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Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas, a film star who had recently completed two films, Paths of Glory and The Vikings, talks to Wallace about acting, fame, the charge that Hollywood films misrepresent America abroad, Nazis, Communists, and European versus American women.

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Guest: Kirk Douglas

WALLACE: Good evening. Tonight I shall ask Kirk Douglas, you see him behind me, to answer the charge that Hollywood films misrepresent America abroad. I shall ask him how he, as a Jew, feels about employing former Nazis, and I'll ask Kirk to evaluate European women as opposed to their American sisters. Which are you are about to see is unrehearsed, uncensored. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.



WALLACE: A month ago we went to Munich, Germany, where Kirk Douglas had made two films: one, a gripping war drama Paths of Glory; the other, a spectacular adventure film called The Vikings. Just the day before our interview, Mr. Douglas had completed shooting on The Vikings for which he had grown his hair long and he hadn't yet had the chance to see his barber. And so, to Munich...Kirk Douglas was born the son of a poor immigrant junk dealer in upstate New York. He worked his way through college, where incidentally he became a wrestling champion, and then he nearly starved as an unemployed actor in New York City. But just after the Second World War a then unknown actress by the name of Lauren Bacall recommended him to a Hollywood film studio and Mr. Douglas Hollywood career had begun. He's now one of the country's highest paid film actors as well as an independent film producer. Kirk, first of all let me ask you this: in view of your struggles to get where you are today, I'd like your opinion of this analysis of Hollywood by columnist Max Lerner in The New York Post, December 17th, 1951. He said; "What lures actors to Hollywood? It’s money, beauty, acclaim and the dream of love... When success comes" he said; "it is bewildering. It hits them either when they are so young that their life beliefs have not yet been formed, or else it bowls them over reversing all their past beliefs and tearing them up by the roots". And he finishes "The prime cult is that of success, and the obsessive fear is of failure". Now that's not a particularly attractive portrait of Hollywood and stardom. Is it an accurate portrait?

DOUGLAS: Well, that's a big hunk to answer Mike... I must say this, that the statement as you read it to me, I certainly find a lot of it that I agree to and parts of it that I'm not quite so sure about.

WALLACE: What lured you to Hollywood?

DOUGLAS: Well, I was always frightened about going to Hollywood. The thing that really lured me to Hollywood was at the time I went to Hollywood I was broke. You see I never had any intentions of being a movie star. I never thought I was the type. My only aim was to become a stage actor, so it was a very simple thing. At one time I wrote a check out for fifteen dollars, the check came back, no funds and I know enough about economics to know that I was broke. Sooo... At that time, someone had asked me to come to Hollywood so I thought I'd take a chance.

WALLACE: Well, wait now...There's...


WALLACE: There's an article about you in Coronet Magazine back in February of '53, and said this about you as a young actor in New York. It said, "Douglas would stand in Central Park alone and look up at the topmost floor of the swank hotels, watch the twinkling lights, wonder who the people were in those rooms, what they were doing and he vowed that he would be in those suites himself, someday. So that's what I mean, when I say, "What lures actors to Hollywood, money, beauty, acclaim, the dream of love?".

DOUGLAS: Well, I think that part of it is true, but that might have been fulfilled on New York stage. Had I been successful instead of being in consistent flops I might had been able to get into that penthouse in a New York hotel, by working on the New York stage

WALLACE: But wait... ...it was stardom, it was stardom that interested you...

DOUGLAS: Well, let me put it this way. You see, and to go back to this statement of Mr. Lerner's that you made, you see, every actor, I think when he begins, he never thinks of being a star, he thinks of being an actor. I assume that he's an actor because he loves acting or would like to act. Now the thing that he doesn't reckon with is what happens when you become a star. Now that's quite a different thing.

WALLACE: All right, you tell us what happens when you become a star?

