KIRK DOUGLAS BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
Kirk Douglas was born in Amsterdam, New York on December 9, 1916 with the birth name Issur Danielovich Demsky. His parents were both Russian Jewish immigrants. Being raised in a poor family, Douglas had to help out his family financially and he sold snacks to mill workers and also delivered newspapers to make money for bread and milk. Growing up he was known as Izzy Demsky. During high school, he acted in school plays and knew in his heart that one day he wanted to be an actor.
He wanted to attend university but was unable to afford the tuition expense, so Douglas talked his way into St. Lawrence University and was able to receive a loan, which he paid back by working part-time as a gardener, a waiter and a janitor. He was an active member of the wrestling team and was also involved in the school’s theater program.
He decided to enroll at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where he received a special scholarship and held various jobs to help pay for his school expenses.
In 1941 Kirk Douglas debuted on Broadway, but only had a few small roles before enlisting in the Navy to serve in World War II. Kirk Douglas was discharged due to war injuries in 1944. After his discharge he returned to the U.S. where he saw a photo of a former classmate, Diana Dill, on the cover of Life Magazine. He announced to friends that he was going to marry her, and, on November 2, 1943, they were married. They had two sons together, Michael in 1944 and Joel in 1947, but by 1951 they were divorced.
During the early part of their marriage, Douglas returned to working on Broadway, where he was beginning to be cast in larger roles and he also pursued work in radio on the side.
At the urging of Lauren Bacall, one of Kirk’s former classmates, producer Hal Wallis went to see him perform and invited Douglas to come to Hollywood. Douglas debuted on-screen in Wallis’ The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin and Lizabeth Scott; however, it wasn't until his portrayal of a boxer in Champion (1949), co-starring Marilyn Maxwell, when he earned his first Oscar nomination.
Going into the 1950s, and now single, Douglas was cast in many feature films with great success, some of which included Ace in the Hole (1951), starring with Jan Sterling, Detective Story (1951,) co-starring William Bendix and Eleanor Parker, Top Secret Affair (1957), starring with Susan Hayward and Jim Backus, Town Without Pity (1961), also starring E.G. Marshall and Christine Kaufmann, The Hook (1963) with Nick Adams, Seven Days in May (1964), co-starring with Burt Lancaster, Fredric March, Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien, The Heroes of Telemark (1965) joined by Richard Harris and Michael Redgrave, In Harm's Way (1965), starring with a host of great actors including John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda and Burgess Meredith just to name a few, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), also starring Angie Dickinson, Senta Berger, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Yul Brynner and his son Michael Douglas, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), co-starring Burt Lancaster and Rhonda Fleming. He earned Oscar nominations for his work in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) starring alongside of Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gilbert Roland and Gloria Grahame and for Lust for Life (1956) starring with Anthony Quinn.
Douglas formed his own company, Bryna Productions (named after his mother), in 1955, and produced many of his own films such as Paths of Glory (1957), starring with Ralph Meeker and Adolphe Menjou, Spartacus (1960), starring Tony Curtis, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton and John Gavin and Lonely Are the Brave (1962), also starring Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau. According to Kirk Douglas his role in Lonely Are the Brave is his personal favorite. Two of these films proved to be the most popular and acclaimed of Douglas' career.
On May 29, 1954 he married Anne Buydens and together they had two sons, producer Peter Douglas in 1955 and actor Eric Douglas in 1958. In 1963, Douglas appeared on Broadway in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, and bought the rights to the story, but was never able to interest Hollywood in a film version of the work. His son, Michael Douglas, who was also a popular actor and filmmaker, eventually brought it to the screen to great success, featuring Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson. He continued to work on various films as well, well into the 1960s. He appeared in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), featuring George C. Scott and Dana Wynter, and Seven Days in May (1964).
Moving into the 1970s Douglas began directing more films and scored his greatest success as the director, star, and producer of Posse (1975). He continued having roles in numerous television programs and films such as The Man from Snowy River (1982) and Tough Guys (1986).
With his cleft chin, striking good looks, distinctive voice and intense acting style, Kirk Douglas has made his mark in acting history, but he has made his mark elsewhere too. He is quoted as saying “I've made a career of playing sons of bitches”, but he obviously has chosen not to live life as one.
Kirk and Anne Douglas founded The Douglas Foundation in 1964 as their way of giving back and not just living as celebrities. The Douglas’ son, Peter, is the President of the foundation. According to the foundation’s website their goal is “to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves. Its primary focus is improving the education and health, fostering the well-being, and most importantly developing new opportunities for the children who hold our future in their hands. One of the Foundation’s most ambitious initiatives, recently completed, was the renovation of recreational and athletic facilities at over four hundred K-12 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District”. The Foundation is based in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California and states that their primary obligation is to focus on local needs to “assist credible agencies and institutions serving children and youth, the aged, the disabled, the homeless, the sick, the poor, or the otherwise disadvantaged, and projects benefiting the general community”.
Kirk Douglas has authored six books and is reported to be working on his seventh. His books are The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography (1988), Dance with the Devil (1990), The Gift (1992), Last Tango in Brooklyn (1994), Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (1997), My Stroke of Luck (2002), and Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning (2007).
In the 1960s he was invited by President John F. Kennedy to serve as a United States Ambassador, which he did for many years. His many contributions earned him the highest civilian award given in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Douglas was also given the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 1983.
