In 1953, I was a successful movie star arriving in Paris for the first time. I knew no one and spoke no French. It wouldn't be a problem. Beautiful Parisians might love to be seen with Kirk Douglas, the Hollywood leading man, even though they never would have looked twice at Issur Danielovitch, the ragman's son from Amsterdam, N.Y. The way I figured it, we both got pleasure from these fleeting entanglements.
So it was a big blow to my theory when I met Anne Buydens. She came in to help me with press and translation during the filming of "Act of Love." I offered her a job, and she said, "No, I can recommend someone else, but I will be going to New York soon." OK, I thought, I'll take this young beauty to dinner at the most romantic (and expensive) restaurant in Paris, La Tour d'Argent. She's sure to approve of my taste and my ability to get a last-minute reservation. Once again, she turned me down. "No, I think I'll stay in and have some scrambled eggs," she said.
The fact that I didn't impress her certainly impressed me, and I was determined to win her over. Anyone who knows my story knows the rest. She did join the production, and we courted in France and Italy. After I returned to the States, I invited her to come for a visit.
We had a wonderful time together. And then she announced she was going back to Paris. I'm not proud that it took me until then to realize how much I didn't want to lose her, and I'm not proud that I put so little thought into our wedding. I was making "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" for Walt Disney, working six days a week. I left the studio on a Saturday afternoon and picked up Anne, my lawyer and my publicist, and we flew to Las Vegas. Anne and I joined our lives before a hastily summoned justice of the peace. I was eager to get the vows over with so I could take everyone to my pal Frank Sinatra's show at the Desert Inn.
I don't know why Anne stuck with me through those early decades. If anyone I worked with is still alive, they will attest that I wasn't Mr. Popularity. I had a lot of anger matched by a lot of arrogance. Some people put up with me, I think, simply because I had such a wonderful wife. Everyone loved her, including my first wife and my two eldest sons, Michael and Joel.
Anne never tried to change me, but she never hesitated to speak her mind — usually gently and often with great humor and subtlety. But she did change me and very much for the better. I began to see my native land through the eyes of a naturalized American who had lived through Nazi occupation and the terrors of war. I learned not to take our rights and privileges for granted. Anne joined me as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. Information Agency, and we traveled to more than 40 countries, paying our own way. I received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but she should have received one too.
Over the years, Anne has run my production company, raised our sons and encouraged me to join her in good works. We rebuilt 401 Los Angeles Unified School District playgrounds. Through the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission, we have seen hundreds of women turn around their lives. There is Harry's Haven (named after my father) for Alzheimer patients at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills and, of course, the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
Anne has saved my life more than a few times. With uncanny intuition, she refused to let me join Mike Todd on his fateful flight east. We stopped speaking over that one until we heard the news the next morning. Elizabeth Taylor became a widow, but not my Anne. When I had my stroke 17 years ago, she drove me to the hospital like a Formula One racer. And when I wallowed in self-pity because of my impaired speech, she made me get up and work with a speech therapist. To this day, I write her love poems; to this day, she continues to give me tough love.
On our golden anniversary in 2004, I finally gave Anne the wedding she never had at Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills, with some 300 guests sharing our happiness. She surprised me by converting to Judaism before the ceremony, which was held under the traditional wedding canopy with our friend Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple officiating.
This year, I was superstitious about planning a celebration too far in advance of our May 29 diamond anniversary. After all, I am only three years shy of my personal centennial, and my Spartacus days are well behind me. But my son Michael and his wife, Catherine, were determined to help us celebrate our 60th anniversary in style.
They surprised us with a magical night with family and friends. Once again, we were at Greystone Manor, now transformed into an alfresco Cocoanut Grove-style nightclub. Anne looked as glamorous as she had the day she walked into my life in Paris, and I was proud to be by her side. A newly engaged friend asked, "Kirk, why did your marriage last so long?"
"That's easy," I replied. "I just told my wife, if you ever leave me, I'm going with you!"
Douglas, an actor-producer and the author of 10 books, lives in Beverly Hills. He recently completed a book of original poems titled "Life Could Be Verse."