December 28, 1987 12:00 PM

Helluva producer. Everybody in Hollywood knew that. His first picture, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, won five Oscars and grossed nearly $200 million. His next four (The China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone, Starman, The Jewel of the Nole) banked almost $450 million. But as an actor? On his best day Michael Douglas couldn’t hold the screen against his old man’s chin dimple. Kirk in his heyday had a face like an ax, and he swung it at the public with wicked zest. Michael generated the theatrical impact of a glass of warm milk: nice, white, wholesome, put you right to sleep. But in 1987 he jammed on a black hat, and his career curve abruptly shot off the graph. In Fatal Attraction, Douglas alternately blazes and freezes as a weekend lecher locked in a love-and-death struggle with Glenn Close (see story, p. 80). And in Wall Street he gives the performance of his life as Gordon Gekko, a slithery corporate raider with the morals of a lizard. That double bill should land him in the Academy’s final five.

How come Michael is just hitting his stride at an age when most leading men are nervously stocking up on Grecian Formula 16? There’s an oedipal explanation: Early in his acting career, damned if he’d turn into a pocket version of his hyperemotional old man, Michael coated himself with a bland persona that muffled all strong feelings. “It limits you a little,” he now admits with a rueful smile. As Gekko, he resolutely brought out the beast in himself—but it wasn’t easy. Though he studied tapes of Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens and interviewed Asher Edelman, he admits, “It was hard to hold that clean cutting edge.”

What now? “I want to spend the next six months with my wife, Diandra, and Cameron, my 9-year-old son. I’ve waited a long time for this success, and I’m going to enjoy it with the people I love.”

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