Meeting Kirk Douglas

Kirk DouglasYou don’t have to ask Kirk Douglas for his favorite film role – it’s already on his lips. “Van Gogh.” He’s referring to Lust for Life, the 1956 MGM movie about the life of the Dutch painter, based on the 1934 novel by Irving Stone, directed by Vincente Minnelli and George Cukor, and produced by John Houseman.

“Yes, Van Gogh. For the first time in my acting career, the part took me over. He took over. You know, I slept in the room where he committed suicide.”

I listened in something approaching open-mouthed awe to Douglas during his talk (an interview with Mort Zuckerman) at the 10th annual Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills this week. I was there to cover the proceedings for onPhilanthropy, but for a few moments I allowed myself to play the fan, chatting briefly with him afterwards as he signed a book for my father. I couldn’t help it. Douglas is a living link – among the last – to a generation of actors, of real stars, of men and women who created the film industry.

The co-stars alone dazzle and tingle the nerves: Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Mitchum, Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave, Raymond Massey, Burt Lancaster, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Rudy Vallee, Anne Baxter, Cornel Wilde, Lauren Bacall. And that’s just the 1940s.

Kirk Douglas is 90 years old. He’s smaller, a littled crooked, but he moves with real determination. The eyes twinkle and laugh. His speech isn’t perfect ten years after the stroke, but no matter: he’ll talk your ear off, and with attitude and delivery. This nice little old gentleman is still Kirk Douglas.
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Walking the Red Carpet: When Stars Were Stars

Bogart's OscarWhen I was young, the Academy Awards still retained an unmistakeable aura of glamor and remove. There in one big room for one long evening, we all watched American royalty – the truly big names. The real stars. Cary Grant. Katherine Hepburn. Jimmy Stewart. John Wayne. Bette Davis. Lauren Bacall. Henry Fonda. Burt Lancaster. Bing Crosby. Bob Hope. Ingrid Bergman. Elizabeth Taylor. Laurence Olivier.
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We Can Be Highline

Twenty years ago, a friend of mine pointed to the rusted and abandoned elevated railway bed in Chelsea, which I’d barely noticed before, and proclaimed: “There are a couple of real estate bigshots fighting for that – it’s gonna be valauble some day.” That day has come, but not in the developer-oriented vision my friend once had. Friends of the High Line, which is redeveloping the old passage for open space and limited mixed use building, is planning to hold the first Highline Festival this May. Chairman? One David Bowie, newly sixty and readying for a public celebration of that advanced age. Apparently, he found his glam venue. Fred Wilson has some details. Will this become a permanent part of the New York festival scene?