Happy 100th Birthday, Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch not 80, not 90, but 100 years ago today in Amsterdam, New York! Here are 10 KD Did-You-Knows:

  • Douglas’ parents emigrated to the United States from what is now Belarus (it was at the time part of the Russian Empire). As Douglas wrote in his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, “My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. … Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”
  • Douglas worked many odd jobs in his youth before attending St. Lawrence University. Upon graduation, he was given a special scholarship to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. One of his classmates there was Betty Joan Perske (Lauren Bacall, don’tcha know).
  • Coming from a poor family, Douglas struggled greatly while studying at the American Academy, so much so that Bacall, who had acquired a crush on Douglas, gave him one of her uncle’s old coats. Douglas and Bacall were good pals, but never romantic.
  • In 1941, Kirk Douglas enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He received a medical discharge in 1944, due to injuries he’d received.
  • Douglas planned to pursue a life in the theatre, but Hollywood came calling in 1946 when Bacall, who was already a success in pictures, recommended him to producer Hal Wallis to play opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).
  • Among Douglas’ most memorable early roles were his portrayals of a steely gangster in the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947) and an unscrupulous boxer in Champion (1949). The latter gave Douglas the first of his three Oscar nominations in the Best Leading Actor category.
  • Douglas made his Broadway debut in Katharine Cornell‘s production of Chekov‘s Three Sisters.
  • In January 1981, Douglas, who has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Department since 1963, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter.
  • Douglas suffered a severe stroke in 1996 that impaired his ability to speak, but he diligently pursued treatment and rehabilitation and just weeks later, when he received a honorary Academy Award “for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community,” he was able to be on hand to deliver an inspiring acceptance speech to those on hand and millions more watching on television.
  • Douglas is the author of no fewer than 10 books.

Happy birthday, Kirk Douglas, and many happy returns of the day!

Kirk Douglas

Happy 92nd Birthday, Lauren Bacall!

Our former neighbor Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske 92 years ago today in the Bronx, New York. Here are 10 LB Did-You-Knows:

Bacall’s mother emigrated from Romania as a child; her father, whose forebears came from Poland, was born in New Jersey.

Bacall was born in the Bronx, but grew up in Brooklyn after family moved to a residence on that borough’s Ocean Parkway. Her parents were divorced when she was five, and her father disappeared from her life. She would later take her mother’s maiden name

A wealthy uncle paid for Bacall’s schooling at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls in Tarrytown, New York, and at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. In 1941, Bacall studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Kirk Douglas was a classmate), working as a fashion model and ushering at the St. James Theatre to pay for her studies.

In 1942, Bacall made her Broadway debut in a small part in a play called Johnny 2 X 4. She was just 17 years old. That same year, she was crowned Miss Greenwich Village, which is where she was living with her mother at that time.

During this time, Bacall volunteered as a hostess at NYC’s Stage Door Canteen on Monday nights, when the theatres were dark.

In 1943, Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Director Howard Hawks‘ wife, Slim, spotted Bacall on the cover and convinced her husband to test the young model for his upcoming film, To Have and Have Not. Hawks asked his secretary to find out more about Bacall, but the secretary misunderstood and instead sent Bacall a ticket to Hollywood. Upon meeting Bacall, Hawks signed her to a seven-year contract.

Lauren Bacall lived in the Dakota at 72nd and Central Park West, the same building where John Lennon resided with spouse Yoko Ono (who still lives there). Bacall once told an interviewer that she heard the shot that killed the former Beatle near the building’s entrance, but thought it was a vehicle backfiring.

Bacall was a two-time Tony award winner, in the category of Best Actress (Musical), in 1970 for her role as Margo Channing in Applause! and in 1981 for Woman of the Year.

Bacall was nominated for one Oscar, in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) and she was awarded a honorary Oscar in 2010 in recognition of her place in the Golden Age of motion pictures. Bacall was the only Oscar winner to have been married to two other Oscar winners (Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards).

Her autobiography, By Myself, was a 1980 National Book Award winner.

Happy birthday, Lauren Bacall, wherever you may be!

Lauren Bacall

Happy 106th Birthday, Claire Trevor!

The great Claire Trevor was born Claire Wemlinger 106 years ago today in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She grew up in Larchmont, New York, and after graduating high school, spent six months studying at NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Art before beginning a theatrical career, first in stock theatre and later on Broadway.

Claire Trevor

In the early 1930s, Trevor appeared in short films for the NYC-based Vitaphone studios before moving into feature films in 1933. Over the next six years, she kept very busy, averaging six pictures per annum. In 1937, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Dead End.

Trevor appeared in a number of Westerns over the years, frequently costarring opposite John Wayne. In one of those oaters, 1954’s The High and The Mighty, she received the third of her three Best Supporting Actress nominations.

But it was in the genre of film noir that Trevor made her most indelible mark. In films such as Murder, My Sweet (1944), in which she costarred with Dick Powell; Born to Kill (1947), in which she appeared opposite Lawrence Tierney Raw Deal (1948), with Dennis O’Keefe, she played hard-boiled dames with hearts of gold, and her work in these dark and gritty pictures made her one of the queens of that genre. It was in Key Largo (1948), in which she costarred with Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that she earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, playing Gaye Dawn, gangster’s moll and former nightclub singer,

Trevor also enjoyed success in radio and television in a career that spanned six decades, winning an Emmy for her work in a 1957 small-production of Dodsworth. Late in life, Trevor was generous in her support of the arts, and the University of California-Irvine named its School of Performing and Visual Arts after her. Her Oscar and Emmy statuettes are on display in the Arts Plaza there.

Claire Trevor died in 2000 in Newport Beach, California, at the age of 90.

Happy birthday, Ms. Trevor, wherever you may be.