Kirk Douglas Celebrates 100th Birthday

Actor Kirk Douglas became 100 years old on December 9, 2016. The living legend described his experiences working with directors such as Bronx’ own Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Vincente Minnelli, Billy Wilder and more in Variety article noting the centenarian’s career.

Mr Douglas spoke on missing his contemporaries Burt Lancaster and Lawrence Olivier. Mr Douglas travelled the world as a U.S. State Dept. Goodwill Ambassador, and has been married to Belgian born Anne Buydens for 63 years. He has done extended charity work, donating up to 120 million dollars to causes of interest.

“I have given most of my money away because that pleases me. I was born a poor boy. My mother and father came from Russia; I don’t think they could have gotten into the country today. So I have a lot to be thankful for. I didn’t speak English until I went to school. My father was a ragman. We had no money. Nothing. But hobos every evening would come knocking at the door, and my mother always had food for them. She was wonderful. So, my background made me try to do something for other people.”

Mr Douglas suffered a stroke in 1996 for which he worked with a speech therapist afterwards.

A noted project was that of the adaptation to film of author Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Mr Douglas had starred in a stage adaptation in 1963 and had purchased the stage and film adaptation rights. Mr Douglas turned over the rights to his son actor and producer Michael Douglas whose production company Fantasy Films hired Miloš Forman to direct and cast Jack Nicholson to play the lead Randle McMurphy. The film won 5 Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay in 1976.

Of Stanley Kubrick, Mr Douglas is quoted to have said; “Difficult? He invented the word. But he was talented. So, we had lots of fights, but I always appreciated his talent. I always said he was a bastard, but he was a talented, talented guy.” The two had worked together on his productions of Spartacus and Paths Of Glory. He acted in the film adaptation of Tennessee WilliamsThe Glass Menagerie as Jim O’Connor opposite Ronald Reagan’s first wife, actor Jane Wyman as Laura Wingfield. He also starred in Ulysses (a Dino De Laurentiis production). Mr Douglas also starred in Lust For Life as Vincent Van Gogh and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. John Huston directed The List of Adrian Messenger, which starred Mr Douglas along side Tony Curtis, Dana Wynter, George C Scott, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Gladys Cooper.

From Robert Mitchum biography Baby, I Don’t Care, author Lee Server described the rivalry between Mr Douglas and contemporary Robert Mitchum during shooting of Out Of The Past (film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur, RKO Radio Pictures);

“As Whit Sterling, certainly among the most well-spoken and civilized of ruthless racketeers, Douglas gave a brilliantly controlled and charismatic performance, but he could not have been thrilled by another second-fiddle part – especially second fiddle to Mitchum, who had already taken from him the lead in Pursued. The two got along well enough off the set, but the rivalry would flare as soon as the camera began to turn. Since Tournier was not about to accept any obvious histrionics in his diminuendo world, Douglas was left to try to out-underact Mitchum, an exercise in futility, he discovered. He tried adding distracting bits of business during Mitchum’s lines and came up with a coin trick, running it quickly between the tops of his fingers. Bob started staring at the fingers until Kirk started staring at the fingers and dropped the coin on the rug. He put the coin away. In another scene, Douglas brought a gold watch fob out of his coat and twirled it around like a propeller. This time everybody stared.

“It was a hoot to watch them going at it” said Jane Greer. “They were two such different types. Kirk was something of a method actor. And Bob was Bob. You weren’t going to catch him acting but they both tried to get the advantage. At one point they were actually trying to upstage each other by who could sit the lowest…As for Mitchum and Douglas, they attained a certain affability with each other in public, bit it was clear that their rivalry went on percolating just below the surface – they would never be friends.”

In 1991, Out of the Past was added to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

©Getty Images

Leave a Reply