Kirk Douglas was an American actor, producer, director, and author. After an impoverished childhood with immigrant parents and six sisters, he made his film debut in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Douglas soon developed into a leading box-office star throughout the 1950s, known for serious dramas, including westerns and war movies. During his career, he appeared in more than 90 movies. Douglas was known for his explosive acting style, which he displayed as a criminal defense attorney in Town Without Pity (1961).
Early life and education
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch (Yiddish: איסר דניאלאָוויטש; Belarusian: Ісур Данілавіч) in Amsterdam, New York, the son of Bryna “Bertha” (née Sanglel; 1884–1958) and Herschel “Harry” Danielovitch (c. 1884–1950; citations regarding his exact year of birth differ). His parents were Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus), and the family spoke Yiddish at home.
His father’s brother, who immigrated earlier, used the surname Demsky, which Douglas’s family adopted in the United States. :2 Douglas grew up as Izzy Demsky and legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the United States Navy during World War II.
Douglas first wanted to be an actor after he recited the poem The Red Robin of Spring while in kindergarten and received applause. He joined the United States Navy in 1941, shortly after the United States entered World War II. There he served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare aboard USS PC-1137. He was medically discharged in 1944 for war injuries sustained from the accidental dropping of a depth charge. He tied a knot with Diana Dill on November 2, 1943. They had two sons, Michael in 1944 and Joel in 1947, before they divorced in 1951.
Career in 1940s
In 1947, Douglas made Out of the Past (UK: Build My Gallows High). He starred in this film with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Douglas made his Broadway debut in 1949 in Three Sisters, produced by Katharine Cornell.
Douglas’s image as a tough guy was established in his eighth film, Champion (1949), after producer Stanley Kramer chose him to play a selfish boxer. In accepting the role, he took a gamble, however, since he had to turn down an offer to star in a big-budget MGM film, The Great Sinner, which would have earned him three times the income.
In The Ragman’s Son, Douglas described himself as a “son of a bitch”, adding, “I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood. And I feel pretty good about it. Because that’s me…. I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive.” Co-workers and associates alike noted similar traits, with Burt Lancaster once remarking, “Kirk would be the first to tell you that he is a very difficult man. And I would be the second.” Douglas’ brash personality is attributed to his difficult upbringing living in poverty and his aggressive alcoholic father who was neglectful of Kirk as a young child. According to Douglas, “there was an awful lot of rage churning around inside me.
Marriages and children
Douglas and his first wife, Diana Dill, married on November 2, 1943. They had two sons, actor Michael Douglas and producer Joel Douglas, before divorcing in 1951. Afterwards, in Paris, he met producer Anne Buydens (born Hannelore Marx; April 23, 1919, Hanover, Germany) while acting on location in Lust for Life. She originally fled from Germany to escape Nazism and survived by putting her multilingual skills to work. And that was at a film studio, doing translations for subtitles. They tied a knot on May 29, 1954. Since 2014, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
They had two sons, Peter, a producer, and Eric. Similarly, an actor who died on July 6, 2004, from an overdose of alcohol and drugs. Since 2017, the couple released a book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood. And that revealed intimate letters they shared through the years. Throughout their marriage, Douglas had affairs with other women including several Hollywood starlets. Though he never hid his infidelities from his wife who was accepting of them. And explained, “as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”
- Full Name: Issur Danielovitch Demsky
- Date of Birth: December 9, 1916
- Birth Place: Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
- Date of Death: February 5, 2020
- Aged: 103
- Death Place: Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
- Other names: Izzy Demsky, Isador Demsky
- Education: Lawrence University
- Occupation: Actor, producer, director, author, soldier
- Years active: since 1946–2008
- Political party: Democratic
- Spouse(s): Diana Dill (m since 1943; div. 1951), Anne Buydens (m. 1954)
- Children: Michael (b. 1944) Joel (b. 1947), Peter (b. 1955), Eric (1958–2004)
- Net Worth: $60 Million
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