Kirk Douglas-More than just an Actor

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On his 100th birthday it is a good time to look back at the life of one of my all time favourite actors. But rather then looking at all the marvelous movies he did I’ll be looking at one change he made that changed the lives for many in Hollywood,at the risk of ending his own career.

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Douglas was born 9 December 1916,Issur Danielovitch in Amsterdam, New York, the son of Bryna “Bertha” (née Sanglel; 1884–1958) and Herschel “Harry” Danielovitch (c. 1884–1950). His parents were Jewish immigrants from Chavusy, Mogilev Region, in the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus), and the family spoke Yiddish at home.

His father’s brother, who emigrated earlier, used the surname Demsky, which Douglas’ family adopted in the United States. Douglas grew up as Izzy Demsky and legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the United States Navy during World War II.

Douglas first wanted to be an actor after he recited the poem The Red Robin of Spring while in kindergarten and received applause.He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1941, shortly after the United States entered World War II, where he served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He was medically discharged for war injuries in 1944.

After the war, Douglas returned to New York City and found work in radio, theater and commercials. In his radio work, he acted in a number of network soap operas, and sees those experiences as being especially valuable, as skill in using one’s voice is important for aspiring actors, and regrets that the same avenues are no longer open to them.[13] His stage break occurred when he took over the role played by Richard Widmark in Kiss and Tell  which then led to other offers.

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Douglas had planned to remain a stage actor, until his friend, Lauren Bacall, helped him get his first film role by recommending him to director Hal Wallis, who was looking for a new male talent. Wallis’s film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), with Barbara Stanwyck, became Douglas’s debut screen appearance.

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He played a young, insecure man, stung with jealousy, whose life was dominated by a ruthless older woman, and he hid his feelings with alcohol. It would be the last time that Douglas portrayed a weakling in a film role.

In 1955 Douglas launched his own production company, Bryna Productions, the company behind two pivotal film roles in his career. The first was as French army officer Col. Dax in director Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant anti-war epic Paths of Glory (1957).

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The Hollywood Black list

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In October 1947, 10 members of the Hollywood film industry publicly denounced the tactics employed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, during its probe of alleged communist influence in the American motion picture business.

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The committee’s anti-Communist investigations are often associated with those of Joseph McCarthy who, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct involvement with this House committee.McCarthy was the Chairman of the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate, not the House.

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These prominent screenwriters and directors, who became known as the Hollywood Ten, received jail sentences and were banned from working for the major Hollywood studios.

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Their defiant stands also placed them at center stage in a national debate over the controversial anti-communist crackdown that swept through the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Besides the Hollywood Ten, other members of the film industry with alleged communist ties were later banned from working for the big movie studios. The Hollywood blacklist came to an end in the 1960s.

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The Hollywood Ten in November 1947 waiting to be fingerprinted in the U.S. Marshal’s office after being cited for contempt of Congress. Front row (from left): Herbert Biberman, attorneys Martin Popper and Robert W. Kenny, Albert Maltz, Lester Cole. Middle row: Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz. Back row: Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott.

Kirk Douglas was instrumental in getting this black list lifted.Douglas reunited with Kubrick for yet another epic, the magnificent Spartacus (1960).

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The film also marked a key turning point in the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy “Red Scare” hysteria in the 1950s.

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At Douglas’ insistence Trumbo was given on-screen credit for his contributions, which began the dissolution of the infamous blacklisting policies begun almost a decade previously that had destroyed so many careers and lives.

About that event, Douglas said, “I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”At the time, his career was at risk, with Hollywood people claiming Douglas would never get work again. “I was scared to death, but I insisted on doing it,”

On a side note I have to mention one movie which is forgotten by most and did not receive good reviews by critics or at the box office.I think it’s still one of best comedies I have ever seen, what makes it even funnier is that none of the actors are comedic actors.It had different titles ,in the US it was called “the Villain” and in the UK and Australia it was known as “Cactus Jack”

Along Kirk Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a character called Handsome Stranger.

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The Violent Water Polo Match

Water polo is not really known to be a violent sport .However today 60 years ago during the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games a Water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Unions nearly resembled a world was 2 sea battle.

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The “Blood in the Water” match was a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The match took place on 6 December 1956 against the background of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and saw Hungary defeat the USSR 4–0. The name was coined after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor emerged during the last two minutes with blood pouring from above his eye after being punched by Soviet player Valentin Prokopov

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In the morning before the start, the Hungarians had created a strategy to taunt the Russians, whose language they had studied in school. In the words of Ervin Zádor: “We had decided to try and make the Russians angry to distract them.”

