Home movies Kirk Douglas: ‘I never thought I’d live to 100. That’s shocked me’

Kirk Douglas: ‘I never thought I’d live to 100. That’s shocked me’

Kirk Douglas: ‘I never thought I’d live to 100. That’s shocked me’

Each the home and the person are smaller than you’d anticipate, a results of the diminishing results of outdated age that come to us all, if we’re fortunate sufficient to stay that lengthy. Kirk Douglas, now 100 years outdated, and Anne, his spouse of 62 years, moved into the small bungalow in Beverly Hills about 30 years in the past after they downsized from the a number of mansions the place they’d entertained mates comparable to Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ronald Reagan whereas Frank Sinatra knocked up Italian meals of their kitchen. But when their present residence seems to be unprepossessing from the skin, there are extraordinary treasures inside: a Roy Lichtenstein, personally inscribed to Douglas, hangs within the entrance hallway, whereas a Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg grasp in the lounge. The home is crammed with trendy masterpieces, a testomony to the riches accrued by the person initially referred to as Issur Danielovitch – born so poor that he commonly went hungry till his mid-20s – by way of his personal expertise and self-forged toughness.

SPARTACUS 1960 Universal Pictures film with Kirk Douglas in the title role<br>D57KDF SPARTACUS 1960 Universal Pictures film with Kirk Douglas in the title role

Kirk Douglas at 100: a one-man Hollywood Mount Rushmore

When Douglas himself enters the lounge, he’s leaning on a walker and accompanied by one of many numerous nurses who take care of him and his spouse across the clock. There isn’t a query that reaching your centenary takes it out of a person: each motion suggests effort. Most irritating for him, his tongue hangs heavy in his mouth, the results of a stroke in 1996, and the once-ringing diction is now slurred. But to evaluate the inside by the outside proves to be a mistake. When Douglas begins speaking not even the muffling layers of age can conceal his nonetheless charmingly boyish persona, even when his physique often lets him down. He’s, he says, “slightly drained in the present day”, however he makes positive to look a woman straight within the eye when he smiles.“How do I really feel typically? Ahh,” he says, with a decidedly Jewish shrug, and through our time collectively he asks, anxiously and infrequently: “Do you perceive what I’m saying?” I do, largely. That famously pugnacious chin is slightly receded, however these acquainted close-set eyes, which he handed on to his eldest son, Michael, are brilliant. Michael, because it occurs, is at present staying within the guesthouse by the pool, visiting for just a few days, as he does each month. “He comes to go to the outdated man,” Douglas says with pleasure.
Douglas (right) with John Wayne in the 1967 film The War Wagon.Douglas (proper) with John Wayne within the 1967 movie The Warfare Wagon. {Photograph}: Archive Pictures/Getty Photographs

“I by no means, ever thought I might stay to be 100. That’s shocked me, actually. And it’s unhappy, too,” he provides.There are such a lot of mates he misses, the draw back to being the final legend standing from the golden age of Hollywood.“I miss Burt Lancaster – we fought loads, and I miss him loads. And John Wayne, regardless that he was a Republican and I used to be a Democrat,” he says.Wayne was equally keen on Douglas – they made a handful of movies collectively – however he was slightly baffled by him. In The Ragman’s Son, one in all Douglas’s a number of fantastically written memoirs, he recounts that Wayne attended a screening of Lust for Life, Douglas’s heartfelt 1956 biopic of Vincent van Gogh, and was horrified.“Christ, Kirk! How are you going to play an element like that? There’s so few of us left. We received to play sturdy, powerful characters. Not these weak queers,” Wayne mentioned.“I attempted to clarify: ‘It’s all make-believe, John. It isn’t actual. You’re probably not John Wayne, .’ He simply checked out me oddly. I had betrayed him,” Douglas writes.
Douglas as Spartacus in 1960Douglas as Spartacus in 1960. {Photograph}: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

It’s comprehensible that Wayne would see Douglas as a fellow powerful man: constructed like a small offended bull and with the livid focus to match, he was completely solid in movies comparable to 1949’s Champion because the formidable boxer Midge Kelly, and 1962’s Lonely Are the Courageous – nonetheless Douglas’s favorite – as a noble cowboy. His popularity offscreen as a cussed so-and-so who would struggle with everybody from Stanley Kubrick to Otto Preminger contributed to this picture. However Douglas was all the time extra serious about what lay beneath. His appearing idea, he has written, was “whenever you play a weak character, discover a second when he’s sturdy, and whenever you play a robust character, discover a second when he’s weak”. You may see this in his greatest performances, comparable to 1951’s Ace within the Gap, directed by Billy Wilder, during which he performed an amoral journalist who realises too late he has gone too far, and likewise, after all, in 1960’s Spartacus, during which he gave humanity to a legendary hero.To observe Douglas’s performances now, a few of them greater than 70 years outdated, it’s putting how trendy he appears, usually extra so than lots of his contemporaries, who now look somewhat stagey. Douglas, along with his famously intense stare juxtaposed along with his relaxed supply, seems to be just like the precursor to Tom Cruise at his greatest. “I used to be not a troublesome man [in real life],” he laughs. “I simply acted like one.”By no means did he want extra of this toughness than when he famously, if not fairly single-handedly, broke the Hollywood blacklist (whereby these thought to have communist sympathies have been denied work within the leisure trade). The story has been advised usually: Douglas employed the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for Spartacus.
Douglas and his wife Anne in 2013.Douglas and his spouse Anne in 2013. {Photograph}: Maury Phillips/WireImage“It was that movie,” he begins, however then trails off, unable to recollect the title of his most well-known movie. Getting outdated actually is a bitch.

