Kirk Douglas is about to turn 92. Each week, his rabbi, David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, visits his Beverly Hills estate, where, in the quiet of the actor's luxurious one-story house, amid manicured grounds and flowerbeds, they talk Judaism and life. On a recent late summer day, at Moment's request, Wolpe brought along a recorder to document his conversation with the man who left behind the Orthodox Judaism of his youth to become an actor and forged a career, as he once famously put it, of "playing sons of bitches."
Born Issur Danielovitch in 1916, Douglas grew up in poverty in Amsterdam, New York. Blond, blue-eyed, with a wrestler's physique and trademark cleft chin, he got his start on the New York stage and his big break in Hollywood when a former drama school classmate and friend, Lauren Bacall, brought him to the attention of director Hal B. Wallis. Douglas' film debut opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers launched a career that personified Hollywood's golden era. From callous boxer Midge Kelly in Champion to anguished artist Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life, Douglas portrayed a dynamic range of characters in films that included Spartacus, The Bad and the Beautiful, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Paths of Glory and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Douglas also played a leading role in Hollywood's darkest drama. As executive producer as well as the star of Spartacus, directed in 1960 by Stanley Kubrick, Douglas made the politically courageous decision to give credit to screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten, who had refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted. Trumbo was the first of the Ten to write under his own name again, and the film's success helped draw the final curtain on the …