On December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, Issur Danielovitch was born. Later, he changed his name to Kirk Douglas as he believed it would help his acting career.
Douglas was born in a big family of seven kids, the only son of Russian Jewish immigrants, and his upbringing was difficult. He characterized his family as the poorest on a street of impoverished families, and said they slept on a shabby living-room couch in an unheated clapboard home.
Kirk Douglas’ father, Hershel, was denied employment in the local mills due to his Jewish heritage, so he became a trash trader.
When the family ran out of food, Douglas would steal from his neighbors or even vegetable stalls.
Growing up in Amsterdam, New York means living on the East End, the other side of town from the affluent folks on Market Hill, he said in an interview. It meant living at 46 Eagle Street, a dilapidated two-story gray clapboard home at the foot of a sloping street near industries, train lines, and the Mohawk River.
Kirk Douglas was often taunted and sometimes assaulted by local gangs since he was Jewish. Douglas, on the other hand, worked hard to aid his family and make a better life for himself.
He estimated that he worked 40 different jobs, ranging from newspaper boy to dishwasher.
Kirk Douglas originally got interested in acting while attending Wilbur Lynch High School, now Amsterdam High School. His English instructor, Louise Livingston, motivated him to engage in all types of theater events and exposed him to the world of poetry.
Even though Kirk Douglas strove to save every cent for college, the funds were insufficient to cover his tuition. So he took a risk and hitchhiked 200 miles to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.
Douglas brought all of his high school trophies, transcripts, poetry, and a letter of recommendation from his teacher, Mrs. Livingston. He met with the head of the faculty and persuaded him to give him a scholarship.
Kirk worked as an actor at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant during the summers. And it was then that he adopted the name Kirk Douglas.
Douglas honed his skills as an actor, landing his first Broadway role in the 1941 musical Spring Again. He proceeded to get additional Broadway jobs, but before his big break, international events altered all.
When World War II broke out, Kirk Douglas chose to enlist immediately. He felt a rush of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness and planned to join the Army as a pilot, but instead ended up serving as a communication officer on a submarine.
Nevertheless, Kirk Douglas was hospitalized with wounds after an accident on one of the submarines in 1943. He was released from the Navy as a junior grade lieutenant after being diagnosed with amoebic dysentery.
He returned to the United States and resumed his profession in show business. But, due to an illness, his singing voice was ruined, perhaps ending Kirk Douglas’ career. But, as we all know, it didn’t happen. A Hollywood producer called Hal Willis watched him perform at one of his performances and put him in his 1946 picture, The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers.
Kirk Douglas never looked back after that, and he went on to become a Hollywood icon. Three years later, he had his big break as boxer Midge Kelly in the 1949 movie Boxer. It gave him his first nomination for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” at the Academy Awards.
Douglas had two additional Academy Award nominations for his performances in The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952 and Lust for Life in 1956, but he never won a competitive Oscar for either. However, he received an honorary Oscar in 1996 for ”50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”
By the 1950s, Kirk Douglas had already been married once. He was married to actress and model Diana Dill from 1943 until 1951, and they had 2 kids, Joel and Michael Douglas.
Only three years later, the then-respected actor would find the love of his life, with whom he would remain married for the rest of his life.
Kirk met Anne Buydens for the first time while shooting in Paris. Douglas got highly interested in her after she helped with the press. Yet, his efforts to impress her were initially futile.
Anne had her reasons, as it turned out. She said that, definitely, he was charming and attractive, but he’d seen too many young ladies in Paris fall in love with American movie stars who returned home to their homes and marriages after their films closed. She didn’t want to be just another location romance victim. She had survived the war in occupied Paris and intuitively understood how to defend oneself in difficult circumstances.
Kirk eventually discovered a way to get close to Anne. They began working together when he persuaded her to conduct promotions for his 1953 film Act of Love. The two fell in love, and the pair married in 1954. They have two sons, Peter and Eric Douglas.
All of his sons became actors, with Michael Douglas being the most successful. The two-time Academy Award winner appeared in films such as Wall Street, for which he earned an Oscar for his performance as Gordon Gecko, Falling Down, and Wonder Boys.
But, the father-son connection was not always harmonious. Douglas, for instance, declined to call his father “dad” in an interview.
The schism between Michael and Kirk Douglas widened further in 1975. Kirk had the rights to the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the time, and his son persuaded him to sell them.
However, after production began, Michael – now the producer – decided not to put his dad in the starring role of Randle McMurphy, despite the fact that he had performed the character on Broadway.
Their relationship did not improve as the picture went on to sweep the Academy Awards, with producer Michael Douglas winning Best Picture and Jack Nicholson winning Best Actor for his performance.
Kirk Douglas starred as Spartacus in the 1960 picture, which became one of his genuine masterpieces. Despite not receiving an Oscar, the picture won four Academy Awards, propelling Kirk to the top of the Hollywood ladder.
Douglas appeared in almost 90 Hollywood movies during the course of his career. His most recent appearance was in the 2008 television film Empire State Building Murders.
Kirk Douglas was a real cinematic star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sadly, he died on February 5, 2020, at the age of 103.
Kirk Douglas was worth an estimated $61 million at the time of his death. But his son, Michael Douglas, and the rest of his family received no monetary compensation since he left a lifetime of gifts to various charities.
Douglas donated $50 million to St. Lawrence University, where he studied as a child. A large portion of the funds were also distributed to the Sinai Temple of Westwood, the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
Kirk and Anne have both previously given to the institutions listed above via the Douglas Foundation. The foundation’s mission, according to its website, is to assist people who cannot otherwise assist themselves.
Michael Douglas will not get any money from his dad. At the same time, he won’t require it, as he’s estimated to be worth $300 million.
Despite their earlier disagreements, Michael complimented his dad’s caring and giving nature at the time of his death.
Michael Douglas said in a statement that Kirk’s life was well-lived, and he leaves a legacy in cinema that will be remembered for centuries to come, as well as a history as a recognized philanthropist who fought to help the people and bring peace to the world.
Kirk Douglas survived a difficult background to carve his own route to becoming a Hollywood movie star of the Golden Age. May his soul rest in peace.