96] Throughout their marriage, Douglas had affairs with other women including several Hollywood starlets, though he never hid his infidelities from his wife who was accepting of them and explained, "as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage." [97]


In February 1991, Douglas was in a helicopter and was injured when the aircraft collided with a small plane above Santa Paula Airport. Two other people were also injured; two people in the plane were killed. [98] This near-death experience sparked a search for meaning by Douglas, which led him, after much study, to embrace the Judaism in which he had been raised. He documented this spiritual journey in his book, Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (2001).

In his earlier autobiography, The Ragman's Son, he recalled, "years back, I tried to forget that I was a Jew," but later in his career he began "coming to grips with what it means to be a Jew," which became a theme in his life. [4] In an interview in 2000, he explained this transition: [99]

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, his wife Anne, and President Ronald Reagan, December 1987 Ronald Reagan with Kirk Douglas.jpg
Douglas, his wife Anne, and President Ronald Reagan, December 1987

Douglas notes that the underlying theme of some of his films, including The Juggler (1953), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), and Remembrance of Love (1982), was about "a Jew who doesn't think of himself as one, and eventually finds his Jewishness." [4] The Juggler was the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the newly established state of Israel. Douglas recalls that while there, he saw "extreme poverty and food being rationed." But he found it "wonderful, finally, to be in the majority." Its producer, Stanley Kramer, tried to portray "Israel as the Jews' heroic response to Hitler's destruction." [100]

Although his children had non-Jewish mothers, Douglas states that they were "aware culturally" of his "deep convictions," and he never tried to influence their own religious decisions. [4] Douglas's wife, Anne, converted to Judaism before they renewed their wedding vows in 2004. [101] Douglas celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in 1999, aged 83. [16] :125


Douglas and his wife have donated to various non-profit causes during his career, and are planning on donating most of their $80 million net worth. [102] Among the donations have been those to his former high school and college. In September 2001, he helped fund his high school's musical, Amsterdam Oratorio, composed by Maria Riccio Bryce, who won the school Thespian Society's Kirk Douglas Award in 1968. [103] In 2012 he donated $5 million to St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. The college used the donation for the scholarship fund he began in 1999. [104] [105]

He has donated to various schools, medical facilities and other non-profit organizations in southern California. These have included the rebuilding of over 400 Los Angeles Unified School District playgrounds that were aged and in need of restoration. They established the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women at the Los Angeles Mission, which has helped hundreds of women turn their lives around. In Culver City, they opened the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2004. [94] They supported the Anne Douglas Childhood Center at the Sinai Temple of Westwood. [105] In March 2015, Kirk and his wife donated $2.3 million to the Children's Hospital Los Angeles. [106]

Since the early 1990s Kirk and Anne Douglas have donated up to $40 million to Harry's Haven, an Alzheimer's treatment facility in Woodland Hills, to care for patients at the Motion Picture Home. [68] To celebrate his 99th birthday in December 2015, they donated another $15 million to help expand the facility with a new two-story Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion. [107]

Douglas has donated a number of playgrounds in Jerusalem, and donated the Kirk Douglas Theater at the Aish Center across from the Western Wall. [108]


Douglas with his book "My Stroke of Luck" Kirk Douglas with book 2002.jpg
Douglas with his book "My Stroke of Luck"

The couple have been involved in numerous volunteer and philanthropic activities. They traveled to more than 40 countries, at their own expense, to act as goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. Information Agency, speaking to audiences about why democracy works and what freedom means. [93] In 1980, Douglas flew to Cairo to talk with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. For all his goodwill efforts, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1981. [94] At the ceremony, Carter said that Douglas had "done this in a sacrificial way, almost invariably without fanfare and without claiming any personal credit or acclaim for himself." [109] In subsequent years, Douglas testified before Congress about elder abuse. [68]

Douglas has been a lifelong member of the Democratic Party. [110] He has written letters to politicians who were friends. He notes in his memoir, Let's Face It (2007), that he felt compelled to write to former president Jimmy Carter in 2006 in order to stress that "Israel is the only successful democracy in the Middle East ... [and] has had to endure many wars against overwhelming odds. If Israel loses one war, they lose Israel." [16] :226

