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Candid Family Photos of Kirk Douglas Throughout his Incredibly Long Life

Steve Palace
Kirk Douglas then and now
Kirk Douglas then and now

If any man straddles Hollywood like a colossus, it’s Kirk Douglas, whose great photos throughout his life are presented here. Not only has he lived for over a century, he’s appeared in some of the biggest movies of all time. Douglas has also written numerous tomes on his experiences, as well as raising son Michael, who’s a show business institution in his own right.

How did it start for this big screen veteran? His background was that of extreme poverty. A Guardian interview from 2017 refers to “almost unimaginably deprived circumstances; the family’s income came from Douglas’s father’s daily attempts to sell scraps from a horse and buggy.”

That father was Herschel Danielovitch, a former horse trader from Belarus turned New York ragman. He would inform the title of Douglas’ 1988 autobiography The Ragman’s Son. Together with wife Bryna, Herschel left Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire) to settle in New York. Kirk was born there on December 9, 1916. His original name was Issur Danielovitch and his family spoke Yiddish at home. His parents became known as Harry and Bertha. He would go on to name his production company Bryna, in honour of his Mom.

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Kirk Douglas in 1945 (Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas’ college graduation photo 1939

Determined he wouldn’t be ignored, the striking-looking hopeful with his dimpled chin and piercing eyes used his powers of persuasion to get ahead. He reportedly talked his way into college. Acting school soon beckoned. His Jewish background led to him encountering prejudice, but he and contemporaries such as Lauren Bacall (Betty Perske) reached the top of the Tinseltown tree.

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Kirk Douglas with sons Joel Douglas, left, 6, and Michael, right, 9, in 1953. Getty Images


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Kirk and son Michael Douglas in 1948. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas with second wife Anne at their son Peter’s first birthday, 1956. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas with son Michael Douglas, 1950. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas photos with sons Joel and Michael (right) in 1955. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

His first film was The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946. Douglas appeared alongside Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin in this film noir. He then went on to a glittering career, starring as some truly memorable characters. There was reckless journalist Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole (1951), and the following year he played nightmare movie producer Jonathan Shields in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful.

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Kirk Douglas kneels beside his sons, Joel (L) and Michael (R), 1955 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas signing autographs for some female fans, Lido, Venice, 1953. (Photo by Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images)

One of Douglas’ iconic roles was as the title character in Spartacus. Directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1960, this historical epic brought audiences the spectacle of a slave rising up against his Roman masters. The classic line “I am Spartacus!” has been repeated ad infinitum, and Douglas wrote a memoir about the production with that title in 2012.

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Kirk Douglas in ‘Spartacus’, 1960. (Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images)


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Kirk Douglas photos with a lion cub called Spartacus which was presented to him by the director of Southport zoo in appreciation of Douglas’ role in Spartacus. (Photo by Lee/Central Press/Getty Images)

That wasn’t the only way Spartacus challenged the establishment. Behind the scenes, Douglas insisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo be credited for his work. The scribe had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) under their purge against the so-called Red Menace.

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Kirk Douglas photos with his 24 year old son Michael on the set of “Hail, Hero”. Getty Images

In 2012 Douglas spoke to Interview Magazine, where he said, “I wanted to get the best writer. The best writer was Dalton Trumbo… he wrote the script in secret under the name Sam Jackson… it was terrible that he had to hide his name.”

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Kirk Douglas with wife Anne, son Peter (left) and son Eric (right) in 1958. Photos by Getty Images


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Kirk Douglas poses with wife Anne and his four sons while gardening outdoors. Left to right: Joel, Peter, Eric and Michael Douglas. 1965 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He believes his age and outlook played a key role in the decision to press for Trumbo’s credit. “I think because I was young enough I had more guts… That was a terrible time in Hollywood history. It should never have happened. We should have fought it. But it’s over and I, in my old age, take solace in the fact that I remember.”

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Kirk Douglas in his role as Vincent Van Gogh


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Kirk in Lust for Life as Vincent van Gogh

Notorious perfectionist Kubrick had also directed Douglas in Paths of Glory 3 years earlier. The star had frequent collaborators, both in front of and behind the lens. Director Richard Fleischer worked with him on movies such as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) and The Vikings (1958), not always harmoniously.

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Amy Irving and Kirk Douglas on the set of Furie, based on the novel by John Farris and directed by Brian De Palma. (Photo by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Douglas himself has admitted he was difficult to be around on set. A fellow actor of his and firm friend was Burt Lancaster, who was also not the easiest person to direct. The pair had a similar trajectory and were close for decades.

They rubbed artistic shoulders several times, and as recently as 1986 made a crime comedy, appropriately called Tough Guys. “Part of the magic between Kirk and Burt is the friction as well as the love,” said helmer Jeff Kanew to the New York Times. “Off screen they’re constantly bickering. They’re like an old married couple. They know how to push each other’s buttons. They’re like Laurel and Hardy with muscles.”

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Douglas and wife Anne with President Ronald Reagan, December 1987


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President Jimmy Carter greets Kirk Douglas and Mrs. Douglas, March 1978

Douglas’ son Michael was born in 1944. A producer as well as an actor, he helped bring One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest to the screen in 1975. Originally the rights to the source novel by Ken Kesey were owned by Kirk, who’d been trying to get an adaptation made with himself as lead character Randle McMurphy.

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Kirk Douglas photos at his 101st Birthday

When Dad got the news, he asked Michael when they were going to start work. His son replied he couldn’t do it as he was too old! Jack Nicholson played the part and the rest is Oscar history. Not that the elder Douglas is short of awards – he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and the French Legion of Honor almost a decade later.

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Three generations of Douglas. Cameron Douglas, Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas attend the ceremony honoring Michael with a Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. on November 6, 2018. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Michael and his brother Joel’s mother was actress Diana Dill, who Kirk was married to between 1943 and 1951. He then married producer and philanthropist Anne Buydens in 1954. The pair are still together and they are both over 100!

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Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne. Kirk here is 102 and Anne is 100. Photo by Getty Images

In later life Kirk turned to writing novels, but it was a serious health issue that put him in the public eye. He had a major stroke in 1996, which nearly cost him the power of speech. However he largely overcame this obstacle, and nearly a quarter of a century on he’s still going strong. The book My Stroke of Luck was published in 2003.

In 2016 he reached his hundredth year. While Douglas retired from movie acting in 2004 with independent feature Illusion, he still writes and is an active philanthropist, donating millions to various causes.

Related Article: The Centennial Couple – Kirk Douglas is 102 and his Wife Just Turned 100!

“When Douglas starts talking not even the muffling layers of age can hide his still charmingly boyish personality,” the Guardian observed, “even if his body occasionally lets him down.”