A Kirk Douglas Biography



"Kirk Douglas's talent begins in the soles of his feet
     and ends  in the spirit that can vault beyond the stars."

                                                These words of tribute from the American Academy of
                                              Dramatic Arts sum up the essense of the man. A lifetime of
                                              achievement -- which includes 82 films, nine plays, four books,
                                              and a host of other contributions to his art, his country, and his
                                              fellow men -- speaks for itself.

                                                  Born December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, the son
                                              of illiterate Jewish-Russian immigrants, Issur Danielovitch, who
                                              would become Kirk Douglas, was driven to leave behind the
                                              poverty of his home town. He won a wrestling scholarship to
                                              Saint Lawrence University and worked as a janitor to meet
                                              school expenses. A second scholarship, from the Academy of
                                              Dramatic Arts, put him on the road to Broadway. He made his
                                              Broadway debut as a singing Western Union boy in Spring
                                              Again, but interrupted his budding stage career in 1942 to enlist
                                              in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a communications officer
                                              in anti-submarine warfare.

                                                  After the war he returned to Broadway as the ghost soldier in
                                              The Wind Is Ninety; his widely praised performance caught the
                                              attention of Hollywood, and he was cast opposite Barbara
                                              Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.
                                                  Three years later, in 1949, his role as one of the screen's early
                                              anti-heroes, the cynical boxer in Stanley Kramer's Champion,
                                              won him both stardom and an Academy Award nomination. He
                                              received his second nomination in 1952 for playing an
                                              opportunistic movie mogul in The Bad and the Beautiful, and
                                              his third in 1956 for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Lust
                                              for Life, for which he won the New York Film Critics' Best
                                              Actor Award.

                                                  In 1955, Mr. Douglas formed one of Hollywood's first
                                              independent film companies, Bryna, named for his mother, and
                                              managed by his wife, Anne. The Bryna Company produced
                                              many memorable films, including Paths of Glory, The Vikings,
                                              Spartacus, Lonely Are the Brave, and Seven Days in May.
                                                  Shortly after forming Bryna, Mr. Douglas also established the
                                              Douglas Foundation in order to make more significant and
                                              meaningful contributions to civic and charitable causes. The
                                              Douglas Foundation has supported both large organizations
                                              (such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) and small ones (such as
                                              the Access Theater for the Handicapped). In recent years, the
                                              Douglas Foundation has targeted the Los Angeles Mission for
                                              the Homeless, which has opened the Anne Douglas Center for
                                              Women, and the Motion Picture Relief Home's Alzheimer's Unit,
                                              which has been named "Harry's Haven" after Mr. Douglas's
                                              father. The Douglas Foundation is currently restoring the
                                              playgrounds of schools in poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles,
                                              and also building a series of playgrounds in Israel. The
                                              Foundation has also committed $2 million to building a theater
                                              directly opposite the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with the goal of
                                              helping tourists of all faiths better understand the meaning of
                                              Judaism.

                                                  In 1958, Mr. Douglas broke the notorious Hollywood
                                              blacklist when he gave screen credit to blacklisted writer Dalton
                                              Trumbo for the Spartacus screenplay. Mr. Douglas was widely
                                              condemned for his decision at the time. It was not until 30 years
                                              later that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Writers
                                              Guild of America recognized his act as courageous.

                                                  In 1963, he bought the dramatic rights to Ken Kesey's book
                                              One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and starred in it on
                                              Broadway. For the next 10 years he tried unsuccessfully to make
                                              the play into a motion picture. Finally, in 1975, his son Michael
                                              produced the movie, which collected five Oscars, including best
                                              picture.

                                                  In 1981, President Carter presented Mr. Douglas with the
                                              Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award in
                                              recognition of the many trips he had made at his own expense,
                                              speaking to audiences all over the world about why democracy
                                              works and what freedom means. In addition to visiting more than
                                              20 countries in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, Mr. Douglas
                                              has also visited the war zones of Beirut, Lebanon, and Red
                                              Cross hospitals and Afghan refugee camps near the Khyber
                                              Pass, delivering the same message.

