Actor Kirk Douglass poses for a portrait at his home on November 7, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.
Kirk Douglas is an American Film Icon and Legend, and is one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. He is no. 17 on AFI’s greatest male American screen legends of all time, making him the highest-ranking living person on that list. He’s appeared in such classic movies as Spartacus, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Lust for Life.
So when I got a request from his Alma Mater St. Lawrence University to shoot him at his home in Beverly Hills, I jumped at the chance. It’s not every day you get to shoot a Hollywood Legend in his house! Kirk and his wife just recently graciously donated 5 million to the University to extend the scholarship program for ethnic minority students. Born Issur Danielovitch, Douglas was a son of jewish immigrants raised in the New York area. Legend has it that as a young man Douglas jumped off the back of a turnip truck at the University, talked his way into the school, and received a loan which he paid back working part-time as a gardener and janitor. There is just a myriad of wonderful and interesting stories from Kirk Douglas’s life, but other than his indelible mark he has left on Hollywood, it may be his mission as Hollywood’s most generous philanthropist that he may be remembered most for (he has donated 50 million this year alone to multiple charities and non-profits!).
So it was no surprise when we showed up to the beautiful Douglas residence in Beverly Hills, California, walking distance to Sunset Blvd and the famous Beverly Hills Hotel, that I would not be impressed with this man. Even though he suffered a stroke several years back slightly impairing his speech, I could understand everything he said and could see he was as sharp as a knife. We didn’t have much time to get this done, so my assistant and I walked into his house ready to shoot with a Nikon D800, 24-70mm lens, PocketWizard Plus III synched to a Profoto 7b pack and light with a beauty dish + diffuser. He graciously invited us into his house where we met his wife and assistant, and led us directly to this first spot where he wanted to set up a shot. His house was beautifully but not extravagantly decorated with art that you would recognize, masks and relics from around the world, and pictures of his family (yes there were a couple of Catherine Zita-Jones and Michael Douglas). He took us to beautiful and quaint garden area where we set up a shot in front of an incredible sculpture of multiple busts of himself, and a bench nearly where we shot several of Kirk his wife Anne, and the president of St. Lawrence University and his wife. After a couple minutes of shooting and telling him that my favorite movies he starred in were Spartacus and Lust for Life (where he played a tortured Vincent Van Gogh and should have received an Oscar for his performance), we shook hands again and left.
It was a pleasure to shoot one of the Hollywood greats that I grew up watching and admiring on the big screen, and was worth the four hour roundtrip drive in LA traffic from San Diego.