- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

CULVER CITY, Calif. | Kirk Douglas emerges from behind a black curtain and walks purposefully, if a bit unsteadily, to center stage.

“When you have a stroke, you must talk slowly to be understood,” he says, smiling to a largely empty theater at a rehearsal of his new one-man show, “Before I Forget.” The 92-year-old actor emphasizes each syllable as clearly and firmly as he can through the speech impediment caused by a 1996 stroke.

“I’ve discovered that when I talk slowly, people listen. They think I’m going to say something important.”

Mr. Douglas waves both hands as if scoffing at the concept, then takes a seat in a black leather easy chair.

Plenty of people are willing to listen. The four scheduled performances of Mr. Douglas’ show, beginning Friday, are sold out. The site: Kirk Douglas Theatre, opened by the Center Theatre Group in 2004 after a $2.5 million donation from Mr. Douglas and his wife, Anne.

“You know, I never wanted to be a movie actor,” Mr. Douglas says from the chair after a sip of water. “My goal in life was to be a star on the stage. Now I know how to do it. Build your own theater.”

Mr. Douglas, who has appeared in more than 75 movies — “Too many. Some good, some bad,” he says — developed the one-man show after writing nine books, including “My Stroke of Luck” and his most recent, “Let’s Face It.”

“But I found it was easier to write a one-man show than to present it,” he says in an interview in the theater lobby. “Because, as you know, I have an impediment in my speech because of my stroke. But that’s a challenge for me, and I have always welcomed a challenge.”

The nearly 1½-hour performance features clips from Mr. Douglas’ movies and public appearances, including his 1996 appearance at the Academy Awards, where he received an honorary Oscar.

Mr. Douglas talks understatedly about his famous family and friends, including the briefly married Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. He remembers one night when they were all staying at the same New York hotel and Miss Gardner came knocking on his door, sobbing.

“She had just had a violent argument with Frank, who seized a gun, and he threatened to shoot himself,” says Mr. Douglas, who also recounted the incident in his latest book. “I calmed [her] down, and she went back.” (Biographer Lee Server also wrote that Sinatra twice became suicidal during his relationship with the actress.)

Mr. Douglas clearly enjoys the process of looking back at the people and projects of years long past.

He notes in the interview that he’s most proud of his work on 1960’s “Spartacus,” created during the anti-communist paranoia of the 1950s.

“It was a low point in our history,” Mr. Douglas says. “I hired Dalton Trumbo, who spent a year in jail, because he was blacklisted, and I hired him under the false name of Sam Jackson. … Well, I was ashamed of myself for being such a hypocrite. And in the middle of shooting, I decided to use his correct name. And ‘Spartacus’ was the first movie to use the correct name of a blacklisted writer. And the blacklist was broken. That’s something to be proud of.”

Mr. Douglas says his determined return to the stage, where he got his start in show business, isn’t intended to inspire others his age. He only wants to keep doing what he does best.

“Basically, my job is to entertain people,” he says. “And if they find my life interesting and it takes their mind off the foreclosures — all the problems that we have — then I’ve done my job.”

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