December 9, 2016 — There are few more illustrious — or longer — film careers than that of Kirk Douglas.
In his first movie, the 1946 melodrama The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, Douglas played a role that he would rarely take on again — a weak man who relies on his wife, played by a supremely self-assured Barbara Stanwyck — for his success. By the time of his second film he was already playing a more characteristic role — a tough guy gangster in the 1947 classic film noir Out of the Past. By 1949 he was firmly established as a leading man and had acquired his first Oscar nomination for the boxing drama Champion.
The list of his greatest films is long and extremely impressive. Ace in the Hole, Spartacus, Paths of Glory, Seven Days in May, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Big Trees, A Letter to Three Wives, Lust for Life, Town Without Pity, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral — these are just a few of the titles in his lengthy filmography.
He was the original star of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Broadway and acquired the rights to the play, which his son Michael would eventually turn into a celebrated movie.
He was the executive producer of the 1960 hit movie Spartacus. The movie, which starred Douglas and was directed by Stanley Kubrick, was one of the most expensive movies ever produced to that time, making it a huge financial risk. Despite that, Douglas insisted on giving the writer’s credit to Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted since 1947 for refusing to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.George Clooney credits the brave act, saying, “in the history books, it’s marked as the moment that the Hollywood blacklist ended.”
Douglas stated “I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.” He added, “I was scared to death, but I insisted on doing it.”
He has received three Academy Award nominations, a Lifetime Achievement Award Oscar “for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community” and the Medal of Freedom.
Douglas suffered a stroke in 1996 but continued to act. His last film role was in 2008.
He is currently the highest-ranked living person on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest male screen legends, at #17.
FilmRise is proud to celebrate the birthday of this Hollywood legend with a quartet of his films (beginning with his first): The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, The Big Trees, Town Without Pity and The Master Touch.