The best piece of advice outgoing DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg ever received came courtesy of actor and philanthropist Kirk Douglas:
You haven’t learned how to live until you learn how to give. Douglas and his wife, Anne, have been giving to causes and institutions across Los Angeles for decades, and to Center Theatre Group since the beginning.
"Anne worked closely with Dorothy Chandler to make The Music Center a reality," recalled Douglas. "When I wrote a check for $10,000, Mrs. Chandler sent it back to me saying, ‘You can do better.’ I did. Much better."
The Douglases have continued to challenge themselves and others to continue to do better. In 2004, they made a major gift that helped Center Theatre Group found the Kirk Douglas Theatre and have continued to support new work and other initiatives over the past decade as members of the Artistic Director’s Circle Emerald Circle, for donors who give $1 million or more. They are also stepping up their commitment as Center Theatre Group turns 50 and we look ahead to our next 50 years.
"Supporting Center Theatre Group is an ingrained habit with the Douglases," said Douglas—as is giving in general. Douglas grew up in poverty in Amsterdam, New York. But his mother, Bryna, "always found something" for others, he said. "‘Even a beggar must give to another beggar who has less,’" she told her son. "Thank God I am not a beggar," said Douglas. "So I have to give even more."
He’s quick to add that that’s not a hardship. "Giving is a very selfish act," he said. "It makes you feel so good when you see what your support can do." That’s particularly true when that support goes to a pressing need, whether it’s building a home for adventurous new Los Angeles theatre work at the Douglas, building new playgrounds for Los Angeles public schools, or building housing on Skid Row—all initiatives given financial and hands-on support by the Douglases.
Their hands can be seen in many different places at Center Theater Group. Anne served on our Board of Directors for years, and was honored in 2014 for her individual commitment when we named the Anne Douglas Control Booth at the Douglas. Kirk performed onstage at the Douglas in his autobiographical one-man show Before I Forget in 2009. ("It’s not often that a man in his 90s gets to practice his craft before a live audience and talk about himself for 90 minutes to boot," said Douglas.) They have attended many Opening Nights at the Douglas and have been on-hand for other memorable moments in the theatre’s history. "What could have been better than congratulating Robin Williams after his performance of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Broadway, knowing that this extraordinary play had its premiere in a regional theatre bearing my name?" said Douglas.
Douglas has written and spoken on numerous occasions about theatre being his first love ever since his kindergarten stage debut; he ended up in the movies almost by accident. (Film paychecks were "enough to finance me through the next round of Broadway flops," he joked about the beginning of his career.) In his first autobiography, 1988’s The Ragman’s Son, he wrote, "Doing a play is like dancing to music. Making a movie is like dancing in wet cement."
Douglas, who turned 99 last year, remains a believer in the power of the art form, pointing to this year’s enormous Tony Awards® audience as a sign of its endurance. "I cannot imagine a world without theatre," he said. Lucky for Los Angeles, he is one of the people ensuring its future here.