Sunday, February 9, 2020

In Memoriam: Kirk Douglas 1916-2020



I fell a bit behind this weekend and am unable to give Kirk Douglas the sendoff he deserves. Suffice to say he was one of the most compelling, exciting, and vibrant actors ever to come out of Hollywood. How best to describe his acting style (beyond compelling, exciting, and vibrant)? The man was the closest human equivalent to an active volcano to ever appear on the silver screen, and we in the audience might as well be the city of Pompeii. Fortunately, the analogy stops there or else we're covered with lava. It's enough that we get the wind knocked out of us. A succession of good guy roles later in his career obscures the fact that for a while in the 1950s he was one of the great movie antiheroes, right up there with Marlon Brando, with the added attraction that you could actually make out was Douglas was saying (or hissing.) Good guy or bad guy, his characters lived, and often loathed, life to the fullest. His characters also quite often died to the fullest. Looking at his filmography, I count at least 12 death scenes, and I haven't seen every Kirk Douglas movie so there may be more. About half the time his characters deserved their demises, the other half he played the martyr, but usually not before he killed someone else on his way to his reward. Hey, fair is fair. These were his good guy roles!

I do have enough time this weekend to present you scenes from his various films. So go put on your hazmat suits. Here's Kirk Douglas at his foot-stomping, muscle-flexing, vein-popping, eyeballs-glaring, nostril-flaring best:

 

Champion (1949) 

 

 Young Man with a Horn (1950)

  

Ace in the Hole (1951)

 

Detective Story (1951)

 

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

 


 Lust for Life (1956)

 

Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)


 
 

                                                                      Paths of Glory (1957)




                                                                Spartacus (1960)


Had enough lava? Here, from 200,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), is the lighter side of Douglas:



 He was slumming.

24 comments:

  1. No really my type but From The New Yorker, "a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice". Good enough for me.

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    1. Though I probably would have done this post even had Douglas been a right-wing Republican (talent is talent), the fact that he was on my side, and apparently your side, of the fence politically is added sweetening.

      I kind of mixed a metaphor there, but I really don't have time to fix it.

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  2. A braver actor than I remember
    Most of his movies were unsympathetic
    Loved him in The Way West

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    1. John, it's one thing to play an unsympathetic character in a supporting role, but Douglas usually played the LEAD in those movies. It was his job to keep audience members glued to their seats while acting unsympathetic. That he was able to do that time and time again is proof what a brilliant actor he was.

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  3. Kirk Douglas certainly had a variety of roles, all while retaining his unique persona. You reminded me that I have seen a great many of his movies, although he was perhaps not my ideal type of actor.

    I looked up his his Wikipedia page, and he seemed like a good guy in real life. I hope he got some enjoyment out of his advanced years, despite a few health issues. The article mentioned "Douglas celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in 1999, aged 83." This leads you to wonder what he got for presents--the traditional Cross pen set wouldn't seem impressive enough.
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, Douglas' birth name was Issur Danielovitch. That would have been an awful lot of letters for a movie marquee, so it's understandable that he changed it, but, otherwise, he was very proud of being Jewish.

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  4. I hadn't really seen much of his work. His prime was decades before my birth. I am certainly more familiar with Michaels work than Kirks.

    It is amazing how old he lived.

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    1. Adam, Douglas had a stroke in 1996 that severely limited his ability to talk, yet lived another 24 years. Son Michael had a health scare a few years back, and for a while there it looked like the father might survive the son.

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  5. Hi, Kirk!

    I have returned to blogging, good buddy. Much has happened since I went on hiatus. I am still reeling from Groundhog Day when Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted four more years of Trump. Next came the deaths of four actors I admired, beginning with Kirk Douglas, subject of this fine tribute. The same day Kirk died, it was reported that another favorite actor, Kevin Conway, died of a heart attack. Kevin was chilling in the role of the Freak Show Barker in The Funhouse and unforgettable as Sergeant Buster Kilrain in Gettysburg. Next I was stunned to read that actor and funnyman Orson Bean was struck by two cars and killed. I loved his performance in Anatomy of a Murder and saw most of his 200 guest appearances on the Parr and Carson Tonight Shows. The most recent celeb death to break away another piece of my youth was that of Robert Conrad, handsome star of the TV series The Wild Wild West.

