Kirk and Anne

Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood


By Kirk Douglas

By Anne Douglas

Foreword by Michael Douglas

With Marcia Newberger

By Turner Classic Movies

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The late film icon and screen legend Kirk Douglas was married to Anne Buydens for more than six decades. Here they both look back on a lifetime filled with drama both on and off the screen. Sharing priceless correspondence with each other as well as the celebrities and world leaders they called friends, Kirk and Anne is a candid portrayal of the pleasures and pitfalls of a Hollywood life lived in the public eye.

Compiled from Anne’s private archive of letters and photographs, this is an intimate glimpse into the Douglases’ courtship and marriage set against the backdrop of Kirk’s screen triumphs, including The Vikings, Lust For Life, Paths of Glory, and Spartacus. The letters themselves, as well as Kirk and Anne’s vivid descriptions of their experiences, reveal remarkable insight and anecdotes about the legendary figures they knew so well, including Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, the Kennedys, and the Reagans. Filled with photos from film sets, private moments, and public events, Kirk and Anne details the adventurous, oftentimes comic, and poignant reality behind the glamour of a Hollywood marriage.




THE SECRET TO A GREAT PLAY IS ITS THIRD ACT. If the audience is still engaged by the story, enthralled with the characters, and surprised by what it sees, the playwright has created magic.

Kirk and Anne is a book overflowing with magical stories. Their life together has been filled with romance and drama, great triumphs and heartbreaking tragedies, and a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle. If their letters reveal anything about Kirk and Anne Douglas, it is that from the very beginning they were opposites who could not help but attract. Each of them brings out the very best in the other.

My father Kirk wears his heart on his sleeve, while Anne protects hers with a caution borne of bearing life's burdens with dignity and strength. Yet it is that very protective quality that makes her the lioness that she is. She's used it to take care of all of us, especially my father. I remember as a young boy, after my father and my mother Diana divorced, not only did Anne treat my brother Joel and I as though we were always a family, she invariably showed great love and respect to our mother. With Anne's characteristic dry wit, she referred to her as "our ex-wife."

In their third act, Kirk is still enthralled by Anne, as she is by him. My father recently told me, "Cole Porter loved Anne." Think of it: a young woman from France, newly arrived in Hollywood in the early '50s and married to one of the world's biggest movie stars, is invited to accompany her husband to a dinner party hosted by the legendary lyricist/composer. It is the star's young wife, with her European style and effortless grace, who delights their host. She is invited back and told, "You may bring your husband too, if you must."

This book begins with the passionate and poignant story of their courtship as revealed through their never-before-published letters. It then follows their seven-decade journey through happiness and hardship, annotated by their correspondence with the influential and remarkable people who have shared that journey with them.

If this book is the curtain for their third act, I can't wait for their fourth.

—Michael Douglas, January, 2017


MOVIE DIRECTORS CALL THE FLEETING MOMENTS when sunset approaches the "magic hour." Some of the most memorable moments in film history have been shot in the last light of day. In our house, we celebrate it as the "golden hour"—a time to reflect and connect, to recall and relive some of the magic hours that have filled our enduring union of more than sixty years.

When we reminisce about our courtship, we could never have imagined our new love growing into a lifetime of these golden hours. Some of them have followed painful, heartbreaking days. We made it through even the hardest of them because, at the end, we had each other.

One evening when we were sitting in front of the fire in the great room of our Montecito home, I, Kirk, asked my wife if I had ever sent her love letters. She smiled mysteriously at me. "Would you like to see them?" she asked. "I'll be right back." She returned with a battered-looking manila file folder filled with flimsy air mail envelopes, letters on pages from the yellow-lined legal pads we used at home, and dashed-off notes on odd slips of paper—some of them the kind of billets-doux that lovers write "just because."

I, Anne, have very few mementos from my early life before Kirk. In the turbulent years before and during World War II, I moved from Hannover to Brussels and then to Paris, taking only essentials each time. As a result, the letters and memorabilia of our life together were even more important to me.

