7 February 2020

R.I.P. Kirk Douglas (1916-2020)

Two days ago, Kirk Douglas passed away at the age of 103. While he was never a personal favourite of mine, Douglas was certainly one of Hollywood's most charismatic and accomplished actors, boasting a career spanning several decades. His films include classic gems like Out of the Past (1947), Champion (1949), Ace in the Hole (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).

Like many other actors, Douglas had started his acting career on Broadway. During WWII he paused his career for three years to join the U.S. Navy and after the war returned to Broadway. At the recommendation of Lauren Bacall (a friend and former classmate of Douglas at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts) producer Hal Wallis went to see one of the plays in which Douglas was performing. Wallis immediately recognised the actor's talent, giving him his first film role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) opposite veteran Barbara Stanwyck. Wallis later said: "I knew I was taking a risk putting a newcomer against that powerhouse Stanwyck, but she was extraordinarily considerate and played unselfishly with him in every scene."

Douglas had different memories of his first and only collaboration with Barbara, saying in his autobiography The Ragman's Son (1988): "The crew adored her. They called her 'Missy,' and when she came on the set she went around hugging them, asking about their wives and children by name. But she was indifferent to me. Crew members need attention, but who needs help more than somebody working on his first picture? Several weeks later she noticed me. I could see it happening, like the lens of a camera turning into focus. She looked at me, made eye contact for the first time. She said, 'Hey, you're pretty good.' I said, 'Too late, Miss Stanwyck.' I don't think she knew what I meant. But after that, we became friends."

Here is a cute little note from Kirk to Barbara, who was his first on-screen love. According to Bonhams (the auction house that sold the note) it was likely sent before Barbara's 1981 Tribute at Lincoln Center or her 1987 AFI Salute.

Source: Bonhams


Dear Barbara, you were the first girl I kissed on the screen. I wish I could be there tonight to kiss you again. With much love and admiration.
Kirk Douglas

Kirk and Barbara in a scene from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (above) and during a coffee break on the set (below).

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