On December 9th, it was reported that a Mr. Issur Danielovitch celebrated his 100th birthday. This probably would not have seemed like big news to most people, except for the fact that many of us know Mr. Danielovitch as Kirk Douglas.
Douglas, who starred in more than 90 movies and is considered one of the last of the Golden Age Hollywood actors, was born on December 9, 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Douglas’ childhood was a difficult one. In his first autobiography The Ragman’s Son, he states the following:
“My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes….Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”
To keep from starving, the young Douglas had to work odd jobs to contribute money to his family. He was determined to escape from the life of poverty he had been born into, and eventually worked his way into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City via scholarship. While there, he met fellow student and future movie star Lauren Bacall. This meeting was fortuitous, as Bacall later helped Douglas to land his first major movie role alongside Barbara Stanwyck in 1946’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. From that point on, Douglas’ good looks, star quality, and ambition helped him in becoming a real power player in Hollywood.
There are so many roles for which Douglas is well-known, among them Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory (1957), and of course the title character in Spartacus (1960). However, Douglas’ favorite role was that of a modern day cowboy in a relatively little-known film, 1962’s Lonely Are The Brave.
The opening scene of Lonely is pretty typical of a western: We see a panoramic view of a desert with cactus, a saddle, a campfire, a sleeping cowboy….and suddenly, we hear the sound of jet planes overhead. This is the world of Jack Burns, an independent, roving cowhand who feels more and more stifled by fences, freeways, and other aspects of modern civilization. He eventually runs afoul of the law, and is chased through the wilderness by sheriff’s deputies intent on catching him before he can ride across the border to Mexico. In one surrealistic sequence, we witness Burns astride his palomino, every inch the old-time cowboy, as he’s being pursued by helicopters.
This is one of Douglas’ best films, but unfortunately the story does not end happily. Thus, I’m not sure that I can recommend it for holiday viewing. You might instead enjoy one of Douglas few comedic performances as a money-strapped English professor in A Letter to Three Wives (1949). The plot of this witty film concerns a note from the town floozy to three wives, informing them that she’s running off with one of their husbands. The three women spend the rest of the movie wondering who’ll be going home to an empty house. Despite the ominous premise, we laugh a lot on the way to a pleasant enough ending. Meanwhile, we get to see some fine performances from Douglas, Ann Southern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn.
You can purchase Lonely are the Brave on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:
You can purchase A Letter to Three Wives on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:
You can purchase Douglas’ autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:
“Kirk Douglas” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 November 2016. Web. 12 December 2016.
Douglas, Kirk. The Ragman’s Son. Simon and Schuster (1988)