Kirk Douglas turns 100 — worth a flashback


Today, as Kirk Douglas celebrates his 100th birthday, I thought I’d track back and re-post an interview/profile I did eight years ago, on the occasion of his “last” book, Let’s Face It. Here it is.

Screen legend Kirk Douglas is 92 years old, and not just “still alive and kicking,” either. He’s still writing. He discovered a gift for memoirs with The Ragman’s Son, Climbing the Mountain and My Stroke of Luck. His latest, Let’s Face It (Wiley Press, $14.95), is about “90 years of living, loving and learning,” and he dedicated it “to the younger people, because let’s face it, the world is in a mess, and they will inherit that mess, so we should do everything we can to help them.”

He says it will be his last book, but we’ll have to see about that. And if so, he’s going out with good reviews. “Douglas is upbeat, engaging and full of sharp observations,” enthuses Publisher’s Weekly. I’d second that.

Douglas is a stroke survivor, which is why it’s easier to interview him by e-mail, where he passed on his thoughts about life, surviving the death of his son Eric, surviving a stroke, and just plain surviving. “My advice is to try to avoid depression by concentrating on other people — try to help them; this will lessen your depression.”

A ‘Spartacus’ story

Let’s Face It is filled with that sort of pluck and good sense, with chapters on the Middle East (“Both Semites”), love (“Romance Begins at Eighty”), death and dying and religion (“Don’t Be Too Religious”). That last chapter heading flies in the face of the book he’s reading now, Faith Matters, by Rabbi David Wolpe. “It’s his answer to atheists,” Douglas quips.

His 60 years in show business give Douglas a unique perspective on the movies and celebrity. This rugged leading man and screen tough guy has outlived his peers, most by decades. He says he doesn’t look at each new generation to see which actors might be the most “Kirk-like.” Of the current crop, he admires Ed Harris, John Malkovich and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

One bit of film history from the book is Douglas’ account of how the late film director Stanley Kubrick, who always disowned “Spartacus,” the sword-and-sandals epic he made with Douglas, tried to steal writing credit for the film from blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Kubrick biographers claim that the star and producer (Douglas) exercised such control over the film that Kubrick vowed to never again cede authority to an actor. He basically disowned the film. Douglas tells it differently. Douglas and the director had worked together on Kubrick’s World War I classic, “Paths of Glory,” but when the time came to stand up to the Hollywood blacklist with “Spartacus,” Douglas was willing to challenge that blacklist. Kubrick saw a chance to swipe a credit.

“Maybe if I had granted Kubrick’s request that he take credit, he might have included “Spartacus” in his list of pictures,” Douglas says. “It was silly for Kubrick to suggest we use his name as a writer, and I never considered it.”

Laughter = longevity?

But Douglas, a three-time Oscar nominee (for “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautifu”l and “Lust for Life”), father of an Oscar-winner, father-in-law of another (Catherine Zeta-Jones) didn’t make it to 92 by holding grudges.

“I think laughter is connected to longevity,” he says. “When you laugh, you relax your whole system, and your mind is thinking positive thoughts.”

His latest positive thought? Eighteen years ago, the American Film Institute honored him with a lifetime achievement award. Last month the AFI announced it will honor his son, Michael.

“What took them so long?” Douglas jokes.

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