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Kirk Douglas' Childhood Made Him a Charitable Man Yet None of His Kids Got a Penny from His Fortune

Gaone Pule
Mar 07, 2022
10:20 A.M.
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Kirk Douglas was an accomplished Hollywood veteran star who did not allow his background to determine his bright future. He knew what it was like to be poor, so he left a legacy of which he would be proud. 


Douglas was a legendary actor known for classic films like "Spartacus" and "The Bad and the Beautiful." Notably, 1960's "Spartacus" was one of his biggest hits.  

Kirk worked with many esteemed directors, including Billy Wilder for 1951's "Ace in the Hole." However, his work with Vincente Minnelli delivered two memorable performances as Jonathan Shields in "The Bad and the Beautiful" and Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust for Life."

(L) Pictured: Actor Kirk Douglas and his sons, Joel, Peter, Michael and Eric. (R) : Cameron Douglas, Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas attending a ceremony honoring Michael Douglas with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 06, 2018 in Hollywood, California. / Source: Getty Images



Despite his mega-successful career, Kirk came from a humble background. When he was young, his father, Harry, migrated from Russia and settled in Amsterdam, New York. Harry then sent for his wife Bryna, and though he could not make a living, he opted to buy a horse and became a ragman instead.  

Kirk told the Wall Street Journal in an interview in June 2017 that his parents had seven children, and he was the only son out of six girls. 

Pictured: A head-shot of Hollywood filmmaker and veteran star Kirk Douglas wearing a blazer with paired with a white shirt and a striped tie in 1945. / Source: Getty Images


The filmmaker endured an impoverished childhood. During the interview, he revealed that he and his family did not have enough food to eat growing up.  

He would steal some food to get by, whereas his sisters had to beg for bones so their mother could cook soup that would benefit the family for days:

"When I was hungry, I stole food – an egg from under a neighbor's hen or a tomato from a garden. I also wiped fruit and vegetables from a stand." 

Kirk Douglas as Rick Martin holding a trumpet in the 1949 musical drama "Young Man with a Horn." / Source: Getty Images


The "Paths of Glory" star admitted that he felt guilty about that for years. He slept in what he called a "shabby living-room sofa," whereas the girls were in two bedrooms and his parents in another.  

He slept all alone, and he hated it. Young Kirk adored his father, but he felt like there was no reciprocation of love on his part as a loving dad: 

"I loved my father but wondered if he loved me. I wanted to win his praise and affection. But he was distant." 

Meanwhile, his mom worked hard to feed the family and clothe them. Kirk recalled that Bryna took care of the house, which had no hot running water, washing machine, or even a decent stove. 


Kirk Douglas photographed leaning against the wall wearing a blue shirt paired with gray trousers in 1955. / Source: Getty Images


When he finished high school in 1934, the actor did not have enough money for college tuition. Kirk mentioned that he was an intelligent student and received awards in school.  


So, he took a leap of faith and hitchhiked 200 miles to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, with a pal who was a sophomore there. 

Kirk took along all his high school acting awards, transcript, essays, and poems, including a letter of recommendation from his English teacher, Mrs. Livingston.  

Humanitarian Kirk Douglas pictured broadly smiling while donning a black golf shirt. / Source: Getty Images


When he arrived at the institution, he met with Dean Hewlitt, head of the faculty, and delivered his pitch. Things panned out for the better for Kirk because the Dean helped him secure a college loan. The following semester, he won a scholarship.  

Kirk had odd jobs following his first year to support his college education, including wrestling in the circus as a shill. He also worked at hotels and resorts and eventually acted at the Tamarack Playhouse on Lake Pleasant.  

Kirk Douglas posing with one hand in his pocket while resting his other arm on his lap, wearing a black and white t-shirt and gray pants in 1950. / Source: Getty Images


The most significant turning point for the renowned entertainer was meeting Betty Perske, whom he met at Manhattan's American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  

She was seventeen, and he was 25 years old. Perske rose to stardom with her first movie, and she urged film producer Hal Wallis to see Kirk on Broadway. That was how he broke into Hollywood.  

Kirk Douglas in the 1960 action film "Spartacus" pictured on top of a horse with his hand raised in the air. / Source: Getty Images


After serving in the US Navy during World War II and a brief career on Broadway, Kirk made his first Hollywood film, "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" (1946). 

Three years later, he gave a breakthrough performance as a boxer in 1949's "Champion" and received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Midge Kelly in the movie, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination

Kirk Douglas attending the SBIFF's 2012 Kirk Douglas Award For Excellence In Film during the Santa Barbara Film Festival on December 8, 2012 in Goleta, California. / Source: Getty Images



As a result of his fruitful career, the Golden Age veteran and his wife of 66 years, Anne Buydens, founded The Douglas Foundation.  

Unlike him, Buydens, a philanthropist, was born into privilege in Hannover, Germany, until the Second World War divided her family and turned privilege into hardship.  


The couple, who seemed destined to find each other, shared their experiences with the people around them. Through Kirk's immense success in show business, the pair wanted to do more with their lives and decided to give back.  

The Douglas Foundation's principal mission is to help those who cannot help themselves. Its primary focus is to improve health and education, foster well-being, and develop new opportunities for kids.  

Kirk Douglas and wife Anne Buydens arriving at the 13th annual Unforgettable Evening at Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on January 27, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. / Source: Getty Images


As long-time supporters of Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, the couple donated $2.3 million to purchase a da Vinci robot for the hospital's division of pediatric urology in the department of surgery.  

The foundation, created in 1964, also funded St. Lawrence University in recognition of its Presidential Diversity Scholarship, founded in 1999, with $5 million to establish the Kirk Douglas Scholarship.  

The Scholarship is for deserving students from an underprivileged background to support them throughout their four years of college. 


Sadly, Kirk, one of the last surviving movie stars from Hollywood's Golden Age, died on February 5, 2020, at his Beverly Hills, California home. He was 103 years old.  

"The Two Weeks in Another Town" star had made a long and difficult recovery from the effects of a severe stroke he suffered back in 1996.  

Kirk Douglas engaging with kids during the Anne and Kirk Douglas 400th Playground Dedication at Lillian Street Elementary School on May 28, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. / Source: Getty Images


Kirk left most of his $80 million wealth to his foundation, the charity he co-founded nearly six decades ago. At the time of his passing, his wife Buydens survived him and remained as the trustee. But she later died on April 29, 2021. 

The couple had two sons, Eric and Peter, a television and film producer. Kirk had two other sons from his first marriage, actor Michael and Joel, a film producer. 

None of the children inherited anything from their father's mega estate. Michael did not need it anyway because he is already worth $300 million.  



Kirk shares Michael and his brother Joel with his former wife Diana Dill, whom he wed in 1943 but divorced in 1951 after seven years of marriage.  

The former couple welcomed their first child together, Michael, 77, in September 1944. Their second son Joel, 75, was born in January 1947.  


Michael is the most famous Douglas son, deemed one of the best actors of his generation. He is a two-time Oscar winner, a Golden Globe winner who has a Cecil B. DeMille Award and an AFI Life Achievement Award.  

The actor is currently married to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the couple has two children, Dylan and Carys. He also has a son named Cameron from a previous relationship.  


His younger sibling Joel opted to work behind the camera, unlike him. The LA native worked on classic films such as "The Jewel of the Nile" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." 

Apart from his career, Joel has been married four times, most recently in 2004 when he exchanged wedding vows to Jo Ann Savitt, who tragically passed away in 2013.  

Kirk Douglas and Anne Douglas attending the 25th Anniversary Of The Anne Douglas Center at Los Angeles Mission on May 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. / Source: Getty Images


Meanwhile, his father tied the knot for the second time in 1954 with Buydens, whom he was with until his death. Kirk revealed he fell in love with his spouse in the early 1950s: 

"I fell for Anne in 1953. I still see her as an elegant and sexy Parisienne, but it's her character and wit and how her eyes light up when she sees me that delight me." 

Kirk Douglas and his wife, film producer Anne Buydens, dancing at a club in New York City in 1955. / Source: Getty Images


The duo welcomed their first child together, Peter, in November 1955. Like the rest of his family, he also found a path in showbiz by becoming a producer. 

The 66-year-old worked on projects like "Whip It" and "Fletch" and even bagged the  prestigious Primetime Emmy Award for his stellar work in the 1988 TV movie "Inherit the Wind." Today, Peter is a family man with four kids and is married to Lisa Schroeder.  

Kirk Douglas posing with his four sons during a gala evening at the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan from left to right Peter, Joel, Michael and Eric. / Source: Getty Images


Buydens and Kirk's second child Eric arrived in June 1958. He was an actor and a stand-up comedian. Eric previously appeared in films like "Honor Bound" and "Highway to Heaven." 

However, his career hit rock bottom when he had a run-in with the law, including his issues with drugs and alcohol. The youngest member of the Douglas family died in 2004 from an accidental drug overdose.  

Following his father's passing, his mother also died shortly after at her Beverly Hills home. Buydens was 102. Spokeswoman Marcia Newberger did not reveal the cause of death at the time.


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