Kirk Douglas' stunning political courage

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

Posted: Feb 5, 2020 6:57 PM
Updated: Feb 6, 2020 12:30 PM


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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 895229

Reported Deaths: 9462
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1749772017
Ramsey722701040
Dakota66032572
Anoka62513568
Washington39357355
Stearns32821275
St. Louis28761399
Wright25354211
Scott25329181
Olmsted21750127
Sherburne18478126
Carver1629166
Clay11923103
Blue Earth1126366
Rice11234138
Crow Wing11003122
Chisago974676
Kandiyohi9660106
Otter Tail9611126
Benton8815124
Beltrami801794
Goodhue786596
Douglas7689100
Itasca752796
Mower721349
Winona702756
McLeod694483
Isanti681383
Steele669431
Morrison663479
Becker620873
Polk591684
Freeborn550846
Carlton529474
Nobles521654
Lyon518761
Mille Lacs516573
Nicollet510960
Pine500641
Cass491252
Todd483642
Brown465057
Le Sueur445933
Meeker422357
Martin378143
Wabasha366010
Waseca365132
Dodge351511
Hubbard349848
Roseau307931
Fillmore299115
Wadena298239
Redwood277845
Houston266817
Renville264151
Faribault253032
Pennington247529
Sibley246917
Kanabec241536
Cottonwood225032
Chippewa216342
Aitkin215850
Pope203210
Watonwan194920
Yellow Medicine185423
Rock174728
Swift169322
Koochiching168123
Stevens164511
Jackson159216
Clearwater155720
Marshall151122
Murray150911
Pipestone148329
Lake129824
Lac qui Parle120025
Wilkin119416
Mahnomen104714
Norman10389
Grant9719
Big Stone9365
Lincoln8705
Kittson71523
Red Lake70710
Traverse5996
Unassigned572124
Lake of the Woods5235
Cook3020

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 520452

Reported Deaths: 7289
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk80319799
Linn32142424
Scott26637292
Black Hawk21974378
Woodbury20490258
Johnson19778105
Dubuque18515241
Pottawattamie15890213
Dallas15320113
Story1380258
Warren8450104
Cerro Gordo7964123
Clinton7725114
Webster7326122
Des Moines7098105
Marshall669093
Muscatine6645117
Wapello6441144
Jasper619591
Sioux610177
Lee5908105
Marion557897
Buena Vista502149
Plymouth488388
Henry418655
Benton404859
Jones404862
Unassigned40470
Bremer395372
Washington391463
Boone389739
Carroll367755
Mahaska365365
Crawford353747
Dickinson314655
Jackson307747
Buchanan305741
Clay295536
Delaware294654
Kossuth289077
Fayette286353
Hardin284353
Tama279777
Page272533
Wright266149
Cedar265527
Hamilton259857
Winneshiek258143
Floyd255449
Clayton244459
Poweshiek237243
Madison234525
Harrison234379
Cass233466
Butler232744
Iowa229634
Jefferson223043
Mills220930
Winnebago215938
Hancock214639
Cherokee211347
Lyon206142
Appanoose205357
Allamakee203955
Calhoun196919
Shelby196442
Union191141
Humboldt185130
Grundy183637
Franklin183029
Mitchell182043
Chickasaw178922
Emmet178246
Louisa176953
Sac171026
Guthrie168137
Montgomery161745
Clarke160829
Keokuk150839
Palo Alto150532
Howard146824
Monroe142739
Ida130141
Greene127517
Davis124625
Lucas124426
Monona122939
Worth12139
Pocahontas120724
Adair114337
Osceola104818
Decatur101913
Taylor98514
Fremont95913
Van Buren93222
Wayne84525
Ringgold76729
Audubon74917
Adams5748
Rochester
Clear
35° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 29°
Mason City
Clear
33° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 27°
Albert Lea
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 32°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 26°
Rain chances midweek
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events