Who is Kırk Douglas?
Kirk was the only boy among six sisters. To help ends meet in his desperately poor family, Kirk took on a variety of odd jobs while growing up. He began acting in plays in high school, where he excelled in both academics and sports. He worked his way through St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, where he was a prominent member of the wrestling team.
After graduation, Kirk attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City on a special scholarship. When World War II broke out, he joined the US Navy, from which he received an honorable discharge in 1944.
While serving in the Navy, Kirk saw a photo of Bermuda-born Diana Dill, a fellow student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, on the cover ofLifemagazine and swore he was going to marry her. True to his word, Kirk married Diana on November 2, 1943. The couple subsequently had two sons, Michael Douglas, born in 1944, and Joel, born in 1947, before divorcing in 1951.
After his discharge from the Navy, Kirk began being cast on the New York stage, as well as in radio. Lauren Bacall, another of Kirk’s fellow students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, insisted that film producer Hal Wallis audition him for the Barbara Stanwyck filmThe Strange Love of Martha Ivers(1946). Kirk was cast and played his role to huge critical success, launching his Hollywood career.
Kirk’s early film roles included appearances in two film classics, the film noirOut of the Past (1947), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and Joseph Mankiewicz’sA Letter to Three Wives(1949). In 1948, he appeared with Burt Lancaster inI Walk Alone. This was the first of a seven-film series of Douglas-Lancaster collaborations, which included such notable films as the Western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral(1957) and the political thriller Seven Days in May (1964), directed by John Frankenheimer.
Kirk achieved full-fledged stardom, and his first Academy Award nomination, in 1949, playing a ruthless boxer in Champion, directed by Mark Robson. This was Kirk’s first part playing “sons of bitches” and heels. It certainly wasn’t the last, despite the many heroic roles he would also take on. Kirk’s next starring role was as a jazz trumpeter, based on Bix Beiderbecke, inYoung Man with a Horn(1950), where he played opposite Doris Day.
In 1951, Kirk starred as an unscrupulous reporter in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Although the film was not a success on its first release, it is now recognized as one of both Wilder’s and Kirk’s best. That same year, he starred in the successful crime drama Detective Story, directed by William Wyler. Kirk also started playing a variety of Western roles at this time, first in Along the Great Divide (1951), and then in Howard Hawks’s 1952 filmThe Big Sky.
Kirk garnered his second Oscar nomination with another role as a heel, the “bad” film producer in Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 Hollywood melodramaThe Bad and the Beautiful, opposite Lana Turner. Kirk and Minnelli reunited ten years later forTwo Weeks in Another Town, a sequel of sorts set in Rome during the ’60s heyday of the international film industry.
An earlier European film, Act of Love(1953), is notable because he married the film’s publicist, the German-born Belgian Anne Buydens, the following year. This marriage produced two sons, Peter, who was born in 1955, and Eric, born in 1958. Kirk and Anne’s marriage is notable for its longevity, with the couple celebrating a second “recommitment” ceremony on their 50th wedding anniversary.
In the year of his marriage to Anne, Kirk appeared in one of his best-loved comic roles, as a sailor in the hit Disney live-action version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1956, he starred in another memorable role, as Vincent Van Gogh in Vincente Minnelli’s film biographyLust for Life, for which he received a third Oscar nomination.
In recent years, it has become common for film stars to form their own production companies. In 1955, when Kirk formed The Bryna Company, the practice was virtually unheard of. The company produced a critical hit early on:Paths of Glory (1957), the classic World War I anti-war drama directed by Stanley Kubrick, in which Kirk starred as Colonel Dax, a French commander who faces a life-defining moral dilemma. Just a year later, Kirk took on a very different kind of leading role in the rousing adventureThe Vikings, a huge box-office hit.
The Bryna Company’s finest moment may have been the production of Spartacus (1960), again directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas in the title role of what is arguably the greatest “sword and sandal” epic film ever. The film is further distinguished by Kirk’s insistence that formerly banned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo be credited under his own name. This effectively ending the McCarthy-era blacklist, an achievement Kirk regards as the high point of his career. In 2012, following the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, Kirk explored the trials and tribulations behind the making of this classic and the breaking of the blacklist in his book I Am Spartacus!
In 1962, Kirk appeared in one of his favorite roles, as a cowboy whom time has passed by in the intimateLonely Are the Brave, also written by Dalton Trumbo and produced by Bryna. A year later, Kirk began a series of international trips, often accompanied by his wife Anne, as a goodwill ambassador for the US State Department. In 1964, Anne and Kirk established The Douglas Foundation (www.douglasfoundation.org), one of the entertainment industry’s oldest and largest private philanthropic organizations. The Foundation’s work, focusing on health, education, and the disadvantaged, continues unabated.