“Spartacus! Sure,” he says, again on observe.Wasn’t he scared that he is perhaps destroying his personal profession?“No!” he scoffs. “It might have been very totally different if I’d been older, however I used to be cussed then.”When Douglas organized for Trumbo to have a parking cross on the studio lot beneath his personal title, after which included Trumbo’s title within the movie’s credit, the blacklist was successfully damaged. Some, together with Trumbo’s household, have mentioned Douglas has glorified his position slightly in his frequent retelling of the story. When Douglas printed a e-book on the topic, I’m Spartacus: Making a Movie, Breaking the Blacklist, Trumbo’s daughter, Melissa, mentioned she “threw it throughout the room”. However regardless of the full fact, there isn’t any doubting Douglas’s braveness in letting himself be the general public face of the blacklist rise up.So, given his famously liberal politics and abhorrence of political bullies, what does he consider the brand new US president? He reels again as if I’d smacked his cheek.“That’s an unfair query,” he says.Too merciless to ask that of a lifelong Democrat?“Let’s simply say I didn’t vote for him,” he replies.
Kirk and Anne Douglas at Golden Globe awardsin 1957.Kirk and Anne Douglas at Golden Globe awardsin 1957. {Photograph}: Bettmann Archive

Douglas, born when Woodrow Wilson was president, was one in all seven kids and the one son of illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants. He grew up talking Yiddish at residence in Amsterdam, New York in virtually unimaginably disadvantaged circumstances; the household’s revenue got here from Douglas’s father’s each day makes an attempt to promote scraps from a horse and buggy. Douglas fought his method out of his circumstances along with his wit and wiles: he talked his method into a school scholarship after which baggsied one other for appearing faculty in New York, the place he grew to become lifelong mates with one other Jewish scholar, Betty Perske, later higher referred to as Lauren Bacall. Alongside the way in which, he needed to deal with an unlimited quantity of antisemitism. When he began to develop into profitable in Hollywood, he was invited to hitch an unique tennis membership. The actor Lex Barker warned him on the time: “After all, Kirk, you perceive we will’t run a membership the way in which we do again east. Right here we have now to let in just a few Jews.”“I’m a Jew,” Douglas snapped again: he shed his Jewish title early on, however not his roots. At the moment, a mezuzah is affixed to the body of his entrance door, and he credit his Jewish sense of accountability for the truth that he has grew to become probably the most beneficiant philanthropists in Hollywood (he not too long ago donated an additional $50m (£40m) to, amongst others, his outdated faculty, St Lawrence College, to assist college students from minority backgrounds.)But, Douglas has mentioned that it’s too simplistic to say, as many have accomplished, that his childhood toughened him up. It was the reverse, if something. If he appeared like a hard-ass when he was youthful, it’s as a result of he was overcompensating: he was effectively into center age earlier than he stopped seeing himself because the scared and bullied little boy he as soon as was, and his well-known womanising, he thinks, was a part of that. He had, he writes, “a mom advanced”: “I consistently sought from the ladies round me a mom substitute.” His search actually was fixed: from Rita Hayworth to Marlene Dietrich, it’s exhausting to call a well-known actress from the mid-Twentieth century who wasn’t seduced by Douglas. At one level he fretted to his analyst that he thought he is perhaps impotent after a disappointing encounter the night time earlier than.
Douglas as Midge Kelly in the 1949 film ChampionDouglas as Midge Kelly within the 1949 movie Champion. {Photograph}: Bettmann Archive

