Although Kirk Douglas, who died yesterday at the age of 103, was known primarily as a movie star, he was also a veteran of Broadway.
Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916 to an impoverished Yiddish speaking immigrant family in upstate New York, he put himself through St. Lawrence University by working as a janitor. Then, moving to Manhattan, he was given a special scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he befriended classmate Betty Joan Perske — stage name Lauren Bacall.
Graduating in 1941, he recalled, “my first job was on Broadway. Then I went into the Navy. When I came out of the Navy, I went back to Broadway. A friend of mine, Lauren Bacall, was in Hollywood filming with Humphrey Bogart. She told one of her producers I was great in my play, and he saw it and cast me in ‘The Strange Love of Martha Ivers'” — as the lead opposite Barbara Stanwyck. That was in 1946, the first of more than 80 films over the next six decades, including Champions, Paths of Glory, Lust for Life, and Spartacus. More on Douglas’s film career.
As to his Broadway career, a list of the eight shows in which he performed:
Spring Again (Nov 10, 1941 – Jan 10, 1942) starring Brace George and C. Aubrey Smith, in which Douglas played a singing messenger boy.
The Three Sisters (Dec 21, 1942 – Apr 03, 1943) in which he played an orderly.
Kiss and Tell (Mar 17, 1943 – Jun 23, 1945), in which he replaced the juvenile lead as
Lieut. Lenny Archer
Trio (Dec 29, 1944 – Feb 24, 1945): Ray MacKenzie
Alice in Arms (Jan 31, 1945 – Feb 03, 1945): Steve
The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945): Soldier
Woman Bites Dog (Apr 17, 1946 – Apr 20, 1946): Hopkins
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Nov 13, 1963 – Jan 25, 1964: Randle P. McMurphy
Kirk Douglas returned to the stage in 2009 for a one-man show entitled “Before I Forget,” recounting his life, in the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, California. In it, he told the story of his first acting gig, in a kindergarten play. His father, who sold rags in a horse-drawn cart, spent most of his free time in the corner saloon, ignoring his only son. But he actually showed up for this school performance.
“After the show, not a word was said. He bought me an ice cream cone. That ice cream cone was my Oscar. From that day on, I was determined to be an actor.”