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Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas

Known For: Acting · Birthday: 1916-12-09 (103 years old)

107 Movies · 9 TV Series

Biography

Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch; December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020) was an American actor, producer, director, philanthropist, and writer. After an impoverished childhood with immigrant parents and six sisters, he made his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Douglas soon developed into a leading box-office star throughout the 1950s, known for serious dramas, including westerns and war films. During his career, he appeared in more than 90 films. Douglas was known for his explosive acting style, which he displayed as a criminal defense attorney in Town Without Pity (1961). Douglas became an international star through positive reception for his leading role as an unscrupulous boxing hero in Champion (1949), which brought him his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. His other early films include Young Man with a Horn (1950), playing opposite Lauren Bacall and Doris Day, Ace in the Hole opposite Jan Sterling (1951), and Detective Story (1951), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor in a Drama. He received a second Oscar nomination for his dramatic role in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), opposite Lana Turner, and his third Oscar nomination for portraying Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), which landed him a second Golden Globe nomination. In 1955, he established Bryna Productions, which began producing films as varied as Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). In those two films, he collaborated with the then-relatively-unknown director Stanley Kubrick, taking lead roles in both films. Douglas has been praised for helping to break the Hollywood blacklist by having Dalton Trumbo write Spartacus with an official on-screen credit. He produced and starred in Lonely Are the Brave (1962), considered a classic, and Seven Days in May (1964), opposite Burt Lancaster, with whom he made seven films. In 1963, he starred in the Broadway play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a story that he purchased and later gave to his son Michael Douglas, who turned it into an Oscar-winning film. As an actor and philanthropist, Douglas received three Academy Award nominations, an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an author, he wrote ten novels and memoirs. He is No. 17 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema, the highest-ranked living person on the list until his death. After barely surviving a helicopter crash in 1991 and then suffering a stroke in 1996, he focused on renewing his spiritual and religious life. He lived with his second wife (of 66 years), Anne Buydens, a producer, until his death on February 5, 2020, aged 103. A centenarian, he was one of the last surviving stars of the film industry's Golden Age.

Personal Life

Personality. In The Ragman's Son, Douglas described himself as a "son of a bitch", adding, "I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood. And I feel pretty good about it. Because that’s me…. I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive." Co-workers and associates alike noted similar traits, with Burt Lancaster once remarking, "Kirk would be the first to tell you that he is a very difficult man. And I would be the second." Douglas's brash personality is attributed to his difficult upbringing living in poverty and his aggressive alcoholic father who was neglectful of Kirk as a young child. According to Douglas, "there was an awful lot of rage churning around inside me, rage that I was afraid to reveal because there was so much more of it, and so much stronger, in my father." Douglas's discipline, wit, and sense of humor were also often recognized. Marriages and children. Douglas and his first wife, Diana Dill, married on November 2, 1943. They had two sons, actor Michael Douglas and producer Joel Douglas, before divorcing in 1951. Afterwards, in Paris, he met producer Anne Buydens (born Hannelore Marx; April 23, 1919, Hanover, Germany) while acting on location in Lust for Life. She originally fled from Germany to escape Nazism and survived by putting her multilingual skills to work at a film studio, doing translations for subtitles. They married on May 29, 1954. In 2014, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. They had two sons, Peter, a producer, and Eric, an actor who died on July 6, 2004, from an overdose of alcohol and drugs. In 2017, the couple released a book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, that revealed intimate letters they shared through the years. Throughout their marriage Douglas had affairs with other women including several Hollywood starlets, though he never hid his infidelities from his wife, who was accepting of them, and who explained: "as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage." Religion. In February 1991, aged 74, Douglas was in a helicopter and was injured when the aircraft collided with a small plane above Santa Paula Airport. Two other people were also injured; two people in the plane were killed. This near-death experience sparked a search for meaning by Douglas, which led him, after much study, to embrace the Judaism in which he had been raised. He documented this spiritual journey in his book, Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (1997).He decided to visit Jerusalem again and wanted to see the Western Wall Tunnel during a trip where he would dedicate two playgrounds he donated to the state. His tour guide arranged to end the tour of the tunnel at the bedrock where, according to Jewish tradition, Abraham's binding of Isaac took place.In his earlier autobiography, The Ragman's Son, he recalled, "years back, I tried to forget that I was a Jew," but later in his career he began "coming to grips with what it means to be a Jew," which became a theme in his life. In an interview in 2000, he explained this transition: 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 noted that the underlying theme of some of his films, including The Juggler (1953), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), and Remembrance of Love (1982), was about "a Jew who doesn't think of himself as one, and eventually finds his Jewishness." The Juggler was the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the newly established state of Israel. Douglas recalls that while there, he saw "extreme poverty and food being rationed." But he found it "wonderful, finally, to be in the majority." Its producer, Stanley Kramer, tried to portray "Israel as the Jews' heroic response to Hitler's destruction."Although his children had non-Jewish mothers, Douglas stated that they were "aware culturally" of his "deep convictions" and he never tried to influence their own religious decisions. Douglas's wife, Anne, converted to Judaism before they renewed their wedding vows in 2004. Douglas celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in 1999, aged 83. Philanthropy. Douglas and his wife donated to various non-profit causes during his career, and planned on donating most of their $80 million net worth. Among the donations have been those to his former high school and college. In September 2001, he helped fund his high school's musical, Amsterdam Oratorio, composed by Maria Riccio Bryce, who won the school Thespian Society's Kirk Douglas Award in 1968. In 2012 he donated $5 million to St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. The college used the donation for the scholarship fund he began in 1999.He donated to various schools, medical facilities and other non-profit organizations in southern California. These have included the rebuilding of over 400 Los Angeles Unified School District playgrounds that were aged and in need of restoration. They established the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women at the Los Angeles Mission, which has helped hundreds of women turn their lives around. In Culver City, they opened the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2004. They supported the Anne Douglas Childhood Center at the Sinai Temple of Westwood. In March 2015, Kirk and his wife donated $2.3 million to the Children's Hospital Los Angeles.Since the early 1990s, Kirk and Anne Douglas donated up to $40 million to Harry's Haven, an Alzheimer's treatment facility in Woodland Hills, to care for patients at the Motion Picture Home. To celebrate his 99th birthday in December 2015, they donated another $15 million to help expand the facility with a new two-story Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion.Douglas donated a number of playgrounds in Jerusalem, and donated the Kirk Douglas Theater at the Aish Center across from the Western Wall. Politics. Douglas and his wife traveled to more than 40 countries, at their own expense, to act as goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. Information Agency, speaking to audiences about why democracy works and what freedom means. In 1980, Douglas flew to Cairo to talk with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. For all his goodwill efforts, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1981. At the ceremony, Carter said that Douglas had "done this in a sacrificial way, almost invariably without fanfare and without claiming any personal credit or acclaim for himself." In subsequent years, Douglas testified before Congress about elder abuse.Douglas was a lifelong member of the Democratic Party. He wrote letters to politicians who were friends. He noted in his memoir, Let's Face It (2007), that he felt compelled to write to former president Jimmy Carter in 2006 in order to stress that "Israel is the only successful democracy in the Middle East ... [and] has had to endure many wars against overwhelming odds. If Israel loses one war, they lose Israel." Hobbies. Douglas blogged from time to time. Originally hosted on Myspace, his posts have been hosted by the Huffington Post since 2012. As of 2008, he was believed to be the oldest celebrity blogger in the world.

