California State University, Long Beach
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Kirk Douglas Returns To Campus

Published: September 15, 2011

Kirk Douglas
PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Betty McMicken (l) and Kirk Douglas on stage at the Daniel Recital Hall in April 2010.

The legendary Kirk Douglas will make his third appearance at CSULB on Tuesday, Sept. 20, again at the invitation of Betty McMicken, an assistant professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders. Douglas, who suffered a stroke 16 years ago, will speak to students in the Daniel Recital Hall beginning at 1 p.m. The event, which is open to students, faculty and staff as well, will also include video clips of his work.

The actor, author, producer and philanthropist will address the history of his film career, how the stroke effected it ,and how he has surmounted the problem through therapy and his tenacious spirit. He will also discuss the making of “Spartacus”, and how, with that film, he broke the Hollywood Blacklist. He may even speak about a new book on that very subject.

“Many of the students who now attend the university have never seen Kirk Douglas and are unaware of his accomplishments since his stroke and his overall impact on the motion picture industry,” said McMicken, who has served as Douglas’ personal speech therapist for the past five years, working with him twice a week at his Beverly Hills home.

The remarkable Douglas, who will turn 95 years old on Dec. 9, first appeared at CSULB in October 2008 and again in April 2010.

Over his career, Douglas has performed in 87 films and 10 plays, and has written 10 books and three songs. In 1949 he earned an Academy Award nomination for “Champion,” received a second nomination in 1952 for “The Bad and the Beautiful,” and a third in 1956 for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life,” for which he won the New York Film Critics’ Best Actor Award.

Douglas has also received the Medal of Freedom award, the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and in 1996, a Special Oscar for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community. This past summer he received the Freedom Of Expression Award for his work to end the Hollywood Blacklist. “Against much advice, he put Dalton Trumbo’s name on the screen and in effect, broke the Hollywood Blacklist,” said McMicken. “He feels very strongly about this subject and he is very proud of his effort because he took a big chance. Everybody was telling him he would never work again, that the movie would be a big flop because of his decision to do this. They were wrong.”

As another author, Douglas’ books include The Ragman’s Son and Dance With the Devil, but recently he has focused on more personal writings such as My Stroke of Luck and Let’s Face It – 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning.

Douglas is asked to speak all the time, according to McMicken, and recently returned from San Francisco where he received the Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award. He was interviewed by Robert Osbourne on Turner Classic Movies two months ago, and he and his wife Anne were also on a recent segment of the celebrity TV show TMZ.

“He is very much in demand to speak. In many ways he is more active than ever,” said McMicken. “Does it take effort on his part to do what he does? Absolutely. He is a person with a communication disorder who has a remarkable, unique ability and continues to display that amazing ability regardless of the passage of time; regardless of the energy that it takes him to speak.

“The one thing that really needs to be put across is that he is courageous man of incredible gumption who continues to be active and he is such an inspiration,” she added. “Many people would not have even tried to open their mouth after a stroke such as he suffered. But this man has continued to teach and challenge me each week to be my best and therefore bring out the best in him.

“The proudest moment I have ever known was coaching him to be on stage in 2009 for four sold-out performances of ‘Before I Forget’,” continued McMicken. “I helped him through it and that was the proudest moment in my career.”

–Shayne Schroeder