The great Kirk Douglas died on February 5, 2020, at the age of 103. Here are 10 things you should know about the life and career of this Hollywood legend.
Here are 10 things you should know about Kirk Douglas, who is celebrating his 103rd birthday today. Here’s wishing him many happy returns of the day!
Gregory Peck was born Eldred Gregory Peck 101 years ago in La Jolla, California. Here are 10 GP Did-You-Knows:
- Peck’s father, a druggist in San Diego, and his mother divorced when Peck was just five years old, and he was sent to live with his grandmother, who took him to the movies every week. He studied pre-med UC-Berkeley and there became interested in acting. While at UC Berkeley, Peck was a houseboy for the school’s chapter of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. (Atta boy, Greg!)
- After graduating from UC-Berkeley, Peck moved to NYC to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He debuted on Broadway in 1942 in an Emlyn Williams play, The Morning Star. By 1943, he’d returned to Southern California, where he made his motion picture debut in the RKO film Days of Glory (1944).
- Stardom came quickly for Peck, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his second film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). In all, he was nominated as Best Actor five times, finally winning the Academy Award in 1963 for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck was the first California native to earn the Best Actor nod.
- Mockingbird was Peck’s favorite among his pictures, and he said of Atticus, “I can honestly say that in twenty years of making movies I never had a part that came close to being the real me until Atticus Finch.”
- Peck, along with Dorothy McGuire, Mel Ferrer and David O. Selznick, was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse. His busy schedule didn’t allow him to return to Broadway, but the Playhouse allowed him to occasionally scratch his itch to work in live theatre.
- In 1969, Peck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Peck, a liberal Democrat, strongly considered challenging Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, when Reagan ran for reelection in 1970, but decided against it at the last minute despite strong encouragement from state and national Democratic officials.
- In 1980, Peck volunteered to be TV spokesperson for the then-struggling Chrysler Corporation out of concern for the 600,000 jobs that would be lost if the company went under.
- In 1997, Peck was a presenter at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awards ceremony. “It just seems silly to me,” he said at the time, “that something so right and simple has to be fought for at all.” Peck was also a vocal supporter of AIDS fund-raising efforts.
- Peck was close friend to Michael Jackson for the final quarter-century of the pop star’s life, often going horseback riding with Jackson at the singer’s Neverland Ranch.
Happy birthday, Gregory Peck, wherever you may be!
- 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!