Kirk Douglas is credited with helping to end Hollywood's Blacklist after hiring Dalton Trumbo to write Spartacus

By Nigel Smith
February 05, 2020 10:38 PM
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Kirk Douglas was not only one of the greatest actors of his generation — he was also one of Hollywood’s biggest risk takers.

The acting legend died at the age of 103, his son Michael Douglas revealed to PEOPLE on Thursday.

The Oscar winner leaves behind a storied legacy, including the time he stuck his neck out to work with the blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, on the now-classic 1960 film Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Douglas was also an executive producer on the project and enlisted Trumbo to author the script, which was based on a book by another blacklisted author, Howard Fast.

His bold move played a role in helping to end the communist purge that was occurring at the time in Hollywood.

“Dalton Trumbo was one of the best writers we had. He was on the Hollywood blacklist, so he was working under another name,” Douglas previously shared with PEOPLE. “It was such a terrible, shameful time. So I decided the hell with it! I’m going to put his name on it. I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of because it broke the blacklist. It caused me a lot of trouble, but it was worth it.”

Prior to writing Spartacus, Trumbo had spent 10 months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Like other blacklisted writers in the ’40 and ’50s, he continued to write under various pseudonyms.

Trumbo’s uncredited writing earned two Academy Awards in the Motion Picture Story category for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956).

Kirk Douglas
Ron Galella/Getty Images

Douglas’ daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones lovingly paid tribute to his efforts in 2018 when they both presented an award at the Golden Globes. “He not only hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the epic Spartacus, but he also had Trumbo receive his proper screen credit for his work,” she said alongside Douglas, who was 101 at the time.

When Douglas’ passing was announced, director Rob Reiner expressed a similar sentiment, tweeting, “Kirk Douglas will always be an icon in the pantheon of Hollywood. He put himself on the line to break the blacklist.”

The actor, who had been in good health since suffering a stroke in 1996, is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne, and his sons Michael, Joel, and Peter.