Kirk Douglas says his appearance at the Academy Awards last month brought him so much attention that he “felt like a bobby-soxer.”
“I made 90 pictures, and now everybody in the restaurants and on the street are like, ‘Oh Kirk!’ ” Douglas said with a laugh. “I think I got paid more attention for those three minutes on the Oscars than anything I have ever done.”
That moment may have earned him accolades, but the 94-year-old actor and Amsterdam native says his greatest career achievement was more than 50 years ago, when, as producer and star of “Spartacus,” he helped end the McCarthy-era in Hollywood by crediting blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
“Everybody advised me not to do it because you won’t be able to work in this town again and all of that. But I was young enough to say to hell with it,” Douglas recalled during a recent interview. “I think if I was much older, I would have been too conservative: Why should I stick my neck out? But I put his name on it, and that broke the blacklist.”
Douglas will discuss “Spartacus” and other aspects of his life and career before presenting a screening of the 1960 Stanley Kubrick epic at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood on April 29 as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.
The actor said it’s important to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film and its themes of freedom, both on and off screen.
“When I look back, it’s a remarkable picture,” he said. “And it’s so fitting now because Spartacus was one of the first fighters for freedom, and fights for freedom are happening all over the Middle East.”
The actor’s own fight for freedom behind the scenes with “Spartacus” took place at a time when “our country was in a very divisive mood,” he said. McCarthyism and fear of Communism was rampant in the United States, and the blacklist prevented screenwriters and other entertainers suspected of having ties to the Communist party from working in Hollywood.
“The studios, I thought they were cowards,” Douglas said. “They endorsed the blacklist and anyone on the blacklist could not set foot in the studio and they couldn’t write a script, at least under their own name.”
Two rival studios raced to make “Spartacus,” Douglas said, and he hired Trumbo, who was blacklisted and jailed for refusing to testify about Communism in Hollywood, to write the script because he was good and worked quickly.
He wrote under the name Sam Jackson, but Douglas said he didn’t feel right about putting the false name on screen.
“That night I had an epiphany. I said to hell with it. I’m going to use Dalton Trumbo’s name,” Douglas said. “When I reflect on my career, the thing I’m most proud of is that I broke the blacklist.”
Douglas’ introduction of “Spartacus” is among dozens of special events scheduled during the TCM Classic Film Festival from April 28 to May 1, which is set to include appearances by Peter O’Toole, Warren Beatty, Alec Baldwin, Roger Corman, Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney. Related programming will air on the network.