DOUGLAS: Well, what happens when you become a star is that you suddenly find that you're a tremendous big business. You're no longer just a fellow who says, "Gee, I'd like to play this part or I'd like to play that". If you become a star, you're big business. You become a man who there are many people who depend upon you for their livelihood. And I think it becomes sort of a monster and I think that what Mr. Lerner said in his statement there, one thing is very true, is that becomes the most difficult thing to adjust to. It's not to acting. Acting you feel you've worked on all your life, you like to feel that you're a capable actor you know your business, but what you are never prepared for, is to have a sudden success thrown on you. I never went to any school that taught me how to handle that, and that becomes a difficult thing to cope with. It also has a price; there's a price that goes with it. There's a lot of things about fame that make it make make it difficult living for an actor.

WALLACE: Like for instance?

DOUGLAS: Well, your lack of privacy. Like the fact that right now here I am, on your program, a little nervous while you are sort of dissecting me. Well this is what -- whatever fame I have has gotten me into.

WALLACE: Kirk, do you like adulation? Uh... The last day that I have been here in Munich with you, there's been a tremendous amount of talk about Kirk Douglas. Does it ever worry you that perhaps there's too much talk about yourself and that you are forced to talk almost exclusively about you, the star?

DOUGLAS: Well, of course, that's one of the hazards of our profession. You know, sometimes it gets awfully boring to keep talking about yourself. You don't find yourself that exciting but I certainly, like adulation. I know often I've thought well how I wish I had more privacy but I must confess, Mike, that if suddenly tomorrow I walk down the street and no one recognized me and no one knew who I was, I don't think I'd like it.

WALLACE: What is it about being an actor that is so exciting and so important to you?

DOUGLAS: Well, it's...er... Mike let me say it let me put it this way. Everybody works out a way that they want to express themselves in life. Somebody says they want to be a doctor and it may be very hard for them to say exactly, well why do they want to he a doctor. They may have some highfaluting notions, well - they want to help people. I have always wanted to be an actor and I'm not even certain just why I've wanted to be an actor. All I know is, that's the one thing that I've always wanted to do. I wanted to be an actor.

WALLACE: Kirk uh.. of course, is a hard thing to answer in capsule fashion, but tell me, do you think that you are a happy man? Do you consider yourself a pretty contented fellow?

DOUGLAS: Yes.. I consider myself quite a happy man. I don't consider myself to ever be completely one hundred percent happy, I don't think anyone is. But I think I'm very happy.

WALLACE: What makes you happy?

DOUGLAS: Because I'm doing the kind of work I want to do. I'm supporting all the people that I love and want to be able to take care of. I feel very fortunate in doing that and I think that's enough to make any man happy.

WALLACE: You know, Kirk, in a sense you're disregarding something that you're known to say rather frequently. You've said the thing that an actor fears most, is to stand naked, alone, with no script, no coaching, no director, talking about himself and personal issues. Now, why do so many Hollywood stars fear to stand up and speak their minds on the problems that affect all of us, about themselves.

DOUGLAS: Well, Mike, that's a very easily answered. To begin with, to specify for instance, on your own show, now I've never seen any of your shows before, but I've heard quite a bit about you. You're supposed to be a pretty rough boy, er... you're supposed to punch pretty hard in the clinches. Now, an actor is geared to play a role. Now I'm in “Gunfight at OK Corral,” I'm Doc Holliday, it's very simple for me to know all about that character and to hide behind that character.

I know what the script says and I know what the outcome's going to be. But, on the other hand, when I am sitting here now, being myself, that's the most difficult thing in the world for any actor, certainly for me, Because then you do feel naked, you don't have a script.

I look at you and I'm kind of envious, I see you looking at some notes and I suddenly think of all the wonderful writers I know and I think I wish they... had written a few wonderful phrases for me to say, tonight. But that isn't the case, but that's the reason why Mike, I feel that actors are afraid, as I am to a certain extent to be on your show or similar types of shows where they have to reveal themselves completely naked, so to speak.

WALLACE: Do you occasionally wish, Kirk, that you weren't an actor that you could be in a job in which your mind, your own creative mind, were brought more into play, that you could make your own personal impact, not as a personality, not as an actor, but as a mind, more felt upon the people with whom you come in contact?

