At the intersection of Washington and Duqesene is the Kirk Douglas Theater, a part of the formidable Center Theatre Group. Formerly the Culver Theater, a single screen movie house that opened in 1947, it reopened in 2004 as the Kirk Douglas Theater, and with the death of Douglas yesterday, Feb. 5, 2020, it stands as a visible tribute to his philanthropy.
When Culver City was younger, it was a town where Douglas worked as an actor, making his way up to stardom. Like many, he came to film through theater. Born Issur Danielovitch on Dec. 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II. Prior to serving in the war, he made his Broadway debut in the musical “Spring Again.” After he was injured and discharged from the Navy in 1944, he returned to acting in New York in the theater, commercials and radio.
Douglas was most well known for his lead role in ‘Spartacus’ on which he is also credited as executive producer. His last major role was 2009’s “Before I Forget,” an autobiographical one-man show he performed four times at the KDT. The performances were filmed and turned into a documentary that was released in 2010.
While many people ask what connection Kirk Douglas had to the Kirk Douglas Theater, the answer is simple. He was a major benefactor in the renovation of the theater, redesigned by Ehrlich Architects as a crown jewel in the renovation of Culver City’s downtown. The property is owned by the City of Culver City and leased on a very long term basis by Center Theatre Group.
Eric Sims, the Associate General Manager of the KDT, noted that “Mr. Douglas gave the lead gift towards the renovation which made it possible and was a huge supporter of the theatre and the work we did.”
Michael Ritchie, Center Theatre Group’s Artistic Director offered “Tonight [Feb. 5, 2020] we will borrow a long-standing Broadway tradition and dim the lights on the marquee of the Kirk Douglas Theatre at 7:50pm. It is a small but meaningful recognition of a man who brightened so many lives and made this theatre possible.”
In addition to his donation to Culver City’s renaissance, Douglas and his wife Anne Buydens also funded hundreds of playgrounds around Los Angeles County, a surgical robot for Children’s Hospital, a fellowship at the AFI Conservatory, and many more projects through the Douglas Foundation.
At the intersection of film, theater and philanthropy, there was Kirk Douglas.
Photo caption – CTG Founder Gordon Davidson with Kirk and Anne Douglas @ The Kirk Douglas Theater, celebrating the 10th anniversary.