Michael Douglas: A Biography
by Marc Eliot
Hardcover, 352 pages
Crown Archetype (Random House)
This review originally appeared on Out of the Past - A Classic Film Blog.
My wife knowing how much I admire Michael Douglas secured a copy of his biography and suggested I review it.
From the time I saw Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone (1984) he became one of my favorite actors. I have seen 22 of his movies, with Wall Street (1987) as my favorite movie for his acting and The Game (1997) as my favorite for the plot.
As I read the book, I came to realize how complicated Michael is as a person and how his life evolved. He was very much a product of his famous father, Kirk Douglas. Not only did he only did he follow his father’s footsteps in his profession but also in his relationships with women. They were both married twice, had numerous affairs and his mother’s name and first wife’s name are almost identical (Diana and Diandra respectively). They both have been awarded accolades for their vast bodies of work over many decades. Unlike his father Michael was involved in drugs and alcohol for a time.
Michael’s first acting break was the television series, The Streets of San Francisco, with Karl Malden. However it was not acting that made Michael famous, it was producing. Michael’s big producing break came courtesy of Kirk. Kirk was acting in a play called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for several years. Several attempts were made over the years to take play from the stage to the screen with no success. There was a growing interest in the book and he wanted to capitalize on it. Kirk was practically giving the movie away to anyone just as long he had the main part. No studio would touch it due to the depressing and sad story. Finally Michael interjected and convinced Kirk to let him take over the project. This is where Michael’s life would change forever. Now it had been several years and Kirk was looking for film work. Kirk assumed that since Michael was now producer that he would get the role of McMurphy as he did in the play. The only glitch in the project was that Kirk Douglas was deemed to old for that role. Michael agonized about this decision and the role ultimately went to Jack Nicholson which would win him his first Oscar.
After the monster success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the subsequent Oscar for Best Picture, the movie industry was at Michael’s feet. He now had the power to star and/or make any movie he wished. Then in 1986 he starred in his definitive role of Gordon Gecko, in director Oliver Stone’s Wall St. His command performance of the financier would win him his second Oscar, this time for Best Actor.
His life was marred by personal setbacks and tragedy. He suffered the incarceration of his son, Cameron, for drug possession and the death of his half-brother, Eric, to a drug overdose. His first marriage ended in a contemptuous divorce. He even had a brush with stage IV throat cancer. Although through all the tribulations he did manage to find love again with fellow actor, Catherine Zeta-Jones. They married in 2000 and have two children.
Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot is an engrossing and intimate look into the life of one of the most popular contemporary actors. The biography details the childhood of Michael growing up with a famous father and how his fragmented upbringing shaped him. The biography moves chronologically through childhood, college, starting in movies, having a child, divorce, and remarrying. Mr. Eliot details the ups and downs of Michael's life with concise thoughts. This book is an informative read for any movie buff or anyone looking to learn more about the famous actor. I was also impressed with Mr. Eliot's biography of Steve McQueen.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Crown Archetype for sending a copy of the book for review.