In Memoriam: Remembering Kirk Douglas (1916-2020)


One of the greats is gone. At 103 years of age, Issur Danielovitch, known to movie lovers over as Kirk Douglas has finally left us.

In full transparency, if he was up against Robert Mitchum I would have probably sided with Bob. If he was facing off with Burt Lancaster I might have gravitated to Burt. But there was something so fiery and passionate about Kirk Douglas making him simultaneously one of the great action heroes and villains over an illustrious career.

Because he thrived on ferocity, conflict, and volatility before the days of Brando and company. In the 40s he knuckled down with the aforementioned men in seminal film noir like Out of the Past and I Walk Alone.

His first truly blistering protagonist proved to be the ambitious boxer Midge in Champion, and he would set a beeline for parts channeling the same energy straight to the top. Take anything like Detective Story, Ace in the Hole, and Bad and The Beautiful to get an idea.

If you take stock of these portrayals their altogether fearless. They are not consumed with being likable or palatable. They have sleaze and corruption dripping all over them but they’re also unmistakably magnetic. You can’t take your eyes off them.

Paths of Glory trailer 2.jpg

In many ways, Douglas felt as fearless in life as he was on screen. As he gained more clout he used his powers to pick uncompromising material. Paths of Glory, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is one of his finest hours as a stirring statement and morose portrait of war.

Is it an obvious cliche to say he had a Lust for Life in line with the characters he played including Vincent Van Gogh and Spartacus? Certainly, it is, but why belabor the point.

It was the latter film which galvanized his pronouncement for generations of parodies (For me it was in Community). And yet all kidding aside, it was this very same antithetical, and wildly popular biblical epic that helped crush the gates of the blacklist.

Douglas was one of the few men with the guts (and the sway) to call on the irrepressible talents of blacklist poster boy Dalton Trumbo and still get away with it.

If these few passing bits of observation were all his life had to offer, it would be well worth acknowledging. There’s so much more that I don’t even have the time or knowledge to fully cover. I will simply leave you with this. Kirk Douglas will be dearly missed because he loomed large over the industry.

To be fair we aren’t simply paying tribute to him because he was one of the last living testaments to the days of Old Hollywood though that holds true. We are remembering him in part because he had his fingerprints all over the film industry for generations. You cannot talk about the classical period of the 20th century without rubbing up against his influence.

There is a reason he was placed #17 on The American Film Institute’s list of screen legends. Not simply as a token award, but because it was well-warranted. As someone who is invested in sharing the world of classic cinema with others, he will be dearly missed. But the beauty of film is the fact he will not be forgotten.

Those who love or (even in my case) deeply admire his talents, will look to pass them on.

R.I.P. Kirk.

To many of us, you were Spartacus…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Kirk Douglas (2011).jpg

R.I.P. Gloria DeHaven (1925-2016)

220px-Gloria_de_Haven.jpgI did a double take when I saw an article indicating the passings of the Classic Hollywood musical starlet Gloria DeHaven. She was 91. I could have sworn I just was thinking about her recently and I was. Just last week I came across her in a publicity still with two other young stars who I’ve since forgotten. The three of them were sitting at a table at some gala and they were unfamiliar but in that image DeHaven left an impression on me.

So being the good historian that I am, I quickly scrolled to her filmography and Summer Stock (1950) was the film that stuck out to me. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Kelly/Garland musical but DeHaven is in that film too. Without giving it much thought, I pushed the musical up higher in my mental queue so I would eventually get a chance to see this actress who was still with us. After all, the stars are getting fewer and fewer as reflected by Wikipedia’s handy page. It’s sad really.

And this brings me to the realization once more that although it may be sad when we lose another star, in this case, I felt like I had just met Gloria DeHaven, it is rather extraordinary that with stars past and present we have film rolls that will keep their personas alive for years to come. Time is a curious thing. Because as it marches on people are forgotten and history is lost. But that makes the transcendence of film pretty remarkable.

