We remember him as Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” (1957). In Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” (1957), he plays an officer during WWI who fights to overturn an unjust death sentence against three soldiers by his commanding officer; in “Spartacus,” (1960), again by Stanley Kubrick, he is the legendary slave who would not be cowed (of the director, with whom he had differences, Douglas had this to say, “He’ll be a fine director some day if he falls flat on his face just once. It might teach him how to compromise.”)
“Spartacus” also provided Douglas with what he viewed as his proudest professional moment. As executive producer on the film, he publicly credited Dalton Trumbo (who after working under aliases for a number of years, had also been credited as himself as the author of “Exodus by Preminger who directed the film) thus ending the infamous Hollywood blacklist put in place by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by Joseph McCarthy.*
The fine film career, including the titles named above, of the actor who died yesterday at age 103 spans some 90 films, many of which we could still enjoy when Turner Classic Movies existed (and wasn’t that a sad day when it stopped?).
Kirk Douglas, a Hollywood legend, a good human being not afraid of controversy by dealing with injustice or wrong-headedness and, last but not least, the owner of a one-of-a-kind cleft chin, will be remembered fondly.
* Dalton Trumbo’s story has been told both in Martin Ritt’s “The Front”—1976—starring Woody Allen and Jay Roach’s “Trumbo”—2015—with Bryan Cranston.
Saïdeh Pakravan is Screen Comment’s Senior Contributor. A film historian, she has written extensively about Iranian cinema and is the author of “One Hundred Years of Must-See Movies” (@spakravantca)