It appears that UCLA has jumped the gun, and is not waiting until his birthday to honor him. He was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky on Dec. 9, 1916, making him 100 years old in a little over three months from now.
Throwing chronology to the winds, the Los Angeles-California-university has nonetheless embarked on a “Centennial Celebration” by screening the best of Kirk Douglas at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.
The Kirk Douglas Centennial is already underway (screenings began on Aug. 27) and will continue through Friday, Sept. 30. So if you are in the neighborhood, stop by. Program details can be found on the UCLA Film & Television Archive website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Douglas is, of course, one of the most enduring of stars from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. (His credits include some 90 separate movies and tv projects spanning a 62-year-period.) And we mean enduring.
As author-film critic David Thomson notes, he has survived various physical exigencies in his films.
He left a finger in (Howard) Hawk’s “The Big Sky” (1952), an ear in “Lust For Life” (1956), and an eye in “The Vikings” (1958), was beaten up in “Champion” (1949) , stuck in the belly with scissors in Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951), rolled in barbed wire in King Vidor’s “Man Without A Star” (1955), crucified in “Spartacus” (1960), whipped by his own servant (at his own order) in “The Way West” (1967), and generally harassed in several other films.
Among his movies is Richard Quine’s Strangers When We Meet (1960) in which Kim Novak explores the cleft in his chin, as if wondering in which film he got that wound.
This physical and hyper-intense actor has also survived his share of off-camera near misses.
He was very nearly on the same plane that crashed and took the life of producer Michael Todd in 1958. He made a narrow escape from a helicopter crash in 1991 that left him with a nasty back injury. And, in 1995, he suffered a massive stroke that for a long period left him without the ability to speak.
But the former Issur Demsky is still here.
His first movie, 1946’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, is one of his best along with Sparticus and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957). For razzledazzle Douglas in a “prestige” production, try Vincente Minnelli’s Vincent Van Gogh biopic, Lust For Life.
And don’t miss his showy, effective performance as movie producer Jonathan Shields in Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). There he is with Lana Turner above.
But if you choose to skip Douglas’ narcissistic turn as a washed up actor suffering in Roman splendor in Minnelli’s Two Weeks In Another Town (1962), we wouldn’t blame you.
Also, don’t forget the seven pictures that Douglas made with Burt Lancaster, his equal in the suffering intensity department. A favorite is John Sturges‘ the 1957 western, Gunfight at the OK Corral .
As one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Douglas used his clout to form a production company and hire — and publicly credit — the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for Sparticus. Douglas was during his career something of a restless, intellectually inclined actor who at the same time was immensely popular.
The UCLA tribute has scheduled showings of most of the above-mentioned titles but also includes a few surprises. So, again, if your location permits, check it out.