SANTA BARBARA – It was a lovely evening on the beach last night as the Biltmore Four Seasons of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Film Festival played host to an evening in honor of actor Michael Douglas. Douglas was on hand for the sixth annual presentation of the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.
“In my opinion, this event tonight is the pinnacle of the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s 27 years,” festival director Roger Durling said before introducing Kirk Douglas to present the award. “It’s definitely the highlight of my tenure.”
The elder Douglas gave a truly wonderful speech, sharp as a tack, funny, charming, just wonderful. “I was walking down Sunset Boulevard and a young lady ran up to me all out of breath,” he recalled. “She was beautiful. She looked up to me with lovely eyes. I reached back to grab a pen to give her an autograph and she looked up to me and said, ‘Michael Douglas’s father!'”
He told a story of Michael’s younger years as a student at UC Santa Barbara studying to be a lawyer. Suddenly one day Michael came to Kirk and told him he was going to be in a play, which made the legendary actor nervous. “Why aren’t you studying your law books,” he wondered.
He went to see the performance and a giddy Michael asked his father what he thought. But Kirk, who was really happy to have a son interested in law, wanted to dissuade him from this career path however he could. “Michael, you were awful!” But the young man wasn’t deterred. Before long he was set for another play, and the determination wasn’t lost on Kirk. This time, he was honest. “I said, ‘Michael, you were very good.’ And he has been good in everything he has done from that day on.”
He also reflected the moment his son first laid eyes on Catherine Zeta-Jones (also in attendance) at a screening of “The Mask of Zorro.” He recalled Michael’s eyes got real big and he couldn’t wait to meet her. “The first thing he said to her was, ‘I want to be the father of your children,'” he said. “That scared the hell out of her. Now he’s going to play Liberace and Matt Damon is his lover. I asked Matt how he would feel kissing Michael Douglas on the screen. He said, ‘I will pretend it’s Catherine Zeta-Jones.'”
And in introducing his son for the award presentation, he commented, “The Santa Barbara Film Festival has decided to give you the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, and I am here to present it to you, my favorite actor, Kirk… Wait a minute. You think I made a mistake. His name is Michael K. Douglas. What the hell do you think the ‘K’ stands for?”
In accepting the honor, the younger Douglas quipped, “I gather this is the sixth time” the Kirk Douglas Award has been presented. “That just shows there’s no nepotism involved in this. I know this is an award for excellence in film, but I do think coming from you we should talk about quality of life, because so much has been said about an extraordinary career, a tremendous number of 90-plus pictures in producing, breaking the blacklist and all of these incredible qualities. At this point in my career as an actor I have a deep, deep appreciation for what you’ve accomplished. But for me, your third act is quite extraordinary. For somebody at 70 years old to have a helicopter crash, followed by a pacemaker, followed by a stroke, followed by having double knee replacement at 88, and at the same time writing 10 books, doing a one-man show and writing poetry to your wife while she’s in the bath, I’m really proud of you.”
The actor said he was honored to receive an award from someone he admires in a town he loves. He remembered flipping through brochures long ago and trying to decide on a college, and he was stopped by something that said, “Campus by the sea.” There was a guy with a surfboard and a pair of girls in two-piece bathing suits. “This was 1963,” he said. “You did not see a two-piece bathing suit around! There was nothing but army barracks here, but what it did have was three girls to every boy.”
At UCSB, Michael met Danny DeVito, who was on hand to pay tribute to his friend of nearly 50 years. Annette Bening was also in attendance to introduce a clip from “The American President.” She was just here last year to accept the festival’s American Riviera Award following her Oscar-nominated work in “The Kids Are All Right.” Others in attendance included Christopher Lloyd, Dennis Miller, Rhea Perlman, Bo Derek, Ivan Reitman and Andrew Davis.
Seven years ago Durling reached out to Kirk Douglas through a mutual friend at a time when the festival was in a precarious financial situation, hoping the legend would name the award and show up to present it each year. Now the festival is stable and strong and has grown in significance and prestige largely due to Douglas’s commitment. “Some people know Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, but for me, he’s the greatest mensch I’ve ever known,” Durling said.
Past recipients of the award include John Travolta, Ed Harris, Harrison Ford and Quentin Tarantino. Douglas himself received the introductory honor in 2006. I’ve been skipping this event every year — call it laziness, fatigue, a strong desire to NOT get dressed up for a black tie affair. But this was certainly a good year to go. A wonderful evening and a touching moment.
The Santa Barbara Film Festival kicks off on January 26th, 2012 and runs through February 5th. I will once again be on hand this year reporting from the various tributes and awards presentations, the recipients of which will begin to be announced in the coming weeks.
I’ve included audio of the award presentation below. First you’ll hear Roger Durling, followed by Kirk Douglas and finally Michael Douglas accepting his honor.