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Thursday, February 06, 2020

Vale Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas 1955. Public Domain.

Vale, Kirk Douglas, who has just passed away. 

He did live to the grand old age of 103, but it’s always sad when an admired person passes away. 

So, why talk about an actor on a book blog? Why not?

He had an amazing career, ninety movies. And there were several based on novels. Let’s look at a few. 

The film Lust For Life was based on Irving Stone’s novel about Vincent Van Gogh. 

In The Devil’s Disciple, based on Bernard Shaw’s play, he played the title role. The character, Richard Dudgeon, is the black sheep of his family during the American Revolution. However, he allows the British to take him away in mistake for minister Rev.Anthony Anderson, played by Burt Lancaster, who is out of the house at the time. Basically, the “Devil’s Disciple” behaves bravely, with honour, while the Reverend discovers that he himself is better as a warrior than a minister and joins the rebels.

Gunfight At The OK Corral(also with Burt Lancaster) was not based on a novel, but featured a screenplay by  Leon Uris, author of Exodus and Mila 18. Kirk Douglas played Doc Holliday. 

The Vikings, in which he played the nasty Viking Einar, with Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh, was based on a novel by Edison Marshall. I have a feeling I have a copy somewhere... 

In the Disney film of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, he played the role of Ned Land, a Canadian seaman who travelled under the sea, with Professor Arronax and his servant Conseil, in Captain Nemo’s submarine. He was even given a cheeky little song in an early scene of the movie. 

There are quite a few novel-based films in which he appeared, but the most famous was Spartacus, based on the wonderful novel by Howard Fast. He was the producer of this one(director was Stanley Kubrick) so got to make the decisions. When he decided that Howard Fast really couldn’t do the screenplay, that it wasn’t working, he changed Hollywood history and almost single-handedly began the ending of the McCarthy witch-hunts by hiring blacklisted screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo and insisting that his name be on the film credits. Not that Howard Fast hadn’t been blacklisted, by the way - in fact, he began writing the novel in prison - but as Douglas said in his autobiography, sometimes the author isn’t the right person to do the script. Dalton Trumbo, about whom a film was made a few years ago, was writing under pen names with others as his “fronts”. He won an Oscar for a low budget movie(his front collected it for him) and also wrote Roman Holiday under his pen name. He wrote the script for Spartacus under his own name. The blacklist began to crumble. 

All because of the amazing Kirk Douglas, Issur Danielovitch, born so poor he didn’t get around to having his bar mitzvah ceremony till he was in his 80s, so proud of his actor son that he bragged that he was now known as Michael Douglas’s father rather than the other way around. 

I have only just discovered he wrote a couple of children’s books, among the many things he did in his old age. I must look them up! 

RIP, Kirk! 


Brian Joseph said...

I loved so many of his films. He was so talented. I find it interesting that so many young people do not know who he was.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Interesting, but not surprising, Brian. Their preferences tend to be for new, young actors.

AJ Blythe said...

I saw him in the Man From Snowy River. There were probably others, but that's the one I remember. His movies were really a generation above mine.

Sue, not sure if this is how it appears for everyone, but the font size on your blog post is teeny tiny. I struggle to read it.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yeah, I have had some problems with the font on my iPad. I might try again on my laptop when I get home.

Oddly enough, The Man From Snowy River is one film I have missed. But there was a later film, a comedy called Tough Guys, with him and Burt Lancaster as two elderly crooks, just released after years in jail, who decide to have another go at a heist they failed last time. It’s not necessarily about generations, although I agree with Brian that the young things today have probably never heard of him. I saw most of his films on late night TV! :-)