DOUGLAS: Well, Mike I don't quite understand that question, because, I think any creative actor does make such an impact on the people.

WALLACE: But you're reading somebody else's words. Somebody else is telling you what to do, where to go, how to stand, what to say.

DOUGLAS: Well, then you don't understand what acting really is, and of course that would be quite a long conversation to go into. I mean acting is an interpretative art. I mean, you may hear Heifetz play the violin. He didn't write the piece, but oh, how he plays it, and that's what's wonderful, well that's what an actor tries to do. He may not have written the piece, but, what he wants to do is interpret it.

WALLACE: Here in Europe, Kirk, you hear a good many Europeans say that Hollywood films give the rest of the world a... the wrong understanding of America, That America becomes a country populated almost solely by gangsters, alcoholics, unfaithful mates, cowboys and Indians. Why doesn't Hollywood do a better job of telling the world what we're really like. Assuming, of course, that we aren't all, gangsters and alcoholics.

DOUGLAS: Well, Mike you're loading that question; I don't agree with it completely. You're assuming, then, that I agree with what you've just said and I don't. I certainly don't feel that movies, American movies, show America in that light. I mean, we have a wide range of movies and I can only say that in all the travels that I've made, in many parts of the country, that it's always amazed me, and given me a very nice feeling, that American movies are still the most popular movies in all countries all over the world.

WALLACE: Why do so few American motion picture companies make really adult films on adult themes. Themes that just might offend certain groups? Elia Kazan told us; he said, "It takes a lot of capital, equipment and manpower to produce films. They're expensive. For practical reasons: Movies hope to please everybody, offend nobody, sell tickets to everybody". So, with this kind of formula, how is it possible to make an adult film, which really would take a chance on offending somebody?

DOUGLAS: Well, I don't agree with Mr. Kazan's statement. There is a kind of an all inclusive statement that sounds rather effective as you 'echo' it, but I don't think that there's that much truth to it. Certainly movies can only exist if movies are successful,and every producer tries to make a movie that will be successful. And every producer tries to make a movie that would be successful. I'm sure that Mr. Kazan, when he did “Baby Doll,” he must have seen a lot of elements in that might appeal to people in general, and thought it might make a very successful movie. I don't think that he made this movie because he thought that he was fighting a crusade for something; he thought he was going to make a very exciting, entertaining movie. And I don't think it's true. As a matter of fact I think, very often, on the contrary, there's no industry in the world that has tried so much to make a movie just because it might be something that might be fine. For instance, I did “Lust for Life.” I certainly don't think they went ahead thinking, "Well this is going to be the most commercial picture in the world". They thought it would be wonderful to do a picture on Van Gogh. And I acted in it, because I thought it would be wonderful. I would love to play the life of Van Gogh because he excited me.

WALLACE: Yes, I saw you as Vincent Van Gogh and I thought to myself, here is one of the finest performances that I have ever seen. From now on I imagine Kirk Douglas will get involved in more important pictures. Pictures like the Van Gogh picture. And here you are back doing a four and a half million dollar spectacular with boats and waterfalls and Douglas Fairbanks...

DOUGLAS: Well, listen Mike, who is to say that “Lust for Life” is a more important picture than “The Vikings” or “The Vikings” is a more important picture than “Lust for Life.” It is all a point of view. You sound like rather a snob! I mean the fact that I make a picture about an artist like Van Gogh doesn't necessarily mean that this is an important picture. He happened to be an important, interesting character that I wanted to portray.

WALLACE: Kirk, just a half hour's ride from here in Munich is the Dachau concentration camp where the Nazis exterminated thousands of Polish and Jewish prisoners during the Second World War. You have visited Dachau, I know. You've seen the gas chambers and the ovens. As a Jew, how do you feel toward the Germans today?

