“I think of my life like a stone thrown into a calm pool.”
– Kirk Douglas, The Ragman’s Son
This tribute to Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas is truly accidental than most of my posts, in the sense that this never followed the carefully visualised course I planned at its inception – which was to create a 1,200-word write-up. But as my research evolved over the last many months, I chanced upon a profusion of representational materials about Kirk that my endeavour to piece together the salient landmarks in his life finally brimmed to the expanse of dimension you will come across in the text below.
Kirk Douglas is one of the last remaining great male movie stars of the studio era, even though certain cinematic greats like Clint Eastwood who came close behind Kirk cannot be ignored. Back in the good old days when movies had little competition and the moviegoers were devoted and regular, Kirk emerged from obscurity to turn into an established star on the strength of combining toughness with an acute intelligence in his choice and interpretation of the parts he played. Amongst the many directors he had the privilege to work with are the best of the crop such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, John Sturges, John Huston, Burt Kennedy, etc.
As with all stars, the glamour and publicity surrounding Kirk is part of his work and charisma. Kirk Douglas once wrote, “When you become a movie star, you create an image for the public.” This perfectly complemented the dialogue Kirk’s character Jonathan Shields spoke to Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) in a scene in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), “When you’re on the screen, no matter who you’re with, or what you’re doing, the audience is looking at you. That’s star quality.”
Kirk Douglas came into my life when I first saw a movie during its re-run in a local theatre two decades after its release. I could recall it as Ulysses (1954). Watching it, Kirk had come across to me as a versatile star – vibrant, handsome, virile – all rolled into one. In those teenage days, I was taken by the ease and punch of his portrayal in the title role, and since then, whenever possible, I had tried to follow his career which, over the years, grew in stature gaining brilliant achievements.
Now, how many millions around the world have seen Kirk’s movies? How many were liked or disliked or earned moviegoers to his films owing to Kirk’s acting and/or celebrity factor? What screen or personal stories perpetuated his legend in the public’s mind?
Many years ago, a magazine featured an interview with one of Kirk’s secretaries of the late 1960s. She fondly remembered him as “a very demanding person to work for, and works at a frantic pace himself. He has many businesses apart from films…. He is a very nice person…. I found him very attractive and virile – a real man’s man.”
Think of it. There is a tremendous amount of the past in all our presents. I have not met Kirk personally. Although I would love to, it is most unlikely that I will ever meet him. But I have always nurtured that curiosity to find out specifically how Kirk earned the reputation of a self-made man, a legendary hardworking American stage/screen actor, producer, director, author, millionaire, humanitarian, philanthropist, art collector, winner of awards/honours for achievements both on and off screen, and a family man with a beautiful wife called Anne Buydens sheltered in a solid marriage now nearing its 64th year on May 29th.
My growing film archive of about 6,500 movies gives primacy to films released up to early 1980s – most of which are now historic milestones of the movie industry. Thus far, it contains almost three dozen movies featuring Kirk Douglas. No doubt, that three dozen would be much lesser compared to the numerous hardbound volumes of scripts of all of Kirk’s movies which, according to Kirk’s memoirs, are arranged in chronological order on the top shelf at his house.
Likewise, I feel lucky that I was born during a period when I could enjoy those just-released films on a large theatre screen – maybe with a lesser quality presentation, but enough to be content in those happy days. And at the close of the movie, to walk out into the Lobby amidst the excited, arguing, impressed viewers. It’s no fun if one happens to see those movies now on TV – greatly edited and, like in our part of the world, interrupted by numerous (but necessary) persistent and disparate commercials that pounce on your senses like rapid gunfire from an AK47; or shown either during the work days or too late into the night.
At length, this compilation is derived from a trail of information that lay scattered in innumerable books, magazines, media interviews, movie documentaries or whatever sources I could possibly access – to all of which this write-up is thankfully and humbly indebted. This is neither a scholarly compilation of biographical data nor could it be free of possible errors – mainly whereas the schedule of production of movies is subject to re-takes, fillers, etc. This is just my personal attempt to recapture the great events, and some minor ones, of Kirk’s life – primarily up to the period before early 1980s.
To minimalize the content, some finer details about Kirk and his movies, readily available in numerous books, websites, visual media, etc., are left out. Keeping in par with the good old times Kirk’s films captured, I must honestly add that, the theory I have adopted for this write-up is to overlook any broken fence and admire the flowers in the garden. As you read further on, I hope you will chance upon the many pleasant factors that inspired me to write about – Mister Kirk Douglas.
(The First instalment of this series follows)
- DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred above is available with leading dealers.
- Picture credits: Please refer to “About” of my web page for more details.
- It would be factual to endorse that the year-long delay in my posts occasioned from a string of turbulence of personal nature that thrashed on the cruising path of my life during the last so many months and yet, the ducks are not in a row. I dedicate this tribute with love and gratitude to: 1) Renate Elisabeth (Carina), my wife and oracle of love for her support, wisdom and unfailing vigilance; and to 2) Carolyn Page, the sweet spot who fondly lit a fire under you-know-where to turn the heat on me to accelerate the publishing of this post.
(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)