Kirk Douglas: Sex is a powerful driver and I’m guilty as any man

That’s a little far out, but ­attitudes toward infidelity vary around the world. Sex is a powerful drive, and it rears its ugly – or beautiful – head at unusual times. For a man, anyway, it’s got something to do with proving himself. Man is not a monogamous animal. You get lonely, far from home, from family. I’ve been guilty as much as anyone else. 

I went with Gone With The Wind star Evelyn Keyes while she was in the process of getting a divorce from her husband John Huston. We enjoyed being to­gether. For a month, we had a wonderful relationship;­ warm, cosy, sexy. In the morning, we’d linger over breakfast and talk. 

I went out with Rita Hayworth for a short time. Rita was beautiful, but very simple, unsophisticated. 

I felt something deep within her that I couldn’t help – loneliness, sadness – something that would pull me down. I had to get away. 

Patricia Neal was elegant, intelli­gent and beautiful. I liked her a lot. She liked me. But she was madly in love with Gary Cooper. They were having a passionate love affair. I think Pat reached out to me to try to break the hold that Cooper had over her. But she couldn’t. 

I made an amazing discovery: I am very often attracted to women who have a slight overbite. My wife Anne has an overbite. Gene Tierney had a beautiful overbite. How charming she was. It was a wonderful relationship. But she had some strange habits. 

She insisted, like a mischievous girl, that when I came to see her at night, I did not ring the doorbell. 

She would leave the ­window to her bedroom open, and I would climb in. 

She wasn’t mar­ried, she wasn’t living with anyone, but if that was the way she liked it, it was fine with me. That window wasn’t too high for me to climb through. 

Maybe it was an aphrodisiac. I didn’t ­question it. Mine was not to question why; mine was just to get through that window. 

On one occasion, I went to see my analyst and managed to tell him that the night before I had been impotent. 

He smiled. “You tell me that you had sex 29 nights in a row with different girls. On the 30th, you say you’re impotent. You know, even God rested after six days.” That was the end of my impotence. 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is one of the most beautiful places on earth – the Teton Peaks look like movie cutouts of mountains, soaring toward the sky, the Snake River twists its way through the countryside. It was 1952 and I was there filming The Big Sky, a western directed by Howard Hawks. 

But I had a killer cold and a stabbing cough. I had one day of shooting left – swimming in a stream they had created on the stage. I didn’t want to do it. All day, I swam with my clothes on and wind machines blowing. I bitched. I got more of a reputation for being diffi­cult. And I got pneumonia. I came out of the hospital weak and frightened. I couldn’t even make a fist. If I’d had the strength, I would have cried. 

Sometimes Marlene Dietrich, whom I had met through the ­director Billy Wilder when I’d starred in Ace In The Hole in 1951, would come over, cook soup, cuddle me. Affec­tionate sex. But that was less important than the mothering, the closeness. 

Marlene was an unusual person. She seemed to love you much more if you were not well. When you became strong and healthy, she loved you less. 

Two years later a producer came to me to ask me to play the part of a trapeze artist in one segment of The Story Of Three Loves, a three-part movie. 

I love the circus, admire trapeze artists, and here I had the opportunity to work with professionals. That was part of the fun of making movies. My co-star was Pier Angeli, a 19-year-old Italian girl. She had huge dark eyes, and a refreshing innocence. I became completely enamoured of her. 

Pier needed her mother’s permission for everything. She never went on a date unchaperoned. But I was surprised at how gutsy Pier was. I was completely bowled over by her. I fell in love with her as she was swing­ing on a trapeze. 

Our romance started 30 feet above the earth. Later, we did scenes 50 feet above, much higher than they go in the circus. I was intoxicated by the trapeze, by the altitude, and by Pier. By the time the picture was ­finished, we had made a commitment to be engaged (my first wife Diana Dill and I had divorced in 1951). Afterwards, Pier went to Europe. I wanted to get away, too. 

But when I arrived in Rome, Pier was not there. She was with her mother and the rest of her family in Ven­ice. I was stunned. 

She had known I was coming. What was she doing in Venice? When you’re in love, you don’t think clearly. You don’t see clearly. 

Having later moved to Paris to make Act Of Love, I wanted someone to handle public relations and be a general assistant and was introduced to Anne Buydens. I walked into my dressing room one day, and there she was – blue suit, white collar, very delicate wrists and ankles, signs of beauty in a woman. 

She sat there very poised, an elegant manner about her. I found her striking. She spoke with a slight accent. She very politely said she did not think that the position was right for her, but she could suggest other people. 

This miffed me. I was an American movie star doing a picture in Paris. I expected her to be anxious to get the job. The picture occupied most of my time but I couldn’t get Anne out of my mind. I swallowed my pride and asked her again to help me. 

Finally, she agreed to work for me ­temporarily. She was extremely efficient, got along very well with everyone, was well liked. I continued with what I thought were my very subtle plans to seduce her. 

Finally, I thought to myself, “Forget it. She’s a great gal. Break off the relationship com­pletely, or let her do her job.” 

Once I gave up pursuing Anne, I became genuinely interested in her. Wary at first, she gradually began to open up to me. She ­unravelled skein after skein of stories. I was spellbound. One night, I took Anne back to her apartment just off the Champs Elysees. I gave her my perfunctory good night kiss, but it turned into something more. 

I thought, “My God! I’ve got her! I believe I’ve got her!” That was the be­ginning of our romance. 

Lying in bed together the first night, I asked her, “Why were you so difficult? What did I do wrong?” 

She said, “I was determined to have absolutely nothing to do with an American movie star. I’ve seen too many stars come here, have a little ‘flirt’, and then go back home.” 

I liked Anne very much. But I was engaged to peripatetic Pier, now in South America. 

Anne said nothing about her, so I assumed she accepted it. My two boys, Michael and Joel, were coming to visit me. 

My former wife Diana was going to send a nurse with them. I said, “Why don’t you come with them, take a trip to Paris?” 

So they came and Diana got chickenpox. When she recovered, we went to Maxim’s for dinner­ – Anne and I, Diana and a couple of others. In the middle of the meal, the waiter handed me a note. It said: “Please get away and meet me in the vestiaire [cloakroom].” 

It was signed by an elegant society lady. I was impressed. And eager. 

I put the note in my pocket, waited an appreciable length of time, excused myself. 

She was there waiting for me. But she hadn’t written the note. She had a note from me that I hadn’t written. 

Somebody in the ­restaurant had written both notes, and was watching us. We were both so embarrassed, it ruined our relationship before it started. I never found out who did it. 

When I got back to the table, Anne was gone. I went to her apartment, rang the doorbell. She wouldn’t let me in. Through the door, she said, “I don’t want to talk to you. You are cheap.” 

I agreed. I pleaded and apologised. It took me several days to open that door. 

Our friend­ship grew and she spent a lot of time at my house. With Pier off the scene, we finally married in 1954 and remained so for 66 years. 

  • Extracted from The Ragman’s Son by Kirk Douglas (Simon and Schuster, £9.99). Call Express Bookshop on 01872 562310 or order online at
    UK Delivery £2.95 per order, orders over £12.99 free. Please allow 14 days for delivery. 

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