The long life and wondrous career of Kirk Douglas will be celebrated on Turner Classic Movies.
That will be March 5, with some of the best-known films at nighttime. It will be “Lust for Life” (shown here, 1956) at 5:45 p.m. ET, “Paths of Glory” (1958) at 8 and “Spartacus”(1960) at 9:45.
Douglas died Feb. 5, after a life that was extraordinary in its length (103 years), its impact and how far he had leaped. His first memoir illusttrated that leap with its title: “The Ragman’s Son.”
His father, an impoverished Russian immigrant, rode the streets of Amsterdam, NY, in a horsedrawn cart, gathering scraps. Even in a poor neighborhood, Douglas wrote, “the ragman was the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”
He was born Issur Danielovitch and known as Izzy Demsky; he spoke Yiddish with his parents and six sisters and worked constant jobs to put himself through college and acting school.
After World War II (in the Navy), his former classmate Lauren Bacall helped him land a role. “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” was his first film and will start the TCM tribute.
That role was the ultimate in casting against type: Douglas – the iron-willed guy who wrestled in college and, one summer, in carnivals – played a weak-willed guy.
After that, he would play strong figures. In “Out of the Past” (1947) he was the evil Mr. Big. The film “perfectly illustrates the concept of “film noir,” Jeanine Basinger wrote in “American Cinema” (1994).
That film will be part of the TCM tribute, followed by “Young Man With a Horn,” which saw him torn between good (Doris Day) and bad (Lauren Bacall). Then come some of his biggest films:
“Lust For Life” (1956) brought his third and final Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh. The next two TCM films came after Douglas had started his own production company.
Making movies that stood up for the common man, he hired young Stanley Kubrick to direct the first two, “Paths to Glory” and “Spartacus.” For the latter, he hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, putting his name onscreen.
“Spartacus” would win four Academy Awards (plus the Golden Globe for best picture) and is No. 81 on the American Film Institute’s all-time list … topped, however, by the one that got away.
After doing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on Broadway, Douglas spent years trying to produce and star in the movie version. Eventually, he gave the rights to his son. Michael Douglas’ production, starring Jack Nicholson, is No. 33 on the AFI list; it was the first movie in 41 years to sweep the Oscars for best picture, actor, actress and director.
Michael would mirror Kirk’s career in many ways, including length. He plunged into a new series (“The Kominsky Method”) in his 70s. “I’ve got a long way to go,” he told the Television Critics Association last year. “It’s very exciting. I never anticipated the kind of options.”
Kirk Douglas, after all, had movie roles at 86, 87 and 91. He appeared in documentaries throughout his 90s … and was a Golden Globes presenter at 101.
The TCM schedule for March 5 is:
— 6 a.m. ET, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946); 8, “Two Weeks in Another Town” (1962); 10. “The Story of Three Loves” (1953);
— 12:15 p.m. ET, “Along the Great Divide” (1951); 2 p.m., “Out of the Past” (1947); 3:45, “Young Man With a Horn” (1950); 5:45, “Lust for Life” (1956); 8, “Paths of Glory” (1958); 9:45. “Spartacus” (1960);
— 1:15 a.m. ET, Michael Douglas interview (2017); 2:30 a.m., “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1953); 4:55 a.m., “Seven Days in May” (1964).