On screen, Kirk Douglas was a legendary tough guy. But in his real life he wasn’t afraid to express his emotions, especially to his wife, Anne.
That sensitive side is on display in the book “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood,” which comes out next week. For example, there’s a letter Kirk wrote to Anne while in Munich filming Stanley Kubrick’s stark 1957 drama “Paths of Glory.”
How is it that when I am away from you, such love for you overwhelms me at 2:30 in the morning-as it is now-I awake to write to you. How incomplete I seem without my family. How can a man live alone? To live just for yourself is to be dead. And yes I welcome this parting from you to to rekindle my awareness of how much you mean to me.
The early hour brings out the poetic side of me.”
To be sure, the Douglas’ nearly 63-year marriage had its ups and downs. Kirk Douglas cheated on his first wife Diana Dill, who is son Michael’s mother, and early in their marriage was unfaithful to Anne. In an interview a few years ago Anne said: “After 60 years of marriage, you go through a lot of obstacles — and all of them were beautiful.”
But they are soul mates who dealt with the untimely death of their younger son Eric, who was bipolar and struggled with drug addiction; her breast cancer; and his 1996 stroke, which affected his speech. And on this sunny afternoon they couldn’t be closer, sitting side by side on the sofa of the living room of their art-filled Beverly Hills ranch home. Anne uses a walker because she broke her hip; Douglas has a walker with wheels and, true to form, he rushes into the living room like a speed demon.
The book not only features their letters but interviews that were conducted separately about their lives.
“Kirk always said a novel, you tell the truth; a biography, you lie,” said Anne. But in the case of this book, said Kirk, they have both told the truth.
Originally, Kirk wanted to write a book about the letters he had written and received from “all over the world. Suddenly, I came across a letter that my wife had written to me 50 years ago. I said ‘it’s too bad we don’t have letters of 50, 60 years ago.’ She said, ‘I have them. She has this big box of letters. I said ‘Let’s make a book of that.’”
Anne is the more practical of the two; Kirk is more off the cuff. And those differences have led to arguments — with Anne’s instincts winning most of the battles.
“She saved my life,” said Kirk. Back in 1958 they had a home in Palm Springs next to good friends Elizabeth Taylor and her producer-husband Mike Todd. Douglas was asked by Todd to accompany him to New York on a small plane.
“He was going to go to New York to get an award and he asked me to present it to him,” he recalled.
“First you wanted to go because he was going to stop in Independence, Mo., to see President Truman and then go to New York to present the award,” noted Anne.
But Anne had a strange feeling about the flight and told him not to take it.
“She talked me out of it,” said Kirk. “I said, OK, I won’t go.’ I was so mad. The next day we were driving back to L.A. and I turned on the radio and it said Mike Todd’s plane crashed. Everybody was killed.”
It was not love at first sight for the two. The German-born Anne Buydens lived in Paris when she met Douglas.
“I had done the public relations in Paris on ‘Moulin Rouge,’” Anne said. “I worked with John Huston for about year. I had another movie to do after ‘Moulin Rouge.’ The director [Anatole Litvak] wanted me to be the PR lady on the movie ‘Act of Love’ with Kirk Douglas.”
A photographer friend on the movie took her to meet Kirk. “He said, ‘Come on, let me take you to the lion’s den,”’ recalled Anne; Kirk had been photographed in the Paris press with a succession of beautiful women.
Kirk admitted “when I first asked her to work for me, she said no. I was surprised.” Eventually, though, she agreed to work on a trial basis.
“Then we were very good friends,” said Anne. “I promised myself I wouldn’t get involved with such a handsome man, knowing he was to go back to America.” Especially since Douglas was then engaged to the young actress Pier Angeli, whom he met on the 1953 film “The Story of Three Loves.”
“When things got a little too warm between us, he’d say ‘Don’t forget, I’m engaged,’” said Anne looking over at a smiling Kirk. “I said ‘I won’t forget.’’’
But that all changed of course — and the rest is history recorded in these letters.
“Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood”
Running Press, $25