He died this past Wednesday in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 103. He was one of the last living Stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Kirk Douglas began his movie career with a bang in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, a provocative 1946 film noir costarring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin, and ended his career with 95 film/tv credits. He was an unusually prolific BIG star.
He quipped that he was now better known as “Michael Douglas’ father,” although that is hardly the case with classic movie fans. As the actor’s close friend, the late Jack Valenti, wrote: he is the last surviving Hollywood global superstar, not counting a much younger Clint Eastwood. These bigger-than-life characters reigned from the late 1930’s to the early 1970’s.
Douglas was one of the most enduring of stars from the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
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. Still, he managed to hang around past the century mark.
As mentioned, 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). (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 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.
Although it seems that many of us of a certain vintage knew Kirk Douglas forever we may not know as much about him as we think. This Monday Quiz, based on the actor’s own writings in his 2007 memoir, Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning, will put your knowledge to the test.
So please forge ahead and take our Kirk Douglas Quiz. (Answers on Monday.)
1) Question: Douglas has four sons from two marriages, and pressed each to follow his footsteps and become actors. a) True; or b) False.
2) Question: Which one of the following actors received a fan letter from young, aspiring actor Kirk, and never bothered to answer it? a) Gary Cooper; b) Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; c) Charles Laughton or d) Erich von Stroheim.
3) Question: It’s no secret that Douglas disliked his real name (Issur Danielovitch), and changed it early. Who suggested his marquee name? a) Gary Cooper; b) longtime friend Karl Malden; c) Ivan Daniels; or d) the director of a summer stock theater, who blurted out the marquee moniker.
4) Question: One of Douglas’ frequent male costars was Burt Lancaster. How many movies did Douglas and Lancaster make together? a) 12; b) 7; c) 9; or d) 10.
5) Question: Blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was hired to write the screenplay for Douglas’ 1960 epic Spartacus under a pseudonym. Which one of the following is the pseudonym? a) Hy Hollinger; b) Irving Horowitz; c) Sam Jackson; or d) Clark Smith.
6) Question: Stanley Kubrick, who replaced Anthony Mann as the director of Spartacus, suggested to Douglas (who produced and costarred in the picture) that he put Kubrick’s name on the screen as the writer of the picture even though he had nothing to do with the script. a) True; or b) False
7) Question: Douglas and producer-director Otto Preminger had a celebrated spat at the commercial height of their careers. What was it about? a) The division of profits on a film they had planned together; b) Gypsy Rose Lee, who was a romantic conquest of Preminger’s; c) About which of the two was first to publicly credit blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo; or d) Which of the two would be likely to take over a major studio.
8) Question: Which of the following does Douglas believe to be the dumbest casting decision of his career? a) Turning down Lee Marvin’s part in Cat Ballou; b) Turning down William Holden’s leading role in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17; c) Turning down the role of General Electric spokesperson that Ronald Reagan employed as a platform to enter politics; or d) Turning down the role of championship golfer Ben Hogan.
9) Question: Douglas was not a method actor but did “lose” himself in one particular role. Which one? a) Vincent van Gogh in Lust For Life; b) the title role in Spartacus; c) Col. Dax in Paths of Glory; or d) Jack Burns in Lonely Are The Brave.
10) Question: The elderly Douglas survived several physical ailments over recent years. Which one of the following has he not grappled with? a) Physical aftereffects of a helicopter crash; b) A stroke; c) Installation of a pacemaker; or d) Hepatitis C.