At about the time he started The Douglas Foundation, Kirk starred as Randall McMurphy in a New York stage adaptation of the Ken Kesey novelOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kirk eventually assigned the motion picture rights to the novel to his son Michael Douglas, who went on to produce a film version that swept the Academy Awards in 1975.
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Kirk appeared in a series of major motion pictures, often with international settings, including The List of Adrian Messenger (1963),In Harm’s Way (1965), Is Paris Burning? (1966), The Arrangement (1969), Once Is Not Enough (1975), and The Fury (1978), directed by Brian De Palma. In 1980, he appeared in the science-fiction time-travel classic The Final Countdown, produced by his son Peter, and in 1982 travelled to Australia to star in the hit, The Man from Snowy River.
In the ’80s, Kirk turned to feature-length television films. He played the title role in Amos (1985), which was the highest-rated film for television of its year, and then appeared as William Jennings Bryan in an adaptation of the stage play Inherit the Wind, which won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special in 1988.
In 1988, Kirk also published his immensely popular autobiography The Ragman’s Son, and started yet another career as an author. His books encompass both novels, such asDance With the Devil (1990) and Last Tango in Brooklyn (1994), and non-fiction, including Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (2001), My Stroke of Luck (2003), and I Am Spartacus! (2012). In 2014, he published his first book of poetry, Life Could Be Verse.
As his books of reflections reveal, even after achieving stardom, Kirk faced his share of adversity and grief. He was seriously injured in a helicopter accident near Santa Paula, California, northwest of Los Angeles, in 1993. He then suffered a severe stroke in 1996, which impaired his ability to speak and from which he has largely rehabilitated himself. His youngest son, Eric, died tragically in 2004.
While Kirk never departed from the Jewish faith in which he was raised, he became more deeply involved in Hebraic studies late in life, and underwent a traditional if rare second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. He is also a proud grandparent seven times over.
Kirk has received numerous honors in the United States and aborad in recognition of both his film and philanthropic work. He accepted the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1991. In 1999, the AFI also placed him on its list of the top fifty stars of American cinema. In 1996, Kirk won an Honorary Academy Award “for fifty years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”
Kirk has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, one of the few ever to be stolen and replaced. In 2004, a street in Palm Springs, California, was named “Kirk Douglas Way” in his honor.
In 1981, Kirk was also presented with the Presidential Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest civilian award, in recognition of his work throughout the world as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department. The French government presented him with the Legion of Honor in 1985. In 2001, he received the National Medal of the Arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Kirk maintains a busy schedule of film, television, and public appearances, in addition to his many philanthropic activities. He is the rarest of the rare: a classic film star with immense life-long impact and appeal.
His career as an actor has been one of the foundations of Kirk Douglas’s life. Family has been the other. Although Kirk began life as a “ragman’s son,” in the words of the title of his best-selling autobiography, he went on to found one of the entertainment industry’s best-known and most creative dynasties.
Kirk was married to actress Diana Dill from 1943 until 1951. Rhe couple had two sons: actor-producer Michael Douglas, born in 1944, and film producer Joel, born in 1947.
Kirk married the former Anne Buydens, whom he met while working on the production of the film Act of Love, in 1954. This marriage also produced two sons, Peter, who was born in 1955, and Eric, born in 1958.
Kirk and Anne’s marriage is notable for its longevity, and the couple celebrated a second “recommitment” ceremony on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004. Kirk and Anne live in Beverly Hills and Montecito, California, For several decades, they maintained a residence in Palm Springs.
Here’s more about the other members of the Douglas clan:
Anne Douglas was born Anne Buydens in Hannover, Germany. Recognizing the evils of fascism, though barely a teenager, she fled that country for Switzerland and Belgium, where she became a citizen. Fluent in several languages, she eventually settled in Paris, doing film translations and writing subtitles.
After the war, Mrs. Douglas continued her work in film and television, moving into public relations and handling protocol for the Cannes Film Festival. In 1953, while working as public relations manager for the French-American co-production Act of Love, she met her husband-to-be, the film’s star Kirk Douglas. The following year, the couple married in Las Vegas.
In 1955, the Douglases formed one of Hollywood’s first independent production companies, the Bryna Company, named for Kirk's mother. Mrs. Douglas has served as the company’s president for many years.
In 1964, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas established The Douglas Foundation, one of the film industry’s first private charitable institutions. Among the Foundation initiatives with which Mrs. Douglas has been most closely involved are the Anne Douglas Center of the Los Angeles Mission, which cares for homeless women, and the Anne & Kirk Douglas School Playground Award, which funds the building and restoration of playgrounds at schools in inner-city and disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles.
