Kirk Douglas – some of his early films

Kirk Douglas
born Issur Danielovitch Demsky)
December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020

Kirk Douglas — who has passed away recently at the age of 103.

Over the course of his career, Kirk Douglas made some fine Westerns. Howard Hawks’ The Big Sky  and The Big Trees – both in 1952. Man Without A Star in 1955. John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral from 1957, with Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Douglas as Doc Holliday — and Last Train From Gun Hill.

Another one was The Indian Fighter in 1955 – a good film.

He appeared with Rock Hudson in The Last Sunset, directed by Robert Aldrich, in 1962. Lonely Are The Brave was  Kirk’s favourite of his own films. In 1967 came The War Wagon with John Wayne.

He also made such films as  20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954). The Vikings (1957). Spartacus (1960). Seven Days In May (1964).

To my mind his acting in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1954 was pretty hammy and bordered on pantomime but he injected life into this Walt Disney film – up against actors such as James Mason and Peter Lorre who in my opinion were far better.

However he was very good as Doc Holliday in ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ –   a part played brilliantly by Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine’ a decade before this.

When making ‘Spartacus’ – Kirk Douglas was one of the producers, and after a few weeks of the film being directed by Anthony Mann, Kirk sacked him. He was replaced by Stanley Kubrick who himself had a difficult time from Kirk – one of them said that ‘it was a good film – could have been a great film, but that b……d  wanted to be in every shot of the film.’

Kirk Douglas ABOVE in ‘Spartacus’ – the caption said he starred in it and produced the film – and I would say  ‘there lies the problem’

I always saw him as a conceited man and this spilled over into his acting on screen. When he was restrained – as Doc Holliday for instance – he was very good, but when he was allowed to let rip he was moderate in my view.

Disturbing rumours also circulated – and still do – in Hollywood of him raping Natalie Wood when she was 16 in a hotel room in the film capital – at that time he was a major star and she did not report this to the police as her mother thought it would damage her career if she did – horrifying if true and I say this because neither of them are here to tell.

Kirk Douglas  was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in Amsterdam, New York. He grew up poor, but was a fine student and gifted athlete.  An acting scholarship got him into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and he appeared in a few minor Broadway roles before joining the Navy in 1941.

After the war, he worked in the theatre and on radio. Lauren Bacall, a classmate from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, who was now a star thanks to To Have And Have Not, convinced producer Hal Wallis to give Douglas a screen test. This got him a lead role in the 1946 picture The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers. His reviews were excellent and his career was on its way.

Jacques Tourneur’s Out Of The Past, a terrific film  with Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, came in 1947.

1948’s I Walk Alone paired Kirk Douglas with Burt Lancaster — they’d become friends and make a total of seven films together. The Champion from 1949 earned Kirk  his first Oscar nomination. There’d be others for The Bad And The Beautiful in 1952 and for his portrayal of painter Vincent van Gogh in 1956’s Lust For Life.

In the 1950s, as television took hold of popular culture and the curtain began to close on the Hollywood studio system,  film stars began developing their own films, which would be backed by the studios. With the formation of Bryna Productions, Kirk Douglas was one of the first to set up shop. (Bryna was his mother’s first name.)

BELOW – Filming ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ for Walt Disney

Scenes in a Studio Tank – filming the Nautilus which later in this sequence is attacked by a giant squid

Scenes in a Studio Tank – filming the Nautilus and we can see ABOVE the giant squid which attacks the vessel in a thrilling sequence which takes part in a storm – hence the wind machine pictured there in the foreground

In 1981, President Carter awarded Kirk Douglas the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. Two years later, he received the Jefferson Award for his public service; and he later received the French Legion of Honor.

Tragedy struck in 1991, when he suffered a severe back injury when a helicopter he was a passenger in collided with a small plane during takeoff at Santa Paula Airport; the two men in the plane died. Then, in early 1996, he suffered a stroke. Remarkably he survived and lived until 2020

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