My main repository for the collection has been the climate-controlled wine cellar of our Beverly Hills home, which I call the "dungeon." It is filled with boxes of letters and photographs from friends and fans, from Hollywood royalty and political leaders all over the world. Most harken back to a kinder, gentler time, when writing notes in one's own handwriting was considered a mark of courtesy. I admit the handwriting on some of them is hard to decipher, mine included.

The intimate letters of our courtship and marriage have been hidden for many years—in a secret spot in my Montecito bedroom. I haven't looked at them since I put them there, but they are very precious to me. I saved whatever Kirk wrote me, of course, but over the years I also collected my letters to him. I would find them in the suitcases I unpacked when he came home from locations. I was happy to share them again with Kirk.

As the golden hour faded into darkness that evening, we read a few of them aloud to each other in front of the fire. We both had forgotten how intensely we communicated after we fell in love in Paris in 1953, married in Las Vegas in 1954, and endured subsequent separations because of film commitments. In addition to the long newsy letters, there were cables, notes scribbled in airplanes and between takes, and a few X-rated ramblings about how much we missed each other. It was like seeing them for the first time all these years later.

I, Kirk, have written eleven books over the years, some of them autobiographical and three since I turned ninety. Now in the beginning of my one hundredth year, I felt there was nothing new to say about my life or the people in it. For several years I had toyed with the idea of writing a book of letters, based on the ones Anne had stashed in the dungeon. I couldn't find the right thread for a cohesive narrative and lost interest. Suddenly I knew the missing ingredient: it was Anne. I had written about her many times, but how extraordinary to read how she felt about her life with me—its opportunities, its drawbacks, its pleasures and pains.

I looked at my wife. "I'll tell you what's in here," I said, tapping on the precious file before me. "It's our book."

—Anne and Kirk Douglas, April 2016


When We Were Young


I know little about my immigrant parents' early life in Russia. Fiddler on the Roof is a sanitized version of their shtetl world at the dawn of the twentieth century. During a pogrom, my mother, Bryna Sanglel, saw a Cossack murder her brother. She had no pleasant memories of the Old Country—at least none that she ever shared. After I became the Hollywood star, Kirk Douglas, and Ma was living comfortably in the Jewish Home for the Aged in Troy, New York, she worried I would go to Russia. Her reaction was strong and immediate. This is from her letter of April 8, 1958, which she dictated to my sister:

Dear Anne and Kirk,

I have heard from several people that they have heard about your (Kirk) being invited by Russia to make a picture there. This came as a big shock to me and I pray to God that while I am alive you will not go to Russia. I do not mind whenever and wherever you go elsewhere but not to Russia. Please keep this in mind as I am not young nor too well any longer and these are my feelings. We are happy and proud of whatever you do and we have heard too much unfavorable news about Russia to have you embroiled there.

Stay well and happy and write again soon.

My dear son, God bless you.

Love, Mother

We had no relatives in America except for my uncle Avram. He arrived a year before my father, and changed his name from Danielovitch to Demsky. Pa—Herschel Danielovitch the horse trader—became Harry Demsky the ragman after joining his brother in Amsterdam, New York. Pa was very strong, but the thriving local factories would not hire Jews. He bought a horse named Bill and a cart so he could buy old rags, scrap metal, and any other junk lying around people's homes. He took the day's haul to a dealer for pennies on the pound. The next year he sent a steerage ticket for his young bride. Whether he paid for it himself I highly doubt. My father spent his earnings on drink in the nearest saloon. Without that ticket, my sisters and I would never have been born.

I don't know if my parents loved each other or whether their marriage was the work of the local shadchen (matchmaker). I never saw a sign of affection between them. Pa never addressed my mother by her name, Bryna. It was usually, "Hey you." All I know for sure is that Ma bore him seven children between 1912 and 1924. I, Issur Danielovitch, fourth in line and the only boy, was born on December 9, 1916—one hundred years ago. The others were Pesha (Betty), Kaleh (Kay), Tamara (Marion), Rachel (Ruth), and the twins, Hashka and Siffra (Fritzi and Ida). When I reached school age, I was enrolled as Isadore (Izzy) Demsky—a name I always hated.

