Happy Birthday, Kirk Douglas: A Hollywood legend turning 100
Kirk Douglas poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2014. (Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Published Wednesday, December 7, 2016 9:19AM EST
This Friday, December 9, the American actor will celebrate his 100th birthday. One of the last survivors of Hollywood's golden age, Kirk Douglas was a pioneer of the increasingly prevalent trend for actor-producers.
In the course of a 70-year career in moving pictures, Kirk Douglas became a Hollywood legend. The actor, who was remarked for his distinctive dimpled chin, has played in a vast variety of films (epics, comedies, thrillers, westerns, adventure films), shot by the most prestigious directors of his day. John Huston, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, Elia Kazan, Howard Hawks, Stanley Kubrick and Brian de Palma all had the privilege of working with him in one or more of their films.
Between 1946 and 2008, he featured in close to 100 films, some of which have become classics of American cinema: notably "Spartacus", "Lust for Life", "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", "Paths of Glory" and "The Final Countdown." However, in spite of his popularity, Kirk Douglas was never awarded an Oscar, although he was nominated on three occasions: for his role in "Champion" in 1950, "The Bad and the Beautiful" in 1952, and for his performance in the role of painter Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” in 1957. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally made up for this oversight by awarding him a lifetime achievement honorary Oscar in recognition of his 50-year career in Hollywood.
An actor ahead of his time
The only boy in a family of seven children, Kirk Douglas was born in 1916 in Amsterdam in upstate New York to Jewish immigrants from what is now Belarus, who had come to the United States to escape poverty and antisemitism.
The one-time ragman's son quickly learned how to manage his career once he arrived in Hollywood. In the mid-1950s, he became one of the first actor-producers in motion pictures. Nowadays this dual role is a common career choice, which has attracted such stars as Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, but at the time it was extremely rare.
Annoyed that he had not been given the part of Ben-Hur in the eponymous epic – a role that was finally granted to Charlton Heston – Douglas decided to act as the instigator of projects that he found to be pleasing and motivating. Thereafter he bought the rights to Irving Stone's novel "Lust for Life," which he brought to the big screen in 1956. The following year, he contacted industry newcomer Stanley Kubrick to entrust him with the project for "Paths to Glory." In 1960, he once again turned to Kubrick to complete his major project "Spartacus."
His role as producer enabled Douglas to take on daring and politically courageous projects. He did not hesitate to work with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted for communist sympathies during the McCarthy era. In September of this year, just months before his 100th birthday, the star once more expressed himself politically, penning an article attacking US president-elect Donald Trump.