I look forward to hopefully getting to know you better Ms. DeHaven. My watchlist now includes Thousands Cheer, Summer Stock and yet another viewing of Modern Times (apparently she plays the Gamine’s sister). I already have a deeper appreciation for her.

R.I.P. Gloria DeHaven.

R.I.P. Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015)

Maureen_O'Hara_1942I came home this weekend to find that the great Maureen O’Hara had passed away at 95 years of age. It’s a bittersweet moment, because “The Queen of Technicolor” was a fiery heroine of some many great films and numerous personal favorites like Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man. John Wayne arguably had no better costar than O’Hara and he would undoubtedly agree. She also has a handful of films I still want to see and will certainly make an effort to watch. The sad thing is that it seems we often only remember people when they’re gone. The irony is that when Joan Leslie passed away recently, I mentioned Maureen O’Hara as one of the great stars who was still with us. And now just like that she too is gone, but still leaving behind a tremendous legacy. That will allow her to live on in the hearts and minds of film audiences for generations to come.

Joan Leslie (1925-2015)

For Classic Film Aficionados most of our favorite stars have passed on and that makes any star or starlet we lose now that much more noteworthy. Joan Leslie is such a figure, not a major star by any means, but she certainly had some great films in her catalog. Without knowing who she was and barely knowing Gary Cooper, I saw her in Sergeant York at a young age. On subsequent viewings I realized she was the perfect girl for the role. The same goes fore Yankee Doodle Dandy, because there is not a malevolent bone in her body, and she exudes an innocence that cannot be discounted.

I’ve seen the less well known Repeat Performance, and although it is nothing to write home about, it was rewarding to see Leslie in a starring role. The names are getting fewer and far between: O’Hara, De Havilland, Douglas, Donen, Poitier, to name a few. But all the time they get more and more obscure as the years go by.

My hope is that  people will continue to discover the likes of Joan Leslie for years to come!

Dickie Moore (1925-2015)

Dickie Moore was a child star most notably in the Our Gang shorts and remarkably he was one of the last surviving actors to be featured in Silent Cinema. I met him for the first time in repeated viewings of the classic Film-Noir Out of the Past. He plays the mute gas station attendant, who says nothing and still somehow has such an important bearing on the plot. It’s a memorable turn, and as normally happens with such performers I looked him up online, only to be inundated with his career.

He yet another star from Hollywood’s Classic Age who will be missed. He leaves behind his wife Jane Powell, who is an icon in her own right.

Shirley Temple Black

With the passing of Shirley Temple Black just yesterday, it made realize that sometimes we do not appreciate people as much until they are gone, which is unfortunate. Now I want to go back and see some of her performances because the only one I have seen in its entirety is probably Heidi. Recently however I did see part of the Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and I realized why she was so popular. She was a good little entertainer to be sure, but at her core was this cheerfulness and sweet disposition that resonated with audiences. I hope to discover more of that soon.

Maximilian Schell

With the passing of Maximillian Schell yesterday I felt it necessary to say a few words about him. First off, if you have never seen Judgment at Nuremberg take a few hours out of your day and go see it. He gives an absolutely electric performance as a lawyer defending Nazi judges. Perhaps the most extraordinary part is the cast he was vying for attention with. There was Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, a young William Shatner, and a couple Hogan’s Heroes regulars. Despite all the star power here there is no doubt in my mind that Schell commanded the screen with this breakout role. If ever there was someone who deserved best actor he certainly did.

I must admit that this is the only film of Schell I have seen but hopefully someday down the road I will see more. I know for a fact that I want to see Nuremberg again not only for his performance but for its historical importance.

Roger Ebert

After reading the headlines it came to my attention that the respected film critic Roger Ebert has passed away at the age of 70. I must say I was slightly surprised and saddened by this news. It seems like I just discovered who he was. In my quest to learn more about films I would inevitably bump into reviews by Ebert and pretty soon I began to look for his reviews specifically to know what he had to say. At first I had no idea who this critic from the Chicago Sun Times was and now as a film enthusiast I have a greater appreciation for him. He certainly must be recognized for the influence he had not only on film criticism but film itself.

Here is a link to his website: