With his dimpled chin, forceful voice and pit-bull personality, Douglas burst onto the post World War II scene playing assorted tough guys in dramas, film noirs, westerns and even war films.
According to his autobiography, he had a difficult childhood, the only boy among seven kids born to poor Russian Jewish immigrants who were junk dealers. He got a wrestling scholarship to St. Lawrence University where he also began acting. Douglas received a scholarship to New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he met a teenage Lauren Bacall and his first wife, Diana Dill, with whom he had two sons: actor/producer Michael and producer Joel.
After serving in World War II, he returned to Broadway where he appeared in a few plays in 1945. Douglas made his film debut in the 1946 film noir “The Strange Lover of Martha Ivers” opposite Barbara Stanwyck. He made the first of seven films with friend Burt Lancaster in 1948’s “I Walk Alone” and became a star, receiving his first best actor Oscar nomination for portraying a ruthless boxer in 1949’s “Champion.” He earned Oscar nominations as a visceral movie producer in 1952’s “The Bad and the Beautiful” and as the troubled painter Vincent Van Gogh in 1956’s “Lust for Life.”
In 1955, he released the first film produced under his own banner, Bryna Productions, which was named after his mother. He also became a father again that year to producer Peter with his second wife, Anne Buydens.
Bryna also produced the classic 1957 anti-war film, “Paths of Glory,” starring Douglas and directed by a young Stanley Kubrick. Three years later, they collaborated on the epic “Spartacus.” Douglas also made headlines with the latter by insisting that the film’s blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, be given onscreen credit. In 1962, Trumbo wrote one of Douglas’ favorite films, the 1962 modern-day western, “Lonely Are the Brave,” in which the actor starred as an aging cowboy.
After buying the rights to Ken Kesey’s novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," Douglas had it adapted for Broadway and played the role of Randle P. McMurphy in 1963. Michael Douglas won his first Oscar by producing the 1975 film version that starred Jack Nicholson in the McMurphy role.
In 1973, he made a less-than-stellar feature film directorial debut with “Scalawag,” but fared better with his second effort, 1975’s “Posse.”
In the 1980s, he turned more to TV, earning an Emmy nomination for the 1985 TV movie, “Amos,” as well as writing his memoir, “The Ragman’s’ Son” in 1988. He continued writing books and appearing in such films as “Greedy” in 1994. In 1996, he suffered a stroke that impaired his speech. That didn’t stop him from accepting the American Film Institute's lifetime achievement award in 1996 or stop him from acting. In 2009, he even performed an acclaimed one-man show, "Before I Forget,” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
In 2003, Douglas, son Michael, grandson Cameron and ex-wife Diana appeared as a dysfunctional family in the box office flop “It Runs in the Family.”
Douglas and Buydens' youngest child, actor Eric, died of a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 46.
|1952||Best Actor||The Bad and the Beautiful||Nomination|
|1956||Best Actor||Lust for Life||Nomination|