Other awards include the American Cinema Award (1987), the German Golden Kamera Award (1988), and the National Board of Review's Career Achievement Award (1989). Douglas was presented with an Honorary Oscar by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences "for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community", and just four years later he was the recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. Also for his contributions to the motion picture industry, Kirk Douglas has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Douglas suffered a stroke in 1996 but that did not stop him from working on his next film, Diamonds (1999), and again in It Runs in the Family (2003).
Douglas has always held the utmost respect for the film industry. He took each role very seriously, analyzing every aspect of the character he was to portray.
Some of Kirk Douglas’ quotes about movies he’s appeared in:
“I didn’t think I was so tough until I did Champion; then I was a tough guy. Virtue is not photogenic, so I liked playing bad guys. But, whenever I played a bad guy, I tried to find something good in him, and that kept my contact with the audience.”
Young Man with a Horn (1950)
“Recently my son Michael called me from the United Nations, where he was attending a meeting. And he said, ‘Dad, I met a guy from Africa who is probably the world’s best trumpet player, and he said to me, ‘You know, after I saw your father in Young Man with a Horn, I became interested in the trumpet.’”
Ace in the Hole (1951)
“I thought that Billy Wilder was such a brilliant director. That character was a lot to handle, so I asked him if I should tone him down a bit, but he told me to do just the opposite. ‘Both knees! Give it both knees!’”
Detective Story (1951)
“Lee Grant played a small part -- a shoplifter -- in Detective Story, and she got an Oscar nomination. She’s a wonderful girl. And, years later, she directed Michael and me and all our bunch in a family picture.”
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
“You know, it’s tough to make a movie about movies. We’re all too close to it. But The Bad and the Beautiful was very good. And Lana Turner, I think, did her best job; she was very good. I was good, too!”
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
“I sang in that! For a guy who can’t sing, I sang a lot. [sings] ‘Got a whale of a tale to tell you lads!’ … All the young kids at that time knew that song. They made a disc of it professionally, and I said in an interview that my friend Frank Sinatra was jealous of me!”
Lust for Life (1956)
“Acting is make-believe. I never believe I’m the character; I want you to believe. But with Lust for Life, I got so involved with van Gogh… it really was frightening, because I felt like the character was overtaking me. It was a very, very interesting experience. I have never felt that way on any other picture.”
Paths of Glory (1957)
“I saw a little picture that Stanley Kubrick had done [the 1956 film The Killing], and I said, ‘Gee, he’s very talented.’ I called him and said, ‘Do you have any other projects?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have a project, but nobody wants to do it.’ And he sent me Paths of Glory. I said, ‘Stanley, this picture won’t make a nickel, but we have to do it.’”
“I was intrigued with the character of Spartacus, and I just had to make it. And, at the same time, we were going through a terrible period, the McCarthy era. I’m very proud that Spartacus broke the blacklist [by giving blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo screen credit], because that was very important. It happened at the right time for me. I was young enough to be foolish. It’s nice to make a movie that people enjoy and that does something.”
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
“I love that character and his relationship with his horse. And I always consider that my best movie. It was not a big success. It’s gotten to be more of a cult film right now. Again, Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. It was the one time we never changed a word; it was perfect, like a hole in one.”
1946 The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
1947 Out of the Past
1947 Mourning Becomes Electra
1948 I Walk Alone
1948 The Walls of Jericho
1949 My Dear Secretary
1949 A Letter to Three Wives
1950 Young Man with a Horn
1950 The Glass Menagerie
1951 Along the Great Divide
1951 Ace in the Hole
1951 Detective Story
1952 The Big Trees
1952 The Big Sky
1952 The Bad and the Beautiful
1953 The Story of Three Loves
1953 The Juggler
1953 Act of Love
1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
1955 The Racers
1955 Ulisse (U.S. title: Ulysses)
1955 Man Without a Star
1955 The Indian Fighter
1956 Lust for Life
1957 Top Secret Affair
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
1957 Paths of Glory
1958 The Vikings
1959 Last Train from Gun Hill
1959 The Devil's Disciple
1960 Strangers When We Meet
1961 Town Without Pity
1961 The Last Sunset
1962 Lonely Are the Brave
1962 Two Weeks in Another Town (aka 2 Weeks in Another Town)
1963 The Hook
1963 The List of Adrian Messenger
1963 For Love or Money
1964 Seven Days in May
1965 In Harm's Way
1965 The Heroes of Telemark
1966 Cast a Giant Shadow
1966 Is Paris Burning?
1967 The Way West
1967 The War Wagon
1971 Once Upon a Wheel
1968 A Lovely Way to Die
1968 The Brotherhood
1969 The Arrangement
1970 There Was a Crooked Man
1971 To Catch a Spy (aka Catch Me a Spy)
1971 The Light at the Edge of the World
1971 A Gunfight
1972 A Man to Respect (aka The Master Touch)
1973 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1975 Once Is Not Enough
1977 Holocaust 2000
1978 The Fury
1979 The Villain
1980 Saturn 3
1980 Home Movies
1980 The Final Countdown
1982 The Man from Snowy River
1982 Remembrance of Love
1983 Eddie Macon's Run
1986 Tough Guys
1988 Inherit the Wind
1994 A Century of Cinema
2003 It Runs in the Family
2008 Meurtres à l'Empire State Building (U.S. title: Empire State Building Murders)
2010 Before I Forget