August 2, 2007
Kirk Douglas packs 90 years of living into latest book
(Page 2 - Previous Page)The religious makeup of the Douglas family reflects the growing American pattern, in which every member determines his or her own identity.
Neither Douglas' first wife, actress Diana Dill, nor his second wife, the former Anne Buydens, were Jewish. So according to halacha, neither sons Michael and Joel from the first marriage nor Peter from the second marriage are Jewish or were raised as such.
"I have never followed the commandment to teach your children," Douglas says.... "But my sons always knew I was a Jew, even way before I studied Torah. But I have found that the last few years that I have studied Judaism and after taking pride in being a Jew, that has impressed my sons.... Michael, I think, is very Jewish. He feels as a Jew, and he is ready to help Jewish causes."
The balance shifted further on Douglases' 50th wedding anniversary in 2004, when Anne announced that she had converted to Judaism. "Kirk has been married to two shiksas, and it's about time he married a nice Jewish girl," she explained.
The couple repeated their wedding vows at the star-studded anniversary celebration, quite a change from the quickie ceremony at a Las Vegas wedding chapel the first time around.
At that time, Anne, born in Germany and raised in Belgium, was still new to the country and the language, after meeting Kirk in Paris. When asked to recite the wedding vow, she solemnly intoned, "I take thee, Kirk, as my awful wedded husband."
"I had never heard the word 'lawful,' and when everybody laughed, I nearly cried," she explained later.
Their union has now lasted for 53 years, a millennium by Hollywood standards, overcoming Douglas' continuing philandering in the early years, his long absences as an actor, her breast cancer, his stroke and the devastating suicide of their youngest son.
What did Anne have to attract a man who, after all, counted Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich and battalions of lesser-known beauties among his trophies?
"Her vicious sense of humor," according to Douglas. An early demonstration of this trait was the surprise birthday party Anne threw for him in Paris before their marriage.
Somehow, Anne managed to track everyone in a long procession of girls Kirk had escorted and/or bedded in the months that he was shooting a movie in the French capital. When the unsuspecting Douglas entered, he was confronted by a long receiving line consisting of all his previous conquests.
By now, however, Douglas says with conviction, "My love for Anne is growing deeper all the time ... when I think of all she had to go through."
One chapter in "Let's Face It" is titled, "Romance Begins at Eighty," and in it, Douglas lists all the little surprises and romantic gestures that will keep the flame burning.
In answer to my question on the formula for an enduring marriage, Douglas goes a little deeper. "Be understanding of each other, but don't focus only on your relationship," he says. "Reach out and be concerned with the world around you."
Both he and Anne express their concern through public service and support of numerous charities, many focusing on children. "We have underwritten 360 public playgrounds, including four in Israel for both Jewish and Arab kids, and are aiming for a total of 400," he says.
Separately or together, the Douglases have also endowed centers for homeless women and for AIDS and Alzheimer's research and support a number of Israeli medical and educational institutions. A theater facing Jerusalem's Western Wall, which screens films on Jewish heritage for visitors; a Los Angeles theater for experimental plays; and a Los Angeles high school all bear the Douglas name.
Douglas has been an ardent supporter of Israel since his first stay there in 1953 to film "The Juggler," returning in later years for "Cast a Giant Shadow" and "Remembrance of Love."
Recent political scandals and dissentions in Israel have not discouraged him. "Look," he says, "when I first went to Israel, the rationing was so bad a person could buy only one egg a month. They've fought six wars and at the same time have created one of the foremost technology industries in the world.
"I have known Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. You can't help but admire the country and its people."
Douglas reaffirmed his pride in Israel in "Let's Face It" by reprinting a letter he wrote to President Jimmy Carter after reading the latter's book, "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid."
The relationship between the two men goes back to 1981, when Carter conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award, on Douglas for his public services abroad on behalf of the United States.
Since then, they have remained friends and have visited each other's homes. Nevertheless, Douglas pulled no punches in criticizing Carter directly for his skewed facts on the Middle East and his anti-Israel position.
As a secretary enters the room to announce that the interview has already run beyond the allotted one hour, Douglas squeezes in one more thought on Jewish identity.
"I'm often told, 'You don't look Jewish,'" he says. "Is that a compliment or an insult? I don't know."
1 | 2