Today is the 104th birthday of the actor Kirk Douglas. Born Issur Danielovitch to Russian-Jewish immigrants, he is the American Dream of reinvention. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Kirk Douglas
BIRTH DATE: December 9, 1916
DEATH DATE: February 5, 2020
PLACE OF BIRTH: Amsterdam, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
FULL NAME: Issur Danielovitch
Oscar (honorary) 1996
Golden Globe 1957 for Lust for Life
National Cowboy Hall of Fame 1984
American Film Institute Life Achievement Award 1991
Kennedy Center Honor 1994
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6263 Hollywood Blvd.
National Medal of Arts 2001
Asteroid Namesake 19578 Kirkdouglas
BEST KNOWN FOR: Actor Kirk Douglas brought his formidable chin and talent to classic movies such as ‘Spartacus’ and ‘The Bad and the Beautiful.’ He’s also the father of actor Michael Douglas.
Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas is known for his distinctive voice, strapping physique and cleft chin. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Douglas grew up poor. He worked odd jobs to pay for his college education and to support himself while studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At that time, he had no idea what his future had in store: In the 1950s and ’60s, Douglas was one of the most popular leading men in cinema.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II — and a brief career on the Broadway stage — Douglas made his first Hollywood film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), starring with Barbara Stanwyck. Three years later, he gave a breakthrough performance as a boxer who stops at nothing to make it to the top in Champion (1949). He amazed audiences and critics alike with his portrayal of Midge Kelly in the film, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination.
A sought-after actor, Douglas worked with many leading directors, including Billy Wilder for 1951’s Ace in the Hole. However, it was his work with Vincente Minnelli that led to two of his greatest performances: morally bankrupt movie executive Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and troubled artist Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). Douglas earned an Academy Award nomination for each of those films.
In addition to his critical acclaim, Douglas became a big box-office draw. Over the years, he often appeared with his friend and fellow Hollywood heavyweight, Burt Lancaster, in such films as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), a western drama, The Devil’s Disciple (1959) and Seven Days in May (1964). Working with director Stanley Kubrick, he also starred in the World War I drama Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). Douglas’ work in Spartacus as a Roman slave (the film’s title character) who leads an uprising is considered to be one of his signature roles.
In making Spartacus, Douglas also challenged the practice of blacklisting certain Hollywood figures over their possible communist leanings. He hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write Spartacus. Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, turned out a number of screenplays under various pseudonyms during the more than a decade he was blacklisted but was later given full credit for his work, including two Academy Awards.
In the 1970s, Douglas tried his hand at directing, but met with little success. Two of his directorial efforts that decade, Scalawag (1973) and Posse (1975), failed to make much of an impression on movie-goers. Around the same time, his acting career stalled. His later and more memorable films include The Man from Snowy River (1982) and Tough Guys (1986), which was his last on-screen reunion with Lancaster.
While one phase of Douglas’ life was slowing down, another was just beginning. In 1988, he shared his life story in the best-selling autobiography, The Ragman’s Son. He also showed a talent for fiction writing, producing such works as Dance with the Devil (1990) and The Gift (1992). One of his nonfiction works, Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (1997), was published shortly after Douglas experienced a nearly fatal stroke in 1995. He followed that up with My Stroke of Luck in 2003.
Clearly determined not to be daunted by personal setbacks, Douglas did not let his stroke slow him down for long. Though the incident had affected his speech, he continued to act, starring in the 1999 comedy Diamonds, along with Dan Aykroyd, Lauren Bacall and Jenny McCarthy. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for a guest appearance on the inspirational television drama Touched by an Angel in 2000. A few years later, he co-starred with son Michael Douglas in the drama It Runs in the Family (2003).
Douglas continued to write biographical works in his later years, including Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning (2007). More recently, he delved into the backstory of one of his most famous roles, with 2012’s I am Spartacus! The Making of a Film, Breaking the Blacklist for which George Clooney wrote the foreword.
In 2009, Douglas mounted a one-man show on stage, sharing his 60 years of filmmaking and personal life with theater-goers in Before I Forget. He won raves for his performance, including praise from Variety for his “uncensored candor.” The Hollywood Reporter called the show a “remarkable display of courage” by Douglas, adding that his performance was reminiscent of the time “when giants strode through Hollywood.”
Douglas also got a chance to see some of his own life story hit the big screen. Dean O’Gorman played Douglas in Trumbo, the 2015 biopic of the blacklisted screenwriter. Douglas had helped resurrect Trumbo’s career by hiring the then-blacklisted writer to pen the script for Spartacus. Douglas told Interview magazine that “I’m proud of using his name and breaking the blacklist. That was a terrible time in Hollywood history. It should never have happened.”
Douglas also devoted much of his life to philanthropic work. Through the Douglas Foundation, he and his second wife Anne gave away millions to numerous worthy causes. Recent donations include $2.3 million to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for a surgical robot and the endowment of the Kirk Douglas Fellowship at the American Film Institute. In October 2015, the couple also gave another $5 million to the Los Angeles Mission’s women’s center, boosting their support of the mission to $15 million over the last three years.