    I appreciated the chance to review some of these stellar Kirk Douglas film performances, especially his scene with Doris Day, another favorite of mine. When I was ten my dad took me to see Spartacus. In college I studied Paths of Glory in a film course. A few years ago I watched Detective Story for the first time because I am a Cathy O'Donnell fan and completist on a mission to see all of her films. Kirk was a brilliant actor who used his quavering, cracking voice and face to maximum effect in conveying stress and anger. He was blessed with a very long life.

    Thanks for rush releasing this great piece on Kirk's life and career. Have a super week, Kirk!

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    1. Welcome back, Shady. I'm not going to do a post on it because I don't want to do too many deaths in a row, but I did like the witty Bean, who I know mostly from Johnny Carson and 1970s-era celebrity game shows. Ironic that a 91-year-old man should die by getting hit by a car.

      I was a fan of The Wild, Wild West and liked Conrad in it (as well as Ross Martin, and Michael Dunn as the diminutive mad scientist Dr. Loveless), but in interviews I've seen with him he always struck me as being a bit of a jerk. There's plenty of other celebrities that I've eulogized on this blog that struck me that way, too, but they usually had a bit more gravitas about them.

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  6. A great actor with the best dimples and cleft chin, I swear by my tattoo.

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  7. You have a tattoo, Mitchell? The imagination reels!

    As for Douglas' chiseled features, proof that Michelangelo went to Heaven after he died and God occasionally assigns chores to him.

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  8. I terrible with names. Especially if I haven't seen that person in a while. When you said Kirk Douglas the first person that popped into my head was Charlton Heston. And I thought isn't he dead already? WAIT! Different guy. But it made me look him up to find out about his philosophy on guns. Apparently he was a good guy. He had guns but promoted gun safety and laws to the max.

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    1. Sorry I'm so late in responding, Mike. Blame it on seasonal affective disorder.

      Douglas and Heston both became stars in the early '50s, and basically remained box office draws until sometimes in the '70s, so the confusion is understandable.

      I imagine it would surprise a lot of people on the Right that someone could own guns but at the same time be for gun control, but Douglas managed it.

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  9. I love Kirk Douglas, but this made me realize that I haven't really seen a lot of his films. Spartacus and Ace in the Hole are the ones I recall (well Spartacus is more than a recollection). Ooh, also Tough Guys with Burt Lancaster. I read and loved his autobiography. I used to like watching the late Frank Gorshin, back in the day, doing his impressions of both actors having a conversation. Mr. Douglas certainly was a beautiful man.

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    1. Deedles, Gorshin had a faint resemblance to Douglas, so that certainly aided in the impersonation.

      Douglas would have made a great Riddler.

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  10. He certainly did well. One of the greats for sure :-)

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    1. Lot of positive responses to this post, Ananka, so hopefully that's a nice testament to Douglas' talent.

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  11. I somehow missed this..not being on the internet much or watching news. A long life indeed, and a wonderful actor. I guess this makes Olivia de Havilland the longest living Hollywood golden age actor living...and she is giving no signs of slowing......and she looks great.

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  12. Maddie, even though de Havilland got her movie start 11 years before Douglas, I see they were both born the same year, 1916. They never appeared in a film together, but there are pictures on the internet of Douglas escorting de Havilland to the 1953 Cannes film festival. They were never an item, but I think Douglas may have had a film showing there, and de Havilland was a resident of France by then (and remains one today.) Loved her in The Snake Pit. When de Havilland passes you can be sure it will be noted on this blog (providing she doesn't outlive me.)

    France made me think of Leslie Caron (though she may have been on my mind anyway as I'm writing a novel partially named after a character she played.) She, like Douglas, was on the tail end of that Classic Hollywood era (basically 1920-1960) I'm happy to report she's still alive. Much younger than Douglas and de Havilland, she turns 90 next year.

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    1. Now you just had to mention Leslie Caron. I too adore her. I did know she was still alive. She played a delightful character on a show I enjoyed The Durrell's in Corfu, where she played the Countess Mavrodaki. I greatly miss the show already.

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In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.