- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007


He’s 90, and every morning he works out at the gym. He’s published his ninth book. He’s starred in more than 80 movies and wouldn’t mind making more.

“Trouble is,” says Kirk Douglas, half in jest, “there aren’t many scripts for an old man with impaired speech.”

The speech problem is the result of his stroke in 1991. Otherwise, he shows little evidence of his age. He walks briskly, the result of his lifelong adherence to physical fitness. His face is smooth, his eyes clear, his white hair sweeps back to neck length.

Kirk and Anne Douglas live in the upper range of Beverly Hills homes. Every room is filled with modernist paintings, sculptures and artifacts collected on their worldwide travels.

The house extends back to a large swimming pool surrounded by a sculpture garden. Mr. Douglas is proudest of larger-than-life metal figures of himself as a young and mature man.

He took a seat in the plush living room and talked of many things, particularly his new book, “Let’s Face It.”

“I call the book ‘Let’s Face It’ because the world is in a mess,” he remarks. “My generation hasn’t done much to cure it. The world has the lowest esteem of my country. I dedicated the book to the next generation and to my seven grandchildren. I want them to look at the problems we have and try to bring our country back to the position we had, when we were respected around the world.”

Mr. Douglas said he likes to talk to students at Kirk Douglas High School, a facility for troubled children in suburban Northridge that he and Anne help support. He tells the students of his hungry childhood in Amsterdam, N.Y.

“I started life as a crook,” he says in the interview. He stole tomatoes, his favorite vegetables, from a neighbor’s tomato patch until he was caught and reprimanded. He invaded a chicken farm and robbed eggs — which he ate raw. The farmer apprehended him. His final crime was taking a tomato from a corner produce stand. He told his captor that he would give up a life of crime, and he did.

Mr. Douglas marked his 90th birthday last December, joining such show business nonagenarians as Olivia de Havilland, Art Linkletter and Ernest Borgnine. Asked for his thoughts about turning 90, he grew somber.

“One thing about being 90, you lose too many friends,” he says. “Frank Sinatra … Burt Lancaster. I wish I could have been more appreciative of my friends.”

In his acknowledgments, Mr. Douglas says that his editor, Walter Bode, had been “such a great help.” During a phone interview from his home on Long Island, N.Y., Mr. Bode described their modus operandi.

“Kirk wrote it all the way through,” Mr. Bode said. “I made extensive notes, then I went out to his place for a long weekend, and we went over each one of the chapters.”

In the beginning Mr. Douglas says, “You will find me very responsive.”

And he was very responsive, Mr. Bode said. He believes that Mr. Douglas had become very philosophical, mainly because of the physical trauma he had suffered in his late years. “I think he no longer had the intensity that made him kind of difficult in his prime,” Mr. Bode commented.

“Let’s Face It” is filled with joy, but there are also times of sorrow. Eric, the youngest of Mr. Douglas’ four sons, was a problem during much of his life. Kirk Douglas writes of the boy’s “rapid mood changes” and outbreaks of violence. When he was 12, he was examined at an Eastern institute in an effort to assuage his anger. “This was the first of many places that we hoped would help Eric,” his father writes.

Although Eric Douglas graduated from Claremont College and worked as an actor and standup comedian, his troubles lingered, furthered by drug and alcohol addiction. He died at 42 of an overdose in his New York apartment.

Kirk and Anne Douglas visit Eric’s grave twice a week. They talk to their son, much as George Burns had done at the graveside of his wife and partner, Gracie Allen.

In the interview, Mr. Douglas told of asking his oldest son, “Michael, was I a good father?”

“Michael took the longest time to answer,” Kirk Douglas recalled. “Finally, he said, ‘Ultimately, you were a great father.’ ”

“It’s difficult when you’re young (to be a good father). You’re making one picture after another, one woman after another. You’re pretty involved with yourself.” He added slyly, “I hope Anne doesn’t read this.”

Mr. Douglas has suffered a series of calamities: an air collision between a helicopter and a light plane, surgery for a back injury caused by the accident, a stroke and a heart condition that required a pacemaker.

Having survived, he turned to good works. He and his wife contribute to schools, playgrounds and parks, and they founded the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, a training ground for actors, directors and playwrights.

But he has still other deeds he’d like to do.

“I would like to do something for my country,” Mr. Douglas says. “I appreciated so much that although I was born in abject poverty, I got a chance to work my way through college, through drama school, the Navy, then acting, which I loved.

“Years ago I wanted to do something for the country, and I went to about 40 countries (for the State Department). I went to universities and I told them about my life; actually it is what America is.

“My theme was that in America you have a chance.”

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