Early Life

Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch (Yiddish: איסר דניאלאָוויטש‎) in Amsterdam, New York, on December 9, 1916, the son of Bryna "Bertha" (née Sanglel; 1884–1958) and Herschel "Harry" Danielovitch (c. 1884–1950; citations regarding his exact year of birth differ). His parents were Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus), and the family spoke Yiddish at home.His father's brother, who immigrated earlier, used the surname Demsky, which Douglas's family adopted in the United States. Douglas grew up as Izzy Demsky and legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the United States Navy during World War II.In his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Douglas notes the hardships that he, along with six sisters and his parents, endured during their early years in Amsterdam: My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes … Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman's son. Douglas had an unhappy childhood, living with an alcoholic, physically abusive father. While his father drank up what little money they had, he and his mother and sisters endured "crippling poverty".Douglas first wanted to be an actor after he recited the poem The Red Robin of Spring while in kindergarten and received applause. Growing up, he sold snacks to mill workers to earn enough to buy milk and bread to help his family. Later, he delivered newspapers and during his youth he had more than forty jobs before becoming an actor. He found living in a family with six sisters to be stifling: "I was dying to get out. In a sense, it lit a fire under me." After appearing in plays at Amsterdam High School, from which he graduated in 1934, he knew he wanted to become a professional actor. Unable to afford the tuition, Douglas talked his way into the dean's office at St. Lawrence University and showed him a list of his high school honors. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1939. He received a loan which he paid back by working part-time as a gardener and a janitor. He was a standout on the wrestling team and wrestled one summer in a carnival to make money.Douglas's acting talents were noticed at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, which gave him a special scholarship. One of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske (later known as Lauren Bacall), who would play an important role in launching his film career. Bacall wrote that she "had a wild crush on Kirk," and they dated casually. Another classmate, and a friend of Bacall's, was aspiring actress Diana Dill, who would later become Douglas's first wife.During their time together, Bacall learned Douglas had no money, and that he once spent the night in jail since he had no place to sleep. She once gave him her uncle's old coat to keep warm: "I thought he must be frozen in the winter … He was thrilled and grateful." Sometimes, just to see him, she would drag a friend or her mother to the restaurant where he worked as a busboy and waiter. He told her his dream was to someday bring his family to New York to see him on stage. During that period she fantasized about someday sharing her personal and stage lives with Douglas, but would later be disappointed: "Kirk did not really pursue me. He was friendly and sweet—enjoyed my company—but I was clearly too young for him," the eight-years-younger Bacall later wrote.

Movies & TV Series

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