DOUGLAS: It's a difficult question to answer. Because it's so hard really to believe that such things existed. I mean, even when you see them pointed out to you, it's very hard to believe. I think it's very hard for anyone to believe that these things actually existed. I think I have very many mixed feelings. After all, I have worked in Germany now for several months, and I have found myself very often very resentful, very bitter. And then, very often that's been compensated by the fact that I've run into some very wonderful people here... that I've enjoyed working with. So I can only answer your question by saying that I have many mixed feelings.

WALLACE: You have at least one former Nazi officer on your production staff of “The Vikings,” I'm told. And you hired another former Nazi officer to help you film your latest completed film before this one, “Paths of Glory.” Do you have any reluctance about working with former Nazi officers?

DOUGLAS: Well, I am not... I am not even aware whether or not we have former Nazi officers in our production, or not. Very honestly, I wouldn't even allow myself to think in those terms, because

WALLACE: Why not?

DOUGLAS: For the very simple reason that this would then necessitate a complete investigation of each person. I like to feel that the War is over. We are at peace, we're working together, otherwise there's no sense in my being here. If I come over here, as a private detective bureau of my own, to personally investigate each person, I would never be able to make a movie.

WALLACE: Er...There's a related issue. An estimated two to three hundred actors, writers, and directors were suspected of former communist activities. Would you knowingly hire a communist to work for you, in any capacity? Not in a sensitive capacity?


WALLACE: You would not.

DOUGLAS: I would not.

WALLACE: A former communist?

DOUGLAS: Well, when you say a former communist, I don't know what that means. That's a rather misleading question, Mike, if you permit my saying so...

WALLACE: That's perfectly all right.

DOUGLAS: But if you were... I can only answer, if I know someone is a communist I would prefer not to hire him.


DOUGLAS: Well, for the very simple reason that we are now at a point where the communistic doctrine seems to be completely diametrically opposed to the American point of view. I, myself, think of myself as someone who has benefited more, by the American way of life than most other people. This has been in sharp focus all the time that I've been here in Europe. You see, I realize Mike, very fully, that if I had stayed in Europe,

What I mean by that is, my parents had never come to America and by the way my parents came from Russia, or if I had been born, let us say in any part of Europe, with the same type of background, I don't think I would have had the remotest possibility to get a college degree, to go to a dramatic school, and become an actor as I am today. So for that reason I feel very strongly against anything that I feel in any way impairs that American way of life.

WALLACE: A star, an actor, a writer, a friend of yours, you did not know let us say, was a member of a party, during the late thirties, the early forties Now he's out of it completely... er... he confesses his error. Do you think that he should be deprived of a livelihood, that we should make it difficult for him.

DOUGLAS: Absolutely not. That's an entirely different point of view. There were years ago where... Years ago there was an entirely different point of view where people were thinking of... a... of communism as an interesting philosophy and an interesting way of life, but they never thought of it in terms of being something opposed to America, that's a different thing.

If I thought somebody had gone through that phase at one time and then, when it reached to a point where he said, "wait a minute, this way of a... this philosophy is completely against America I want no part of it.. "I see no reason why that particular kind of person should be deprived of a... a means of earning a livelihood in movies or in any other field.

WALLACE: Kirk, in just a moment I'd like to get some more of your opinions on the following, fairly controversial issues: Zionism, John Foster Dulles, Konrad Adenauer, preventive war, and European versus American women. And we'll get Kirk Douglas' answers to this in just sixty seconds.


WALLACE: All right Kirk, first of all Zionism.

DOUGLAS: Mike, I'm in favor of anything that helps develop Israel into a self-supporting strong nation. I think Israel represents the last bulwark of the kind of a country that America was at its very beginnings, so I am in favor of Zionism or any aspect of a movement that helps develop Israel to a strong country because I think this in turn helps America.

WALLACE: Are you, yourself, a Zionist?


WALLACE: You do not contribute to the Cause?


WALLACE: You do. Do you... feel that it is possible for an American to be a Zionist an at the same time be perfectly loyal to the United States?

DOUGLAS: But of Course.

WALLACE: John Foster Dulles.

