Film News: Champion Movie Star Kirk Douglas Dies at 103

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LOS ANGELES – From his chiseled-from-marble good looks to his actor intensity on screen, Kirk Douglas defined the very concept of Movie Star. The actor also broke records for longevity, living to the ripe old age of 103. Kirk Douglas died of natural causes on February 5th, 2020, at his home in Los Angeles.

Douglas was known for his fierce commitment to his craft, and his independent spirit … he formed his own production company after dissatisfaction with the movie studio system of his era. He made several classic films, even a popular Walt Disney live action feature (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”). He was father to Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, as well as three other sons from two marriages (his was married to his second wife for 66 years). He also committed his life to several charitable causes.

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I Am Kirk Douglas: The Actor in ‘Spartacus’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Douglas was born Issur Danielovich in Amsterdam, New York (1916!), to immigrant Russian Jewish parents. Going up poor, he was determined to be an actor to change his life, and got a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City … which included classmate Lauren Bacall. Before entering the Navy during World War II, he changed his name to Kirk Douglas. After a medical discharge, he broke through in theater with “Kiss and Tell” in NYC.

It was Lauren Bacall that got Douglas his first film break, recommending him to producer Hal Wallis for “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946). The noir classic “Out of the Past” (1947) followed, and he portrayed a boxer in “Champion” (1949). The role earned him his first of three Best Actor Oscar nominations (he had no wins, and was given an honorary Oscar in 1996).

It was in the 1950s that Douglas broke out to be a major star, with roles including Billy Wilder’s acid classic “Ace in the Hole” (1951), as well as “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “Lust for Life” (1956, portraying Vincent Van Gogh) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory" (1957). He also formed Bryna Productions in 1955, to gain control over the roles he wanted to play … he was one of the first major stars to do so. A lifelong progressive, Douglas defied the Hollywood Blacklist – the witch hunt for Communists by the American government and film industry – by hiring the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for his signature role in “Spartacus” (1960).

His career spanned five more decades from there, including his favorite role in “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962) and the tense political drama “Seven Days in May” (1964). In the 1970s, he filmed in Chicago for Brian De Palma’s “The Fury” (1978), and in the 1980s re-teamed with “Seven Days …” co-star Burt Lancaster for “Tough Guys” (1986). Among his TV appearances, he voiced Chester J. Lampwick on “The Simpsons” in 1996.

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Kirk Douglas and son Michael in 2003’s ‘It Runs in the Family’
Photo credit: MGM Home Entertainment

It was in 1996 that he also had a major health setback, as Douglas suffered a massive stroke. He recovered significantly enough to co-star with his son Michael Douglas in “It Runs in the Family,” but curtailed his acting roles thereafter. His final appearance was in the TV Movie “Empire State Building Murders” (2008).

Kirk Douglas was a major force in charity, as he planned to give away most of his multi-million dollar net worth to causes such as education (Los Angeles School District), performance (Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City) and medicine (Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles). After a short first marriage to Diana Dill, he married Anna Buydens in 1954, and she survives him after 66 years of marriage.

Kirk Douglas believed in film as art … “To me it is the most important art form—it is an art, and it includes all the elements of the modern age.” But having come from the studio system, where the aim was butts in the seats, “You can make a statement, you can say something, but it must be entertaining.”

Sources for the this article are from HollywoodReporter.com and Wikipedia.com. Kirk Douglas, “I am Spartacus!” 1916-2020

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Editor and Film Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2020 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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