Douglas recalled once when, being friends with Ronald Reagan's son Ron, his own son Eric saw a Barry Goldwater bumper sticker on the Reagans' car, and shouted "BOO Goldwater"; Nancy Reagan telephoned: "Come pick up this boy at once." Kirk said of this that it was "a sentiment I confess he picked up from me." [111]


On January 28, 1996, he suffered a severe stroke, which impaired his ability to speak. [112] Doctors told his wife that unless there was rapid improvement, the loss of the ability to speak was likely permanent. After a regime of daily speech-language therapy that lasted several months, his ability to speak returned, although it was still limited. He was able to accept an honorary Academy Award two months later in March and thanked the audience. [113] [114] He wrote about this experience in his 2002 book, My Stroke of Luck, which he hoped would be an "operating manual" for others on how to handle a stroke victim in their own family. [114] [115]

On December 9, 2016, Douglas became a centenarian. He celebrated his 100th birthday at the Beverly Hills Hotel, joined by several of his friends and family, including Don Rickles, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, his wife Anne, his son Michael and his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones. Douglas was described by his guests as being still in good shape, able to walk with confidence into the Sunset Room for the celebration. [116]


Douglas blogs from time to time. Originally hosted on Myspace, [117] his posts have been hosted by the Huffington Post since 2012. [118] He is believed to be the oldest celebrity blogger in the world. [119]


In a 2014 article, Douglas cited The Strange Love of Martha Ivers , Champion , Ace in the Hole , The Bad and the Beautiful , Act of Love , 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , The Indian Fighter , Lust for Life , Paths of Glory , Spartacus , Lonely Are the Brave , and Seven Days in May as the films he was most proud of throughout his acting career. [120]

Radio appearances

1947 Suspense "Community Property" [121]
1950 Screen Directors Playhouse Champion [122]
1950 Suspense The Butcher's Wife [122]
1952 Lux Radio Theatre Young Man with a Horn [123]
1954 Lux Radio Theatre Detective Story [122]

Honors and awards

President Jimmy Carter greets Kirk Douglas and his wife, March 1978 Kirk Douglas Jimmy Carter.jpg
President Jimmy Carter greets Kirk Douglas and his wife, March 1978
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Kirk Douglas Walk of Fame Star.png
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Signing his name at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on November 1, 1962 Kirk Douglas ceremony Grauman's Chinese Theatre 1962.jpg
Signing his name at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on November 1, 1962
Hands and footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre Impronte di Kirk Douglas al TCL Chinese Theatre - Los Angeles - USA - agosto 2011.jpg
Hands and footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre

AFI Life Achievement Award

Kennedy Center Honors

Academy Awards

Golden Globes

Emmy Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards

BAFTA Awards

BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards

Berlin International Film Festival

Cesar Awards

Hollywood Film Festival

National Board of Review

New York Film Critics Circle Award

In 1983, Douglas received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. [131] In 1996, Douglas received an Honorary Academy Award for "50 years as a moral and creative force in the motion picture community." The award was presented by producer/director Steven Spielberg. [113]

As a result of Douglas's stroke the previous summer, however, in which he lost most of his speaking ability, his close friends and family were concerned about whether he should try to speak, or what he should say. Both his son, Michael, and his long-time friend, Jack Valenti, urged him to only say "Thank you", and leave the stage. Douglas agreed. But when standing in front of the audience, he had second thoughts: "I intended to just say 'thank you,' but I saw 1,000 people, and felt I had to say something more, and I did." [91] Valenti remembers that after Douglas held up the Oscar, addressed his sons, and told his wife how much he loved her, everyone was astonished at his voice's improvement:

The audience went wild with applause [and] erupted in affection ... rising to their feet to salute this last of the great movie legends, who had survived the threat of death and stared down the demons that had threatened to silence him. I felt an emotional tidal wave roaring through the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the L.A. Music Center. [2]


See also


  1. In his autobiography, Douglas explains that for many actors at the time who had unusual or foreign-sounding birth names, a simpler Americanized name was often preferred. His friend Karl Malden, who also changed his name for that reason, made suggestions. Douglas knew that many leading stars at the time had changed their names, including Robert Taylor, John Wayne, Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. [16] :1–2

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Further reading