Brynner died long ago, in 1985 at the relatively young age of 65. Living to be 103, Douglas seemed to be literally immortal
Flashback to the 1970s. You remember the film version of Jules Verne’s story The Light At the Edge of the World at the old Majestic Cinema, the first in the country to boast of six-track stereophonic sound when it screened movies such as Patton. But I wasn’t there for the sound effects. I was there to see two Hollywood megastars, Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner, play hero and villain respectively in this suspenseful drama of a lone lighthouse keeper on a remote island whose survival is threatened by the unexpected arrival of a ship crewed by a bunch of nasty pirates.
It was hard to decide between these two charismatic, equally good looking actors, and it was unusual, too, to see Brynner acting the villain, just as it was unusual to see the usually clean-shaven Douglas sporting a beard.
But his air of vulnerability (And the fact that his pet monkey was captured by the pirates) won me over to his side, just as his unforgettable performance as the slave turned scourge of the Romans in Spartacus won millions all over the world as his loyal fans.
Brynner died long ago, in 1985 at the relatively young age of 65. Living to be 103, Douglas seemed to be literally immortal.
But now he too is gone, along with those other Hollywood stars such as Burt Lancaster, Richard Burton, Cary Grant and
Interestingly, both Brynner and Douglas share Russian origins. Brynner’s father was Swiss-Mongolian, while Douglas was born Issur Danielovich, the son of a Russian-Jewish jazz musician in New York.
"Douglas was born Issur Danielovich, the son of a Russian-Jewish jazz musician in New York."
Douglas was a very versatile actor, playing tough guy with a natural flair, but able to show his vulnerable side just as quickly, as he did in The Light At the Edge of the World.
Even in Spartacus, he is the tough guy who knows that time is running out for him, but stoical and brave in the face of this devastating knowledge.
Douglas got his acting breaks in Broadway plays but made a very successful movie debut as a boxer in The Champion (1949), getting the first of his three Oscar nominations. He was lucky to be chosen by a number of good directors, including William Wyler, playing a psychologically warped detective in Detective Story (1951).
He gave a classic performance in Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole (1951), playing a manipulative newspaper reporter, stooping so low as to seduce the distraught wife of a man trapped in a cave. In Vincent Minelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, he gave a bravura performance as a cynical, exploitative
But his best performance undoubtedly was Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, set in the First World War, when he plays Colonel Dax, an officer with scruples who must face up to his incompetent superiors.
But most fans would remember him best as the tragic painter Vincent Van Gogh in the movie Lust for Life, also directed by Vincent Minelli. Not everyone admired that sensitive performance. Hollywood’s archetypal tough guy John Wayne is on record to have told Douglas scathingly, after watching Lust for Life: “Christ, Kirk, we got to play tough, strong characters, not those weak queers!’
History speaks for itself. Today, Kirk Douglas is rated much higher as an actor than John Wayne, and a far more intelligent actor as well.
But even his star status could not guarantee him the realisation of his final dream as a film actor – having played the lead in the Broadway version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he bought the rights to the novel in the 1960s, but could not raise the money to make the
Finally, his son Michael Douglas took over as producer and managed to get the project launched. But Jack Nicholson was selected to play the lead role so loved by Kirk Douglas, shattering his dream.
Announcing his father’s death, Michael Douglas paid tribute to his father’s work as a humanitarian and philanthropist. The actor and his wife established the Douglas Foundation in 1964 to serve disadvantaged communities.