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Kirk Douglas Foundation Creates Digital Archive With 10,000 Personal Items

Steve Palace
Photo Credit:  Silver Screen Collection / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Hollywood great Kirk Douglas passed away as a much-beloved figure when he left us at the age of 103. He. The expression “end of an era” is frequently applied but in Douglas’s case, it was 100 percent true!

Here, we’ll take a look back at this esteemed man and learn about a new initiative Kirk Douglas’s family is taking to honor his life and work.

Seven-decade career

This inspiring and charismatic star from Tinseltown’s Golden Age had a career spanning seven decades. Not only did he make his mark on the movie screen, he helped raise a show business dynasty. Surviving sons Michael, Joel, and Peter all followed in their beloved father’s footsteps. Eric Douglas sadly passed in 2004 at 46.

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

Upon his death, the family led tributes to this towering talent. Taking to Instagram, Michael described Kirk as “a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to. But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”

Anne Buydens married Douglas in 1954. Catherine is of course Catherine Zeta-Jones, who wrote, “I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already.”

“Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true,” Michael concluded. “Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”

Early years and getting his start in acting

Born in New York 1916, his real name was Issur Danielovitch. Raised in poverty, his parents were Herschel and Bryna. Douglas never forgot his roots, calling his production company Bryna and titling his 1988 autobiography The Ragman’s Son.

Kirk Douglas
Kirk Douglas with wife Anne, son Peter (left) and son Eric (right) in 1958. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Overcoming prejudice and relying on his wits, he soon appeared on the silver screen. Among his most famous roles were “Midge” Kelly in the boxing drama Champion (1949), movie producer Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). For all these movies he received Academy Award nominations. Eventually, he received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. He was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

‘Not a tough guy’

“I never thought I’d live to 100,” he told The Guardian in 2017. “I was not a tough guy [in real life], I just acted like one.” That’s an interesting remark, given arguably his best-known role Spartacus. In that production, he was heroic both in front of camera and behind the scenes. Lauded for his decision to employ blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the title character’s rallying cry of “I am Spartacus!” proved significant. Even today that iconic line is repeated around the world.

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

Kirk was acting in films up until 2004. He developed a successful writing career and became a keen philanthropist. Away from Hollywood stories of high drama, his own life was something of a nail-biter.

Philanthropy was important to Douglas

Looking back, USA Today wrote that in addition to physical injuries, “the emotional impact stayed with Douglas for his lifetime. Besides honoring the two men who had died, the actor was spurred to make changes in his life, especially in terms of stepping up his philanthropic work… During one discussion with a psychiatrist, Douglas remembered a poem he had written as a young man, ‘Life is a lock and death the only key.’  The accident put the words he had written into context.”

Kirk Douglas and Anne Douglas
Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne, when he was 102 and Anne 100. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

He suffered a stroke in 1996 and later wrote a book about his recovery, My Stroke of Luck. The picture of Kirk Douglas in more recent years was of a devoted family man who achieved an extraordinary amount and who was grateful for his lot.

The Douglas Foundation

His family has continued to share his legacy in many ways. One, in particular, is through the Douglas Foundation, which was created in 1964 by Kirk and his wife Anne. They founded it with the express purpose of making “eduction, healthcare, and the arts more accessible to the citizens of California.” Their legacy of funding continues through Douglas’s son Michael.

Kirk and Michael Douglas pose before a red curtain
Actor Kirk Douglas (L) and actor Michael Douglas attend SBIFF’s 2011 Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence In Film honoring Michael Douglas at the Biltmore Four Seasons on October 13, 2011 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

He has taken on the role of one of the trustees. Since 1964, the Douglas Foundation has provided financial aid to over 200 organizations, totaling over $118,000,000. Douglas once said, “As long as we have the capacity to give, we are alive,” a statement that couldn’t ring more true of his legacy through this organization. 

Archival additions

According to the younger Douglas, several million of their overall donations were made in the years following the death of Kirk and Anne. As well as financing charitable organizations in need, the Douglas Foundation now also manages an Archive containing personal memorabilia from the couple. In 2023, over 10,000 incredible items were made available from Anne’s private collection. 

Kirk and Anne Douglas at the Los Angeles Mission Gala in 2013
Kirk Douglas and Anne Douglas attend the Los Angeles Mission Gala at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on September 24, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo Credit: Joe Kohen / FilmMagic)

They included photos, letters, and other documents that Michael personally collected from her various storage locations after her death. He remarked that “She saved everything!” While it is relatively easy to digitize some documents, older artifacts can be much more difficult. Michael came up with a unique solution. He contacted Israeli photographer Ardon Bar-Hama, who created a special camera that could capture high-quality images of incredibly fragile items. 

Special contents

In fact, he is best known as the man who digitized the Dead Sea Scrolls on behalf of the Vatican, and for his work on the collections of Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein. He has now added the personal collection of Anne Douglas to his repertoire. The Douglas Archive is easily accessible online, and the contents have been broken down into many categories. 

Kirk Douglas with his four sons in 1987
Kirk Douglas, center, poses with his four sons during a gala evening at the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan where he was honored by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; sons, left to right Peter, Joel, Michael, Eric. 1987 (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images)

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These categories include ‘Kirk and Anne,’ ‘Movies,’ ‘Philanthropy,’ ‘Hollywood,’ ‘World Affairs,’ and ‘Press.’ Anne carefully documented her husband’s career throughout the years, and now the public can easily watch it unfold before their very eyes, showing that Douglas was far more than just a Hollywood star.