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Kirk Douglas

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Cleft chinned, steely eyed and virile star of international cinema who rose from being "the ragmans son" (the name give to his best selling 1988 autobiography) of Russian-Jewish ancestry to become a bona fide superstar, Kirk Douglas was actually born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in Amsterdam, New York in 1916. Although growing up in a poor ghetto, Douglas was a fine student and a keen athlete and wrestled competitively during his time at St. Lawrence University. However, he soon identified an acting scholarship as a way out of his meagre existence, and was sufficiently talented to gain entry into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He only appeared in a handful of minor Broadway productions before joining the US Navy in 1941, and then after the end of hostilities in 1945, returned to the theatre and some radio work. On the insistence of ex-classmate Lauren Bacall movie producer Hal B. Wallis screen-tested Douglas and cast him in the lead role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. His performance received rave reviews and further work quickly followed including an appearance in the low key drama I Walk Alone, the first time he worked alongide fellow future screen legend Burt Lancaster. Such was the strong chemistry between Douglas & Lancaster that they appeared in seven films together including the dynamic western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the John Frankenheimer political thriller Seven Days in May and their final pairing in the gangster comedy Tough Guys. Douglas once said about his good friend: "I've finally gotten away from Burt Lancaster. My luck has changed for the better. I've got nice looking girls in my films now". After appearing in I Walk Alone, Douglas scored his first Oscar nomination playing the untrustworthy & opportunist boxer Midge Kelly in the gripping Champion. The quality of his work continued to seize the attention of critics and he was again nominated for Oscars for _Bad and The Beautiful, The (1952)_ and for his portrayal of tortured painter Vincent van Gogh in _Lust For Life (1956)_ , both directed by notable director Vincente Minnelli. In 1955, Douglas launched his own production company, "Bryna Productions", which was the key production house behind two pivotal film roles in his career. The first was as the French officer, Colonel Dax in the superb anti-war epic of Paths of Glory directed by Stanley Kubrick. Secondly, Kirk reunited with Kubrick for the lead role in the magnificent Roman Empire drama of Spartacus...the role for which he is most closely identified. Spartacus also marked a key turning point in the life of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, as at Douglas's insistence, Trumbo was given on screen credit for his contributions, thus breaking a long standing exclusion of "the Hollywood ten". Douglas remained equally busy throughout the 1960s starring in many films including as a rebel cowboy in a contemprary setting in _Lonely are the Brave (1962)_ , alongside John Wayne in the Pearl Harbor story of _In Harms Way (1965)_ , again with The Duke in another WWII actioner, Cast a Giant Shadow and once more with Wayne in the tongue in cheek western The War Wagon. Additionally, in 1963 he starred in an onstage production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", but despite his keen interest, no Hollywood studio could be convinced to bring the story to the screen. However, the story remained with the Douglas clan, and Kirk's talented son Michael Douglas finally filmed the tale in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson. Into the 1970s Douglas wasn't as busy as previous years, however he starred in some unusual vehicles including alongside a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in the loopy western The Villain, then alongside Farrah Fawcett in sci-fi flick Saturn 3 and then travelled to Australia for the horse opera/drama The Man from Snowy River. Unknown to many, Kirk has long been involved in humanitarian causes and has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Dept since 1963. His efforts were rewarded in 1981 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1983 with the Jefferson Award. Furthermore, the French honored him with the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. More recognition followed for his work with the American Cinema Award (1987), the German Golden Kamera Award (1987), The National Board of Reviews Career Achievement Award (1989), an honorary Academy Award (1995), Recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award (1999) and the UCLA Medal of Honor (2002). Despite a helicopter crash and a stroke suffered in the 1990s, he remains active and continues to appear in front of the camera.
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