At the American Academy of Dramatic Arts tribute to Kirk Douglas in April of 1987, Burt Lancaster said, “Kirk would be the first person to tell you he’s a very difficult man.” After a pause, the chaser: “And I would be the second.” Douglas’ outspokenness became an extension of his star persona, the leading man who would give a blacklisted writer full-name credit on his production company’s historical epic “Spartacus.”
In his autobiography, Douglas makes clear that he and Lancaster didn’t always agree on every subject during their cherished post-work chats, but they got along so well that sometimes, all it took was a knowing look from one to break the other. When it came time to film a taut scene ahead of the big gunfight in “O.K. Corral,” the two couldn’t keep it together long enough to get a good take. Douglas recalls:
“There was a very tense dramatic moment in the film: Burt, alone and without a gun, is facing a saloon full of tough cowboys. I come in, pull my gun, snatch a gun from one of the cowboys, toss it to Burt, and the two of us subdue the entire room. We go out on the porch and Burt says to me, ‘Thanks, Doc.’ I was supposed to say, ‘Forget it.’ When I came to ‘Forget it,’ the ridiculousness of the scene — our great bravery, our machismo — made us howl. We did the scene over and over. It just made us laugh harder. Finally, we were laughing so hard, they had to stop shooting for the day and send us home like bad boys.”
The scene (a truncated clip is available on YouTube) is a potent pillar of big-screen virility, a microcosm of the Sturges brand of steely-eyed heroism.