“You inform me that you simply had intercourse 29 nights in a row with totally different ladies. On the thirtieth, you say you’re impotent,” his physician replied drily. “, even God rested after six days.”Douglas has been married twice, first to Diana, with whom he had Michael and Joel, after which to Anne, with whom he had Peter and Eric. Nevertheless it took some time for matrimony to interrupt his stride.“I used to be a foul boy,” he admits, slightly sorrowfully. “However Anne knew how you can deal with me.”Certainly. Even earlier than they married, Anne invited all the ladies she knew he had slept with to a celebration for him in Paris. “I couldn’t consider it after I walked in and noticed the company,” he says, laughing. “Ah! She is aware of every little thing.”In his a number of memoirs, he writes with self-flagellating frequency about how his distant father let him down and the way he feels he in flip let down his 4 sons.
Douglas with son Michael Douglas as a young boyDouglas with son Michael Douglas as a younger boy. {Photograph}: Sundown Boulevard/Corbis by way of Getty Photographs“I’m so pleased with Michael as a result of he by no means adopted my recommendation. I needed him to be a physician or lawyer, and the primary time I noticed him in a play I advised him he was horrible,” Douglas laughs. “However then I noticed him a second time and I mentioned: ‘You have been fantastic!’ And I believe he is superb in every little thing he’s accomplished.”Did he ever really feel aggressive with Michael?“No! Solely proud,” Douglas insists. This isn’t completely true. He was, he admits, a troublesome father, one who wouldn’t even let his son win a race within the pool when he was 45 and Michael was 16.

“Geez, Dad, you have been so tense, so uptight,” Michael recalled in maturity.“Michael didn’t like me a lot after his mom and I received divorced. It was solely when he began appearing that we grew to become shut,” Douglas says regretfully.That is additionally virtually actually an exaggeration – Douglas’s books are filled with tales that recommend a lifetime of closeness between him and his boys – however Michael actually discovered a approach to assert himself when he began appearing. For years, Douglas’s dream movie venture was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, however he may by no means get it off the bottom.“So Michael requested me if he may attempt to produce it, and I mentioned: ‘Certain!’ Subsequent factor I do know, he has a director lined up and it’s all go. So I mentioned to him: ‘Nice! When will we begin rehearsing?’”“Not you, Dad,” his son replied, devastatingly. “You’re too outdated.”“I couldn’t consider it!” Douglas says, eyebrows capturing up into his hair. “So I mentioned: ‘Who’s taking part in my half? Jack Nicholson? By no means heard of him. Effectively, at the very least it will likely be a flop …’”
Douglas with son Michael in 1988.Douglas with son Michael in 1988. {Photograph}: Ron Galella/WireImage

By the Eighties, when younger girls approached him, it was not as a result of he was Kirk Douglas however as a result of he was Michael Douglas’s father. He laughs about this now, however I believe that, for the as soon as legendary swordsman, it stung slightly on the time.Michael Douglas might be essentially the most shining exception to the rule that kids of well-known actors not often finish effectively in the event that they attempt to comply with of their mother and father’ footsteps. “[Celebrities’] kids, surfeited with each indulgence, are having depressing childhoods. The daughter of a tv persona jumps out a window. A movie star’s son shoots himself. Why? To the remainder of the world it seems to be as if these children have been introduced up with every little thing,” Kirk wrote in 1988. Over the subsequent 20 years, he would have all too many events to ask himself this unhappy query. His youngest son, Eric, who had acted slightly and struggled with addictions for years, overdosed and died in 2004 on the age of 46. At the moment, when speaking about his sons, Kirk can’t fairly deliver himself to say Eric’s title.Did Douglas ever discover a solution to his query?“Hollywood is make-believe, and that’s complicated,” he says, however he’s beginning to drift and tire.Historical past appeared as if it was repeating itself when Michael’s oldest son, Cameron, who had additionally tried appearing, was arrested just a few years after his uncle’s loss of life on medication costs. He was launched final 12 months after seven years of incarceration.“Cameron is OK. He’s doing so a lot better now and he says he’ll come go to subsequent month. He’s engaged on a e-book, ,” Douglas says, perking up. Douglas himself has simply printed his twelfth e-book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, a group of letters between the couple throughout their marriage.
Douglas with Burt Lancaster at a rehearsal for the Academy Awards in 1959Douglas with Burt Lancaster at a rehearsal for the Academy Awards in 1959. {Photograph}: NBC/NBC by way of Getty Photographs

Not unhealthy to nonetheless be publishing on the age of 100, I say.“Sure, that’s proper,” he agrees, stoutly.One of the irritating issues about getting older, he says, is how out of contact he feels. “I don’t know who any of the brand new stars are, they usually most likely don’t know me,” he says.Oh, I guess they know you, I say. That makes him smile: “Effectively, possibly …”Absolutely he’s joyful he was a star again within the golden age, not now when Hollywood is all about particular results and sequels. He nods vigorously. “Sure, sure. I used to be so fortunate. Now it’s all totally different. Sure, very, very fortunate.”He asks if I thoughts if we cease now as he’s getting weary, and, after all, I say no, though I want we may speak all day. He will get up slowly, and with some help. However earlier than he disappears he pats my arm and appears up at me.“We’ll speak longer subsequent time,” he guarantees.I can’t wait.


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