From the beginning, kicks and punches were exchanged. At one point, a punch thrown by Hungarian captain Dezső Gyarmati was caught on film.Meanwhile, Zádor scored two goals to the crowd’s cheers of Hajrá Magyarok! (“Go Hungarians!”).

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By the final minutes of the match, Hungary was leading 4–0. Zádor was marking Valentin Prokopov, with whom he had already exchanged words. Prokopov struck him, causing a bleeding gash. Zádor left the pool and his bleeding was the final straw for a crowd already in frenzy. Many angry spectators jumped onto the concourse beside the water, shook their fists, shouted abuse and spat at the Russians.To avoid a riot, police entered the arena and shepherded the crowd away. One minute of the match remained.

Pictures of Zádor’s injuries were published around the world, leading to the “Blood in the Water” moniker. Reports that the water in the pool turned red were, however, an exaggeration. Zádor said his only thought was whether he would be able to play the next match.

Hungary was declared the winner since they had been leading and then beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final to win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Zádor’s injury would force him to miss the match. After the event was completed, he and some of his team-mates sought asylum in the West, rather than returning to live in a Hungary under a firmly pro-Soviet regimE

Captain John Morrison Birch

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One could argue that World War 2 actually never ended. Sure ,when Japan surrendered on the 15th of August in theory the war ended. Bur only 2 days after Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaim the independence of Indonesia,

 

igniting the Indonesian National Revolution against the Dutch Empire, also involving the Australians and the British.

Then 8 days later, on August 25 1945, Captain John Morrison Birch is murdered by Chinese Communist soldiers in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, China. Which by some is seen as the first casualty of the Cold War.

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John Morrison Birch (May 28, 1918 – August 25, 1945) was an American Baptist minister, missionary, and United States Army captain who was a U.S. military intelligence officer in China during World War II. Birch was killed in a confrontation with Chinese Communist soldiers a few days after the war ended. He was posthumously awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal.

Birch grew up in a devout Southern Baptist home in rural Georgia, and while attending Mercer University in Macon he decided to become a missionary in China. After graduating at the head of his class at Mercer, he enrolled in the Bible Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, where he finished a two-year curriculum in a single year. In the summer of 1940 he sailed for China.

Arriving in Shanghai, Birch promptly commenced intensive study of Mandarin Chinese and displayed such extraordinary aptitude for the language that he was fluent within a couple of months. He spent the following two years traveling about China, preaching, passing out tracts and Bibles, and developing an affection for the Chinese people and a broad network of friends and contacts that would serve him well in what was to follow.

During this time period, the rest of the world was being turned on its ear. Europe had descended into the chaos of another great war, and Japan’s seemingly unstoppable military had driven the British from Singapore, destroyed much of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and routed General MacArthur from the Philippines. While John Birch, as an ordained minister, was exempt from the draft, he was deeply patriotic and wished to help defeat the Japanese, whose troops were rapidly expanding into China. Early in 1942, John Birch applied to the American Military Mission at Chungking, requesting to enlist as a chaplain. Shortly thereafter, an unexpected event completely altered his life.

On an evening in April 1942, Birch was eating in a restaurant in a riverside village in Chekiang province, when he was approached by a man who asked discreetly if he was an American. Birch was then led to a boat in which were concealed several American pilots. He was astonished to learn that the leader of the group was none other than the famous aviator Colonel James H. Doolittle, and that they had parachuted into China after bombing Tokyo. Lacking the fuel to return to base, they and the other crews who had participated in the raid had flown their planes as far inland over China as they could and then bailed out, hoping not to fall behind enemy lines.

Birch helped to lead Colonel Doolittle and his men to safety,after which he received his first military assignment: Find out as much as possible about the whereabouts of the crews of the 15 other planes from Doolittle’s raid, and ensure that they were rescued. Birch immediately set to work via his network of contacts, and was eventually able to locate or account for most of the missing men. A few had been captured or killed by the Japanese, while one plane had strayed far off course and landed in Siberia. However, most of the men were returned safely to their outfits.

Returning to Chungking to report to the American Military Mission, Birch served for a short time as an assistant chaplain, and as interpreter for Colonel Doolittle. However, Birch truly came into his own as a soldier when he began to work as an intelligence officer for General Claire Chennault, who commanded the famous “Flying Tigers” of the 14th Air Force. In this capacity Birch traveled about the Chinese countryside incognito, his small, wiry stature and mastery of the Chinese language enabling him to blend in with the local populace as he slipped back and forth across Japanese lines. Birch succeeded in setting up coastal spotting stations, manned by Chinese friends, to furnish advance warning of Japanese ship and aircraft movements. He located Japanese airfields, munitions dumps, and other strategic targets, and became proficient at calling in American air strikes and then escaping before the Japanese even suspected the presence of infiltrators. His network of contacts and friends developed into a full-fledged intelligence network, which became the “eyes and ears of the 14th Air Force.Often performing dangerous field assignments, during which he would brazenly hold Sunday church services for Chinese Christians.

