Kirk Douglas brutally honest in new book
May 8, 2007
• Kirk Douglas, 90, just put out new book, "Let's Face It"
• Douglas disappointed in state of world
• Book brutally honest about country -- and family
BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) -- 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. Douglas is proudest of larger-than-life metal figures of himself as a young and
mature man. Douglas 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 remarked. "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." 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, New
"I started life as a crook," he said 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. 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 said. "Frank Sinatra ... Burt
Lancaster. I wish I could have been more appreciative of my friends."
He reminisced about working with Lancaster in a charity show at the Palladium in London.
He said that Lancaster told the audience, "Kirk would be the first to admit that he's a very
difficult guy. And I would be the second." Both were decked out with bowler hats and
canes and they sang and danced to an English ditty. "Then Burt gave me his knee,"
Douglas said. "I stepped on it and climbed to his shoulders. I was still standing there and
we were singing as we made our exit. We were both athletic in those days."
In his acknowledgments, Douglas says that his editor, Walter Bode, had been "such a great
help." During a phone interview from his home on Long Island, New York, Bode
described their modus operandi. "Kirk wrote it all the way through," the editor 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 Douglas said, "You will find me very
responsive." And he was very responsive, Bode said. He believes that 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," Bode commented.
"Let's Face It" is filled with joy, but there are also times of sorrow. Eric, the youngest of
Douglas' four sons, was a problem during much of his life. Kirk writes of the boy's "rapid
mood changes" and outbreaks of violence. When Eric 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 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, Douglas told of asking his oldest son, "Michael, was I a good father?" "Michael
took the longest time to answer," Kirk 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."
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," he said. "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."