With Kirk Douglas & Anne
Kirk & Anne Douglas support people, who might otherwise not be able to help themselves. In 1964 they founded the Douglas Foundation, one of the entertainment industry’s largest and oldest private philanthropic institutions.
Barbara: Anne and Kirk you are married for 64 years. Your new book has the title: „Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.“ You impress everyone with your affection for each other after 64 years. What does this affection look like?
Kirk Douglas: Anne and I have many mutual interests which keeps our partnership strong. Right from the beginning, I knew I would never be bored as long as I shared my life with Anne. She is much smarter than I am in business, and has better instincts than I do about people. She says that I am all trust and she is all verify. A few years after our marriage, she tried to warn me about my closest friend, who had been my lawyer and my business manager for 15 years. He kept telling me how rich I was, and I believed him. Anne did not. She was right, of course. An accounting firm she hired found proof he had bilked me of everything. She helped devise the plan that got him out of our lives and our pocketbooks. That blow came not long after she saved my life by refusing to let me fly to New York with my friend Mike Todd, who was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. They were our neighbors in Palm Springs. Anne and I had a terrible fight about it.
Anne Douglas: I don’t know what made me battle so hard to keep Kirk off that flight, but I just knew I had to stop him. “Go commercial,” I implored. “What fun is that?” he countered, but finally gave in and went to bed. In the morning, he still wasn’t speaking to me. We left Palm Springs to drive back to Los Angeles in an uncomfortable silence so Kirk turned on the radio. I’ll never forget the news flash that interrupted the music. Mike’s plane had crashed a few hours after takeoff. Everyone dead. Elizabeth Taylor was a widow. Thank God, I was not.
Barbara: It seems you share a strong love for each other. In your book, you reveal a great deal about the evolution of that love through the letters you wrote each other.
Kirk Douglas: I was shocked that Anne had saved so many notes and letters we wrote, going back as far as 1953 when we first met. Reading them more than half a century later, I am amazed that she didn’t give up on me, because I was a pretty complicated guy in those early days. Thank God she knew before I did that I would be lost without her. We had long separations during those years when I was constantly making and producing films. I depended on Anne to take care of our business and the family and fill me in on the children and the gossip. The time we spent apart was hard, but she always managed to join me for a while when I was on location.
Anne Douglas: Marrying a movie star is not as glamorous as you would think. Kirk was charming and charismatic, and there were always women throwing themselves at him, even after we married. I didn’t want lies and mistrust to mar our relationship, so I only asked that he tell me himself of any indiscretion, rather than let me hear gossip about him. Since Kirk can never keep a secret, he did. Sixty-four years after we met in Paris, we still adore each other. Right, darling? I’m very fortunate that we still can still share so many precious hours together after 63 years of marriage.
Kirk Douglas: Right from the beginning, I was entranced by Anne’s combination of sophistication and her wicked sense of humor. For my birthday in December 1953, she organized a surprise party for me at my apartment in Paris. The guests were all women I had gone out with, including the one I had seen the previous night. She organized them into a receiving line. When I came to the end of it, she stood there looking gorgeous and smug. I just shook my head and said, “You bitch.”
Barbara: Kirk, you wrote Anne a love letter in 1958 while she was en route to visit you in London during a film project. You said, “My darling wife, at this moment you are thousands of feet above the earth, sleeping peacefully I hope but racing toward me….Why am I writing? You will be here soon. But I know that when you get here, we will not have time to say all the things we want to say to each other. In fact, if we live to be 100, there will still be so many unsaid things–which is just as well, perhaps, because then, if there is a life after death, we will have many things to talk about later.” Now you are 101 years old. Do you still have things to say to Anne?
Kirk Douglas: Of course! We talk about current events. Anne’s from Hannover, Germany, before she got away from fascism by going to Brussels. Then, as Germany invaded Belgium, she fled to France and spent the war years in occupied Paris. She is upset about the rise of neo-Nazism and intolerance in the world today. She worries a lot about the mess our children, grandchildren, and my new little great-granddaughter will live in.
