Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy B-day Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas... Actor, Writer, Legend, Force of Nature...turns 93 on December 9th...

Kirk is right up there, just a smidge under Cagney, as one of my favorite actors of all-time. His best work can be so forceful, compelling and unforgettable that I often think to myself, he might be the finest actor who's ever lived.

Rather than just my usual blatherings I thought I'd post some quotes from Kirk and others as well.

Judging by the hair cut I'd peg this shot to be from post-Spartacus 1959-60.

"The one thing in my life that I always knew, that was always constant, was that I wanted to be an actor. That in itself is an assett. I think half the success in life comes from first finding out what you really want to do. And then going ahead and doing it."

In 1949 Kirk turned down a supporting role in MGM's big-budget film "The Great Sinner" and instead went after the starring role in Stanley Kramer's up coming low-budget production of "Champion", his first film as a producer.

"Although they were trying to be delicate about it, they (the producers) were wondering weather I could play a boxer. I finally realized what they wanted. I thought, this is what the starlets do. I took off my jacket and shirt, bared my chest and flexed my muscles. They nodded approvingly, satisfied that I could play a boxer. I was probably the only man in Hollywood who's ever had to strip to get a part."

Stanley Kramer - "We made a peculiar chemistry together. I chose him for Champion - he chose me - when both of us had other choices open, but not too many. He was a star. He acted like a star when he was nobody. Nothing daunted - to learn a language, to be a prize fighter, to juggle, to paint, to dance, to do anything. Dimple akimbo... he came at you center stage, and there it was... talented, full of chutzpah - and class. In that early film he screamed at the fight manager: 'I can do it - I can do it!' He can. He can."

A vintage publicity still for Warner Bros 1951 production of "Along the Great Divide", co-starring Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan and John Agar. The director was legendary Raoul Walsh.

"Critics talk about how Raoul Walsh movies have such great pace. They have great pace because he was always in a hurry to finish them. Along the great Divide was my first western. It was awful. I hated the whole picture, but I learned."

A publicity shot for William Wyler's outstanding 1951 production "Detective Story", co-starring Eleanor Parker, William Bendix (yo-ho!), Lee Grant, Joseph Wiseman, George MacCready, Cathy O'Donnell and many other fine character actors.

William Wyler - "My association with Kirk Douglas was limited to a single picture, Detective Story, but it was the best star-director relationship I ever had. We made the film in five weeks, the shortest schedule I ever had on a major motion picture, and it was thanks to Kirk and his professionalism that such a schedule was possible. He's a great fellow as an actor and as a man."

Kirk as Vincent Van Gogh in Vincent Minnelli's masterful 1956 production of "Lust for Life". His interpretation of the enormous talent and tortured soul of Van Gogh is one of the most compelling performances of his entire career. That he didnt win the Academy award for best actor that year is , to me, one of Oscars greatest boo-boos!!!

"I was getting close to getting lost in the character of Van Gogh. While we were shooting I wore heavy shoes like the ones Van Gogh wore. I always kept one untied, so that I would feel unkempt, off-balance, in danger of tripping. It was loose; it gave him - and me - a shuffling gait. My wife always said that it took me a long time to get out of that character. She would hear me still walking like Van Gogh every night when I came home from shooting and even after the picture ended."

Vincent Minnelli - "There is no more exciting thing for a director than the search with an actor for the meaning of an illusive and challenging character. Kirk is blessed with tireless energy, a willingness to try anything, and a complete disregard as to how he looks. He could not care less about being the handsome hero. His enthusiasm and devotion to the project is contagious and transmits itself to the crew, cast and everyone connected with the picture."

"The memory makes me whince. I could never play him again. For a long time after I finished the movie, I didnt see the picture. I had to get him out of my system. Maybe that was why I agreed to have my beard shaved off on the Perry Como Show; I needed a public ritual to help rid me of the character.

John Wayne - "Christ Kirk! How can you play a part like that? There's so goddamn few of us left. We got to play strong, tough characters. Not those weak queers"

"I dont think I'd be much of an actor without vanity. And I'm not interested in being a modest actor. The last time I heard a star described that way, I was reminded of the classic retort - He has a lot to be modest about."