In recognition of her philanthropic activities, Mrs. Douglas was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times in 1969, and received the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen from the American Institute of Public Service in 2003. The Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center presented her with the Evelyn Clayburgh Award for distinguished service, and in 1997, she became the first recipient of the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Research Institute’s Women of Courage Award.
A proud United States citizen, Mrs. Douglas has traveled the world, often in the company of her husband, as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of the U.S. State Department and U.S. Information Agency, which presented her with its Directors' Award for superior achievement. Her arts activities have included service on the boards of the Mark Taper Forum, the Los Angeles Music Center’s Center Theatre Group, and the Palm Springs Desert Museum. She has been inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame, and was voted onto the international list of Best Dressed Women three separate times.
Michael Douglas was born in 1944, the first son of Kirk Douglas and Diana Dill, and grew up in both Connecticut and Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1968, and then followed his father into acting. His first major role was on the long-running TV series The Streets of San Francisco (1972 – 76).
In 1975, Michael produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson. The film swept the top Academy Awards and earned Michael the Best Picture Oscar. In 1979, Michael both produced and acted in the hit film The China Syndrome, which prefigured the Ten Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in Pennsylvania.
In 1984 and 1985, Michael established himself as a swashbuckling romantic lead opposite Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone and its sequel The Jewel of the Nile. In 1987, he appeared in the hit thriller Fatal Attraction and won the Academy Award as Best Actor for his role as the avaricious Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Other notable film roles include The War of the Roses (1989), Basic Instinct (1992), Falling Down (1993), Traffic and Wonder Boys (both 2000), and a turn with his father Kirk and son Cameron in It Runs in the Family (2003). More recently, he starred as Liberace in the acclaimed HBO production of Behind the Candelabra.
Michael was married to Diandra Luker from 1977 to 2000, and the couple have one son, Cameron, born in 1978. Michael married actress Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2000, and their children Dylan and Carys were born in 2000 and 2003 respectively. The couple live in New York City.
Joel Douglas was born in 1947, the second son of Kirk Douglas and Diana Dill. His impact in the film business has been behind rather than in front of the camera. He served as unit production manager on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and co-produced both Romancing the Stone (1984) and Jewel of the Nile (1985). For several years he headed the Victorine film studio in Nice, France.
Joel's wife Jo-Ann passed away in 2013. He lives in Palm Springs, California.
Peter Douglas was born in 1955, the eldest son of Kirk and Anne Douglas. He entered the film business in his late teens, as one of the first to be admitted into the prestigious Directors Guild of America Training Program.
In 1980, Peter produced his first film, the science-fiction time-travel classic The Final Countdown. He followed this with an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s fantasy masterpiece Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) for Disney. He then produced both Fletch (1985) and Fletch Lives (1989) starring Chevy Chase, for Universal, and wrote, directed, and produced the independent film A Tiger’s Tale (1988), featuring Ann-Margret.
In television, Peter produced Amos, the highest-rated movie for television of 1985, and Inherit the Wind, for which he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special in 1988. Moving into cable, he produced the Home Box Office Original Film The Enemy Within (1994).
Peter makes films independently through his production company, Vincent Pictures. For several years, he was also President and Chief Operating Officer at the Bryna Company, where he was responsible for the development and production of television, cable and pay-per-view programming, as well as the international distribution of a library of classic motion pictures.
For several years, Peter served as a member of the Board of Directors and Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee of Cedars Sinai, Los Angeles’s preeminent medical center. Peter now serves as Executive Director of the Douglas Foundation.
Peter married the former Lisa Schroeder in 1991. The marriage produced four children, Kelsey, Tyler, Ryan, and Jason. They divorced in 2014. Peter lives in Montecito, California.
Eric Douglas was born in 1958 and was Kirk and Anne Douglas’s youngest son. After studying at Pitzer College, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Eric followed his father Kirk and brother Michael into acting. He appeared in such films as The Flamingo Kid (1984) and The Golden Child (1986), as well as in several roles in episodic television.