Yiddish was the only language I heard in the house. Until I was old enough for kindergarten, I did not play with other kids on the street. They were a polyglot mix from many countries. Their fathers worked in the factories. During the days, Ma and I inhabited a world of our own. I liked it that way. With only cold water in the kitchen, a washboard for her laundry, and no icebox (not that we ever had much to store in one), Ma was constantly cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and worrying about paying the bills. Pa was no help. Almost all his daily take was spent at his favorite bar, Bogie's. He rarely came home for dinner. He never seemed to care whether we had food on the table or went to bed hungry.

We lived in abject poverty. My wife always tells people, "Kirk hates to hear anyone say they were poorer than he was." She's right. I am proud of it, because it made me hungry to achieve success. I told my sons, "You didn't have my advantage. From the bottom there's only one place to go. Up!"

Isadore and Bryna Demsky in Amsterdam

But as a toddler, with no other experience to judge our living standards by, I was content to bask in Ma's delight with me. She loved her daughters, but I was her prince. My sisters never seemed to mind, because my mother told them not to expect too much of life. "Girls are dreck (shit)," I heard her say more than once. For sure, Pa reinforced that belief. Then again, he didn't treat me, his son, any better.

By the time my fourth birthday rolled around on December 9, 1920, women had just cast votes for the first time in an American election. The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution had finally been ratified by Congress that August. It didn't mean anything to my mother, who couldn't read a newspaper, even in Yiddish. It wouldn't have changed her view on a woman's role in the universe. In Amsterdam's small Orthodox synagogue, she prayed with others of her sex in the tiny upstairs balcony where she could barely see the Holy Ark below.

Baby Izzy

Baby Issur, 1916; "Outstanding pupil" Izzy (top left) with other kindergarten classmates; Izzy's

Outstanding Pupils

Production - Christopher Columbus

stage debut as a sailor in the kindergarten play Christopher Columbus

While my three older sisters were at school, I had Ma all to myself. I loved being in the warm kitchen on a cold winter day, watching her roll out the challah dough. On Friday night, the braided loaf would sit on the Shabbos table alongside the candlesticks that had been passed to her from her mother. I own them now. This ritual ushered in Ma's only day of rest, a sacred interval from dusk on Friday until three stars could be seen in the sky on Saturday.

In the kitchen at age four, I plied her with important questions while she worked:

"Ma, how was I born?"

"Issur, you arrived in a gold box from heaven."

"Wow! What did you do?"

"I ran outside and wrapped you in my shawl."

"Did you take the gold box, Ma?"

"No. I only wanted what was inside, myne kind."

In kindergarten I entered a strange new world with an unfamiliar language. I enjoyed being there and having friends my own age. Before I knew it, I was speaking English. When I recited a poem about the red robin of spring, everyone clapped. I took my first bow before an audience. I loved it. By second grade I was a seasoned pro, milking my title role of the shoemaker in The Shoemaker and the Elves. My mother and my sisters, of course, were there. My father said he would not come. Pa took zero interest in any of us children. But I was surprised. There he was, standing with his back against the exit doors. He didn't say much, but he bought me a loganberry juice before taking me home. The memory is as fresh to me more than ninety years later as the night it happened. I had longed for him to give me a pat on the back. This was the closest he ever came to it. Even when I was a famous movie star, he never told me he saw any of my films. I heard later that he bragged about me to his drinking friends.

Why was he like that? I can only guess. Perhaps he had believed the myth that American streets were paved with gold bricks. I saw another side of him one night at Bogie's. Looking into the window of the saloon, I watched him. He was in his element, a natural actor with a rapt audience of bar cronies hanging on his every word.

