By William Wolf


There could scarcely be a better topper to an award event. Screen legend Kirk Douglas presents the Chaplin Award of the Film Society of Lincoln Center to his son, actor Michael Douglas—and that after Kirk is introduced by his gorgeous actress daughter-in-law, Michael’s wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. That was the emotional set up at the Film Society’s annual gala (May 24, 2010) at sparklingly renovated Alice Tully Hall, and the three on stage together provided an emotional image hard to beat.

Kirk Douglas, now 93 and a stroke survivor, spoke clearly as he humorously told of his hopes as a Jewish father to have his son become either a lawyer or a doctor. But he recalled the point at which Michael said he was in a play and asked his father to come see him. When Michael asked how he did, Kirk recalled telling him it was terrible, one of the worst performances he had seen. Later on, Michael was in another play, and this time, when he asked his father how he did, the answer was, “Terrific.” And from that moment on, Kirk said, his son was an actor.

“I’m proud of my son,” Douglas asserted, thanking the Film Society for the opportunity to present his award to “my son, the actor.”

On receiving the award, Michael Douglas cited some of the movie greats who had been awarded it before him, and quipped that they “have now lowered the bar.” Regarding the accolades by previous speakers, he also said that it was great “to hear all these wonderful words and not be dead.” Douglas paid tribute to the actor he called his mentor, the late Karl Malden. The honoree’s demeanor throughout was congenial and his expressions of appreciation gave the impression of being genuinely moved by the honor.

Both father and son expressed pride about the Drama Desk Award that Catherine Zeta-Jones had received the night before. As President of the Drama Desk, I especially enjoyed hearing how proud they were of her. She was voted Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her role in “A Little Night Music,” sharing the honor in a tie with Montego Glover for “Memphis.”

One of the evening’s highlights was a film clip of Barbara Walters, who said she couldn’t attend as a result of her recuperating from heart surgery, and a portion of an interview she had previously done with Michael Douglas. She pressed him on whether sex scenes were hard to do. He said that sex scenes posed more problems than action scenes because everyone judges them. As he put it, “Most people have had sex. Not many people have been shot at.”

The build up to the presentation included remarks by Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, who pointed out that Douglas’s lead-in voice is a regular fixture for the show. Others who joined in extolling the honoree included director Milos Forman, and actors Tobey Maguire, Frank Langella and Danny DeVito. Jimmy Buffet contributed two musical numbers.

Film clips were used creatively in sampling Douglas’s contributions to such movies as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo”s Nest,” which he produced, and as an actor in “Wonder Boys” “Traffic,” “War of the Roses,” “Romancing the Stone,” and his most recent work, “Solitary Man” and the forthcoming “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” Clips were also nicely used to introduce various speakers.

The presentation ceremony was preceded by a sit-down dinner and followed by a lively after-party, both on the premises of Alice Tully Hall.

Other recipients of the award, dating to 1972 when Charlie Chaplin returned from his long sojourn in Europe after being harshly treated during the McCarthy era and eventually named after him, have included such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Douglas not only has amassed a monumental film career. He has been drawn to films that have something important to say about our society, including “The China Syndrome,” “Traffic” and “Wall Street." In his public life, in 1998 he was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace. He is a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament and the control of small arms. In his charity work Douglas has also hosted ten years of the "Michael Douglas and Friends" Celebrity Golf event that raised over $5 million dollars for the Motion Picture and Television Fund.


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