Movie stars don’t come bolder and brasher than Kirk Douglas. He died yesterday at the age of 103. He was one the last survivors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, which he made grittier and tougher-minded with his presence.
His real name was Issur Danelovitch Demsky. He wisely changed his name before his film debut: Izzy Demsky is almost as bad a movie star name as Archie Leach. The name change led to two nice Jewish boys Douglas and Tony (Bernie Schwartz) Curtis playing Norsemen in The Vikings. Oy, such casting.
Kirk Douglas, of course, would have disagreed with my calling him nice:
“I’ve always been attracted to characters who are part scoundrel,” he told The Times in an interview in 1984. “I don’t find virtue photogenic.”
Douglas was an intense actor. It was easy to imagine him leaping off the screen and grabbing movie-goers by the scruff of the neck. Comedy was not his forte.
Along with director Otto Preminger, Kirk Douglas helped end the Red Scare era blacklist by giving writer Dalton Trumbo screen credit in Exodus and Spartacus respectively. I always thought it was amusing that Paul Newman was cast in Exodus instead of Izzy Demsky or Bernie Schwartz. Oy, such casting.
Douglas published one of the best movie star memoirs ever in 1988: The Ragman’s Son. He grew up poor and tough as nails as this passage indicates:
“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,” Mr. Douglas wrote. “And I was the ragman’s son.”
The Oscars are on Sunday. Kirk Douglas should have won best actor in 1956 for Lust For Life in which he played Vincent Van Gogh. He was given an honorary career performance Oscar in 1996. They no longer show such awards during the broadcast. It’s one reason I stopped watching the show last year. I didn’t miss it.
In December, I compiled a Kirk Douglas movie list for Saturday Odds & Sods, The photo montage at the top of the post replicates the list but here it is anyway:
My Top Ten Favorite Kirk Douglas Movies:
- The Bad and the Beautiful
- Seven Days In May
- Ace In The Hole
- Paths Of Glory
- Lust For Life
- Young Man With A Horn
- Two Weeks In Another Town
- Out Of The Past
One of the most famous moments in any Kirk Douglas movie came from Spartacus. “I’m Spatacus” gets the last word: