Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Person to Person: Kirk Douglas (1957)

Person to Person! Person to Person! I've been shouting it from the rooftops for a few days now... having come down only a little from my 1950's celebrity television clip induced high, I thought I would inform you e-readers of what has become my new You Tube obsession. Like mid-century interior design AND fifties' celebrities? Have I got a show for you.

Edward R. Murrow, a veteran news journalist you might remember from David Straithairn's portrayal of him in 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck, has many notable biographic moments, from his coverage of the German bombings of London during WWII to his critical role in the downfall of "red scare" Senator Joseph McCarthy. What you might not know about Mr. Murrow was his part in the popularization of a little thing called the celebrity interview.

I, for one, LOVE watching old newsreel footage of Ava Gardner or Stewart Granger graciously standing on the red carpet, giving a canned sentence or two about how much fun the film they've just shot was to make, or how happy they are to have had the opportunity to work with blah blah blah, because honestly, one brush with celebrities is better than no brush, and for a lot of us, that fifteen seconds of newsreel is about as close as we're going to get to off screen Hollywood Royalty.

However! From 1953 until 1959, Edward Murrow brought American audience across the nation into the homes of some of the most famous Tinseltown names to date.

From his studio easy chair in New York, Murrow, through the magic of television, would interview movie stars on the West coast, opening each show with: "Good evening, I'm Ed Murrow. And the name of the program is 'Person to Person'. It's all live – there's no film". No film?! Really live?!

As you're squinting at the tennis player above, lobbing the ball towards his off screen tennis mate, viewers would already be aware of the subject of this interview as:

Kirk Douglas! At forty, still some years from his career defining role as the Roman slave Spartacus, Douglas was just finishing work as Vincent van Gogh in the screen adaptation of Lust For Life (right) when he let viewers into his home for a dual interview with his wife, Belgian born Anne Buydens Douglas. "He lives in that Spanish Modern house, just off Sunset Boulevard," Murrow informs us. "Kirk, Anne, and his fifteen month old son Peter, moved in about five months ago. His sons Michael and Joel are at school in Connecticut."

Above, the first "live" view of the house includes a look at this magnificent pool and patio area out back. The Douglases are crossing from the tennis court area, past the huge pool, and eventually into the actual house. I love how tiny they look in comparison to their surroundings. Notice the banana palms, which KD notes do not actually bear fruit, but gosh don't they look glamorous?

See Kirk Douglas's pants well above his navel, in a black dress shirt, lighter sports coat, and white buck shoes... see wife Ann's cigarette length pants, black flats, and chic little cardigan! Cute, cute, cute. They enter the house while Kirk fields questions from Murrow.

"Kirk, is all this part of the reason why you wanted to be a movie star?"

"Well, you know, Ed, very seriously, I never even dreamed of being a movie star. My hope in life was always to be a Broadway actor. I've done about ten Broadway shows, but they were all flops. At least I was consistent. Then a friend of mine Lauren Bacall got Hal Wallis interested in giving me a screen test, I was a little frightened at first, I didn't think I was the type, but then after another flop, I wrote out a check for fifteen dollars, the check bounced, I thought maybe I oughta give Hollywood a try. So I came out here, Ed, and I will say Hollywood's been pretty nice to me."

I know there's a little bit of stilted-ness, or an aspect of preparedness put into the interview, as you'd have to carefully plan a show that's being broadcast live across the nation to avoid any technical hiccups, but wow! It's Kirk Douglas, in Kirk Douglas's home, talking about Kirk Douglas! In the age of MTV's Cribs, and entertainment news digest shows like Inside Edition and Access Hollywood, this is not so foreign a concept, but imagine, a few years even before Jackie Kennedy's inside tour of the White House, a major celebrity is giving us a peek inside their home!

See all the mid century modern decorative touches here? The square lamp shade on the right above what is either a desk or a small keyboard. The black lacquer panel behind him and its neat geometric design in gold. Can you make out the sky-high pinch pleat drapes in the far background?

I even like the couch they're sitting on.

" this the first time you've been to America?"

"No, I've been to America several times before, Ed, but only on a very short business trip. But this is the first time I live here, and as a matter of fact, my first trip to America was like giving an electric train to a little boy, and, uh, when I came to New York and walked on Fifth Avenue, I felt right away at home."

"And you thought, 'This is the place for you', right?"

"That's right!"

Anne Douglas speaks very good English in a slightly nasal, mildly accented voice. Kirk Douglas was engaged to the perpetually unlucky, gamine Pier Angeli at the time of his sailing for Paris to film Act of Love with Anatole Litvak... when he came back, he was married to Anne, who he'd initially engaged as a personal assistant in the City of Lights. Douglas boasts in his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, that he learned to speak fluent French in two months through intensive lessons with a tutor. Atta boy! Additionally, vive la France.