Kirk as Doc Holliday in John Sturges' rousing "Gunfight at O.K. Corral"

"Hal Wallis (*the films producer*), who had dropped me years ago because I wouldnt sign a term contract, was now offering me ten times the salary he would have been paying me if he still had me under contract. I said I would play Doc Holliday if Burt Lancaster would play Wyatt Earp"

"My friendship with Burt really started on 'Gunfight at O.K. Corral', although we had made 'I walk Alone' ten years earlier. After the day's shooting in Tucson, and dinner at the hotel we would just sit around and talk. Almost every night. We would talk for hours"

Burt Lancaster - "Kirk would be the first person to tell you he's a very difficult man... and I would be the second."

Kirk, George MacCready and Richard Anderson in a scene from Stanley Kubrick's shattering anti-war masterpiece "Paths of Glory".

"Stanley, I dont think this picture will ever make a nickel, but we HAVE to make it."

"Stanley could be exasperating but what a talent. And a tremendous ego. Nothing wrong with that. Ego, not carried to excess, is healthy. I'm interested only in talent but wherever we went, Stanley made sure they stuck signs saying 'Harris-Kubrick' all around like 'For Rent' signs. I was tempted to say 'Get rid of those signs and put up a sign that says BRYNA!' It was the Bryna Company (*Kirk's production company*) that put the picture together and signed Kubrick to a three-picture contract. But I dismissed the petty thought. It amused me that he was so anxious about the 'Harris-Kubrick' signs. I'm surprised that he didnt want the signs to just say 'Kubrick'. It amused me less years later when Stanley told people that I was only an employee on 'Paths of Glory'."

Kirk made many westerns. One of my favorites is "Man Without a Star" because it's kinda off-beat, is very entertaining and also shows Kirk to truly be the all-time gun twirling champ!!

"In my favorite scene, I twirled a gun; flipped it into the air, from side to side, behind my back, and fired it. This was basically juggling, with some additions. We filmed it in one take, no cuts, so you could see that there was no magic, no special effects, to it."

Kirk and Burt in their last flm together, "Tough Guys".

"We shot a scene at a disco, slam dancing. A lot of people were surprised 'How'd you learn to dance that way?' I didnt know what they were talking about. I didnt rehearse anything. The music played, and I saw other people, and away I went. You know, arms swirling, bodies wiggling, punching and kicking."

Not bad for the Son of a Ragman....


Tom said...

Great pics! I love "Tough Guys"!

KC said...

I was surprised to see how well he played a sensitive, sort of frail character like Van Gogh. He's such a virile actor--but he really pulled it off. However, my favorite Douglas role is Ace in the Hole--just brutal.

Mr. Door Tree said...


Great post, love the quotes! Hard to believe Kirk is 93 years old today! My personal favorite Kirk films are Ace in the Hole, The Detective Story and Paths of Glory! I just picked up a copy of Seven Days in May, thats what I'm watching tonight in celebration!

Aldous said...

That quote from John Wayne is hilarious.

I read "Ragman's Son" many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. There's a lot to admire about this self-made man.

Margaret Benbow said...

What a fine tribute. I've admired Douglas since seeing Champion many years ago. He was truly an actor who immersed himself in the role--he played the unscrupulous, driven, even hateful boxer with such force, I wanted to beat him up myself! Also was fascinated by his memoir The Ragman's Son.

Artman2112 said...

Tom - i love Tough Guys too... not what i'd call a great film but certainly great fun!

KC - it IS surprising when one sees how well kirk could play weak people or simply give an understated performance. he was certainly NOT just "Mr Intensity".

Mr Tree - you already know those are some of my faves too but i could never narrow it down to just 3! and Seven Days in May is a perfect example of what i said above about Kirk giving an understated performance.

Aldous - yes much to admire in Mr Douglas! and to this day Ragman's Son is my all-time fave movie star auto/bio. i've read it twice within the last 10 years or so and i'm sure will read it again. several of the quotes i used for this post were taken from it, including the Duke's tirade!

Margaret - once again we're in accord. Kirk could be MOST convincing when portraying the darker side of human nature!

thank you all for taking the time to comment!