In the late ‘80s, Eric moved to New York City, where he developed a second career as an improv and stand-up comedian. Eric died in July 2004 and is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
1946 - The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Walter O'Neil)
1947 - Out of the Past (Whit Sterling)
1947 - Mourning Becomes Electra (Peter Niles)
1948 - I Walk Alone (Noll "Dink" Turner)
1948 - The Walls of Jericho (Tucker Wedge)
1948 - My Dear Secretary (Owen Waterbury)
1949 - A Letter to Three Wives (George Phipps)
1949 - Champion (Michael "Midge" Kelly)
1950 - Young Man with a Horn (Rick Martin)
1950 - The Glass Menagerie (Jim O'Connor)
1951 - Along the Great Divide (Marshal Len Merrick)
1951 - Ace in the Hole (Chuck Tatum)
1951 - Detective Story (Detective Jim McLeod)
1952 - The Big Trees (Jim Fallon)
1952 - The Big Sky (Jim Deakins)
1952 - The Bad and the Beautiful (Jonathan Shields)
1953 - The Story of Three Loves (Pierre Narval)
1953 - The Juggler (Hans Muller)
1953 - Act of Love (Robert Teller)
1954 - The Jack Benny Program ()
1954 - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Ned Land)
1955 - The Racers (Gino Borgesa)
1955 - Ulysses (Odysseus)
1955 - Man Without a Star (Dempsey Rae)
1955 - The Indian Fighter (Johnny Hawks)
1956 - Lust for Life (Vincent van Gogh)
1957 - Top Secret Affair (Maj. Gen. Melville A. Goodwin)
1957 - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Doc Holliday)
1957 - Paths of Glory (Colonel Dax)
1958 - The Vikings (Einar)
1959 - Last Train from Gun Hill (Matt Morgan)
1959 - The Devil's Disciple (Richard "Dick" Dudgeon)
1960 - Strangers When We Meet (Larry Coe)
1960 - Spartacus (Spartacus)
1961 - Town Without Pity (Major Garrett)
1961 - The Last Sunset (Brendan "Bren" O'Malley)
1962 - Lonely Are the Brave (John W. "Jack" Burns)
1962 - Two Weeks in Another Town (Jack Andrus)
1963 - The Hook (Sgt. P.J. Briscoe)
1963 - The List of Adrian Messenger (Various)
1963 - For Love or Money (Donald Kenneth "Deke" Gentry)
1964 - Seven Days in May (Colonel Jiggs Casey)
1965 - In Harm's Way (Commander Paul Eddington)
1965 - The Heroes of Telemark (Dr Rolf Pedersen)
1966 - Cast a Giant Shadow (Col. Mickey Marcus)
1966 - Is Paris Burning? (Gen. George Patton)
1967 - The Way West (Sen. William J. Tadlock)
1967 - The War Wagon (Lomax)
1968 - Once Upon a Wheel (Himself)
1968 - A Lovely Way to Die (Jim Schuyler)
1968 - The Brotherhood (Frank Ginetta)
1969 - The Arrangement (Eddie Anderson)
1970 - There Was a Crooked Man... (Paris Pitman Jr.)
1970 - The Johnny Cash Show (Himself/Singer)
1971 - To Catch a Spy (Andrej)
1971 - The Light at the Edge of the World (Will Denton)
1971 - A Gunfight (Will Tenneray)
1972 - The Master Touch (Steve Wallace)
1973 - Scalawag (Peg)
1973 - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
1974 - Mousey (George Anderson)
1975 - Posse (Marshal Howard Nightingale)
1975 - Once Is Not Enough (Mike Wayne)
1976 - Victory at Entebbe (Hershel Vilnofsky)
1977 - Holocaust 2000 (Robert Caine)
1978 - The Fury (Peter Sandza)
1979 - The Villain (Cactus Jack)
1980 - Saturn 3 (Adam)
1980 - Home Movies (Dr. Tuttle "The Maestro")
1980 - The Final Countdown (Capt. Matthew Yelland)
1982 - The Man from Snowy River (Harrison/Spur)
1982 - Remembrance of Love (Joe Rabin)
1983 - Eddie Macon's Run (Marzack)
1984 - Draw! (Harry H. Holland)
1984 - Hollywood Greats (Himself)
1985 - Amos (Amos Lasher)
1986 - Tough Guys (Archie Long)
1987 - Queenie (David Konig)
1988 - Inherit the Wind (Matthew Harrison Brady)
1991 - Oscar (Eduardo Provolone)
1991 - Veraz/Welcome to Veraz (Quentin)
1991 - Tales from the Crypt (General Kalthrob)
1992 - The Secret (Grandpa Mike Dunmore)
1994 - A Century of Cinema (Himself)
1994 - Greedy (Uncle Joe McTeague)
1994 - Take Me Home Again "The Lies Boys Tell" (Ed Reece)
1996 - The Simpsons (Chester J. Lampwick (voice))
1999 - Diamonds (Harry Agensky)
2000 - Touched by an Angel (Ross Burger)
2003 - It Runs in the Family (Mitchell Gromberg)
2004 - Illusion (Donald Baines)
2008 - Empire State Building Murders (Jim Kovalski)
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