I remember that evening clearly. I must have been half in the bag, pitching a cause to two philanthropists that had a penchant for Mojitos, at the bar of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. It was obvious that they really had no interest in whatever campaign I was trying to fund as the discussion quickly circled back to the part of my pitch that frequently spurs conversation. “Tell us again about what happened at the Motion Picture Home.”
It was a battle whose successful outcome made everyone happy, and with all of the threats of litigation, oblique references to Nazis and administration meltdowns over my blogs, there stood Harry’s Haven, rising above the contentiousness of the debate over continuum of care. Harry’s Haven was indeed a haven for Alzheimer’s patients, and it existed only because of the generosity of Kirk and Anne Douglas. Named after Kirk’s father Harry Demsky, Harry’s stood as an example of the generosity that continued with Kirk and Anne Douglas. More than generosity though, it is a testament to empathy.
I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
John Califra, an Emmy-nominated composer who works out of New York City, recalled working on Lee Grant’s documentary “… A Father … A Son … Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” about Kirk and Michael Douglas. He was approached by the conductor Christo Christov, who was over the moon when he was given the project, explaining that Kirk Douglas’ famed character Spartacus was a hero in Bulgaria, as the country occupied the same real estate as Thrace, where Spartacus was born. For Christov’s father, Douglas portrayal was inspirational as the Bulgarians were fighting against Communist rule.
“This man so admired Douglas, that he pleaded with me to get an autograph,” John recalled. “After returning to New York with the score for the movie, I let Kirk know about his Bulgarian fan. Some weeks later I received a parcel from Kirk Douglas. It not only contained a photo inscribed with Christov’s father’s name, but a note about the character and how Kirk was inspired by him too. I immediately sent this to Bulgaria, to Christov’s father. Of course, the elder Christov was absolutely thrilled with this unexpected gift, and he framed it and displayed it prominently in his home. I was deeply touched by Kirk’s humanity and his decency, and it is something that made Mr. Douglas’ death personal to me.”
Another admirer is my friend Anne-Marie Johnson, an actor and activist who is a past vice president of the Screen Actors Guild. “The Hollywood legacy has just lost not only a talented actor, producer, director — but more importantly, a decent man who lived outside of himself,” she said. “Mr. Douglas’ generosity and empathy was legendary. His was certainly a life well lived.”
My admiration however was for what Kirk provided for my mother, and other memory-challenged elders of the motion picture and television industry. His star power illuminated those who were fortunate enough to be in his care. The walls of Harry’s Haven are decorated with the spirit of those who have passed, and certainly the spirit of Kirk Douglas will occasionally visit those who exist only for his care, and the loving way that it is delivered by Motion Picture Home caregivers.
Today, Harry’s Haven still stands. The long-term care unit still takes care of the most elderly and frail of motion picture and television workers. We have a great CEO in Bob Beitcher who gets it, and we have the memory of Kirk Douglas that is strong even when our own memories fail.
I won’t soon forget him.