The Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award has been established to honor individuals who effect change within their communities and demonstrate a commitment to the betterment of humankind.
Kirk and Anne Douglas were born a world apart—Kirk in Amsterdam, New York, and Anne in Hannover, Germany. Kirk, the son of illiterate Jewish-Russian immigrants whose birth name is Issur Danielovitch, was driven to leave behind the poverty of his hometown. His chance came when he won a wrestling scholarship to Saint Lawrence University. Kirk worked as a wrestler in summer carnivals to meet school expenses. A second scholarship from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts put him on the road to a long and extremely successful career in the arts.
Anne was barely a teenager when, without her family, she fled from Germany to Belgium with friends to escape fascism. Anne eventually went to Paris, where she managed to survive the Nazi occupation by putting her linguistic ability to work. She was fluent in German, French, English and Italian, and she supported herself throughout the war by doing film translations and writing subtitles. She was even arrested as a spy once when she took some of her work home and the film footage numbers were mistaken for code!
It was in Paris that the paths of Kirk and Anne Douglas finally crossed. Anne was working as public relations manager for the French-American production ACT OF LOVE, starring Kirk Douglas. Kirk hired Anne as his assistant and promptly fell in love with her. After a trans-oceanic romance, the two were married in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1954. In 2004, they celebrated their 50th Anniversary with a big second wedding. Kirk and Anne Douglas are truly a dynamic duo.
In addition to being life partners, they are also business partners. In 1955, Mr. Douglas formed one of Hollywood’s first independent film companies, The Bryna Company, named after his mother. Mrs. Douglas has served as an officer of the company since its inception and currently holds the title of President. In fact, Anne even produced the movie Scalawag for Kirk in 1973. As Mr. Douglas says, “that is how the woman I once hired to work for me ended up having me work for her.”
Kirk and Anne Douglas are deeply committed to philanthropy. In 1964, Kirk looked at the wonderful paintings he and Anne had acquired after nearly 40 years of marriage and decided it was a sin to have so much money hanging on a wall. They chose to sell them all, and the proceeds from the auction enabled them to support a number of meaningful projects: The Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women; Harry’s Haven, named after Kirk’s father, at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Alzheimer’s Unit; and the building of 350 playgrounds for children in the Los Angeles School District.
Mr. Douglas’ personal lifetime achievements include 87 films, 10 plays, 9 books and a host of other contributions to his art, his country and his fellow humans. He broke the notorious Hollywood blacklist in 1958 when he gave screen credit to blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo for the Spartacus screenplay. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, in 1981 by President Carter in recognition of the many trips he has made at his own expense, speaking to audiences all over the world about why democracy works and what freedom means. Mr. Douglas has also been honored by governments and organizations of other countries, including France, Italy, Portugal, Israel, and Germany. Among the top international awards he received was his appointment, in 1990, as Officier de la Legion d’Honneur for distinguished services to France in arts and letters. In 1991, Kirk Douglas received the prestigious Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, and in 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures honored him with a Special Oscar for “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.” In 2002, President Bush presented Mr. Douglas with the National Medal of the Arts. Kirk Douglas’s conscience has often found an outlet in his movies. For example, through the TV movie Amos, which earned him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, Mr. Douglas tried to focus public attention on the issue of abuse of the elderly. In 1992, he attacked the social stigma associated with dyslexia through the TV movie, The Secret.
In 1991, Kirk Douglas was involved in a helicopter crash in which two people were killed and Kirk almost broke his back. In 1996, he suffered a stroke that affected his speech. For a time, he believed this would end his career as an actor, but with the encouragement of his friends and family, he kept working with a speech therapist and at the end of 1998, he played the role of a feisty ex-boxer recovering from a stroke. Diamonds was released in December of 1999 and was followed by an Emmy-nominated guest-star role for Touched by an Angel in February 2000.
Kirk Douglas’countless films include: The Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life, Lonely are the Brave, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which brought him 3 Oscar nominations. When not acting, Mr. Douglas occupies his time writing. He has written his autobiography The Ragman’s Son, Climbing the Mountain, and My Stroke of Luck along with novels and children’s books. He is presently writing his ninth book.
Anne Douglas, herself a proud naturalized American citizen, deeply believes that those who benefit from our system of democracy should help those in need. Consequently, her work in civic and community causes has been tireless. In recognition of this fact, she was selected as “Woman of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times in 1969 and named one of twelve pacesetters of Los Angeles by Town and Country magazine. She was a member of the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for 38 years and was awarded the Guild’s Evelyn Clayburgh Award for distinguished service. In March 1997, Mrs. Douglas became the first recipient of the “Women of Courage Award” by the Cedars-Sinai Research for Women’s Cancers. She was a board member of the Mark Taper Forum shortly after it was built and then became a board member of the Los Angeles Music Center’s Center Theatre Group. She was one of the founders and former co-president of the “Blue Ribbon 400 Committee.” She received the Silver Medallion Award from the Motion Picture Television Fund. In 1996, Mrs. Douglas received the United Nations Ralph Bunche Peace Award, and in the fall of 1999, she received the Boys & Girls Clubs Champion of Youth Award as well as the 1999 City of Angels Award from Mayor Riordan in Los Angeles. The City Council of Los Angeles honored her in December 2003 for improving the lives of young people throughout the city. In November 2004, she was given the honor of “Woman of the Year” by Glamour Magazine for her efforts in the research of women’s cancers. In May of 2005, Mrs. Douglas was honored by the United Teachers Los Angeles/National Education Association with the Gold Community Award for making a lasting and important contribution to the community. She has been honored by the Angel View Foundation, the Braille Institute and the American Cancer Society for her outstanding support of many charities and community events in Palm Springs. In addition, The United States Information Agency presented Mrs. Douglas with its Directors Award for superior achievement in recognition of her work with her husband, furthering international understanding. Mrs. Douglas has also been acknowledged for her impeccable taste. She was included three times on the international list of Best Dressed Women and voted into the Fashion Hall of Fame.
The Heart Foundation’s Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award recognizes outstanding members of the community whose lives embody personal and professional integrity, generosity and strength. We celebrate the philanthropic works of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas and salute them with this award.