Name:
Kirk Douglas
Birth Date:
December 9, 1916
Birth Place:
Amsterdam, New York, USA
Height:
5' 10
Nationality:
American
Famous for:
His role as Vincent Van Gogh in 'Lust for Life' (1956)
Profession:
actor, director, writer
Education:
St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York
BIOGRAPHY
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Lust for Life

Background:

“People are always talking about the old days. They say that the old movies were better, that the old actors were so great. But I don't think so. All I can say about the old days is that they have passed.” Kirk Douglas

One of the brightest stars of post-WW II, Kirk Douglas had built a solid career by dotting his resume with countless films over the course of his long-term contribution to the entertainment industry. Rising to prominence with his Oscar-nominating portrayals of cunning and ambitious boxer Michael 'Midge' Kelly in Champion (1949) and pushy movie producer Jonathan Shields in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Douglas gathered even more recognition after playing painter Vincent van Gogh in the biopic film Lust for Life (1956, also directed by Minnelli). Due to his virtuoso performance, Douglas picked up a Golden Globe award and a New York Film Critics Circle award., as well as earned a third nomination at the Academy Awards. The Russian-American actor is often associated with his involvement in helping put an end to the legendary Hollywood black list. In 1960, Douglas teamed up with writer Dalton Trumbo for the classic film Spartacus, in which he nabbed a Golden Globe Award.
Kirk Douglas is also well-known for his long involvement in charitable causes and has donated much of his time to civic duties. In 1963, he worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for the State Department and the USIA. His many efforts earned him the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1981, and in 1983, he was honored with a Jefferson Award for his public service. Moreover, he was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government (1990). Other awards include a German Golden Kamera Award (1988), a National Board of Review's Career Achievement Award (1989), an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award (1991), a Writers Guild of America Award (1991), A NATO for Lifetime Achievement award (1993), a Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement award (1994), a Sho West Convention Lifetime Achievement award (1994), an honorary Academy Award (1996), an American Cinema Foundation Award (1996), a Hollywood Film Festival award (1997), a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement award (1998), an American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award (1999), a Wine Country Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award (2000), a Milestone Award at PGA Golden Laurel (2001) and the UCLA Medal of Honor (2002).

Once being named the 17th of American Film Institute’s “50 Greatest Screen Legends” and Entertainment Weekly’s 36th “Greatest Movie Star of All Time,” Douglas is also an accomplished novelist. First publishing the best-seller autobiography “The Ragman’s Son” in 1988, Douglas has also released several novels such as “The Gift” (1993), “Last Tango in Brooklyn” (1994), “Dance with the Devil” (1994) and “The Broken Mirror (1997).”


Professional Wrestler

Childhood and Family:

Son to Russian Jewish immigrant parents Harry Danielovitch (ragman), and Channa Danielovitch, Issur Danielovitch Demsky, who would later be famous as Kirk Douglas, was born on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York. He has six sisters, Pesha (born in 1910), Kaleh (born in 1912), Tamara (born in 1914), Haska and Siffra (twins, born in 1918) and Rachel (born in 1924).

Douglas was a good student at school and was an ardent athlete despite being brought up in poverty. He worked his way through St. Lawrence University as a gatekeeper and was on the university wrestling team. While there, he also tried out his hand in acting and participated in theater. His skills earned him notice and he won an acting scholarship to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in New York. With only two small roles on Broadway, Douglas was forced to put acting on the backburner due to WW II. He joined the Navy in 1941 and served in the war until it ended in 1945. The same year, he returned to New York City and started doing radio-theater and commercials.

27-year-old Douglas ended his single status by marrying actress Diana Dill (aka Diana Darrid; born on January 22, 1923) on November 2, 1943, but the couple later divorced in February 1950. Douglas and Diana share two sons, actor/producer Michael Douglas (born on September 25, 1944) and Joel, a producer who was born on January 23, 1947. Four years after the separation, on May 29, 1954, he tied the knot with ex-publicity agent-turned-producer Anne Buydens, with whom the actor has two other sons, Peter Douglas (producer; born November 23, 1955) and Eric Douglas (actor; born June 21, 1958). His youngest son, Eric, who struggled with longtime alcohol and drug abuse, was discovered dead in a New York Apartment on July 7, 2004.


Spartacus

Career:

A keen athlete, Kirk Douglas soon found his way to acting after doing a little work in theater while at St. Lawrence University. His potential won him a scholarship to New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Starting from 1939, Douglas got his feet wet in summer stage productions and was once a drama coach for Greenwich House Settlement in New York City. In 1941, he eventually made his Broadway debut after landing a role in a production of “Spring Again.” He also appeared in another
Broadway production titled “The Three Sisters” before departing acting for several years to join the US Navy during WW II.
Arriving back in New York City in 1945, Douglas did some radio work and returned to theater. Film work knocked on his door for the first time in 1946 when producer Hal Wallis asked him to join the cast of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. His performance in the Lewis Milestone-directed film received positive reviews. More film projects quickly ensued, including a costarring role with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in the thriller Out of the Past (1947), a part in drama film Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), an initial appearance with fellow future screen legend Burt Lancaster in the low-key drama I Walk Alone (1948) and an important role in the multi-Oscar A Letter to Three Wives (1949), among others. However, Douglas’ film career did not take flight until the end of the ‘40s when director Mark Robson cast him in the starring role of the deceitful and opportunistic boxer Michael 'Midge' Kelly in the 1949 drama Champion. His acting was so impressive that Douglas secured star status as he earned a nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Actor.