                                                  In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures honored Mr.
                                              Douglas with a Special Oscar for "50 years as a creative and
                                              moral force in the motion picture community." In presenting the
                                              award, Steven Spielberg lauded Mr. Douglas for his courage
                                              and his conscience. "Whether he's dealing with a character on
                                              screen, or with the all-too-real effects of a recent stroke,
                                              courage remains Kirk Douglas's personal and professional
                                              hallmark," Mr. Spielberg said, adding, "There is a single thread
                                              drawing all the characters he has played together. It's called
                                              conscience."

                                                  Kirk Douglas's conscience has often found an outlet in his
                                              movies. For example, through the TV movie Amos, which
                                              earned him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, Mr. Douglas
                                              tried to focus public attention on the issue of abuse of the elderly.
                                              His efforts have also included editorials and letters to
                                              newspapers, appearances on national television, and testimony
                                              before Congressman Claude D. Pepper's Select Sub-Committee
                                              on Aging.

                                                  In 1992, through the TV movie The Secret, he attacked the
                                              social stigma associated with dyslexia. His performance was
                                              singled out as the year's best by the Los Angeles Times' critics,
                                              and earned him the Einstein Award from the National Dyslexia
                                              Research Foundation.

                                                  Kirk Douglas movie projects are often family affairs. Amos
                                              was produced by his son Peter, as were Final Countdown and
                                              Inherit the Wind, which won an Emmy award for best film. Mr.
                                              Douglas has also co-starred with his son Eric in Yellow, a
                                              segment in HBO's Tales of the Crypt series, which earned him
                                              a second Emmy nomination. His son Joel has served as
                                              production manager on the Douglas-directed movie Posse, and
                                              the long-awaited Kirk Douglas-Michael Douglas picture is
                                              currently in development.

                                                  His last feature film was Greedy and co-starred Michael J.
                                              Fox. It was released in the spring of 1994 by Universal Studios.
                                              And his latest TV movie, Take Me Home Again, co-starring
                                              Craig T. Nelson, aired in the winter of 1994 on NBC.

                                                  Mr. Douglas has been honored by many governments and
                                              organizations, including France, Italy, and Portugal. Among the
                                              top international awards he received was his appointment, in
                                              1990, as Officier de la Legion d'Honneur for distinguished
                                              services to France in arts and letters.

                                                  In 1991, the American Film Institute singled him out for its
                                              prestigious Life Achievement Award. In its tribute, the AFI
                                              noted that "no other leading actor has been more ready to tap
                                              the dark desperate side of the soul and thus reveal the
                                              complexity of human nature," and lauded him for his "sense of
                                              depth and defiance." In 1995, the John F. Kennedy Center for
                                              the Performing Arts distinguished him with its award "for
                                              contributions to U.S. cultural life."

                                                  When not acting, Mr. Douglas occupies his time writing. His
                                              autobiography, The Ragman's Son, published in 1988, received
                                              rave reviews and became an international best-seller. It was on
                                              the New York Times' best-seller list for a total of 34 weeks. He
                                              followed it up with three novels: Dance with the Devil in 1990,
                                              The Gift in 1992, and Last Tango in Brooklyn in 1994. The
                                              novels also became international best-sellers (having been
                                              translated into more than a dozen languages) and have earned
                                              top marks from distinguished reviewers, the New York Times
                                              and the Washington Post foremost among them.

                                                  Most recently, Mr. Douglas has completed two books, both
                                              to be published in September of 1997 by Simon and Schuster.
                                              One is a children's book with a Holocaust theme entitled The
                                              Broken Mirror. The other is a sequel to his autobiography
                                              entitled Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning. In it
                                              he focuses on events since his helicopter crash in which two
                                              people died and which left him with an obligation to share with
                                              others his struggle to find and understand the deeper truths of
                                              life. He also discusses the hard work of recovery from his stroke
                                              and his religious awakening in later life, which led to his
                                              becoming an ardent student of the Torah.

                                                  Mr. Douglas has been married to his wife, Anne, for 43 years
                                              and is the father of four sons from two marriages: Michael, Joel,
                                              Peter, and Eric. All four sons are active in the entertainment
                                              industry. He divides his time between residences in Beverly Hills
                                              and Palm Springs.