He was born Issur Danielovitch, a ragman’s son. He died Kirk Douglas, a Hollywood king.
Douglas died Wednesday at 103 and was a force for change and symbol of endurance. He is remembered now as a final link to a so-called “Golden Age,” the father of Oscar winner Michael Douglas and a man nearly as old as the industry itself. But in his prime, he represented a new kind of performer, more independent and adventurous than Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and other greats of the studio era of the 1930s and 1940s, and more willing to speak his mind. His career began at the peak of the studios’ power and ended in a more diverse, decentralized age that he helped bring about.
Reaching stardom after World War II, he was as likely to play cads (the movie producer in "Bad and the Beautiful," the journalist in "Ace in the Hole") as he was suited for the hero-slave in “Spartacus,” as alert to the business as he was at home before the camera. He was producing his own films at a time most movie stars were content to act and was working with an enviable range of directors, from a young Stanley Kubrick to a middle-aged John Huston, from a genius of noir like Jacques Tourneur to such master satirists as Billy Wilder and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
By the end of the 1950s, the use of banned writers was widely known within the industry, but not to the general public. Douglas, who years earlier had reluctantly signed a loyalty oath to get the starring role in “Lust for Life,” delivered a crucial blow when he openly credited the blacklisted Oscar winner Dalton Trumbo for script work on "Spartacus," the Roman epic about a slave rebellion that was released in 1960. In the 1970s and 1980s, he did several notable television films, including "Victory at Entebbe” and "Amos.” His film credits in the '70s and '80s included De Palma's "The Fury" and a comedy, "Tough Guys," that co-starred Burt Lancaster, his longtime friend who previously appeared with Douglas in "Seven Days in May," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" and other movies. Douglas also was one of Hollywood’s leading philanthropists. The Douglas Foundation, which he and Anne Douglas co-founded, has donated millions to a wide range of institutions, from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to the Motion Picture & Television Fund. In 2015, the foundation endowed the Kirk Douglas Fellowship - a full-tuition, 2-year scholarship - at the American Film Institute.
With files from the Associated Press
Leonard Maltin, film historian and critic, he’s the author of many books on cinema, including “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” series; he spent 30 years on the television show Entertainment Tonight, appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movie and co-hosts the podcast “Maltin on Movies” with his daughter Jessie; he tweets @leonardmaltin