Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Happy 100th Birthday to Kirk Douglas!

One of the original leading men, Kirk Douglas came along in the final days of the major studio system, and he was one of the first box office stars to take charge of his own destiny by  becoming involved in the production and marketing of the films in which he appeared.

He was a vital force in such classics as Out of the Past (1947), Champion (1949), Detective Story (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Lust for Life (1956). He formed his own company, Bryna, and made such major films as Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964).

Along the way, he distinguished himself in a number of westerns, including The Big Sky (1952), Man without a Star (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and The War Wagon (1967), while also tackling several action roles in historical period pictures like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), Ulysses (1955), and The Vikings (1958).

conversations_with_classic_film_stars_coverRenowned for his support of liberal causes, Douglas is often credited with helping break down the dreaded Hollywood anti-Communist “blacklist” by hiring blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (who also celebrates a birthday today!) to write the screenplay for Spartacus.
In a conversation with Douglas in conjunction with Draw!, a 1984 HBO TV western, Ronald Miller asked the iconic actor about his work with other leading actors and actresses, antiheroes, and working within the studio system. You can find a full transcript of their conversation in Conversations with Classic Film Stars—a perfect gift for the film buff this holiday season.

In the excerpt below, Miller and Douglas discuss the unique art of filmmaking, and its pitfalls, as well as Douglas’s involvement in the Oscar-winning, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Excerpted from Conversations with Classic Film Stars:

Miller: You’ve worked with every kind of movie director and you don’t have a reputation for getting into disputes with them, but you are known for demanding a collaborative atmosphere on the set. Explain that.

Douglas: I’ve worked with [Joseph] Mankiewicz, [Howard] Hawks, [Elia] Kazan, [William] Wyler, [Billy] Wilder. I’ve been very fortunate. All of them work differently. I’ve even directed a couple of pictures, so I have respect for the work. But no matter what anyone says, it’s a collaborative art form. No matter how much one person is a binding force, it’s still a collaboration.

I think the problem today is that we’ve been contaminated by the European concept of the auteur system. I’ve had movies where I bought the book, developed the script, and cast the whole picture, but then the director walks in and says, “It must be a John Smith film!” I think sometimes we emphasize that too much.

Miller: Though you’ve avoided big hassles with your directors, you’ve had a few disputes with studio managements, haven’t you?

Douglas: Let me give you an example of that: Lonely Are the Brave. You need the proper selling of a picture like that. I thought Universal just threw it away. They didn’t give it a chance. They took it out of circulation. Then there were all those great reviews and people said, “Where’s the picture?” Their ego prevented them from making a different campaign for the picture. The longer I’m in this business, the more amazed I am that a movie can be made, good or bad.

Miller: You’ve taken lots of chances in your career, but I imagine one of your greatest frustrations was not being able to play McMurphy on the big screen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after acquiring the rights to the book from Ken Kesey and playing the part on the stage in New York.

douglas-kirk_03Douglas: It was way ahead of its time. When I took it to Broadway, the critics didn’t know what to make of it. The audience loved it, but it didn’t do very well. I tried for nearly twelve years to make it as a movie. I took it to every studio. But they wouldn’t do it, even with a limited budget. Finally, I went into partnership with my son, Michael, and we were able to find somebody outside of the industry to put up the money and we made a little picture that I never predicted would be a hit. So it did over $200 million! Nobody knows what will really be successful.

Miller: What do you think of Michael as a producer?

Douglas: I told him, “Michael, you’re the kind of producer I’d like to work with because you give everything to the other person even when you’re in the movie.” He did that in Romancing the Stone [1984]. He focused all the attention on the girl [Kathleen Turner]. I haven’t been that generous. I’ve been a producer, but I find a product like Spartacus or The Vikings or Seven Days in May or Paths of Glory and somehow there always seems to be a good part for me.

Cutting to the Golden Era

When James Bawden arrived precisely four minutes and twenty seconds late to interview the esteemed and ever fashionable Gloria Swanson, she bemoaned, “But I have more pressing problems [than being fashionably late], as you can see! Here I am in a supposedly grade-one hotel suite, and look for yourself! The ignominy of it all! No full-length mirror! No chandelier! Must I rough it? Must I?” Bawden’s interview relentlessly zooms Swanson’s close up in by touching on everything from her less-than-rewarding criticism of Kathrine Hepburn in Coco to her obsessive bean sprout diet.

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverJames Bawden and Ron Miller have spent more than fifty years interviewing stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era collects many of these in a rich and enlightening archive about our favorite Golden Era stars. These interviews expand and enhance what was published at their respective newspapers with exclusive interview material. Bawden and Miller paint a picture of these illustrious stars’ careers while offering rare insights into their life and personalities.

Since the studios directed the Golden Age, interviews and cover stories about the glamorous stars have always been perfectly scripted, until Bawden and Miller put the spot light on the actors’ true words and not the force-fed words their studios wanted them to say. Strikingly real, some of the words these famous film stars had for their peers and costars are, in the words of popular columnist Liz Smith, “scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.” Douglas Fairbanks Jr., for instance, admits that his first wife, Joan Crawford, “hated every minute” of their honeymoon in Europe. Well, every minute except those few, precious moments at the local MGM distribution office “where she could do some publicity.”

Featuring interviews from some of the most famous leading men and women of the era like Kirk Douglas, Joseph Cotton, Jackie Coogan, Joan Fontaine, among many others, Bawden and Miller bring the silver screen out of the Golden Era and onto the page. Conversations offers a new look at our favorite Golden Era stars through the eyes of our favorite Golden Era stars.