The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on February 14, 1971 · 468
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 468

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, February 14, 1971
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JOYCE HABER Kirk Douglas: Hollywood's . Maverick-Agent-Star Kirk Douglas gave me that squinty, Intent look he's used onscreen in more than 50 pictures. He's not a man or a star who reserves' his expressions or emotions. He draws on all his resources. "Hedda Hopper once said to me," Kirk was saying over lunch at the Beverly Wi'shire Hotel, " 'Ever since you : made "Champion'' you've become a real s.o.b.' I said, 'No, you're wrong, Hedda. I was an s.o.b. before, but you never noticed it.'" ,;.v : . .V' . Douglas was bound tov be ' noticed eventually, if only for his drive. If he hadn't become a movie star, he could have become an agent. In fact, he's been functioning much as an agent for most of his professional life. He was . packaging and producing hi3 movies before independents became the thing to be. . ... .- ,. Kirk. "I . did . 'Indian Fighter,' 'Sparta-cus1 arid 'The Vikings. I started Stan ley Kubrick. He shopped around, and i he came to me with a wonderful script 'PatJis if Clnrv T-Ta irilrt ttip nn ctuHin would finance it. I said, 'I'll get it fi- Several vears later when he needed a director for "Spartacus," Kirk called in - Kubrick who was then only 28, and whom Kirk has described as "a very big ego." So big, in fact, that Kubrick , was not even impressed by the "ideal cast of actors Douglas had wanted and gotten: Sir Laurence Olivier, Charles, Laughton and Peter Ustinov.' . Doudas eot Universal to finance th movie onvwhich the studio gave him a 50-50 deal, but the actor's percentage was on profits, not gross. (The net on a "When it comes to -career, nobody wilt gamble as much as I will" movie is much harder to see, or get, than the gross.) "Universal has made more than $10 million on 'Spartacus,' " says Kirk. "I've made very little." His last two movies, still unreleased,-are examples of what Kirk means when he says, "What actors are beginning to do now work for little money and a percentage is how I have functioned for 20 years. I'm flexible. "When I go to Vegas, I'm a chintzy gambler, but when it comes to career, nobody will gamble as much as I will." . - Kirk .just finished shooting "Gun-fight" in Spain. It costars Johnny Cash, and was financed by the Jicarilla Apache Indian tribe: "The money's now coming from left field," he says. "That represents complete independence in prodution." On "Gunfight," Douglas took comparatively little salary $150,000 but a healthy percen- tage of the gross. "We brought it in for les3 than $2 million. With a studio, it would have cost $5 million." On the other hand, for "The Light at the Edge of the World," a Jules Verne adaptation which was financed by a bank in Spain, Douglas admits "I got a lot of money." He won't say how much, but best guesses estimate his salary as somewhere around $1 million. Douglas turned down $1.5 million for Samuel Bronston's .Tall of the Roman Empire," a movie he regrets: "I was stupid, because with $1.5 million there are lots of things you can do that you -want to." But in 1955, he made a film called "Man Without a Star" for just a percentage: l ended up making a mil-lion on it." This year his company, Bryna, also produced a third movie called "Sum-mertree." Still unreleased, it was studio- , financed (by Columbia) and stars Kirk's older son, Michael, in his third feature film. "I think it's the best thing he's ever done," says Kirk, "partly because of his (personal) feelings, for (his girlfriend and co-star) Brenda Vaccaro. They have a real love thing going." Still, Kirk allows that "with 'Sum-mertree,' I had all the problems that go with a major studio and with iip and coming new actors, even though he's " my own son. .What has anybody done to leave this industry in a healthy condition for those coming up? Everybody keeps pointing the finger at everybody else -the stars, the unions, the runaways. The truth of the matter is it's everything.' ' : " ;" r " - "Maybe the government should do something. Movie making is an important resource of our country. Movies were once synonymous with America. A lot of that has gone away because there'd a suicidal critical attitude: If it's made here, it can't be good, say the critics. 