Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters

Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters

by Kirk Douglas


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Discover the life and lines of Spartacus. . .

He is Spartacus. And a whole lot more. That rugged chin. Those broad shoulders. A swag epitomized in epic films such as Spartacus and The Bad and the Beautiful. Crowned one of greatest actors of all time, Kirk Douglas, whose son Michael continues to build on his Hollywood legacy, is more than legendary. He's a husband. A father. A philanthropist. A Renaissance man. At 97 years old, Kirk Douglas has embraced many roles. But poet?

Playing on his Yiddish roots, Life Could Be Verse—not worse—gives readers the best seat in the house to the intimate world of an acclaimed actor who has turned the silver screen gold. But his poems transcend pentameters—they are nostalgic celebrations of old Hollywood, of timeless lessons in life and love, reflecting an era when people had few coins in their pockets but an abundance of hope in the promise of the American dream.

Through poems, prose, and photographs, Douglas candidly shares it all as he chaperones us through the stages of his life, including the untimely death of his youngest son and the stroke that left him unable to speak. Still, Douglas doesn't dwell in the sadness. Instead, he tantalizes us with his words, his perspective on life, and some never-before-seen photographs and stories of Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, Brigitte Bardot and his most cherished leading lady of all, his wife of sixty years, Anne Buydens.

Life Could Be Verse is uncomplicated yet revealing, poignant yet playful. It's the life and the lines of Spartacus—an uplifting reminder that many times the story of our lives is the most entertaining script of all.

The following is an original poem Kirk wrote about his famous son Michael Douglas:

Fathers and Sons

"Am I a good father?'" I asked my son

He took a pause, too long for me

I waited and waited for him to answer

And finally he said, "Ultimately."

But the pause was all I heard

The silence was so loud

I was waiting for some kind word

Something that would make me proud.

How could I be so dumb?

And I never heard the answer in the pause,

When he spoke not a word.

I became a "good father,"

It took me too long to see,

When I needed him

More than he needed me.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757318474
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Kirk Douglas is an acclaimed actor, producer and writer best known for his roles in Lust for Life, Spartacus, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Bad and the Beautiful. He has three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, a SAG award for best actor, and the Medal of Freedom. Some of his most notable films were produced through his own production company, Bryna, including Lonely Are the Brave, The Vikings, Seven Days in May and Paths of Glory. Kirk has authored eleven books, one of the most notable being the memoir, The Ragman's Son (1988). His 1960 epic, Spartacus, is credited with helping to end the practice of blacklisting people in the film industry who had refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. During his illustrious career, Douglas appeared in ninety movies; the final being in 2004. In 2009 Kirk starred in his own one-man autobiographical show called Before I Forget at the Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles. Douglas lives in Beverly Hills and Montecito, California, with his beloved wife of 60 years, Anne.

Read an Excerpt

Most of my life was spent as an actor who never took the time to know who he really was. For years, I lived in a land of make-believe, slipping in and out of characters for ninety films. I have flubbed just as many scenes in my 'real life' as I have in the 'reel life' of my films.

In 1996, I suffered a debilitating stroke that rendered me speechless. An actor who can't talk, I thought. Is this the end? This caused me to take inventory of my life and ask questions like, 'Who am I?' At the age of 98, I am still looking. I know that I have made mistakes and I have my share of regrets. But overall, life has been very good to me. As they say in Yiddish, 'It could be verse.'

Poetry has been a part of my life from an early age. From schoolyard rhymes to love sonnets, my verses have helped me woo some leading ladies, deal with rejections on screen and off, and even to find my voice again after my stroke. Now, I am happy to share my love of poetry with my grandchildren, who also like to write. Writing is a gift that I hope will stay with them long after I am not.

Here I share some of my memories and the poems they inspired. We'll travel back in time to old Hollywood, when times were simpler. I hope you enjoy the journey. . . .

I grew up in Amsterdam, New York, a small town northwest of Albany and Schenectady. My family lived in the last house on the road near the mill and the railroad tracks. I was the only son, in the middle of six sisters. My father emigrated from Russia and couldn't find work in the mills. So, he got himself a horse and a wagon and became a ragman, buying and reselling old rags, pieces of scrap, and junk for pennies. Even in our poor neighborhood, the ragman was the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman's son.

Pa spent most of his time in the saloon, drinking and fascinating his friends with his stories. I would often sneak in the back and watch everybody listening to Pa, mesmerized; he was such a showman.

But my mother was the one who told me my favorite story.

She was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of soup.

I asked her, 'Ma, how was I born?' She wiped her hands on her apron and scooped me up on her lap.

'Well, Issur,' she said (that's my real name), 'it was a sunny winter morning when I saw something out of the window. I looked out and saw a beautiful gold box shimmering in the snow. It was carved with fruits and flowers and suspended from heaven by thin silver strands.'

'A gold box?!'

'Yes, a gold box. I threw on my shawl, rushed into the yard, and opened it.'

'What was in it? What was in it?'



'Yes, you! Naked. I wrapped you in my shawl and ran back into the house.'

'But, Ma, what about the box?'

'I don't know. When I looked out the window again, it was gone.'

'But, Ma, why didn't you grab the box and keep it?'

'Issur, when I found you I was so happy that I couldn't think about anything else.'

'You lost the gold box?!'

When I was in second grade, I got a part in the school play. I played the lead, the shoemaker in The Shoemaker and the Elves. Ma was thrilled. She made me a little black apron that tied in the back. On stage, I proudly sang the song I'd memorized:

I'm Tack Hammer
The shoemaker
I work on shoes
All day

Of course, my mother and sisters were there to watch me. But when I looked out from the stage, I was stunned. My father was standing in the back of the auditorium. He was a gruff man who usually ignored me, but not this time. After the play, he took me out and bought me a vanilla ice cream cone. I felt like my father recognized me for the first time. That cone was better than any Oscar.

In high school I was introduced to poetry. It intrigued me—until the English teacher announced, 'I want all of you to write a short poem.'

Holy Moses! What the hell did I even know about writing?! My parents could barely speak English, and now I was expected to put words together that rhymed. I didn't know what to do. I'd always dreamed about seeing the ocean and going out on a big sailing ship. It was a wonderful trip only in my imagination. The farthest I had ever traveled was to the big city of Schenectady, fifteen miles away.

So I decided to write about things I never knew:

The Discarded Ship

Above me have flown many flags
But now my sails are torn to rags
My bows are white from swirling foam
As o'er the many seas I roam
But now there's nothing left for me
I live in days that used to be.

After graduating from high school, I kissed my crying mother good-bye (my father was at the saloon), and I hitchhiked to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, with $164 in my pocket. I filled out an application, and, surprisingly, the school accepted me. My first class was Shakespeare. I loved to listen to the teacher recite the many sonnets.

But more than that, I liked to look at the girl who sat in front of me. She had flaming red hair. She always looked straight ahead and followed the professor while I stared at the back of her head. For the first time in my life, a strange feeling came over me. I fell in love. This is what I wrote to get her attention:

How Oft Have I Sat Behind Thee

How oft have I sat behind thee
In awe and watched thy titian hair
Resplendent in the rays
Of morning's golden light,
Which danced about thy head
For joy, a gorgeous sight!
Each ray thus shaped
A sparkling diadem
Of jewels to crown
You queen of beauty over all.
Bewitched by a vision so fair,
I reached out and touched your hair.
Happily you turn, smile at me—
And change my humble state to ecstasy.

©2014 Kirk Douglas. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

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