Charming autobiography by the intense actor who would not buy a Van Gogh for his home because he would think he'd painted...


THE RAGMAN'S SON: An Autobiography

Charming autobiography by the intense actor who would not buy a Van Gogh for his home because he would think he'd painted it. Issur Danielovich Demsky, known today as the father of Michael Douglas, was himself the Russian-Jewish son of an illiterate rag-picker in Amsterdam, N.Y., and it is this background that has sharpened his Dostoevskian glitter of submerged humiliation, insult, and injury. He began acting in high school, became a big man on campus at St. Lawrence Univ., later found himself worked to death playing leads in summer stock, did a Navy stint as an ensign during WW II, landed on Broadway after discharge, was lured to Hollywood. At every turn the fact that he was Issur Demsky, Jew, rose up to face him. (Son Michael, asked during an interview how he felt about being Kirk Douglas' son, said, ""I don't mind seeing my father's face in the mirror."") Meanwhile, Douglas' story has many highlights. On the erotic side are his pursuit of widespread infidelity, at least in his younger days; his story about Joan Crawford stripping to the buff in her foyer and having sex with him reveals as much about Joan as it does about starry-eyed Issur. He strives for irony in telling about his obsessive pursuit of the pure (and star-crossed suicide) Pier Angeli, who actually had a stable of lovers he knew nothing about; despite their engagement, he maintained his double standard. Financially, he was taken to the cleaners by his longtime agent, whose office also stripped Doris Day to the bone. Artistically, he thinks Lonely Are the Brave, Paths of Glory, and Lust for Life are his best performances, but only as Van Gogh did he cross over into total absorption by the character he was playing--a role he did not easily recover from, During his own company's production of Spartacus, he broke the unwritten Hollywood rule of ten-years standing about not hiring blacklisted writers and hired Dalton Trumbo. Winning pages that turn occasionally sharp-tongued, especially about Stanley Kubrick.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1988