Yes, you clever readers, last week one of our mystery stars — pictured in our Jan. 2 Mystery Stars of the Week blog — was Michael Douglas (the other was Malcolm McDowell), and Michael is the son of a REALLY big star, one of the last men standing —Kirk Douglas. But in addition to being the patriarch of a film family (Michael is one of his two sons from his first marriage to the former Diana Love Dill), Douglas is 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.
But the former Issur Danielovich Demsky is still here, 97 years old as of last Dec. 9 — after almost 100 film and tv credits stretching over 62 years.
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 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.