When I had my Bar Mitzvah at thirteen—impressing the small congregation with my delivery of the Hebrew text and my speech in Yiddish—I got a few gold pieces as presents. I had been earning money by delivering the Schenectady newspaper to subscribers scattered all over town. It would have been much easier to deliver the Amsterdam Evening Recorder. I couldn't get a route because I was Jewish.

Together with what I had saved from my job and my Bar Mitzvah, I now had a college fund of $313. I handed it over to my father when he asked to borrow it, even though my mother begged me not to. I think I wanted him in my debt. Pa bought a lot of metal he was going to sell for a good profit. It was just before Black Tuesday, on October 29, 1929. The price of metal plummeted. My college fund was gone, and I never heard another word from him about it.

By the time I was in high school, I was sure I wanted to be an actor. My English teacher, Mrs. Livingston, befriended me and didn't belittle my dreams. "To be a great actor, you have to be a great person. You must be educated. You must be trained," she said. I sent away for college and drama school catalogs.

I began to write poetry and had good roles in the school plays. In my junior year, I won the Gold Medal in the Sanford Prize-Speaking Contest. My sister Marion had won it two years earlier. My oldest sister, Betty, never had a chance to enter. She left school in the ninth grade to go to work. She was our sole support during the leanest years of the Depression.

In my senior year, Mrs. Schuyler, the drama teacher, organized a class trip to see Katharine Cornell in Albany, starring in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Who could have predicted that the first time I stepped on a Broadway stage I would deliver a singing telegram to Grace George in Spring Again, a drama produced by Guthrie McClintic, Katharine Cornell's husband. I was included in the cast invitation to their grand home off Beekman Place for Thanksgiving. It was the first time I tasted champagne and caviar.

There were 322 of us in my graduating class of 1934. I won the Best Acting and Best Speech Prizes as well as one for my essay, "The Play's the Thing." My mother and sisters were there. My father was not. With no money for college, I worked for a year in men's ready-to-wear at the M. Lurie department store. Then, with $164 in my pocket, I hitchhiked to St. Lawrence University with my friend Pete Riccio, who was going into his sophomore year.

I took all my awards and transcripts with me. Dean Hewlitt interviewed me and took a chance on this insolvent applicant reeking of manure from our last hitch on a fertilizer truck. Today the Dean Hewlitt Building on campus sits directly across from the Kirk Douglas Building. I have never forgotten my debt to the university and to the man responsible for my being there. For many years now I have funded full scholarships for minority students; I feel good to be giving them the chance I had.

I found acceptance at St. Lawrence despite some blatant examples of anti-Semitism. The top fraternity wanted to pledge me when they thought I was Polish. The invitation went away when they discovered I was a Jew. I was elected class president, a really big deal, at the end of junior year. Rich alumni threatened to cancel their checks if the Jew took office. Once again, Dean Hewlitt championed me. I was what they called a BMOC (Big Man on Campus)—class president, undefeated star of the varsity wrestling team, president of the Mummers Club, president of the German Club. I had no trouble getting dates with the most popular coeds.

Meanwhile, my mother and sisters had moved to another house. Pa remained alone on Eagle Street. After my sophomore year, I went to Amsterdam to see them before starting my summer job, wrestling for money in a carnival. I stopped first to say hello to Louise Livingston and to Pa. He was surprised to see me walk in the house. He put down the garlic and herring he was eating; he served me a piece with a glass of vodka. We ate in silence. Then he beckoned me to join him as he headed to his regular haunts. I was thrilled. It was the dream of my childhood to be initiated into his world. By the time he delivered me to Ma hours later, I was drunk and disoriented. She cursed Pa in Yiddish when she saw the state I was in. She worried I would follow in his footsteps.

As I became more and more fixated on being an actor, I spent the next summers at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant in the Adirondacks. I was a stagehand, but pushed to get onstage. I started with a few small parts, with a promise of bigger ones to come.

