actor, film producer
born December 09, 1916
Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch) is an American actor, film producer and author, known for such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Lust for Life (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) or Spartacus (1960). He is No. 17 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male movie actors, and the highest-ranking living person on that list. Also, Douglas played an instrumental role in ending the Hollywood blacklist in 1960.
Kirk Douglas – the Hollywood patriarch
Douglas was born in Amsterdam, New York, the son of Bryna Sanglel and Herschel Danielovitch, extremely poor Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (now Belarus). Douglas grew up as Issur/Izzy Demsky and only changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II. Since early teens he had to work, trying literally dozens of professions.
His acting career started in high school, where he discovered "The one thing in my life that I always knew, that was always constant, was that I wanted to be an actor!" His talents were noted by members of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and he received a special scholarship. After the war (he was discharged in 1944 due to wounds) he returned to New York City and worked in radio, theatre, and in commercials.
His stage break occurred in Kiss and Tell, which led to a string of successful, but not so memorable roles. Kirk's signature image of a "tough son of a bitch" was created by him during the filming of Champion (1949): he decided that, to achieve success, he had to be as bold and intense on the silver screen. This played a great role in his career, as his roles in the 50s and 60s were a stunning commercial success, including the cult film Spartacus, which was significant in several ways. First, it was the most epic movie of the time; second, it was the first of Douglas' films where he not only starred, but also acted as the producer, raising considerable investment ($12 million - almost $100 mln in today's money); and third it was the film that basically ended the McCarthy-era blacklists - Douglas insisted on crediting the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo for the screenplay.
He received three Oscar nominations: for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life (this film also earned him his only Golden Globe award), plus in 1996 Douglas was awarded the Honorary Award from the jury of the Academy Awards for his 50 years of service for the movie industry.
Kirk's personal life has been as rich and productive as his movie career. He was married twice: first to Diana Dill (1943-1951), who gave him two sons, the future movie star Michael and the future star producer Joel, and then to Anne Buydens (1954), who also gave him two future celebrities, actor Eric and producer Peter.
In 1975 Kirk handed the rights to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - he bought the right to create his own Broadway version, which was not very successful - to his son Michael. Michael turned it into a cult movie that won Oscars in two categories: Best Actor and Best Picture.
The legend says Kirk gave the rights to the story to his son hoping he would play the leading role, but Michael, in an act of stubbornness and some filial disloyalty, deemed his father "too old" for the role and picked instead Jack Nicholson, who received the Academy Award for his acting and the never-dying affection from his fans
In 1991 Douglas survived a deadly helicopter crash and went back to his religious roots.
Later, explaining why he had turned away from Judaism, he would say: "Judaism and I parted ways a long time ago, when I was a poor kid growing up in Amsterdam, N.Y. Back then, I was pretty good in cheder, so the Jews of our community thought they would do a wonderful thing and collect enough money to send me to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. Holy Moses! That scared the hell out of me. I didn't want to be a rabbi. I wanted to be an actor. Believe me, the members of the Sons of Israel were persistent. I had nightmares – wearing long payos and a black hat. I had to work very hard to get out of it. But it took me a long time to learn that you don't have to be a rabbi to be a Jew."
Douglas used to blog regularly on his Myspace account, becoming the oldest celebrity blogger at 92. Also, he is the author of his personal blog on Huffington Post since 2012.
“The Ragman’s Son – an autobiography” – Kirk Douglas, 1988
“Douglas, Kirk. Let's Face It.” - John Wiley & Sons, 2007
<< back <<