Anne Douglas: Every evening before dinner, we continue our tradition of sharing what we call the golden hour. Sometimes we talk about the past, but we tend to live very much in the present. We talk about events in the news and the activities closest to our hearts. We even flirt with each other. I still run the Bryna office and the Douglas Foundation. It’s a big job to give away money wisely! Kirk remains active writing books and essays. Even twenty years after his stroke, he meets weekly with his speech therapist and he still studies the Torah with his rabbi. Lately, we’ve become very 21st century. We take our iPads along for “golden hour” to share interesting things we’ve discovered online. We love them because we can magnify type. Sometimes when I go to our home in Montecito (near Santa Barbara) and Kirk remains in Beverly Hills, we “FaceTime” with each other. We never run out of things to say.
Barbara: Kirk with 101 and Anne with 98 years, you can look back on a long life. What do you think is really important and meaningful in life?
Anne Douglas: Here is what Kirk and I believe. “Caring is sharing.” It gives us a great deal of pleasure to use our Douglas Foundation to improve people’s lives, especially the children. We look for areas of neglect such as our 11-year mission to rebuild school playgrounds and create new ones. It is important for celebrities to shine a light on important causes, but money helps even more.
Kirk Douglas: I always asked Anne, “what can I do to help?” She always answered,” Get a job, we need the money.”
Anne Douglas: That’s right. I tell people, “First, I ask God to help, but God doesn’t have any money. Then I go to my husband.”
Kirk Douglas: One of the most important things Anne and I did together for many years was to act as unpaid goodwill ambassadors for the United States State Department. It started with President Kennedy and kept going for more than twenty years. I was the movie star, but Anne was the favorite because she spoke so many languages and was a born diplomat. In fact, when I met her she was handling protocol for the Cannes Film Festival.
Barbara: What would you recommend to people to become happy, loving and successful?
Anne Douglas: Here is my philosophy. Always count your blessings, rather than your disappointments. In many of the letters I wrote to Kirk over the years, I always emphasized how lucky we were, and that it didn’t matter if a film wasn’t well received or if he didn’t get a role he wanted. We had each other, the children, beautiful homes, great friends and money in the bank.
Kirk Douglas: After I had my stroke, I was terribly depressed. I even contemplated suicide, because what good is an actor who can’t talk? Anne gave me tough love, which is exactly what I needed. She made me get up and work with my speech therapist, and a few months later I was able to stand on the stage at the Academy Awards to receive my Lifetime Oscar and speak my thanks to the Academy, and most of all to my wife. When I wrote the book, “My Stroke of Luck,” my intention was to give hope to the many thousands of people who suffer strokes and their consequences. That’s one of the nice consequences of being famous. People pay attention to your message. I received so many letters from readers all over the world who thanked me for being honest, and I tried to answer them all.
Anne Douglas: I especially liked the “Operator’s Manual” he put in the book . I insisted he include it in the book we wrote together. I hope it gets printed in Germany soon. But for now, let me share Kirk`s manual with your readers:
- When things go bad, always remember it could be worse.
- Never, never give up. Keep working on your speech and on your life.
- Never lose your sense of humor. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with others.
- Stem depression by thinking of, reaching out to, and helping others.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Not for God to cure you, but to help you help yourself.
Barbara: Kirk, your original name is Isadore Demsky. You were born in the US and have a russian jewish background.
Anne Douglas: Yes, Kirk grew up very poor and experienced anti-Semitism. That’s one of the reasons he changed his name from Isadore Demsky, a name he always hated, to Kirk Douglas.
Kirk Douglas: As Izzy Demsky, I couldn’t get jobs I wanted, because they wouldn’t hire Jews. Even when I was elected class president at St. Lawrence University, anti-Semitic alumni threatened to withhold contributions to the school if I took office. When I started acting in summer stock, my friends Karl and Mona Malden helped me choose the name Kirk Douglas. That was in 1939 when everyone with an ethnic name had to change it. For a long time now, actors tend to work with the name they were born with. Like my friend Arnold Schwarzenegger who became a big star and the governor of California with a name people still mispell.