"Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood."
By Kirk and Anne Douglas with Marcia Newberger
221 pages, $25
Kirk Douglas could see his future. It was 1958 and the actor was in London filming "The Devil's Disciple." But he was missing his wife, Anne, who had stayed in California after the birth of their second son, Eric.
So he did what he so often did - he poured out his feelings in a letter. "If we live to be a hundred, there will still be so many unsaid things," Douglas wrote to her.
Kirk, now 100 years old, recently read that note again after Anne showed him the love letters she carefully saved for decades and he realized what he wrote in 1958 remains true today after 62 years of marriage.
"As I have now reached that milestone, I can attest that it's still true," he writes in the new book "Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood."
The easy-to-read book is a glimpse into one of the most enduring Hollywood marriages as well as the film and political worlds that were so integral to their lives. At a slim 221 pages, it's not long enough to be comprehensive (read one of Douglas' other 11 books if you want the nitty gritty), but it has a profound honesty. That's especially true about the early days of their relationship when Douglas was unable to commit to the point of cruelty as when he took Anne to pick out his engagement ring to actress Pier Angeli.
Despite the title, this book is not all love letters. There also is correspondence with Hollywood stars and politicians. Short segments labeled simply "Kirk" and "Anne" are interspersed throughout the book. They come from interviews (the couple's long-time public relations representative Marcia Newberger spoke with Kirk; a friend, David Bender, interviewed Anne) and though these memories fill in details and move the story along, the writing is a little too perfect to feel these are the direct words of the couple.
Kirk and Anne met in Paris in 1953 when he was looking for a bilingual assistant. She was a busy publicist and personal assistant and agreed to meet him as a favor to director Anatole Litvak. Kirk had only been in Paris a few weeks, but already had been dubbed "Le Brute Cheri" – the darling brute –after being photographed with a succession of stunning beauties.
Anne wanted nothing to do with him, so he was intrigued. He offered her the job – she turned it down. He asked again. Same answer. He asked her to dinner. That refusal made him "shocked and annoyed." After rallying mutual friends, he convinced Anne to work for him on a trial basis. She was efficient, funny and well loved by everyone. Kirk finally stopped trying to impress – and seduce - her and that's when things changed. They got to know each other and learned how each had painful rifts with their fathers.
"We talked for hours," Anne wrote. "And I had a strange feeling in my heart that I could fall in love with this man."
For Kirk, Anne had qualities he wasn't used to seeing in the actresses he flirted with. "She wasn't neurotic like Gene Tierney," he recalled. "Anne was a sophisticated woman, unlike my virginal Pier Angeli who took her mother on all our dates. I was fascinated by Anne and more than a little in love with her.
Still he wouldn't commit to his "Stolzig," the pen name he used because of her stubbornness in hiding her feelings of insecurity. He often reminded her of his engagement to Angeli, even as he traveled with Anne to romantic locations like the hills of Amalfi to vacation in Carlo Ponti's villa. "Kirk never tried to hide his dalliances from me. He told me about them himself because I wanted to hear it from his directly, not via an idle piece of gossip."
It would remain a roller coaster ride of emotions for Anne even after Kirk broke off his engagement to Angeli. Anne traveled to America to be with him but after a month and no proposal, told him she was leaving. That did it. Kirk finished filming "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" on May 29, 1954 and they flew to Las Vegas to be married.
The book glances over the films he was making; the couple's penchant for collecting art; his creation of the Bryna Company (named for his mother) and its struggles; the "Curse of Spartacus"; his disappointment on stage ("The Great White Way and I remained disappointed lovers."); and his struggles after his stroke.
There was a life for them beyond Hollywood, as they forged friendships with many politicians, especially a very young John F. Kennedy and actors Nancy Davis and "Ronnie" Regan. He corresponded with all of the presidents from JFK to Obama and we get a glimpse of letters he wrote as a "private and concerned citizen" and the responses. But even in politics, it was Kirk and Anne: When Kirk became a goodwill ambassador and traveled the world, he insisted on bringing Anne with him.
By the end of "Kirk and Anne," there's a realization that in sharing their romance, its challenges and glories, they are giving the readers lessons to help them write their own love stories.