Your Navy

Kirk Douglas, WWII Navy vet, Hollywood star, dead at 103

LOS ANGELES — Kirk Douglas, the muscular actor with the dimpled chin who starred in “Spartacus,” “Lust for Life” and dozens of other films and helped fatally weaken the Hollywood blacklist, has died at 103, People magazine reported Wednesday.

"It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103," his son Michael said in a statement obtained by People.

“To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

Kirk Douglas was nominated three times for Oscars — for "Champion," "The Bad and the Beautiful" and "Lust for Life."

He later received an honorary award for “50 years as a creative and moral force” in the movie industry.

His son Michael won Oscars as producer for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and as actor for “Wall Street.”

Pictured here with director Otto Preminger (center), Kirk Douglas filmed
Pictured here with director Otto Preminger (center), Kirk Douglas filmed "In Harm's Way" on board the cruiser Saint Paul (CA-73) in the summer of 1964. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Navy Times editor’s note: Shortly after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941 — and three years after he legally changed his name from Issur Danielovitch Demsky — Kirk Douglas enlisted in the Navy.

He’d been toiling as an understudy to a stage manager, with his biggest (but brief) role that of a singing messenger boy. Many of his fellow thespians flocked to units that churned out military training films or entertained the troops, but Douglas had a different idea.

“I felt a wave of patriotism and a wave of Jewishness about what was happening in Europe with Hitler,” he explained to Playbill in 1990.

Anyone who has spent a day in the service knows, of course, that Douglas wasn’t sent to Europe to bomb Hitler’s Germany as an Army pilot — he failed the dexterity test — but instead he was ushered into the sea service and was sent to Notre Dame for his midshipmen course and then the Pacific Theater to drop depth charges on the Japanese.

Some press accounts report that Ensign Douglas trained as an antisubmarine warfare communications and gunnery officer and was assigned to Patrol Craft 1137, a PC-146 (later Bluffton)-class sub chaser, but in his autobiographies he said he reported to PC-1139.

He later quipped in “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood," a memoir he co-wrote with his beloved wife, “I looked great in my dress dress uniform, but nothing else about my service was distinguished.”

Except that last part isn’t exactly true, because PC-1139 almost killed him long before he became a Hollywood star.

In March, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs told his story for him and it focuses on Feb. 7, 1943, when he and his crew were hunting a suspected Japanese submarine.

A shipmate was supposed to fire a depth charge marker but he mistakenly launched a live ashcan. It hit the waves, detonated and hurled PC-1139 into the air.

Tossed hard against his ship, Douglas suffered abdominal injuries. He was sent to recover in San Diego’s Balboa Hospital (no longer called that), where physicians discovered he also had chronic amoebic dysentery.

Those medical maladies triggered the 1944 discharge of Lt. j.g. Douglas, two years before his cinema debut.

The rest is Hollywood history.

Fair winds and following seas, sir.

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