Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kirk Douglas, The Ragman's Son

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk Douglas on the set of "Cactus Jack" (1979).
Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch, December 9, 1916) is a legendary American film and stage actor, film producer and author. His son, Michael Douglas, also is one of the top stars in Hollywood.

Kirk is the son of Russian Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (now Belarus). He was born in Amsterdam, New York to a poor family which included six sisters. He grew up speaking Yiddish. His family changed its last name to Demsky when he was a child, and he again changed it legally to Kirk Douglas (his stage name) shortly before entering the Navy during World War II.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com

After attending St. Lawrence University, Kirk received a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. There, he met Lauren Bacall. Before he could do much acting, though, he enlisted in the US Navy right after Pearl Harbor. He served honorably and was discharged in 1944 on account of war injuries.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk Douglas with Walt Disney during the filming of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954).
After his discharge, Douglas returned to New York City and resumed his acting career. His breakthrough occurred when Bacall recommended him to Hal B. Wallis for a film role in 1946. The film, "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers," established Douglas as a force in Hollywood.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com

Kirk spent most of the 1950s playing tough guys. He quickly learned the Hollywood game and formed his own production company, Bryna Productions. His string of high profile roles, which began with "Champion" in 1949, turned Douglas into one of the top stars of the 1950s.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk Douglas in "Ace in the Hole" (1951).
Top Douglas roles include:
  • The Bad and the Beautiful' (1952)
  • Lust for Life (1956)
  • Paths of Glory (1957)
  • Spartacus (1960)
  • Lonely are the Brave (1962)
  • The War Wagon (1967)
Of course, that is just a very tiny sampling of Kirk's many legendary roles.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk accepting his honorary Oscar in 1996.
Douglas wrote a very well-regarded autobiography, "The Ragman's Son," in 1988. It was one of the best celebrity autobiographies of all time and provided real insight into his rise from poverty to international superstardom. He received an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for "50 years as a moral and creative force." He was married to former classmate Diana Dill in the 1940s and, since 29 May 1954, to Anne Buydens.

Kirk Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk Douglas in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950) with  Lauren Bacall.
Kirk has lived a long life. As of this writing, he is 100 years old and showing no signs of slowing up anytime soon. He celebrated his 99th birthday on 9 December 2015 by making a gift rather than receiving one, his 100th birthday in 2016, and is up to 102 at last count. The 100th birthday celebration was at the Sunset Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in front of 150 people, including his famous family including son Micheal and daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones and top Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Don Rickles. Some lesser luminaries but still steeped in Hollywood history, such as Steve McQueen's first wife, dancer Neile Adams, were there as well. It was as much a celebration of Hollywood history as Douglas himself.

Kirk Douglas as Spartacus legends.filminspector.com

With Douglas' initial donation of $15 million, the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills announced plans to build a two-story $35 million Alzheimer’s facility which will be named the Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion. It will be able to take care of upwards of 80 industry members with that disease. The new unit is expected to break ground in late 2016. It will be built above an earlier unit, Harry's Haven, previously built by Douglas and named after his father.

Kirk Douglas Catherine Zeta-Jones Michael Douglas legends.filminspector.com
Kirk with son and daughter-in-law on his 99th birthday in 2015.