DOUGLAS: I have many criticisms of the activities of the State Department as I've seen how they have affected me as an actor working in foreign countries.

WALLACE: How so?

DOUGLAS: Well, for example Mike, number one, I must admit that I think very often Europeans are never certain of what our stand is about many things. I wish there was much clarification. I also feel that as an actor we are not used as advantageously as we can be because movie stars are known all over the world and its always amazed me, Mike, that in all my travels I have never been contacted by any members of the State Department to help in any way that I can as an American.

WALLACE: Konrad Adenauer?

DOUGLAS: I am delighted that Konrad Adenauer won the election. Er... I feel Adenauer in many respects works in a dictatorial manner but, nevertheless, I would feel very shaky if Adenauer had lost this last election.

WALLACE: Preventive war?

DOUGLAS: Well, I wouldn't know how to answer that question, Mike, because there are so many ramifications to it to what exactly determines preventive war. Certainly, if there was no doubt, that... er... we were going to be attacked I would certainly say it is better to attack than be attacked; but I certainly would be in no position or have the knowledge to know what... to make that decision.

WALLACE: And now to European versus American women.

DOUGLAS: (LAUGHS)That's almost the toughest one of all. Er... At the risk of being trite... I would like to say that... "women are women, the world over" . Er... there are some good ones and there are some bad ones. Of course you have me at a slight disadvantage in this respect, because I have married an European woman because I was in love with her and felt that she would make me the best wife. At the same time, and I am sure my wife will understand this, I think that it is highly overrated that European women in general, make the best wives; I think it's purely an individual decision.

WALLACE: Where does this myth come from that European women make... are perhaps willing to walk a couple of steps behind their husband, whereas the American women wants to walk two abreast or... or a little bit ahead?

DOUGLAS: Well, Mike, you've answered your own question. That's exactly how this myth has started. Apparently in Europe and to a large extent this is true. It's much more of a man's world in little ways. You see, European women always say, "Oh! American men spoil their women", but they really don't understand because if American men spoil their women, they spoil their women in little ways.

On the other hand you will find that American men in general are much more aggressive and much more harder working, in the work that they do, even though that they will... they will... er... a give in so to speak to the women on many minor issues.

WALLACE: Well, I can testify, having had dinner with you and your wife just last evening, that you give in to your wife on minor issues and I can further testify to the fact that you're a very hard working gentleman. Kirk, I thank you so much for your hospitality to us here in Munich and I wish you all the good luck that you deserve with your production of “The Vikings.”

DOUGLAS: Thank you very much Mike, it was really fun talking with you.

WALLACE: When Kirk Douglas lost money in a card game during his college days his mother told him "Kirk, you were a fool. If you want to gamble, don't bet on cards. Bet on yourself ". As any good son should, Mr. Douglas has followed his mother's advice ever since. In the gamble that is Hollywood, Mr. Douglas has bet on himself time and time again. And as you can see, he is still way ahead of the game. In a minute we will meet next week's guest an international glamour queen.


WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of what it's like and what it takes to be an international sex symbol in films. And we'll get our story from Britain's blonde Diana Dors you see her behind me. If you're curious to know just what kind of girl becomes a glamour queen, her code of values, her ambitions, her regrets, her candid opinions of her public and of her own highly publicized personality and if you want to hear the end of this conversation with Diana Dors:

WALLACE: Now, that you are film star, is it all as cracked up to be.


WALLACE: All right, tell us why? But really tell us.

DIANA: All right, well, when I first began I had dreams of being a glamorous film star, like the film stars that I had seen on the screen and I had read about, and I thought what a wonderful life it must be; you don't work hard, you lie around, satins and silks all day and you have everybody sort of fawning over you, but when you have been in the business for a certain length of time you first of all come to realize that nobody gets there in the first place without a lot of hard work, disappointments and heart breaks...

WALLACE: Compromises?


WALLACE: Compromises with your own honesty?


WALLACE: What compromises? Tune in next week. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality House.