He has been one of the brightest stars in Hollywood, a hard-charging actor whose intensity on the screen is mirrored in his personal life. And it’s hard to believe, but Kirk Douglas celebrated his 90th birthday in December. He’s become more reflective over the years, especially after his recovery from a near-fatal helicopter crash and a stroke. Now, in his astonishing new memoir Let’s Face It, Douglas ponders what life is all about, weighing events from his current contemplative frame of mind while summoning up the passions of younger, more reckless self. I was lucky enough to chat with Douglas last week.
I found your book very moving, especially the chapter called “Romance Begins At 80.” You say that you didn’t know deep love until you were 80?
Romance begins at 80 because you’re not young enough to be so egotistical. And then you can think of another person and concentrate on them.
What makes this book different from all the other books you’ve written?
Well, when you reach 90, you have to think more about others than about yourself. And my book, I dedicate it to my grandchildren because, let’s face it, the world is a mess, and the younger generation is going to inherit this mess. And I think I and people around my age should try to do something to alleviate the situation and help the young people who are going to inherit this mess.
In the book, you say that you’re no hero. Don’t you think that breaking the Hollywood blacklist by demanding that Dalton Trumbo get writing credit for Spartacus was a major heroic act?
Dalton Trumbo once said to me, regarding the whole Hollywood blacklist, “There are no heroes. There are only victims.” But, I must say that to me, what I did with Spartacus and helping to break the Hollywood blacklist was as close to a hero as I’ve gotten. I’m proud of that because at that time it wasn’t an easy thing to do and people would tell me I would never work in this town again. There was so much hypocrisy, and the people running the studios didn’t mind if you if were blacklisted and wrote a script under a made-up name. Dalton Trumbo started writing Spartacus under the name of Jack Davis and the hypocrisy of all of this got to me. And I said I don’t want to be a part of this, so I decided to put Dalton Trumbo’s name on the script.
Your son, Michael Douglas, says he’s so in awe of you because at 90 you are still challenging your self and growing.
That pleases me very much, because to not function is to die. As long as you are alive, you must function. You must do something. I wrote about this in the book. I asked Michael, “Was I a good father?” and Michael took a long pause and finally said, “You were ultimately a great father.” But that pause always bothered me. And I ultimately understood that I became a good father when I needed my son more than he needed me.
What is it that you want younger people to get out of the book?
First of all, I want my grandchildren to know about me-the good and bad. So they know how I think and how I feel. My hope is that in writing the book, I will help the younger generation. Give a warning to them. Give them advice.
You have been a movie start for more than 60 years. What’s your impression of today’s Hollywood?
To me, that question is difficult to answer because, as you grow older, you lose so many friends and your memories become so precious. I often think of the times I’ve had with Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra. The young Hollywood is far from me. Now, I don’t feel a part of it. I read about people who have problems like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. But I also read about young kids like Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Bono, people who are really excited about doing things to make this a better world. I think to be a movie star is very difficult. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from all the adulation, fame, and money, but it also comes with problems and some people deal with it better than others.
Do you think that movie stars today should be more politically involved?
Well, I think that the movie industry is very involved in politics. When you think back about it, George Murphy became a senator, Schwarzenegger became Governor, Ronald Reagan became President-and the interesting thing is that, in most cases, they’re all Republicans. But I think in general people are interested in the world. You know, Angelina and Brad Pitt have done so much work in Africa. And my son Michael did a documentary in Africa. And Madonna has done so much. So I think Hollywood is very interested in what’s happening in the world, and they should use their power to make this a better place to live in.
What is the one film you loved the most in your long career ?
I love the film Lonely Are the Brave because I have played so many sons of bitches, and in that picture he was a guy with ideals. But I have to say that the most important picture I did was Spartacus because it broke the Blacklist. But as an actor, probably I would rate my performance in Lust for Life as my most difficult performance.
Kirk Douglas will sign copies of Let’s Face It on Sunday, May 6, 2 p.m., at Borders Books on State Street. Call 899-3668 or see myspace.com/letsfaceitbook.