In a new book about their life together, Kirk and Anne Douglas reflect on their close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and her third husband, Mike Todd. Theirs was a bond laced with Hollywood glamour, but it took a tragic turn when Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958 — the very same plane that Douglas decided not to board at the last minute. Todd’s death left Taylor a young widow at 26.
“I had never seen Mike as besotted with any woman as he was with Elizabeth,” writes Anne, 98, in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, which she co-wrote with her 100-year-old actor husband. The collection of letters featured in the book released Tuesday showcases their romance and how they maintained their marriage for more than 60 years. (Their family includes Kirk Douglas’ two sons from his first marriage — including the actor Michael Douglas — and their two sons together, including youngest son Eric, who was bipolar and died of a drug overdose in 2004).
One of Anne’s favorite memories of the couple? When Taylor was pregnant with their daughter Liza. Though Taylor was already in bed with chocolates, the Cleopatra star asked Todd (a film producer) for more treats. Anne remembers him calling back, “Just shut up and be beautiful!”
Later that evening, he chartered a plane and flew in a meal from Paris to their London hotel at Taylor’s behest.
“We ate that dinner at 10 o’clock,” Anne writes. “Now that’s a showman!”
In the book, Kirk remembers one of his last interactions with Todd. The producer invited Kirk and Anne to see the gifts he’d arranged on the lawn before Taylor woke up. There were all types of jewelry “encrusted with precious stones and shimmering like a mirage in the late-morning sun.”
He remembers Todd saying to Taylor: “‘Go ahead. Pick whatever you want.'”
“It wasn’t her birthday; it wasn’t their anniversary; it wasn’t a holiday,” Kirk writes. “Mike didn’t need a reason to indulge his passion for his young wife.”
According to Kirk and Anne, the next day Todd invited Kirk to fly with him to New York.
“Mike asked me to go on his private plane with him, and we were going to stop and see Harry Truman and then go on to New York,” the actor told PEOPLE in July 2015, adding, “I was very excited.”
After Kirk shared the invite with Anne, she had “a strange feeling.” She writes that she was six months pregnant and told him she didn’t want him on the plane.
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“Kirk gave in. He was furious,” she writes. “If he couldn’t fly with Mike, he wouldn’t go at all. I was ruining his fun for no logical reason. He stomped off to bed without kissing me goodnight.”
On March 22, 1958, Todd and three others died when the plane crashed in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico. According to a report from that time, Taylor was sedated after she heard the news. She had planned on flying with him, but didn’t go because she had a cold.
Shortly after Todd’s death, Taylor began her famed romance with his friend Eddie Fisher, who was married to Debbie Reynolds at the time. The pair wed fourteen months after the fatal crash.
“I loved them both passionately and dearly,” she said to Larry King in 2006 of her feelings for Todd and Fisher.
Looking back at that fateful day when he decided not to get on that plane, Kirk said the incident made him even more thankful for his wife.
“Why was I spared? I was so grateful,” Kirk told PEOPLE. “My wife has saved my life many times.”
Anne and Kirk heard the news of the accident on the radio while he was driving.
“I pulled onto the shoulder of the road immediately. Shakily, I got out of the car. Anne joined me.” Kirk writes, “We stood, wrapped together in a strong embrace, tears streaming down our faces.”
He remembers eventually telling her: “Darling, you saved my life. I will always trust your intuition from now on.”