Kirk Douglas's stunning political courage

Article Image

Legendary actor Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103, according to his son, actor Michael Douglas.

Posted: Feb 6, 2020 9:00 AM
Updated: Feb 6, 2020 9:00 AM

He never got an Oscar. But that is no matter -- he was bigger than any gold statuette.

Kirk Douglas, who died Wednesday at 103, was an American of great courage and decency, which he showed at a time in our history when those virtues were sorely tested.

As we remember Douglas for his majestic acting career, let's also recall how he used his star power and influence in the late 1950s to help break the Hollywood blacklist that ruined many lives and kept many talented professionals from openly doing their jobs.

It was Douglas who pushed for screenwriter credit for Dalton Trumbo on the hugely successful 1960 gladiator epic "Spartacus." Trumbo was one of several Hollywood writers who had more than a decade before been indicted for contempt of Congress for refusing to implicate fellow writers before the House Un-American Activities Committee for affiliations with the Communist Party.

Trumbo not only went to prison for his stance, but was unable to secure writing jobs in movies and television for most of the 1950s because he and others regarded as "subversive" by Hollywood studios were prohibited from doing so because of the blacklist.

Though Trumbo and others were able to get their scripts produced by using pseudonyms or "fronts" (non-blacklisted writers who provided their own names as aliases), they couldn't receive proper credit for their work.

Then in 1960, both Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger "broke" the blacklist; Preminger by allowing Trumbo to use his name on the screenplay for "Exodus" and Douglas by openly, even brazenly declaring Trumbo to be the writer for "Spartacus."

The degree to which each man played a role in dispelling the political stigma can be and has been debated over the succeeding years. But the 2015 film, "Trumbo," gives commensurate credit to both Douglas and Preminger -- and to John F. Kennedy, who as a Democratic presidential candidate in 1960, publicly attended and gave his endorsement to "Spartacus."

In a 2015 statement about the film "Trumbo," Douglas recounted that time to Deadline:

"The choices were hard. The consequences were painful and very real. During the blacklist, I had friends who went into exile when no one would hire them; actors who committed suicide in despair ... I was threatened that using a Blacklisted writer for Spartacus -- my friend Dalton Trumbo -- would mark me as a 'Commie-lover' and end my career.

"There are times when one has to stand up for principle. I am so proud of my fellow actors who use their public influence to speak out against injustice. At 98 years old, I have learned one lesson from history: It very often repeats itself. I hope that Trumbo, a fine film, will remind all of us that the Blacklist was a terrible time in our country, but that we must learn from it so that it will never happen again."

You wonder...

Did Douglas' goodwill and advocacy cost him an Oscar? After all, when you look back at a curriculum vitae as impressive and wide-ranging as his, you wonder how it's possible he never received an Academy Award for any of the following classic and highly regarded films: "Out of the Past" (1947), "Champion" (1949), "Young Man with a Horn" (1950)," "Ace in the Hole" (1951), "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952), "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954), "Lust for Life" (1956)," "Paths of Glory" (1957)," "Spartacus" (1960), "Lonely Are The Brave" (1962)," "The List of Adrian Messenger" (1963), "Seven Days in May" (1964), "The Fury" (1978) ... and these are just the ones that came off the top of my head.

Granted, Douglas did get an Honorary Oscar in 1996, one of those lifetime achievement acknowledgments that are sort of consolation prizes from the Academy after decades of relative neglect or outright omission -- though his award was pointedly bestowed for "50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community." (He also, incidentally was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981, by President Jimmy Carter.)

His son Michael got two Oscars of his own, one for co-producing 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," (whose lead role of Randle Patrick McMurphy was played by Kirk Douglas on Broadway from 1963 through 1964) and another for Best Actor in 1987's "Wall Street."

But then, Oscars don't necessarily make one immortal. Or heroic. And Kirk Douglas, in the end, didn't need an Academy Award to certify his importance to something far greater than entertainment -- even if he gave as much sustained pleasure and reward as any performer in screen history.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2519197

Reported Deaths: 56077
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings33356710845
Queens31512310287
Suffolk2391793601
Nassau2141533292
Bronx2075006750
New York1679194635
Westchester1435542340
Erie1061391945
Richmond888381935
Monroe840451184
Orange57452909
Rockland53047779
Onondaga51911760
Dutchess35563497
Albany30760389
Oneida28557586
Broome24353405
Niagara23976397
Saratoga20195199
Ulster17248278
Schenectady16673227
Rensselaer14761167
Putnam1246997
Chautauqua12379174
Oswego11622112
Chemung10862155
St. Lawrence10479126
Steuben10080173
Ontario9321110
Jefferson881475
Cayuga8640107
Sullivan844783
Wayne814084
Cattaraugus7678113
Genesee6983132
Herkimer6774128
Clinton667939
Tompkins649159
Fulton6296102
Madison6164102
Montgomery5940140
Livingston570171
Warren542884
Cortland532279
Tioga506171
Columbia4998111
Chenango467486
Washington458767
Allegany458496
Otsego456254
Greene437186
Wyoming437158
Orleans432087
Franklin425620
Lewis358638
Delaware354647
Seneca273363
Essex229231
Schoharie228921
Yates163128
Schuyler153217
Hamilton4363
Unassigned14628
Out of NY0313
Utica
Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 58°
Oneonta
Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 52°
Herkimer
Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 58°
Old Forge
Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 58°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Game Day Deals - New Deals Each Week
Chapter Aesthetic October Giveaway
Cool To Be Kind 2021
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve