Icon: Kirk Douglas
Kirk Douglas rose from being “the ragman’s son” (the name of his best-selling 1988 autobiography) to become a bona fide superstar. Also known as Issur Danielovitch Demsky, was the Son of Jewish immigrants. Although growing up in a poor ghetto, Douglas was a fine student and a keen athlete and wrestled competitively during his time at St. Lawrence University. Professional wrestling helped pay for his studies as did working on the side as a waiter and a bellboy. However, he soon identified an acting scholarship as a way out of his meager existence, and was sufficiently talented to gain entry into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He made his Broadway debut in “Spring Again” before his career was interrupted by World War II. He joining the United States Navy in 1941, and then after the end of hostilities in 1945, returned to the theater and some radio work. On the insistence of ex-classmate Lauren Bacall, movie producer Hal B. Wallis screen-tested Douglas and cast him in the lead role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). His performance received rave reviews and further work.
Unknown to many, Kirk has long been involved in humanitarian causes and has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Department since 1963. His efforts were rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1981), and with the Jefferson Award (1983). Furthermore, the French honored him with the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. More recognition followed for his work with the American Cinema Award (1987), the German Golden Kamera Award (1987), The National Board of Reviews Career Achievement Award (1989), an honorary Academy Award (1995), Recipient of the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1999) and the UCLA Medal of Honor (2002). Despite a helicopter crash and a stroke suffered in the 1990s, he remained active and continued to appear in front of the camera. Until his passing on February 5 2020 at the age of 103, he and Olivia de Havilland were the last surviving major stars from the Golden Years of Hollywood.