As the conflict wore on, Birch was promoted to Captain and received numerous commendations, such as the Legion of Merit on July 17 1944.

He was greatly respected by all who knew him for his upright ways. He never smoked, drank, or cursed, and he repeatedly turned down offers for a furlough to return to the U.S. to visit his family, always stating that he could not accept a furlough knowing that there was always another man with a wife and children who needed one more than he.

Captain Birch never did make it home. On August 25, 1945, ten days after the war ended, he was murdered by a band of Chinese communists as he was traveling with a small group of American and Chinese military officers. He and a Chinese officer were taken by force from the group and shot by communist soldiers. The Chinese officer miraculously survived and gave a full account of the deliberate, cold-blood-ed execution. An autopsy of Birch’s body filled in the details: Captain Birch was shot in the leg, then, with his hands tied behind him, in the back of the head execution-style. Finally, his face was savagely slashed with knives, presumably in an attempt to conceal his identity.

Most shocking of all, however, was the fact that the circumstances of Captain John Birch’s death were deliberately covered up by the U.S. government. The reason for the cover-up did not become evident until some years later. On September 5, 1950, California Senator William Knowland announced on the floor of the Senate that the murder of John Birch had been deliberately covered up by communist sympathizers to conceal the true nature of Mao Tse-tung’s “agrarian reformers” who were trying to oust Chiang Kai-shek’s government.

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U.S. Senator William F. Knowland attempted unsuccessfully to obtain posthumous awards for Birch which included the Distinguished Service Cross, but these were not approved on the grounds that the United States was not at war with the Communist Chinese in 1945. Birch received the following military awards:

As well as:Medal of the Armed Forces (Republic of China) and China War Memorial Medal.

Birch is known today mainly by the society that bears his name although Jimmy Doolittle, who met Birch after Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, said in his autobiography that he was sure that Birch “would not have approved”.

Birch’s name is on the bronze plaque of a World War II monument at the top of Coleman Hill Park overlooking downtown Macon, along with the names of other Macon men who lost their lives while serving in the military. He has a plaque on the sanctuary of the First Southern Methodist Church of Macon, which was built on land given by his family, purchased with the money he sent home monthly. A building at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, was named “The John Birch Hall” by Pastor J. Frank Norris. A small street in Townsend, Massachusetts, “John Birch Memorial Drive”, is also named after him.

The War Weary Farmer”

The following was written by Captain John Birch in April 1945, four months before his death.

I should like to find the existence of what my father called “Plain living and high thinking.”

I want some fields and hills, woodlands and streams I can call my own. I want to spend my strength in making fields green, and the cattle fat, so that I may give sustenance to my loved ones, and aid to those neighbors who suffer misfortune; I do not want a life of monotonous paper-shuffling or of trafficking with money-mad traders.

I only want enough of science to enable fruitful husbandry of the land with simple tools, a time for leisure, and the guarding of my family’s health. I do not care to be absorbed in the endless examining of force and space and matter, which I believe can only slowly lead to God.

I do not want a hectic hurrying from place to place on whizzing machines or busy streets. I do not want an elbowing through crowds of impatient strangers who have time neither to think their own thoughts nor to know real friendship. I want to live slowly, to relax with my family before a glowing fireplace, to welcome the visits of my neighbors, to worship God, to enjoy a book, to lie on a shaded grassy bank and watch the clouds sail across the blue.

I want to love a wife who prefers rural peace to urban excitement, one who would rather climb a hilltop to watch a sunset with me than to take a taxi to any Broadway play. I want a woman who is not afraid of bearing children, and who is able to rear them with a love for home and the soil, and the fear of God.

I want of government only protection against the violence and injustices of evil or selfish men.

I want to reach the sunset of life sound in body and mind, flanked by strong sons and grandsons, enjoying the friendship and respect of neighbors, surrounded by fertile fields and sleek cattle, and retaining my boyhood faith in Him who promised a life to come.

Where can I find this world? Would its anachronism doom it to ridicule or loneliness? Is there yet a place for such simple ways in my own America or must I seek a vale in Turkestan where peaceful flocks still graze the quiet hills?

 

Elbe Day

Today marks the 71st anniversary of this unofficial holiday.It heralded the end of WWII in Europe.

I don’t think enough is done to mark this day since it did not only herald the end of World War 2 it also heralded the start of the cold war.

At a river in the heart of Hitler’s Germany, the United States and Soviet Union came together, but while war united them,  peace would split the superpowers apart

Elbe Day, April 25, 1945, is the day Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany, marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. This contact between the Soviets, advancing from the East, and the Americans, advancing from the West, meant that the two powers had effectively cut Germany in two.