At first I was billed as Isadore Demsky. "That won't do," said my new friends Karl and Mona Malden. "That's not a proper name for an actor." Karl had started out as Mladen Sekulovich in the steel town of Gary, Indiana. One boozy night, Karl and Mona convened a group of us in their cabin to look for my new name. I emerged hours later, reborn as Kirk Douglas. It was 1939. A man named Adolph Hitler was sending German armies to conquer countries in Europe. I only wanted to conquer Broadway.

I knew I needed more training and was accepted at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. I made some lasting friendships there. One was Betty Bacall, a stunning seventeen-year-old who had a crush on me. Another was Diana Dill, who was always telling Betty to forget about me.

Betty was renamed Lauren when Howard Hawks brought her to Hollywood to star in To Have and Have Not. And Diana married me after I joined the navy in 1942. We became swept up in the romance of wartime and the fear that I might die in combat.

After four months of training at Notre Dame midshipmen's school, I was assigned to PC1139, an antisubmarine patrol craft, as a communications officer. I looked great in my dress uniform, but nothing else about my service was distinguished. With a green crew and a captain who had never been to sea, we were one of the most incompetent ships in the navy. Our first time out of port in New Orleans, we backed into another ship and almost sank it. Then, on our first sighting of a Japanese submarine in the Pacific, a nervous sailor released a depth charge instead of a depth charge marker and blew us up. I was bruised and had internal injuries. Then I became deathly ill with severe cramps and a high fever which turned out to be amoebic dysentery. At the San Diego Naval Hospital, I was an inpatient and then an outpatient for several months prior to my honorable discharge in June 1944.

Kirk (left) in Tamarack Playhouse production George Washington Slept Here

Young naval officer in peak shape for war

Before leaving for New York, I was surprised to find out that Lauren Bacall was in Los Angeles. We met for dinner. Betty was still filming To Have and Have Not and was living with her costar, Humphrey Bogart. She told Bogie to take me along to the studio the next morning. I was very impressed as I watched him on set, and he couldn't have been more charming to me.

But doing live theater was still my goal. I got good roles in a lot of bad plays, so I readily accepted producer Hal Wallis's offer to costar with Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. He came to see me in The Wind Is Ninety after Lauren Bacall, now the toast of Hollywood, told him I was a great actor who was getting rave reviews. Betty was my first agent—and I didn't have to pay her a commission.

That's how I moved west and became a movie star. Diana and I had two sons—Michael and Joel—by the time we divorced and she returned to New York. I worked and played hard and enjoyed liaisons with some of the golden age's brightest stars, among them Marlene Dietrich and Gene Tierney, as well as a beautiful oil heiress named Irene Wrightsman. Then, I fell in love with a young Italian actress, Pier Angeli, when we were trapeze artists in a film called The Story of Three Loves.

With my family to support and taxes under Eisenhower sky-high, I took my lawyer Sam Norton's advice to make films abroad for the next eighteen months. One of them was Act of Love, where I met Anne Buydens. Her story is more dramatic than mine. I'll let her tell it to you.


Kirk was already a famous star when I met him in Paris in 1953. His acting career had taken off in Hollywood, and he had earned Oscar nominations for two of his memorable roles, first in Champion and a few years later in The Bad and the Beautiful.

When Kirk came to Europe to star in Act of Love, I had already turned down Anatole Litvak, the director of the film, to do publicity for it. I went to America instead for the premiere of John Huston's Moulin Rouge. I had worked closely with the flamboyant director as a location scout and assistant for more than a year and was thrilled to be going to Hollywood. It was a dream come true. Crossing the Atlantic by ship, I saw my first Kirk Douglas film, The Big Trees. I was not impressed. I could not have imagined that within a few months of seeing it, I would meet Kirk and embark on the fascinating relationship that would lead to our happy marriage of sixty-plus years.

