May 20, 2024


Art Is Experience

Golden Age star Kirk Douglas was always a Hollywood fighter

In advance of there was Kirk Douglas there was Issur Danielovitch, a boy born in 1916 to illiterate Russian Jewish immigrant parents. And in advance of youthful Issur there was his father, Herschel Danielovitch, a gentleman of actually formidable energy of will.

As Douglas relevant in his remarkable autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son,” his father had a individual way of quitting cigarette smoking. “He would carry a cigarette in his shirt pocket and each and every time he felt like cigarette smoking, he would pull out the cigarette and confront it: ‘Who more robust? You? Me?’ Normally, the remedy was the identical: ‘I more robust.’ Back again the cigarette would go, till the upcoming craving. It worked for him, and it worked for me.”

When I believe of Kirk Douglas, who died Wednesday at the age of 103, I believe of that tale. Not of his trio of Oscar nominations, not of his vintage roles as the bold boxer in “Champion,” the anguished Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Existence,” the articulate slave in “Spartacus.” I believe of that puny cigarette.

For the argument could be produced that the coronary heart of Douglas’ imposing acting occupation was his potential to project his father’s — and his have — manufacturer of unstoppable willpower and travel onto a wide range of figures. When you add anger — “There was an dreadful good deal of rage churning close to inside of me,” he wrote of his boyhood, “rage that I was worried to reveal” — you have the makings of a singular star persona that no a single ever mistook for any individual else.

However his first function was 1946’s “The Peculiar Love of Martha Ivers” (a part he obtained with the assistance of acting college pal Lauren Bacall) and his first substantial movie 1949’s “A Letter to 3 Wives,” composed and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Douglas arrived into his have when he turned the pushed, self-centered boxer Midge Kelly in 1949’s “Champion.”

Douglas’ choice to stay away from a physique double and do his have boxing led him to build a ring type appropriate for the part: “always relocating ahead, no make a difference how lots of times I obtained hit. Even when I obtained smashed in the face, I kept relocating in. I was relentless.”

That description not only fits how Midge Kelly fought, it describes the varieties of figures finest embodied by Douglas: the Bix Beiderbecke-inspired trumpeter in “Young Guy With a Horn,” the bold reporter in “Ace in the Hole” or the inevitably ruthless Hollywood producer in “The Poor and the Attractive.”

In man or woman, if his autobiography is any choose, Douglas could act the identical way. When he was in Paris in 1952 filming “Act of Love,” for occasion, the actor discovered himself capturing on the Pont Alexandre Trois. “Then I discovered out that Alexandre Trois was Czar Alexander III, who ruled Russia from 1881 to 1894 — the height of the pogroms, and the purpose my parents had to leave Russia. He was a globe-class anti-Semite, appropriate up there with Hitler. I spit on his bridge.”

When Douglas’ figures could not often be called introspective, his roles steadily inclined toward persons with far more nuanced drives. Amid the finest of those was his tortured Vincent Van Gogh opposite Anthony Quinn’s Paul Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust for Existence.” Below, as in the title function of “Ulysses,” the Italian-produced edition of the Odyssey, when Douglas threw himself into a function he owned it for everyday living.

However he finished up losing the finest actor Oscar that yr to Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” Douglas was never a single to brood. His upcoming substantial function arrived in a single of his finest movies, the spectacular antiwar drama “Paths of Glory,” composed and directed by the then small-regarded Stanley Kubrick, a movie that would not have gotten produced without the need of Douglas’ star electrical power backing it.

Kirk Douglas, left, and director Stanley Kubrick on the set of ‘Paths of Glory’ in 1957

Kirk Douglas, still left, and director Stanley Kubrick on the established of “Paths of Glory” in 1957.


Branching out progressively into output, Douglas’ driving-the-scenes impact was substantial in a single of his most significant business successes, the slaves-in-revolt drama “Spartacus.” Dropping confidence in director Anthony Mann, for occasion, he introduced Kubrick in to direct this as well.

A lot more significantly, his insistence on owning Dalton Trumbo regarded as the film’s screenwriter was critical in the demise of the Hollywood blacklist. “Thanks, Kirk,” Trumbo told Douglas, “for giving me back again my title,” and when the actor won a particular Oscar in 1996, it was for getting “a inventive and moral drive in the movement picture local community.”

If Douglas had a preferred among his roles, it was probable 1962’s outstanding “Lonely Are the Courageous,” a movie small noticed when it arrived out (or now for that make a difference). Playing a standard cowboy whose values were at variance with the modern-day globe, Douglas relished getting a character who stood up for what he considered, no make a difference the price tag.

Even just after a stroke in 1996 impacted his potential to talk, Douglas could not bear to quit performing. In 2010, at age 93, he even did a a single-gentleman exhibit, “Before I Fail to remember,” in the theater named for him in Culver Town. When you fight your way out of the ghetto, another person once mentioned, you’re never guaranteed you’re out, and Kirk Douglas, even with all his achievements, never gave up the fight.