July 18, 2005

Kirk, Michael Douglas explore the personal

If the term "Hollywood royalty" applies to anyone, it applies to Kirk and Michael Douglas.

At 88, Kirk reigns as one of the last of the golden era icons, and his son Michael, 60, remains one of America's most popular leading men. Separately, they each have Oscars for their film work and awards for their humanitarian efforts.

Together, they have the kind of bond, issues, conflicts and love common to many fathers and sons. And they explore that bond in the Lee Grant-directed documentary A Father... A Son ... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which premieres on HBO Aug. 13.

Though the men appeared together Friday at the meetings of television critics in Los Angeles, they were not physically in the same place. Kirk, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery, was beamed into the room by satellite from his backyard. Still, the parent/child connection between them was obvious, as was their apparent fondness for the film.

"I learned a lot about you through it, and I think you learned a little bit about me, no?" Kirk asked his son. "A little bit," Michael answered.

As happens in families, the two men's relationship was not always an easy one. And the problems were magnified, the film says, by Kirk's fame, image and womanizing and later by Michael's problems with alcohol.

Their relationship changed, Michael says, in 1991 when Kirk had a near-fatal helicopter crash. His injuries, and the natural slowing effect age had on his acting career, changed Kirk's outlook.

Indeed, Kirk lists reconnecting with his four sons (two from each of his marriages) as his "greatest personal accomplishment."

"I finally got in contact with all my sons from my first marriage and from my second marriage. That was very important to me, because it leads to contact with my grandchildren. I'm in the late stage of life. I have become interested in what is the world going to do with our grandchildren."

Connection, however, doesn't mean there aren't still points of contention. Kirk had tried to get One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest made into a movie for more than 10 years before he turned the rights over to Michael, and he's still angry that his son didn't give him the role that won Jack Nicholson his first Oscar. "It's nice and healthy to see that some issues 25 years later don't die," Michael says.

It's also nice to see that even famous fathers can find their famous sons exasperating, even when the son is trying to be complimentary. Michael praised Kirk for living his life for challenges, including going through with his knee operation even though "every statistic shows at his age that he should not be having his knees replaced. He did it, and he's recovering faster than anybody ever anticipated. I just think that's an inherent quality of what makes him kind of special."

Kirk's response? "I think you make me appear dumb."

For Kirk, whose speech is still affected by the stroke he had in 1996, acting is a thing of the past. He is, he says, "a man who has difficulty talking, difficulty walking, difficulty seeing, difficulty hearing. There are not many parts for me."

There is one part that he still wants: A spot on the next edition of Dancing with the Stars. But only if he gets to dance with his son's wife.

"Think of it. Kirk Douglas dances with Catherine Zeta-Jones. And we will re-create the dance from Zorro."

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