I mean: holy shit!
Kirk Douglas, born into poverty in New York on the 9th December 1916 as Issur Danielovitch, has just turned 100.
One of the greatest icons of Old Hollywood, and a living link to a past now seeming almost completely obscured by distance, Kirk Douglas, described his early days once thus:
My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. … Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.
If there any people out there still partial to believing in anything called ‘The American Dream’ then Douglas — immigrant’s son who began with nothing and who scraped and work hard for everything he got — is its embodiment.
Initially planning to remain where he began his acting career — on the stage — Douglas was helped by his friend, Lauren Bacall, into transitioning to the screen. Bacall convinced director Hal Wallis to give Douglas a shot in his 1946 movie The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. It was to be Douglas’ debut screen role. Champion, Ace In The Hole, Lust For Life, Paths Of Glory, and Spartacus would follow, amongst many others.
Famously dedicated and driven almost to the point of obsession, Douglas has always expressed a reverence for his medium, once saying of film that it was, ‘the most important art form,’ although he also repeatedly made it clear that he understood how important the entertainment side of cinema was.
Director Melville Shavelson once said of Douglas:
Kirk Douglas was intelligent. When discussing a script with actors, I have always found it necessary to remember that they never read the other actors’ lines, so their concept of the story is somewhat hazy. Kirk had not only read the lines of everyone in the picture, he had also read the stage directions… Kirk, I was to discover, always read every word, discussed every word, always argued every scene, until he was convinced of its correctness…. He listened, so it was necessary to fight every minute.
There have been many eulogies written this year. It is easy when celebrating someone’s long life while they are still alive to lapse into an elegiac tone. But that would be a mistake here.
Mostly because Douglas, more direct and vital at 100 than some at half his age, would probably sock me one in the face for doing so.
So perhaps it would be best to just echo his tone here instead: Happy Birthday, Douglas, you brilliant bastard.