Kirk Douglas dead at 103

Kirk Douglas, one of the last remaining stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, died today at the age of 103.  He leaves behind not only an amazing legacy on screen but one off of it as well.

Born Issur Danielovitch Demsky on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York, to Russian immigrant parents, the family adopted the last name of Demsky, which was the last name taken by his uncle, who came to America before his parents.  He spent his younger years working several jobs to help support his family – he had six sisters – and did so up until he joined the United States Navy.  Prior to enlisting he legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas.  He served on a submarine during World War II and was discharged in 1944 due to injuries sustained during an accident.

He began his acting career when he was granted a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  He was able to support himself, barely, by doing a lot of radio work.  He made his stage debut when he replaced Richard Widmark in “Kiss and Tell.”  He made his film debut in 1946 after a former Dramatic Academy Classmate named Lauren Bacall recommend him to a director.  That film, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” co-starred Barbara Stanwyck and help launch his extraordinary career.

Always enjoying his work in the theater, Douglas made his Broadway debut three years later.  That same year he starred in the film “Champion.”  His performance earned him his first of six Academy Award nominations.

For the next six decades he starred in some of the greatest films of their eras, including “The Bad and the Beautiful” (Oscar nomination), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Lust for Life” (Oscar nomination), “Paths of Glory,” “Spartacus,” and “Seven Days in May.”

Douglas earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of artist Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life”

But it was more than his film work that Douglas will be remembered for.  Despite Dalton Trumbo’s name on the Hollywood “blacklist,” Douglas, who was also the executive producer of “Spartacus” not only hired Trumbo to write the screenplay for the film but gave him screen credit.  Douglas often said that hiring and supporting Trumbo was the proudest moment of his career.

He WAS Spartacus!

Douglas bought the rights to the Ken Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and in 1963 had it adapted into a play, in which he starred.  He tried for many years to produce a film version of the play but could never find the monetary backing.  He gave the rights to the property to his son, Michael who, with producer Saul Zaentz financed the 1975 film version.  Though Douglas had played the main character of Randle McMurphy on stage, he was deemed too old to play the role on film.  The part went to Jack Nicholson, who won his first Academy Award for his performance.  The film went on to earn nine Academy Award nominations and became the second film in history to win the top five Oscar categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay).

In 1996 he was given an honorary Academy Award in recognition of his amazing career and for being  a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.

Douglas was married twice and is survived by his wife Ann, who will amazingly turn 101 in April, and sons Michael, Joel and Peter.  His youngest son, Eric, passed away in 2004.

CD Review: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas & Mark Stone “The Runaway Bunny, The Story of Babar and Goodnight Moon”

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas & Mark Stone
“The Runaway Bunny, The Story of Babar and Goodnight Moon”
Label: GPR Records
Release Date: November 13, 2012

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Who doesn’t know about the classic books “The Runaway Bunny” and “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and “The Story of Babar” by Francis Poulenc. These are not new stories in fact they are all from the 1940’s. “Goodnight Moon” is from 1947. “The Runaway Bunny” is  from 1942. And “The Story of Babar” or aka “L’Histoire de Babar” dates back to 1945. These stories are still very timeless and a must read for any child before bed or anytime, in fact. In case you are wondering, this is not a your typical straight forward audio book. These books are read alongside new classical music interpretations of the these stories. If you are a fan of classic music and timeless stories, this would make a wonderful addition to your collection. I can see this CD being a must-listen with my daughter as she grows up.

So what makes this CD special is that Oscar winners Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are reading two of these three books along with the wonderful musical compositions besides them. Catherine Zeta-Jones narrates “The Runaway Bunny” along with music by Glen Roven and performed by the Piano Trio Version with Trio 21. Michael Douglas lends his voice to the beloved story of “The History of Babar”, which is backed with a score by Francis Poulenc and Jason Worth on the piano. These performances are very well acted and gives the stories great delivery. Lastly but not least is “Goodnight Moon”, which is a story I have become very familiar with as a new parent.  It is sung by English Baritone Mark Stone along with the GPR Festival Choir. This release is very well done and entertaining.  It is also a great way to not only make these stories more interesting but also introduce your children to the world of very fine classical music.