Playgrounds for body, mind

Times Staff Writer

Forget swings and rings and monkey bars. When film legend Kirk Douglas was a kid, playground equipment was unavailable. He played stickball in the street, and when somebody smashed a ball through a window, "We all ran home!" he recalled.

So when his wife, Anne Douglas, came to him in 1997 with the idea of using funds from their charitable foundation to help rehabilitate deteriorating L.A. school playgrounds, he was skeptical about the need. But 208 playgrounds later, he says the process of replacing rusted or splintered equipment has been a rewarding experience. "To go out on the new playgrounds with the kids and see them smile is a huge thrill," he said.

He was among more than 500 guests who gathered to honor Anne Douglas at the Town and Gown of USC's benefit luncheon on March 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Each year, the prestigious 99-year-old university support group recognizes a community leader at its benefit for student scholarships, said Carol Fox, president. "Anne Douglas has done so much for L.A. schools, we felt she was deserving of the honor." Proceeds of $50,000 will be used to create a scholarship in her name.

It was a newspaper article in The Times "about the deplorable condition of L.A. playgrounds" that motivated Anne Douglas to call then-Mayor Richard Riordan about donating money to help improve them. Funding wasn't a problem, she said, because the couple had just raked in $5 million from the auction of their collection of Impressionist art. "We had these wonderful paintings and, when we moved from one house to another, we agreed they were beautiful and that our kids had enjoyed them, but it was time to sell the collection and do something special with the proceeds," she said. She has a goal of rebuilding 400 playgrounds, with each school receiving a minimum grant of $25,000 from the Anne and Kirk Douglas Foundation.

"My husband and I feel that children get a little shortchanged," she said. "And, after all, they're our future. We wanted them to have a better life."

The couple plan to attend the Oscars ceremony, at which their son, Michael, will join his father to present one of the awards. The dimple-chinned elder Douglas, who starred in "Spartacus" and "Lust for Life," is betting on his daughter-in-law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, to pick up a best supporting actress statuette for her work in "Chicago."

"I liked the picture so much I saw it twice," he said. "And I don't think I've seen one of my own pictures twice."

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