Kirk Douglas had the classic face of a movie star. With bright blue eyes and a split beard, his screen presence forever marked the history of cinema, especially old Hollywood. His son, Michael Douglas, heir to much of his gallantry, confirmed through a Facebook post the end of his father’s long life. Kirk Douglas was 103 years old and he was one of the last survivors of the golden age of Hollywood, which saw the birth of stars of the stature of Fred Astaire, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe or Greta Garbo, and of which few emblems remain, such as Sidney Poitier or Olivia de Havilland.
Through his characteristic pointed face, wide acting range and iconic characters, Kirk Douglas marked the filmic memory of several generations inside and outside his country. People kept yelling at him “Spartacus!” when I met him on the street, despite the fact that it had been five decades since he played the protagonist of that memorable film.
Douglas began his career playing morally ambiguous characters. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he was characterized by double-edged charisma, with the ability to speak of both honor and pettiness.
Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, the son of Jewish migrants from what is now Belarus. His real name was Issur Danielovitch, which changed when he enlisted to participate in World War II. He grew up in a poor family and was the only man among his sisters. Since he was a child, he showed a solid ambition to become an actor and financed his studies to achieve it by doing jobs from cleaning and maintenance, to participation in radio and advertising, but always with his sights set on placing his name on the Broadway marquees. However, it wasn’t until after the war that Douglas began an unforgettable film career.
The jump to the big screen was thanks to a friend of hers, an icon of the golden age of Hollywood: Betty Joan Perkse, better known as Lauren Bacall. She recommended Douglas with Hal B. Wallis, one of the most important producers of the moment, responsible for films such as Casablanca O The Adventures of Robin Hood. It was he who gave her her first film role opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Andrews, released in 1946. In the film, he played a weak, alcoholic man built around the profile of a villain. However, his next roles shifted between chiaroscuro, between charisma and immorality. “I am drawn to scoundrel characters. Virtue is not photogenic, “he once confessed to the New York Times.
His career continued with Out of the Past, along with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, in one of the best films of dark movie of history. By 1949, Kirk Douglas would receive his first Oscar nomination for his role in Champion, a film about a boxer willing to do anything to achieve stardom.
At this point the actor rubbed shoulders with artists of the stature of Burt Lancaster, and worked with innovative directors such as Michael Curtiz or Billy Wilder. In 1951 he starred Ace in the Hole, co-written and directed by Billy Wilder in one of his most iconic leading roles, playing an unscrupulous journalist, willing to take advantage of a tragedy to advance his career between lies and dishonesty. The year 1956 brought him another iconic role, this time playing the tormented painter Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life, one of the most memorable performances of his life.
But Douglas’s influence went beyond acting. His support was decisive in the direction that the career of another future legend would take: Stanley Kubrick. Douglas and the young 28-year-old Kubrick met to do Paths of Glory (known in Mexico as Hell Patrol), a film about World War I where the actor plays an officer who defends three scapegoats from certain death in court martial.
Kubrick approached Douglas directly with the script and he, fascinated, replied, “Stanley, this movie is not going to make a dime, but we have to make it.” Douglas raised a million dollars to make the film, a low amount for a Hollywood production. However, today it is considered not only Stanley Kubrick’s first success, but also a classic of contemporary cinema and one of Douglas’ first forays into film production. “It is a movie that is always going to be good, even years later. I don’t have to wait 50 years to find out, “said the actor, in 1967, ten years after the premiere of his feature film.
The second collaboration between Kubrick and Douglas was Spartacus, once the actor and producer fired director Anthony Mann, before making another key decision: to give credit to Dalton Trumbo, a writer banned from within Hollywood for his communist ideas. This simple action was one of many that helped put him an end to this ideological persecution within the United States. The fact that the film also dealt with an individual fighting the government apparatus was no coincidence, but rather a not so veiled protest against censorship in the country’s film industry.
Following his collaborations with Kubrick, Douglas was successful at the box office with a streak of nearly three films per year.
“Then I stopped being Kirk Douglas and became Michael Douglas’s dad,” he once said. Of his later career, westerns and some comedies stand out, but none with the impact of the work he did in the fifties.
Kirk Douglas was in good health until 2006, when a stroke rendered him unable to speak, and he did not recover until after lengthy treatment. In 2011 she made one last public appearance at the Oscars, flirting onstage with Anne Hathaway and gracefully delaying the Best Supporting Actress award. Douglas, a star of eternal charisma and charm, overcame a century of life to show that cinema is an effective way to cope with reality.
“Being an actor is a naive profession that allows an escape into an unreal world,” he once said.