The legendary actor and his wife reflect on infidelity and love in their new book
Legendary actor Kirk Douglas has been candid about his extramarital affairs in the past, and his wife of more than 60 years says she accepted his infidelity — and willfully turned a blind eye to his lovers.
“Kirk never tried to hide his dalliances from me,” Anne Douglas, 98, writes in Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood, a new book out Tuesday that reveals intimate letters between the longtime couple. “As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”
This “European” attitude toward love created the space for their unconventional romance to bloom. When they first met, the German-born Anne married a Belgian friend during World War II for safety reasons, and the already-divorced Kirk was “secretly engaged” to actress Pier Angeli.
“This self-possessed beauty was very different from the women I had been involved with in Hollywood since Diana [his ex-wife] left me,” writes Kirk.
He and Anne met in Paris in the early 1950s while he was there for a film and she was helping with press. When he first asked her on a date, she refused him.
“The fact that I didn’t impress her certainly impressed me,” Kirk once wrote in an article about his long-lasting marriage, “and I was determined to win her over.”
“[Anne] wasn’t neurotic like Gene Tierney, who always insisted I arrive for our nocturnal ‘dates’ by climbing the tree outside her bedroom window,” Kirk writes in the new book. “She wasn’t reckless like my much-married oil heiress, Irene Wrightsman, whom I found in our bed with Sydney Chaplin when I came home early from the studio.”
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Though Kirk admits he was “more than a little in love with [Anne],” according to Kirk and Anne it took him some time to break off the engagement to Pier Angeli.
“When things got a little too warm between us, [Kirk would] say, ‘Don’t forget, I’m engaged,’ ” said Anne while reflecting on the early stages of their relationship in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I said, ‘I won’t forget.’ “
Kirk eventually broke off the engagement to Angeli, and Kirk and Anne wed in May 1954 after she threatened to leave him. The actor recalls seeing Anne packing her bags and realizing he would be “lost without her.” (The pair went on to have two sons together, Eric and Peter, who joined Kirk’s two sons from his previous marriage — Joel and Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas.)
There may have been a wedding, but that didn’t mean their interactions with ex-lovers were over — a fact Kirk initially documented almost 30 years ago.
“Kirk secured my permission before including stories of his trysts in his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son. I’m positive his candor helped him make the book a major bestseller,” Anne writes in the new book.
She also reveals that she’d remained friends with a “former lover,” and visited him in Paris while she was applying to become an American citizen. Once, when she visited him in his hotel suite, he was intoxicated and begged her not to return to Kirk.
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“In no mood to be reasonable, he ran to the open window and started climbing through it, swearing he would jump unless I changed my mind. I pulled him away and tried to leave,” writes Anne. “This elegant man, whom I had known so well, lunged at me with a lit cigarette. ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t want you,’ he snarled as he ground it into my face.”
Anne writes that she had a doctor come in to sedate her ex and treat her face. After she shared this story with her husband, he took her in his arms.
” ‘I promise, Anne, ‘as long as we both shall live,’ I will keep you safe,’ ” Anne recalls Kirk saying to her.
She adds, “It’s been sixty-two years as I write this, and Kirk has always kept his word.”