Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas is now 100 years old. He’s been a part of every era of filmmaking since the mid 1940s, making his debut in the film noir The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers. Douglas is also the father of Oscar-winner Michael Douglas and was nominated for three Oscars himself. In 1996, Douglas was honored with an Honorary Academy Award for his contributions to motion pictures.
At the height of his powers, Douglas could have an audience in the palm of his hands, bringing a focused intensity to the screen that few ever have. He could make actors like Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster and even Edward G. Robinson look weak on screen, while melting the heart of Lana Turner, Cyd Charisse and Lauren Bacall. Douglas clashed swords with Tony Curtis, fought on a submarine with James Mason and shared laughs with Michael J. Fox.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Douglas’ daughter-in-law and Michael Douglas’ wife, posted the following video on Instagram to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Douglas, whose parents immigrated from the Russian Empire, is a lifelong champion for progressive causes. In 1960, he helped break the Hollywood blacklist. In 2016, he wrote essays for the Huffington Post, asking people not to vote for Donald Trump.
Douglas has been married twice. He was first married to Diana Douglas (from 1945-1951) and has been marred to Anne Buydens since 1954. He has four sons – Michael, Joel, Peter and Eric.
Here’s a look at Douglas’ life and recent activities.
1. Douglas Has Been Regularly Contributing to the Huffington Post Since 2012
Douglas hasn’t acted since 2008, when he appeared in the TV movie Empire State Building Murders, but he has remained in the public eye. We’ve seen him on his son’s social media pages and, in 2009, he made the documentary Kirk Douglas: Before I Forget, in which he shared his life stories.
Since 2012, Douglas has also occasionally written essays for The Huffington Post. His most recent one was in September 2016, in which he reminded readers that his parents were immigrants from Russia. Douglas, who was born Issur Danielovitch, not-so-subtly made the case against Donald Trump.
“My 100th birthday is exactly one month and one day after the next presidential election,” Douglas wrote. “I’d like to celebrate it by blowing out the candles on my cake, then whistling ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.'”
2. One of Douglas’ Crowning Achievements in Hollywood Was Helping to End the Blacklist in 1960 With ‘Spartacus’
Douglas’ career is filled with achievements any other legend would love to have on their resume, but the actor is most proud of his role in ending the Hollywood Blacklist. The actor was never one to sit and take orders, so when he decided that Dalton Trumbo, who won two Oscars for scripts his name couldn’t appear on during the Blacklist, would write Spartacus, he gave Trumbo credit. Trumbo was among the “Hollywood 10,” a group of writers, producers and directors who were barred from working and jailed because they refused to name names during the McCarthy anti-communism hearings.
“Well, I do have something important to say because I have been working in Hollywood over 60 years and I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist,” Douglas told The JC.com in 2012.
Douglas eventually wrote a whole book about the making of Spartacus, titled Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist. Considering that the film itself was about a rebellion, it seemed only fair that its star and producer would stage a rebellion against the Hollywood system.
“I was living in a terrible time when people were being accused of being communists, and they attacked the movie industry, especially the writers,” Douglas said in 2012. “People couldn’t work if they were on the blacklist. The studios banned them. It was the most onerous period in movie history. I don’t think we have ever had a period so dark as that. People committed suicide, people died, people suffered. It wiped out lives.”
Douglas wasn’t the only one to help end the Blacklist in 1960, since Otto Preminger also credited Trumbo with adapting Exodus. But Spartacus was out first and Douglas gets credit. That Spartacus was a major success helped to quicken the Blacklist’s demise.
3. Douglas Has Never Won a Competitive Academy Award
Although Kirk Douglas’ son, Michael, has Oscars for producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and as Best Actor for Wall Street, Douglas himself never won a competitive Oscar. He earned his first nomination for the 1949 boxing movie Champion and was nominated again for 1952’s searing Hollywood satire The Bad and the Beautiful. In 1957, he was nominated for his performance as Vincent Van Gogh in 1956’s Lust for Life. In 1996, Douglas finally received an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work.
Douglas had much better luck at the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated him for Best Actor – Drama for 1951’s Detective Story and he won for Lust for Life. In 1968, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award. In 1986, he was nominated for his performance in the TV movie Amos.
Amos also earned him his first of three Emmy nominations. His other nominations came for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for Tales from the Crypt (1992) and Touched by an Angel (2000).
In 1991, he was honored with the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award.
4. Douglas Wouldn’t Have Had a Film Career if it Wasn’t for Lauren Bacall
Without Lauren Bacall, there is a strong chance that we would never have heard of Kirk Douglas. When Douglas was attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, one of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske, who would later become Lauren Bacall. The two dated occasionally and became close friends.
Douglas considered a life on the stage, but in 1946, Bacall – who already hit it big with To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep – suggested producer/director Hal Wallis use him as a new male actor. Wallis cast him in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and the rest was history. Bacall and Douglas starred together in the classic Young Man with a Horn.
When Bacall died in 2014, Douglas wrote a piece in the Hollywood Reporter, calling Bacall his “good luck charm.” He still called her Betty. Douglas wrote:
It’s hard to lose a friend, especially one with whom you have shared your dreams and your journey. In the case of Betty Bacall, I also lost my lucky charm — the girl who believed in me enough to talk Hal Wallis into giving me a Hollywood career. That was my first lesson in helping others without looking for thanks. I will continue to think about her whenever I put it into practice.
5. Douglas Spent a Decade Trying to Get ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ Made as a Movie Before He Let His Son Produce it
Douglas never really left the stage. In 1963, Douglas picked up the book rights for Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and had it adapted into a play. Douglas picked Dale Wasserman to write the stage version, after he learned that Wasserman also tried to get the rights.
Although the stage version of Cuckoo’s Nest didn’t get good reviews, Douglas tried his best to get a film made for over a decade. In 1975, Douglas decided to hand it over to his son, Michael, and producer Saul Zaentz. Even then, Douglas wanted to play Randle McMurphy, but the role went to Jack Nicholson since Michael Douglas thought his father was too old.
The film version, directed by Milos Foreman, was a much bigger success than Douglas’ stage play. It swept the big five Oscars, winning Best Picture of 1975, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher and Best Adapted Screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman’s script.