'Z' is a wonderful picture. And 'Z' is completely based on American pic-tures." '. " Douglas has always been, as he puts it, "a maverick." The son of Russian immigrant parents, Kirk grew up in impoverished circumstances in Amsterdam, N.Y. "My life is lice a 'B'. movie, he laughs. "I'd never make it. I've stood in line in the Bowery to get a Thanksgiving, dinner for 20 cents, and the very next night I've been at Katharine-Cornell's . penthouse apartment sipping champagne." . It was still a long leap from the Lower East Side to Park Ave. parties: "In many ways, that's a real advantage-poverty. These kids grow up with movie stars around them. They don't have to do anything themselves." As one of seven children, Kirk had to sell soda pop to local carpet-mill workers to keep food on the family table. During high school, he worked at jobs that ranged from lifeguard to punch-press operator. . He managed, somehow, to save $163 and, after graduation, he hitchhiked to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. "I arrived on a truckload of fertilizer, I went to the dean's office smelling and I told him, 'I want to go to college.' " He showed the same determination after St. Lawrence, arriving at Manhattan's American Academy of Dramatic Arts in an overcoat that came to his ankles. He'd gotten the coat, a castoff, from a towering college friend. Lauren Bacall was a fellow student at AADA: She thought the coat an affectation until she realised that Douglas couldn't afford to buy one that fitted him. She talked her uncle into buying him one. Later, Lauren did Kirk another favor. He was struggling along in New York when Lauren suggested to producer Hal Wallis, that, since Wallis wa3 always seeking unknowns, he should investigate Kirk Douglas. Douglas refused the screen test Wal- i 4 Kirk Douglas in seen from "Confight," recently completed in Spain. lis offered him, preferring to do a Broadway play called "The Wind Is Ninety." The show folded and Kirk, who found himself broke, relented. He called Wallis, tested, and landed the first of the only two contracts he ever accepted After making two movieg of five, Kirk refused to sign a term contract, so he and Wallis dropped their agreement by mutual consent - His next experience came as a contract player at . Warners for a movie a - "If you go into a studio for security ; it's not going to last long" year on a seven-year deal. But after a couple of bad parts in bad films, Kirk decided he wanted out. His agent told him the studio would never agree. "They'll let me out," said Douglas, determinedly. "I'll do a picture for nothing in exchange." He did. "It was terrible," Kirk recalls. It was called "The Big Trees." - "If I work I make money," says the actor. "If I don't, I don't.; I think of security as talent. If you go into a studio for security, it's not going to last long. I think the best training I've ever had is I've never had a picture to do until I found it. I've never had a studio to do it for me. I had a built-in do-it-yourself, kit." The kit contained good judgments and badrChampion," in 1948, brought Kirk the first of four- Oscar nominations, but there were also numerous flops like "Town Without Pity" and, more recently, "The Brotherhood" and "The Arrangement" Douglas chose Champion" against his agent's advice because he liked the Ring Lardner story and because he believed in a new, i. ;.i I n J Pi 1 Tr- mer. In order to do the movie, Douglas turned down a film at Metro, "The Great Sinner," with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It would have paid him-$50,000, the biggest salary he'd ever, been offered." ; -..-,-. .- ; For "Champion," he accepted $15,000 and a percent of the gross but that aitl J VA XbHillV iU UUiVlr AMU.!.- aged to get the financing from, a reluctant bank. When Kramer informed the officer that he wanted to star Kirk Douglas, the man replied, "You mean Melvyn Douglas?" Said Kramer: "No, I mean Kirk Douglas." , -Rt 1956. Kirk Douglas was well mf, V . J . enough known and regarded to win the award for Best Actor from the New York Film Critics for hi3 portrayal of ! Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust for Life."-Typically; Kirk had prepared for one' scene in which he had to paint crows on a canvas,: Van Gogh-style, by hiring a French artist to teach him. JHe ended by painting 800 crows in flight. The Douglases have an interest in art that goes for beyond his movie roles. Their attractive modern house in Beverly Hills contains an impressive col- , lection of paintings and sculpture, Including a number of French Impressionist classics. Kirk, 54, and his second wife, Anne, are prominent in show business and jet set society. Mrs. Douglas, a former movie publicist of Belgian extraction, was named again this year to the list of Best Dressed Women. ' In 1962, she wrote an article on Kirk in which she characterized her husband as "hating inefficient people (but mostly) those who wilKnot say 'I don't know' if he asks them a question. . . . Living with my husband is like sittiog in a beautiful garden right next to a volcano that may erupt at any moment." . ' . Which is not a bad vignette of a man who was born part maverick, part mo- vie star and part Hollywood agent. WSm$tUUimt!$ CALENDAR, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1971 ELEVEN

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