BEVERLY HILLS — A romantic interlude with Kirk Douglas or a night in with a plate of eggs?
The woman who captured Spartacus' heart opted for the eggs.
Douglas, who turned 100 in December, and his wife, Anne, 98, have been married for 63 years. But when they met on the Paris set of Act of Love (she, a film publicist, he, a famous film star), “she was terrible!” he recalls, sitting for a joint interview with Anne in their stylish living room.
“She was the most difficult woman I ever met. I mean, I was a big movie star! And I invited her to dinner and she said, 'Oh thank you very much, but I’m so tired —' "
Their sour meet-cute is detailed in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood (Running Press). The book is "my last," says Kirk. Co-written with his wife, it reveals candid letters the couple sent each other during their courtship and marriage.
Today, Anne, a colorful silk scarf wrapped around her neck, remembers their fateful meeting differently. With Kirk on the lookout for a bilingual press aide (Anne was fluent in German, French and English), she was led to his dressing room, coined “the lion’s den” by her cinematographer guide.
The movie star “took a look at me and then he said, ‘Would you like to have dinner tonight with my friends at some chic restaurant?’ And I said, 'No, thank you, I think I’ll go home and make myself some scrambled eggs.' ”
“Well,” she adds, “that was not what he expected.”
Kirk jumps in. “And to myself I said, 'You b----!' ” he says. Everyone — the couple's aides gathered in a corner, the onlookers from the publishing house, this reporter — breaks out in surprised laughter.
Kirk hired Anne, but things stayed platonic. "With no romance in the picture, I stopped trying to impress Anne," Kirk writes in their book. "Instead, I stopped talking about myself and began to listen to her."
Anne devilishly invited all his latest Parisian conquests over to his apartment on his birthday. Weeks later they attended a charity gala held at a circus, and Anne watched Kirk willingly jump into the fray, scooping elephant dung while wearing his tuxedo.
"That’s what got me,” says Anne today. “It was not only funny, it was showing me that he was able to do things that are not expected from him.”
But the lesson, to be blunt? Anne didn’t take any crap. “That’s right,” Kirk nods. “And she still doesn’t.”
Writing Kirk and Anne, the legendary actor's 11th book, was not the original plan. The star intended to publish a book full of letters he received from celebrities and dignitaries all over the world, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Tony Curtis and Barack Obama. Anne retrieved a box in which she kept important documents — including their old love letters.
"Darling," Kirk writes in the spring of their courtship, after a fight. "I have a feeling you're not coming back tonight. I hope I'm wrong! It's been a bad day for me and probably a worse one for you ... but I hope that you are here to read this and that I find you when I get back. Suddenly it seems stupid that I am going to dinner without you — Because believe it or not I love you!"
Kirk and Anne married in May 1954 and welcomed their son Peter the following year, but often were separated, thanks to his film shoots.
In May 1956 Anne, with a 5-month-old at home, closed out her contract with the Cannes Festival. "I am so sad and depressed — I don't think I ever wanted to be near you as much as right now," she writes. "The toilet paper is too hard, the coffee is too strong ... the telephones are impossible. Don't I sound like a true American? But even being a European broad, what on Earth am I doing here!!!"
Sifting through their fervent transatlantic writings, “I thought, 'My god, they don’t write letters anymore,' ” says Kirk.
Letters are "so personal, something that touches you or disappoints you," says Anne. "But today, you get an email. It does nothing to you! It’s cold. It’s the new world. I like the old world better."
And so the focus changed.
Wives of famous men are generally glossed over in the history books; it’s partly what makes Kirk and Anne such a fascinating piece of reclaimed Hollywood history. In early passages, Anne describes her well-heeled life before Kirk, a sharp contrast to his poor upbringing in New York as Issur Danielovitch, where Yiddish was the only language spoken at home. Anne was born in Germany to a successful businessman and was schooled in Switzerland before fleeing the Nazis and moving to Paris.