As Anne goes to pick up Peter from a nap he's taken so he can be awake for the program, Kirk explains that his production company, "Bryna", is named after his mother, who was so impressed when she first saw his name in lights as a movie actor, that he thought he would return the favor by putting HER name in lights. That's sweet, though. Bryna Productions went on to produce many of Douglas's most famous pictures, including Lonely Are the Brave, Cast a Giant Shadow, Paths of Glory, the aforementioned Spartacus, and one of my favorite mid-fifties' emotional turmoil movies Strangers When We Meet (Kim Novak, call me).

Next, Kirk Douglas shows us sketches from the art director of his next picture, The Vikings, which have "just come in from Stockholm".

"Don't you have any of your own paintings in the house?" Murrow asks.

"Ed, I'm not doing that well...I'm doing well enough to act in pictures about Van Gogh's life, but I'm not doing well enough to buy paintings by Van Gogh. By the way, Ed, I think I hear the talented member of our family, come with me, will you?"

What a cute family, right? I'm a little guilty that I spent more time in this second long segment oggling the fine lines of that couch next to the stairwell, the venetian blinds, and the Danish modern looking dining room table set in the far background than the little baby who would grow up to be television and movie producer. His brother, Eric, was born the next year, and his two older half-brothers, mentioned earlier in the interview, are super famous Michael and Joel (also a movie producer). Family business, right? Also, can you see the huge, possibly paper light fixture hanging next to the stair railing? Yes, a thousand times yes!

Here Kirk cradles his New York Critic's Circle award for his performance in Detective Story, which, up there with Ace in the Hole, is in my top five Douglas movies of all time. See the low-slung, Japanese style coffee table to the right, the huge blonde, wood-grain fireplace panel in the back.

More MCM decorations. As he talks about more career moves and motivations, I scrutinize his ottoman.

I love Anne Douglas's chic, moderate bouffant, and the perfect arch of her eyebrows. Below, last but not least, Kirk leads the camera and Mr. Murrow to his sons Michael and Joel's favorite part of the house. I was like... um, your pre-teenage boys' favorite part of the house is the bar? But it turns out this is not ONLY a wet bar, but actually does double service as a soda fountain (MUCH more wholesome). This reminds me of my dad's deep love of the Hamilton Beach Drinkmaster we had in our house growing up... he singlehandedly contributed more to childhood obesity in his own home with those creamy chocolate milkshakes than any outside source. But so that. Douglas scoops up a fresh milkshake for Murrow, who voices his intention to come pick it up some time, and the interview ends on a cheery note.

Doesn't the whole thing make you want to watch a Kirk Douglas movie? This interview has truly served its purpose!

I found some great Kirk Douglas ephemera at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater research (of all places!). Here's baby Eric getting his hair cut for the first time:

Kirk Douglas on What's My Line in the early 50's. Listen to his Granny Clampett voice to throw the panelists off!

And last but not least, watch the whole interview yourself on YouTube... choose your own "best furniture" moments, at your leisure! Big shout out to Retroteevee's channel for making it all possible.

Found a bunch of great things at sales this past weekend, and yes, I'm still wearing my vintage bests, so I'll have to catch up with a findings and clothing post ASAP. In the meanwhile, which vintage celebrity's home would you most like to get an at-the-time peek at? Thanks for reading!


  1. What's funny is that I won't give Access Hollywood or Extra the time of day, but I'd gladly watch interviews with old movie stars 'til the cows come home!

    I do love the décor--very of-its-time.

  2. Now thats old school right there!

  3. This is fascinating! More information than I've ever known about Kirk Douglas, but boy, am I glad I know it know! I love their beautiful home in all its vintage splendor. You would never see anyone on "Cribs" today showing off their art director's sketches. And I also love that they, unlike houses on "Cribs", don't seem to have any gold-plated bathroom fixtures. :)

    Thanks for this! I'm so interested to read more of your blog!

  4. @Lauren: Ditto. Between Person to Person and What's My Line, I'm addicted to 50's movie stars' tv appearances!

    @Zombie: You know! :)

    @HazelandMare: Thank you! Re: Kirk Douglas and his house: They just don't make 'em like they used to.

  5. Very cool. I really never knew all that much about Kirk Douglass. His house is fantastic.

  6. Even as a kid, I was glued to anything like this just to observe the clothes, hair, make up and decor. Maybe it's not "modern" but it is timeless. :)



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