Kirk Douglas was a descendant of Jewish Russian parents from what is now in Belarus and was raised in a tough area of New York. He went on to be perhaps one of the greatest actors in American history. He performed a little on Broadway until he joined the Navy in 1941. At the end of the war, he returned to acting and was cast in the lead role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). The next role was in a film noir masterpiece title Out of the Past (1947). This was followed by a roll in I Walk Alone (1948), marking the first of seven times he would work alongside Burt Lancaster. In Champion (1949) he played an untrustworthy boxer. Douglas was cast as painter Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). This was followed by the western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Lancaster. In 1957, he played a French Colonel in Stanley Kubrick’s intense anti-war drama Paths of Glory (1957). In 1960, Douglas played the lead in Spartacus (1960). Douglas also insisted that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo be given on-screen credit. This helped break the blacklisting that rose as a result of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s “Red Scare” hysteria in the early 1950s.
In Lonely are the Brave (1962) he played a rebellious cowboy that didn’t fit in the modern world. This was followed by the John Frankenheimer’s military thriller Seven Days in May (1964), again with Lancaster. He was cast with John Wayne in the WWII drama In Harm’s Way (1965). In Harm’s Way was featured in Episode 4 of this podcast. Although Wayne and Douglas differed politically the were also paired in Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) a film about Israeli’s struggle for independence and the western The War Wagon (1967). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Final Countdown (1980) about a time traveling aircraft carrier and The Man from Snowy River (1982) where Douglas played a pair of brothers at odds in 19th century Australia.
Kirk Douglas has long been involved in humanitarian causes and in 1981 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He suffered a stroke in the 1990s but remains active. He is the father of actor Michael Douglas and father in law of actress Catherine Zeta-Jones
Kirk Douglas wrote that Wayne wanted him for the role In Harm’s Way (1965). He was surprised because they had extremely diverse political opinions. However, they became friends and starred in The War Wagon (1967) together. Wayne made a cameo in Douglas’ ode to Israel, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). Douglas made so many fine movies that I will only mention a few others. The ones that I choose to mention are The Viking (1958), The Final Countdown (1980), and Ace in the Hole (1951).