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Kirk Douglas ACTOR


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:

Champion (1949)

“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.’”

Spartacus (1960)

“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
1949   Champion
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
1960   Spartacus
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   Scalawag
1973   Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1975   Posse
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
1984   Draw!
1985   Amos
1986   Tough Guys
1988   Inherit the Wind
1991   Oscar
1991   Veraz
1994   A Century of Cinema
1994   Greedy
1999   Diamonds
2003   It Runs in the Family
2004   Illusion
2008   Meurtres à l'Empire State Building (U.S. title: Empire State Building Murders)
2010   Before I Forget

Matinee Classics - My Dear Secretary starring Kirk Douglas, Laraine Day, Keenan Wynn, Rudy Vallee, Irene Ryan and Alan Mowbray
Matinee Classics -  2 Weeks in Another Town starring Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton, Claire Trevor, James Gregory, George Macready, Erich von Storheim and Leslie Uggams
Matinee Classics - 2 Weeks in Another Town starring Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton, Claire Trevor, James Gregory, George Macready, Erich von Storheim and Leslie Uggams
Matinee Classics - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason
Matinee Classics - The Big Trees starring Kirk Douglas, Eve Miller, Edgar Buchanan, Patrice Wymore, John Archer, Alan Hale Jr., Roy Roberts, Ellen Corby, Charles Meredith and Harry Cording
Matinee Classics - A Gunfight starring Kirk Douglas, Johnny Cash, Jane Alexander and Karen Black
Matinee Classics - A Letter to Three Wives starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas and Paul Douglas
Matinee Classics - Ace In The Hole starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady and Richard Benedict
Matinee Classics - In Harm's Way starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Brandon de Wilde, Jill Haworth, Dana Andrews, Stanley Holloway, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, James Mitchum, Carroll O'Connor and Larry Hagman
Matinee Classics - Cast a Giant Shadow starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Senta Berger, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner and Michael Douglas
Matinee Classics - A Lovely Way To Die starring Kirk Douglas, Sylva Koscina, Eli Wallach, and Ralph Waite
Matinee Classics - Champion starring Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, Ruth Roman and John Daheim
Matinee Classics - Along the Great Divide starring Kirk Douglas, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan Morris Ankrum and John Agar
Matinee Classics - The Big Sky starring Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Buddy Baer, Steven Geray, Henri Letondal, Hank Worden, Jim Davis, Iron Eyes Cody, Fraak DeKova and Guy Wilkerson
Matinee Classics - The Indian Fighter starring Kirk Douglas, Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau, Diana Douglas, Walter Abel, Lon Chaney Jr., Eduard Franz, Alan Hale Jr., Elisha Cook Jr., Ray Teal, Frank Cady, Michael Winkelman, William Phipps, Harry Landers and Hank Worden

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