Kirk Douglas is going to spend part of his 102nd birthday Sunday talking to his 99-year-old sister in Schenectady.
Ida Sahr, the younger sister of the iconic movie star, will be sending her brother birthday wishes via FaceTime, according to Marilyn Gordon, Douglas’s niece and Sahr’s daughter. A native of Amsterdam, as is her brother, Sahr has lived in Schenectady for more than 50 years.
“We have it all set up, and we’ve been doing this for a while,” said Gordon, a Glenville resident who flew out to California two years ago to help celebrate her uncle’s 100th birthday. “They look at each other and talk, and she sings him happy birthday.”
Gordon said she has been in touch with Douglas’s family recently.
“He has his limitations, but he’s doing pretty well, just like my mother,” said Gordon. “We’re doing the best we can, and while it’s unfortunate that neither one can travel anymore, they still do stay in touch. He’s going to celebrate with his family, and we’ll do the same here. We’re also going to celebrate on Feb. 24 when Ida turns 100.”
Sunday at 2 p.m., the Historic Amsterdam League will have its own celebration of Douglas’s birthday when it puts up a historic marker at the corner of East Main and Eagle Street in Amsterdam where Douglas grew up.
“If things go right I’ll be heading over there with my cousin,” Gordon said, referring to Sunday’s ceremony in Amsterdam. “That’s where they lived when they grew up.”
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch on Dec. 9, 1916, the son of Russian Jews who had earlier emigrated to the U.S. Herschel Danielovtich, his father, had arrived in 1908 from Belarus, and Douglas’s mother, Bryna, came two years later in 1908.
Douglas was the lone boy in a family of six siblings. All are deceased except for him and Sahr. Douglas penned his autobiography in 1988 and named the book, “The Ragman’s Son.”
Known as Izzy Demsky when he was growing up, Douglas was a good student and after graduating from Wilbur H. Lynch High School in Amsterdam in 1935, he went to St. Lawrence University where he became president of the student body, a member of the Dramatic Society and a standout on the college’s wrestling team.
Douglas graduated from St. Lawrence in 1939, his acting talent helping him land a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. His promising acting career, he had already been on Broadway, was interrupted by World War II as Douglas spent much of 1943 and 1944 on an anti-submarine craft in the Pacific Theater. He was medically discharged in 1944 after being injured when a depth charge failed to work correctly.
After the war, Douglas headed to Hollywood and got his first big break with the help of fellow actor Lauren Bacall. Urged by Bacall, Douglas got the lead role in “The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers,” and his film career took off.
He earned his first Oscar nomination in 1949 for “Champion,” and remained a huge box office star for nearly the next four decades. He made his final public visit to upstate New York when he visited Amsterdam and his sister in Schenectady in 1985.
The marker being put up Sunday was funded by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
“We are so happy to be allied with the Pomeroy Foundation on this project,” said Rob von Hasseln, president of the Historic Amsterdam League. “Their demands for accuracy and significance are rigorous and we feel validated that we passed the test.”