Kirk Douglas

Written by Don Reid on February 6th, 2020 Posted in General

            Being a lifelong movie fan of the golden era of Hollywood, I always feel a little sadness when another legend of the screen fades off into the sunset. Yesterday it was Kirk Douglas. Spartacus. Doc Holliday. Vincent van Gogh. We, the Statlers, shared some moments on and off the screen with him that still make me smile remembering them.

            It was about 1970 that we guested on the same western tv special that shot for a week in Old Tucson, AZ. It was a musical/comedy show that we were probably more comfortable doing than he was but it turned out as fun for us all. In one scene Kirk walked into a saloon and up to the bar and had dialogue with the bartender. Phil, Lew and I were characters in the scene and Harold was the bartender. Kirk and Harold had lines back and forth and leave it to my brother to play it completely straight throughout the rehearsals until the cameras actually rolled. When the director said, “Action”, he turned on the comedy with the big eyes and gave with a flair that neither the director nor the star was expecting. Everybody was in the floor laughing. When they yelled, “Cut” and the scene was over, Kirk said to Harold, “I like your singing but have you ever thought about acting?” He loved the fact that Harold had completely stolen the scene from him.

            Kirk Douglas was quite a gun handler. Hanging around between scenes he would entertain us all with a great twirling routine. He would draw the pistol from his holster, twirl it forward, then backward, then swing his arm behind his back and toss the gun over his shoulder, catch it in the air, twirl it again on his finger and back into the holster in mid spin. Wow! I loved it. My sole response was, “Teach me to do that!” And he did. He went through the moves with me over and over and I continued to practice for weeks and weeks thereafter. In hotel rooms; backstage dressing rooms; at home. I dropped my pistol on cement, hardwood floors and every toe on both feet. I was a bruised mess plus there was a raw blister that encircled my index finger for a month until it finally morphed into a callus. But I got it down perfectly like a real gunfighter, second only to Kirk Douglas.

            About this same time, Johnny Cash and Kirk were negotiating the possibility of doing a movie together. Kirk came to Nashville to talk John into it and in the process he and June had him out to their house for dinner. We happened to be in town at the time and John called us and invited us to join them. Just the seven of us with lots of talk about movie making and old Hollywood stories. The four of us were big movie collectors and owned thousands of movies between us and Kirk was astounded at how much we knew about and loved old movies. During that period, I used to keep a record of each movie I saw each year. John, who always thought that was funny, said at the table that night, “Donnie, tell Kirk how many movies you’ve seen this year.” I said, “Two hundred forty-eight so far.” Everybody laughed and Kirk said, “Good lord, son, I haven’t seen that many in my whole life.” A fun night. He and John, the next year, starred in “A Gunfight”.

            The next and last time I ever saw him was in Elaine’s restaurant in NYC. I was there with my family and he came in and sat at the table next to us. We talked about the night we had dinner at John and June’s house and he inquired about John’s health.

            What a fantastic life and a remarkable talent. I’m honored to have shared the same air a few times with him. He was a nice and gracious man.

                                    Don Reid    2/6/20