Kirk and I could not have come from two more different worlds. He was a poor American boy from a tiny town in upstate New York, speaking only Yiddish until he entered school. In contrast, I was born to Siegfried and Paula Michelle Marx in Hannover, Germany, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country. We were rich and well-traveled. By the time I was in boarding school in Switzerland, I could speak German, French, and English.

My parents named me Hannelore but called me Peter because they had wanted a boy. When I was three, my English governess—whom I hated—took me to the barber for a haircut. "Cut Peter's hair," she said. He obliged, snipping away my bountiful blonde curls and leaving me with a boy's cut, close to my scalp. Some traumas you never forget. This was my earliest.

Kirk adored his mother, Bryna, who loved him unconditionally. He was largely ignored by his father. My relationship with my parents was just the opposite. My beautiful mother, who was very social, didn't take much interest in my daily life. On the other hand, my father wanted to know all about my everyday activities. He bought us a special little blue book where we exchanged little notes on the days when he worked late hours and came home past my bedtime. I would leave him a note about my day. In the morning I would immediately look to see what he had written back.

By the time I was four or five, Papa would talk to me about business. He owned large textile stores in the city. He also was the exclusive importer of an unusually strong silk which the government bought to make parachutes. I took our talks very seriously and was thrilled when he would take me along to visit the shops. One of the sales girls, Trude, made a big fuss over me. She made us matching "friendship bows" to wear on our clothes. I thought she was wonderful.

Anne's parents: Paula Michelle (in Switzerland) and Siegfried Marx

We lived in a spacious three-story house in a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by woods. My sister Ingeborg and I shared the third floor, along with whichever governess we hadn't yet tortured into quitting. But we both liked Trulla, who was more like an older friend. She taught us manners and how to dress and kept us from fighting with each other. Inge was six years my senior. She took after my mother both in looks and her love of luxurious things. I was more like my father.

Kirk was one of seven kids. While he shared a bed with his oldest sister until he was old enough to sleep on the living room couch, Inge and I had spacious bedrooms, a large playroom, and a bathroom with a toilet and two sinks in our private domain. Once a week, Trulla took us for a bath in my mother's rooms on the second floor. She had the most wonderful bathtub. My mother had exquisite taste and the funds to indulge in the best of the best. I remember the streamlined Packard convertible she drove to her many social engagements.

On Wednesday evenings, my parents entertained at home. All day the household staff—the cook Itze, the laundress, the maids—would prepare for the party. Then decorators came in. I liked to sit at the top of the stairs to watch the guests arrive.

That was before my parents divorced. My mother bought a house in Switzerland and kept a chic apartment in Berlin. Inge was in the Swiss boarding school, which I would also attend within a few years. I didn't miss them. I had the ones I truly loved, my father and Trulla, in the house.

My relationship with my father was very important and had a lasting effect on my life. Honesty was paramount to him. Once I told a lie and he paddled me on the behind. I never told another one. I felt I had to live up to his very high standards.

I was content with my life. My father would go on business trips, but Trulla and I always had fun and I was also going to the little local school. Then, suddenly, things changed. I have vivid memories of the day it happened. I was so happy. Papa was coming back from his latest trip. Something was odd. No one said anything to me, but with my ears open I could hear the servants saying, "The poor girl. The poor girl."


On Sale
May 2, 2017
Page Count
240 pages
Running Press

Kirk Douglas

About the Author

Kirk Douglas (1916-2020) distinguished himself as an actor, producer, philanthropist, and author. His numerous recognitions for achievements both on and off screen include an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and France’s Legion of Honor. Over a career spanning seventy years, he starred in some eighty films.

Anne Buydens Douglas built her career in the film industry as a publicist. She met Kirk Douglas during the making of Act of Love (1953) and they married soon after. Anne would become his closest advisor and eventually take the reins as president of their independent production company, Bryna Productions.Turner Classic Movies is the definitive resource for the greatest movies of all time. We entertain and enlighten to show how the entire spectrum of classic movies, movie history, and movie-making touches us all and influences how we think and live today.

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