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Michael and Kirk Douglas in "It Runs In The Family"
© MGM Pictures

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Michael and Kirk Douglas in "It Runs In The Family"
© MGM Pictures

On The Set

Your Guide, Diana SaengerFrom Diana Saenger,
Your Guide to Classic Movies.
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Douglas’s face split with a warm grin but his eyes reflected sincerity as he continued. “I think it’s true, because when you have a helicopter crash and a pacemaker and a stroke, you change your attitude about life, and you begin to take inventory. I realize I was working overtime making movies and producing and was too self-centered. I didn’t spend enough time with my kids, and I always wanted too because I wanted to be a better father than my father. But I think I became a better grandfather instead.” At that moment Douglas looked at his grandson who had entered the room and Cameron nodded with approval.

Michael said spending time on the set with Cameron added to their relationship? “It's certainly better. Even though he grew up with his father being an actor, it's the first time that he really got a sense of what the schedule and the hours are like. I think that he has a better understanding of what I've been doing. I gained a lot of respect for him because truthfully I couldn't have done it when I was his age, working with my dad. "I mean Kirk had this tough screen image, larger than life with “Spartacus,” “Detective Story” and “Champion.” I would've been too intimidated. For Cameron to kind of take on his first big part with his father and grandfather, I was really impressed.”

Cameron wasn’t sure at first he wanted to do the film. “After the first day when we were all having such a good time together, my family gave me a lot of genuine love and support which was real nice,” he said.

Douglas appreciated working with his son and grandson. “It was the apex of my career. I never thought, especially after my stroke, that I would get a change to work with my son Michael or my grandson. I thought Michael is a good actor, and I thought that I was a good actor, but that Cameron was a good actor, that came as a pleasant surprise.”

Working with father, son and mother was also been an incredible experience for Michael. “I realized that every family is dysfunctional, everyone has skeletons in the closet … most families don’t pay a lot of attention to each other unless there is a crisis and then, when a crisis happens, because your blood, you kind of come together. It was everything that I'd hoped for – both us serving the picture, the story of the Gromberg family, and just spending two months with my family.”

The film is filled with hundreds of personal photos of the Douglas family. So was it kind of like old home week? “Yes,” answered Michael. “Sitting around having all of those photographs brought back memories. And spending time with my mother and father who have been divorced for over fifty years, but who've always been good friends. Talking about things and sharing it with my son, too, is something that I'm just glad that we did it.”

Diana, still a stage and film actress, divorced Douglas in 1951, but found making the new film a wonderful experience as well. “I’ve always enjoyed working with Kirk, and making the film with all my family was a special treat,” she said. “And at the end of the day, we each went home to our respective spouses.”

Families who share good times must also share bad times and Michael admits he knew about the terrible depression that his father suffered after his stroke. “Talking to him, one of the things that you find out about stroke victims is that depression is the biggest thing to get over, and if you don't get over the depression in your first year, then your days are numbered.”

In “My Stroke of Luck,” Douglas writes about the moment when he almost didn’t make it. “I picked up the gun . . .I stick the long barrel of the gun in my mouth and it bumped against my teeth,” he writes.

His own grit along with support and letters from friends and fans started his recovery, and when Douglas realized that he could help so many others beat the same depression bug, he got to work getting better.

“He gutted his way through that,” said Michael. “I think that something, maybe it's mortality or just increasing his spiritual life, made him a different man. His sense of humor, his joy, his compassion are dramatically changed. And he knows the joy of staying busy. But there were a couple of days on the set that ended up being much longer than they should've, and I was concerned about that as I was with the night shooting, but he's an old warrior.”

An old warrior who has found not only patience and resolve as a life crutch, but as he states in “My Stroke of Luck,” laughter. “I talk about dealing with depression and that no matter how bad things are, they could be worse. I realized that you have to have a sense of humor. It’s very important to be able to laugh at yourself. So now I have a new career,” Douglas jested with a cute wink, “because I have the monopoly. If they want an old guy with sloppy speech, they come to me.”

Douglas talks about his new family on the next page.

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