Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kirk Douglas Week: The Ragman's Son

I've been a fan of Kirk Douglas since seeing Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on AMC during college.  I had just discovered The Magnificent Seven and was now going through director John Sturges' credits.  Since I loved Tombstone, westerns and the entire Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday mythos, Gunfight just seemed right up my alley.  Of course, Gunfight is a great flick and I've been watching Douglas and Burt Lancaster ever since.  In recent years I've become a huge admirer of Douglas as an actor and human being.  He always just comes off as a cool guy; larger than life with strong opinions and work ethic.  His guest starring role on The Simpsons remains one of my favorite episodes.  You know, where he plays a bum, wins a lawsuit then buys a rocket car?

Walking in a bookstore in Burbank a couple years ago, I came across Douglas' autobiography, The Ragman's Son.  It's quite a tome but he's lived quite a life.  A quick search on Amazon showed it for much cheaper online but I wanted it now and made the purchase.  The few extra bucks I paid were worth it, I supported a brick and mortar establishment and delved in that night.

It's a great read of non-fiction that reads like your favorite novel.  Douglas is funny, self deprecating and candid as he looks back at his humble beginnings as the only son of illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants, growing up in New York with several sisters, a father who collected junk and rags and a mother who always believed in him.  Douglas became a man with a passion for women; his encounters triumphant as well as disastrous are well documented as well as his quest and ultimate failure to become a star on Broadway.  Even after a career spanning decades as a movie star, Academy Award nominee, producer and humanitarian along with the millions of dollars earned and as many fans entertained; Douglas is still that little boy looking for a pat on the back from his father.

As his days as a leading man winded down after the writing of Ragman, Douglas suffered a stroke, contemplated suicide but finally bounced back, writing several more books.  His latest chronicled the making of Spartacus and the breaking of the Black List, where the government went after those in the entertainment business with Communist ties and essentially exiled them from Hollywood.  To celebrate the release, the Chinese Theatre screened Spartacus and honored Douglas with a new set of hand and feet prints in the famous courtyard.  I was buying a copy of the book when the man himself walked over, in all his post stroke, 90 year old splendor and told me to make sure I was paying full price.  A sense of humor goes a long way.

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