With the notable role, Douglas characterized one of his foremost character types; the arrogant, self-centered, deep and powerful man. During the 1950s, he was able to fully establish his screen qualities by playing strong roles in films like Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) and William Wyler’s Detective Story (1951). In 1952, he scored a second Oscar nomination with the drama The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Under Vincente Minnelli’s direction, the actor wooed critics for his portrayal of ambitious film producer Jonathan Shields. Three years later, in 1955, Douglas formed his own production company, Bryna Productions and produced his first film that same year titled The Indian Fighter (1955), in which he also acted opposite Elsa Martinelli and Walter Matthau.

Douglas’ big breakthrough arrived in 1956 when he rejoined Minnelli for his biopic film Lust for Life (1956). Delivering a brilliant turn as tormented painter Vincent van Gogh, Douglas netted a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Circle for Best Actor, as well as received a third nomination at the Oscars. He followed the victory with Top Secret Affair (1957), John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), The Vikings (1958), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) and The Devil's Disciple (1959).

Douglas remained busy with film projects throughout the ‘60s. After Strangers When We Meet (1960), as producer, Douglas broke a long-standing Hollywood blacklist by openly hiring scripter Dalton Trumbo for the epic drama of Roman Empire days, Spartacus (1960, also starred in the title role). His brilliant work garnered him a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Drama).
Douglas worked again with Trumbo for the 1962’s Lonely Are the Brave, playing defiant modern-day cowboy John W. "Jack" Burns, produced and starred in John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) and John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964), teamed up with John Wayne in the World War II story In Harm’s Way (1965), shared top billing with Senta Berger in a drama about the Israeli fight for independence, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), and reunited with Wayne in the tongue-in-cheek western The War Wagon (1967).

By 1973, Douglas has made a reputation for himself as a one-man film industry by starring, producing, as well as directing his directorial debut Scalawag. He scored even greatest success as the producer, director and star with 1975’s Posse. In 1979, he played the lead, opposite young Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the unusual vehicle The Villain (1979).

After more than 30 years contributing to the showbiz industry, Douglas’ slowed down but continued to appear in films and television. Starting with Saturn 3 (1980), he continued picking starring roles in the sci-fi The Final Countdown (1980, alongside Martin Sheen) and the Australian Western The Man from Snowy River (1982). In the made-for-television Amos (1985), Douglas earned an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination. In the following years, he headlined the last appearance with long-time acting partner Lancaster in Tough Guys (1986).

Despite a helicopter crash in 1991 and a minor stroke in mid 1995, Douglas remained active in the cinematic industry and in television. He worked with Sylvester Stallone in Oscar (1991), had a supporting role in Xavier Castano’s Veraz (1991), played Michael J. Fox’s uncle Joe McTeague in Greedy (1994) and starred with Dan Aykroyd and Corbin Allred in the comedy Diamonds (1999). He also had such television projects as Two-Fisted Tales (1991), The Secret (1992, TV) and Take Me Home Again (1994). After disappearing from the screen for four years, Douglas returned in 2003 to team with son Michael and grandson Cameron for director Fred Schepisi’s drama It Runs in the Family (2003). In 2004, he added drama film Illusion to his acting resume, opposite Michael A. Goorjian, Karen Tucker and Bryan Cranston.

In addition to his film career, Douglas dedicated his time to writing. He released a best-seller autobiography titled “The Ragman’s Son” in 1988. This paved the way for his literary career. In July 1993, he published his first novel, “The Gift,” and this book was also well-received by readers. He continued with “Last Tango in Brooklyn” (1994), “Dance with the Devil” (1994) and “The Broken Mirror (1997).”


Awards:

  • PGA Golden Laurel: Milestone Award, 2001
  • Wine Country Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000
  • American Film Institute's: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999
  • Golden Boot: Golden Boot, 1999
  • Screen Actors Guild: Life Achievement, 1998
  • Hollywood Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997
  • Academy Award: Honorary Award for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community, 1996
  • American Cinema Foundation: Carl Foreman Prize, 1996
  • ShoWest Convention: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994
  • Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement: 1994
  • NATO: Lifetime Achievement, 1993
  • Writers Guild of America: Robert F. Meltzer Award, 1991
  • American Film Institute: Life Achievement, 1991
  • Chaim Weizmann, 1991
  • Appointed Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, 1990
  • Jefferson, 1983
  • Cecil B. DeMille: For contributions in the entertainment field; presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 1968
  • Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Sparticus, 1960
  • Golden Scissors: 1958
  • Heart and Torch: 1956
  • New York Film Critics Circle: Best Actor, Lust for Life, 1956
  • Golden Globe: Best Actor (Drama), Lust for Life, 1956

     
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