Kirk Douglas, like many actors, had to make tough decisions when it came to choosing roles. In some cases, he turned down roles that later became iconic performances. Two of those roles were Kid Shelleen in the 1965 film “Cat Ballou” and Sgt. J.J. Sefton in the 1953 film “Stalag 17.” In “Cat Ballou,” Lee Marvin played Kid Shelleen, a drunken, washed-up gunslinger with a dual role as his evil twin. Marvin won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
Similarly, in “Stalag 17,” William Holden played the role of Sgt. J.J. Sefton, a cynical prisoner-of-war suspected of being a traitor. Holden’s performance earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Crazy Fan Moments
Kirk Douglas had an enduring impact on the entertainment industry, with legions of fans determined to do anything to feel connected to him. In 2000, Douglas found himself in an unexpected situation - one only three other Hollywood legends - James Stewart, Gene Autry, and Gregory Peck – had experienced. Someone stole their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
The brazen theft created a stir - leaving fans wondering what had happened to the plaques. Reports finally emerged that a construction worker entrusted with securing the stars had stolen them instead. All's well that ends well - the stars are back in their rightful place on the Walk of Fame, much to the relief of fans and admirers of these iconic actors.
The Douglas Family Unite for a Film
In 2003, Michael and Joel Douglas produced “It Runs in the Family,” a film starring several members of the Douglas family, including Kirk, Michael, Michael's son Cameron, and his ex-wife Diana Dill, who played his wife. The movie received mixed reviews and, coming from the Douglas family, didn't keep up to expectations.
Kirk Douglas' last screen role was in the TV movie “Empire State Building Murders" (2008). In March 2009, at the impressive age of 92, Kirk performed an autobiographical one-man show titled “Before I Forget” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California. The four performances later became a documentary that screened in January 2010.
His Legendary Work Ethic
Kirk Douglas as a producer, had a reputation for being a relentless worker and expected the same level of energy and commitment from those who worked with him. He was direct and demanding in his dealings with others - his intense passion for film-making spilling over into all aspects of his life.
Douglas also emphasized the importance of entertainment in films over any messages, believing that films should not only make a statement but be thoroughly entertaining. As an actor, he approached every role with dedication, analyzing both his lines and the script to know whether the role was right for him. Douglas was willing to stand up to directors if he felt it was necessary to do so.
His Complicated Relationship With Judaism
In his autobiography, “The Ragman's Son,” Kirk Douglas revealed that he had once tried to forget that he was Jewish. Only later in his life and career did he begin to explore and embrace his Jewish identity, which became his life's overarching theme. In a 2000 interview, Douglas explained that he had parted ways with Judaism as a poor kid growing up in Amsterdam, N.Y.
His rift with the faith began when the community collected money to send him to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. Douglas had other plans. He found the prospect of being a rabbi terrifying, and it took immense will and effort to break free from that expectation. Douglas eventually discovered that being Jewish encompassed much more than being a rabbi.