I nearly wrote a tribute post for Kirk Douglas, the seemingly indestructible Hollywood Golden Age star who finally passed away at the age of 103 this week. He certainly had some impressive ethics moments. When Douglas’s production company set out to make a big budget film version of “Spartacus,” the actor-producer not only hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to do the screenplay, but also allowed Trumbo to use his own name name in the credits. “We all had been employing the blacklisted writers,” Douglas wrote in his 2012 memoir, “I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.” “It was an open secret and an act of hypocrisy, as well as a way to get the best talent at bargain prices. I hated being part of such a system.” Some have speculated that Douglas’s defiance of the blacklist cost him one or more Oscars.
Later, after his film career had waned, Douglas worked with his wife on a project to build 400 playgrounds in Los Angeles. Together they established the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women, the Kirk Douglas High School for at-risk students to get their high school diploma, the Kirk Douglas Theater. In 2015, the Douglases donated $15 million to the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills toward the construction of the Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion, a $35 million facility for the care of people in the industry with Alzheimer’s disease.
I also nearly mentioned Douglas in the recent post about the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Douglas received from Jimmy Carter. A late cut from my list of seemingly arbitrary honorees was the line, “Why Kirk Douglas and not Burt Lancaster?’ It seemed like the week one of my all-time favorite actors died was not the time to make that observation.
Kirk Douglas received the media send-off one expects for Hollywood stars of his status, popularity and longevity; we know who will get the honor of the last mention in the annual In Memoriam montage at this weekend’s Academy Awards broadcast. Nonetheless, the cancel mobs on social media and on the web decided to smear Douglas by resurrecting an old and scurrilous piece of Tinsel Town gossip: the completely unsupported rumor that Douglas had raped actress Natalie Wood when she was 15.
I’ve researched the rumor: it appears to have the same credibility as the internet fake story that Hillary Clinton was running a sex ring out of a pizza shop. No individual, certainly not Wood or Douglas, ever went on the record to explain why anyone should believe such a horrific accusation. I wrote about this when the rumor had another break-out in 2018, when Kirk was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Golden Globes:
“In today’s culture, all that is needed to erase a career and a reputation are anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct, or so the witch hunters would have it. It is revolting that Douglas should have to face these completely unfounded accusations now. The Golden Globes did the right thing.”
At a diseased period in our culture where all it took for people to routinely refer to a member of the U.S. Supreme Court as a rapist is for a partisan abortion warrior recruited for the purpose to tell a Senate committee that she just recently remembered that the distinguished jurist jumped on her at some party somewhere sometime when they were both in high school though there are no witnesses and no evidence, old internet gossip can be sufficient to scar the legacy of a remarkable and courageous artist.
Why does anyone engage in such vicious, miserable, irresponsible, anti-Golden Rule behavior? Oh, for the same reason people launch computer viruses, spray paint subway walls and tip over gravestones: they have empty, useless lives and since they are incapable of creating anything, they only can feel significant and powerful when they destroy things. Social media has infinitely increased the opportunities for these blights on society to ply their nauseating craft. Today their target is Kirk Douglas.
They won’t succeed if we don’t let them.