In 2015, Douglas told The Hollywood Reporter that his commitment to charity began in his childhood. He watched his mother give away food to others in need even when the family didn’t have enough for themselves. “My mother said to me, ‘You must take care of other people.’ That stayed with me.”
Throughout his distinguished career, Douglas received many honors, including the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1991. He also became a Kennedy Center honoree in 1994, received an honorary Academy Award in 1996, and received the National Medal of Arts in 2001.
Married twice, Douglas had two sons, Joel and Michael, with his first wife, Diana Dill. In 1954, he married Anne Buydens. The couple had two sons, Peter and Eric. Eric died of a drug overdose in 2004.
Douglas passed away on February 5, 2020, at the age of 103. “Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet,” his son Michael said in a statement. “Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad – I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (5-May-2010) · Himself Trumbo (10-Sep-2007) · Himself Illusion (Oct-2004) · Donald Baines It Runs in the Family (25-Apr-2003) · Mitchell Gromberg Diamonds (6-Sep-1999) · Harry Completely Cuckoo (16-Dec-1997) · Himself Greedy (4-Mar-1994) · Uncle Joe Oscar (26-Apr-1991) Inherit the Wind (20-Mar-1988) Queenie (10-May-1987) Tough Guys (3-Oct-1986) Amos (29-Sep-1985) Draw! (15-Jul-1984) Eddie Macon's Run (4-Nov-1983) · Marzack The Man from Snowy River (25-Mar-1982) · Spur The Final Countdown (9-Jul-1980) · Capt. Matthew Yelland Home Movies (16-May-1980) Saturn 3 (15-Feb-1980) · Adam The Villain (20-Jul-1979) The Fury (10-Mar-1978) · Peter Holocaust 2000 (25-Nov-1977) Victory at Entebbe (13-Dec-1976) Posse (22-Aug-1975) Once Is Not Enough (18-Jun-1975) Cat and Mouse (9-Mar-1974) Scalawag (14-Nov-1973) The Master Touch (1972) To Catch a Spy (6-Sep-1971) A Gunfight (25-Aug-1971) The Light at the Edge of the World (16-Jul-1971) There Was a Crooked Man... (19-Sep-1970) · Paris Pitman, Jr. The Arrangement (18-Nov-1969) · Eddie & Evangelos The Brotherhood (16-Jan-1969) A Lovely Way to Die (6-May-1968) The War Wagon (27-May-1967) · Lomax The Way West (24-May-1967) · Tadlock Is Paris Burning? (26-Oct-1966) Cast a Giant Shadow (30-Mar-1966) The Heroes of Telemark (Nov-1965) In Harm's Way (6-Apr-1965) · Eddington Seven Days in May (12-Feb-1964) · Col. Jiggs Casey For Love or Money (7-Aug-1963) The List of Adrian Messenger (29-May-1963) The Hook (15-Feb-1963) Two Weeks in Another Town (17-Aug-1962) · Jack Andrus Lonely Are the Brave (24-May-1962) · Jack Burns The Last Sunset (7-Jun-1961) · Brendan O'Malley Town Without Pity (24-Mar-1961) Spartacus (6-Oct-1960) · Spartacus Strangers When We Meet (29-Jun-1960) The Devil's Disciple (21-Aug-1959) · Richard Dudgeon Last Train from Gun Hill (29-Jul-1959) · Marshal Matt Morgan The Vikings (11-Jun-1958) Paths of Glory (25-Dec-1957) · Col. Dax Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (30-May-1957) Top Secret Affair (30-Jan-1957) · Maj. Gen. Melville Goodwin Lust for Life (17-Sep-1956) · Vincent Van Gogh The Indian Fighter (21-Dec-1955) Man Without a Star (24-Mar-1955) Ulysses (8-Feb-1955) · Ulysses The Racers (4-Feb-1955) 20000 Leagues Under the Sea (23-Dec-1954) · Ned Land Act of Love (17-Dec-1953) The Juggler (5-May-1953) · Hans Muller The Story of Three Loves (5-Mar-1953) The Bad and the Beautiful (25-Dec-1952) · Jonathan The Big Sky (6-Aug-1952) · Jim Deakins The Big Trees (5-Feb-1952) · Jim Fallon Detective Story (6-Nov-1951) · Det. James McLeod Ace in the Hole (15-Jun-1951) · Charles Tatum Along the Great Divide (16-May-1951) · Len Merrick The Glass Menagerie (28-Sep-1950) · Jim O'Connor Young Man with a Horn (9-Feb-1950) · Rick Martin Champion (9-Apr-1949) · Midge A Letter to Three Wives (20-Jan-1949) · George Phipps My Dear Secretary (12-Jan-1949) · Owen Waterbury The Walls of Jericho (4-Aug-1948) I Walk Alone (16-Jan-1948) · Noll Turner Mourning Becomes Electra (19-Nov-1947) · Peter Niles Out of the Past (13-Nov-1947) · Whit The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (24-Jul-1946) · Walter O'Neil
Author of books:
The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography (1988, memoir)
Dance with the Devil (1990, novel)
The Gift (1992, novel)
Last Tango in Brooklyn (1994, novel)
Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (1997, memoir)
My Stroke of Luck (2002, memoir)
Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning (2007, memoir)