(Her keen eye would inspire the couple’s vast art collection, leading to a 1990 Christie's sale of their Chagalls, Mirós and Braques, filling coffers of the Douglas Foundation.)
When Anne finally agreed to date Kirk in 1953, his finances were a wreck, a fact unbeknownst to him. It was her questioning of his business manager that ultimately revealed her movie star beau was flat broke.
“So I’m going out with a man that’s poor?!” Anne recalls her shock, realizing their lavish life was funded not by Kirk, but by Hollywood studio daily allowances. "That is when my business education from my father rose to the surface, and I got somebody very knowledgeable about how to invest the salary that he gets when he makes a movie. It became a success. Today he is very, very philanthropic.”
On a warm afternoon, the two sit comfortably side-by-side, glasses of water on small tables within reach, an impressive pot of white orchids on the coffee table. Kirk’s 1996 stroke, from which he had to completely rebuild his ability to speak, slows his speech considerably, but the centenarian's faculties are razor sharp, as are Anne’s — proving it amusing, to say the least, to watch them razz each other.
At one point, Kirk reaches for his wife’s water. “You have some on your side,” she chides. “Oh!” he replies. "Yes.” Anne peeks impishly at him. “Mine tastes better," she says.
Kirk still refers to the time his wife refused to let him travel on a private plane from Palm Springs to New York with director Mike Todd (then married to Elizabeth Taylor), where Douglas was to present the director with an award. “My wife says, 'Why don’t you take a regular airplane?' ” recalls Kirk. “She kept insisting. And we had a big fight. I said, “ 'OK, I won’t go.' But I was very mad at her.”
On the car ride back to Los Angeles, “we didn’t talk,” says Anne, so Kirk turned on the radio to fill the silence. That’s when news broke that Todd’s plane crashed and everyone aboard was killed. “She saved my life,” he says.
How did Anne know to put her foot down? “I didn’t like private planes. Because I was afraid. Now, I’ve changed completely,” she laughs. “Sixty years have passed by and I like them!”
The past weaves with the present as they tell tales of their grandchildren (like everyone else's, glued to iPhones), the Space Race era that found Russian cosmonauts surreptitiously filling orange juice glasses with vodka in their living room, goodwill trips around the world and Sinatra cooking Italian suppers in their kitchen. “I was not a good cook,” says Kirk. “I was a good helper. He was a good cook.”
For those wondering, yes, Anne knew of her husband's marital transgressions, she writes in Kirk and Anne. "As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage," she writes. Her famous husband told her about those dalliances "himself, because I wanted to hear it from him directly, not via an idle piece of gossip."
Framed family photos decorate various surfaces, and as this reporter exited, Michael Douglas was striding in. Douglas, whose mother is Kirk's first wife, Diana Dill, writes the foreword to Kirk and Anne. (Anne and Kirk also had son Eric, who died in 2004; Kirk also fathered producer Joel Douglas with Dill.)
The couple still speaks French together occasionally at home (“not all the time,” says Kirk, “because my wife is so much better than I am”) and follows the news closely. Kirk, a longtime Democrat, says President Trump “better improve. … I hope he does better than he has. Because he has made a lot of mistakes.”
Politics bubbles up at the close of the day, "because whatever goes on in the world, including in this country, we talk about it," says Anne. "Because we feel sorry for the next generation. Because we have known the better life, the better years. And they are gone. And they won’t come back.”
“You’re a pessimist!” exclaims Kirk.
Technology to the rescue. “I gave him the iPad for his 100th birthday,” says Anne. “Every night we always have our what we call ‘golden hour’ about 6, 6:30 until 7:15 p.m., and then dinner. And during this golden time we each have our drink and used to talk about what happened during the day.
“Nowadays he takes his iPad that I gave him, I take my iPad and we both look at CNN or something like that. And we don’t talk!”
Now that is a modern marriage.