Film fans gathered tonight for the “True Icon” event sponsored by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. With an audience eager to see one of Palm Spring’s own (his father was a resident in the 1950’s) including his brother Joel Douglas, his wife actress Catherine Zeta Jones and friend Goldie Hawn, Michael Douglas (a little leaner than usual) greeted the audience with a spring in his step and sat down for a conversation with Variety’s Peter Bart.
During the interview (brilliantly done) by Bart, Douglas remarked about his bout with stage four throat cancer stating “Just last Thursday, I found out that the tumor in my throat is completely gone and at this point I am cancer free.” He later said “It is still early to tell, but I will have scans on a monthly basis in the first year, and after three months, I will be more confident of my recovery.” He then remarked that “ I have a new depth of feeling for my loved ones including my wife Catherine, and that I am struck by the outpouring of good will from my fans.”
Bart proceeding to ask Douglas “If you had to put just two of your films in a time capsule, which ones would you choose?” Douglas replied, “they would have to be War of the Roses and Falling Down. But as Michael Douglas fans, we know his body of work as a producer and actor is much more vast.
He then told the crowd that actor Karl Malden was his mentor and had a great influence on his career. He claimed that the six day a week shoot on the television show “The Streets of San Francisco,” taught him a great deal about filmmaking. He went on to say that Karl was from Gary, Indiana and had profound thankfulness for the job he had and that he always wanted to do his best. He said the television show was much like filming a feature film each week and that he learned a great deal as he directed some of the episodes with Karl.
After the “Streets of San Francisco,” Douglas went on to produce the Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The play version had starred his father, Kirk Douglas, on Broadway in 1960. His father had unsuccessfully tried to find funding to make it into a film. When Michael Douglas started working on the project, it took him five to six years to develop it and get the funding. Milos Forman was selected to direct the film because “he had the right tone,” declared Douglas.
He told the audience that he was surprised when One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won the Oscar for Best Film, as the film was up against the blockbuster Jaws. After his Academy Award win for producing the film he said it was still difficult to get jobs acting. “In the 1970’s it was difficult to transition an acting career from television to film. So, I produced films like The China Syndrome, just so I could have a role to continue acting.”
Peter Bart asked Douglas “What film did you find the most difficult to make?”
His reply was “as a producer, it would have to be Romancing The Stone. The mud slide scene was the most time consuming and he said that he was thankful for Kathleen Turner’s patience (his co-star in the film). Douglas then stated “It was the year that I made Fatal Attraction and Wall Street that I became more in demand for my acting abilities.” He said that he learned from his father “to be a good listener. My dad told me it was the sign of a great actor, and not many actors are capable of it today.”
He said his only drawback is that he doesn’t do well with period films. “I have only made one period film which is Shining Through, and it was a disaster.” A sigh was heard from the crowd as a female audience member said “but I loved that one.” So, not everyone agrees with Douglas’ assessment.
At the conclusion of the interview, The Palm Springs International Film Festival director Darryl Macdonald bestowed the Icon Award to Michael Douglas for his long career as a producer and actor in the film industry. The finale of the night was the screening of Michael Douglas’ film A Solitary Man.
So, what’s new for Michael Douglas? First he will surely be attending the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday as he has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. And in June, filming for the biopic of Liberace will start with Douglas in the leading role, co-starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderberg.
Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones, no texting, don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Film, see her work on SilentHollywood.com