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Elbe Day has never been an official holiday in any country, but in the years after 1945 the memory of this friendly encounter gained new significance in the context of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The first contact between American and Soviet patrols occurred near Strehla, after First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue, an American soldier, crossed the River Elbe in a boat with three men of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. On the east bank they met forward elements of a Soviet Guards rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gardiev.

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The same day, another patrol under Second Lieutenant Willi am Robertson with Frank Huff, James McDonnell and Paul Staub met a Soviet patrol commanded by Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko on the destroyed Elbe bridge of Torgau.

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Lt. Bill Robertson of the 273th Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division, driving on the morning of April 25 into the town of Torgau, knew that he might encounter Soviet troops, and knew he should greet them as friends and allies – Gen. Courtney Hodges, Commander of the First U.S. Army, had told his men to “Treat them nicely.” But Robertson was not prepared to carry out the protocol that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had worked ou tseveral months before in Yalta.

The first American soldiers to make contact were to fire a green-colored star shell – the Soviets, a red one. Robertson and the three men in his patrol decided the best way to show they were Americans was to present an American flag. As they didn’t have a flag, they found a white sheet and painted it as best they could to look like the stars-and-stripes.

Soviet Lt. Alexander Sylvashko was skeptical at first that Robertson and his men were Americans. He thought the four men waving a colored sheet were Germans playing a trick on the Soviet troops. He fired a red star shell, but did not receive a green one in return.

Sylvashko sent one of his soldiers, a man named Andreev, to meet Robertson, in the center of a bridge crossing the Elbe. The two men awkwardly embraced and made the hand signal of “V for Victory.”

On April 26, the commanders of the 69th Infantry Division of the First Army and the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army (Soviet Union) met at Torgau, southwest of Berlin. Arrangements were made for the formal “Handshake of Torgau” between Robertson and Silvashko in front of photographers the following day, April 27.

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The Soviet, American, and British governments released simultaneous statements that evening in London, Moscow, and Washington, reaffirming the determination of the three Allied powers to complete the destruction of the Third Reich.

Monuments at Torgau, Lorenzkirch, and Bad Liebenwerda commemorate the first encounters between U.S. and Soviet troops on Elbe Day. In the United States, a “Spirit of the Elbe” plaque at Arlington National Cemetery commemorates the day.

In 1949 the Russian film studio Mosfilm commemorated Elbe Day in the black-and-white film Encounter at the Elbe.

During the Cold War the meeting of the two armies was often recalled as a symbol of peace and friendship between the people of the two antagonistic superpowers. For example, in 1961 the popular Russian song “Do the Russians Want War?” evoked the memory of American and Russian soldiers embracing at the Elbe River.

Joseph Polowsky, an American soldier who met Soviet troops on Elbe Day, was deeply affected by the experience and devoted much of his life to opposing war. He commemorated Elbe Day each year in his hometown of Chicago and unsuccessfully petitioned the United Nations to make April 25 a “World Day of Peace.” His remains are buried in a cemetery in Torgau.

American singer-songwriter Fred Small commemorated Joseph Polowsky and Elbe Day in his song “At The Elbe”.

In 1988 a plaque titled “Der Geist der Elbe” (“Spirit of the Elbe”) was mounted on a stone near Torgau at the site of the encounter between troops of the U.S. 69th Infantry and the Soviet Guards.

In 1995 the Russian Federation issued a three-ruble coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of Elbe Day.

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By 2010, the 65th anniversary of the event, Elbe Day events in Torgau were held annually on the weekend closest to April 25, attracting tourists to the city. Also in 2010, the U.S. and Russian presidents for the first time issued a joint statement on April 25 commemorating Elbe Day and the “spirit of the Elbe”.

The meeting at the Elbe is represented in the war strategy game R.U.S.E., released in 2010 and 2011 and based loosely on World War II events.

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Deutschland 83

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One of my favourite TV shows and I was delighted to find out there will be a second season called Deutschland 86, because it is set 3 years later.

I only lived literally a walking distance from Germany in 1983 and in fact most of my life. Growing up as a kid I didn’t really think anything of it but in hindsight it was kinda bizarre.

Little did I know then, that we were really not that far away from the ‘battlegrounds’ of the cold war, even though the fact there were plenty of staff of the AFCENT (Allied Forces Central Europe Netherlands) in town and surrounding cities. One of the former coal mines was actually used as part of their HQ.

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And surely the AWACS planes (a Boeing 707 type plane with a radar dish on top of it) should have been a give away.

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Oblivious I just went about my business without a care in the world. Naively I felt quite safe where I lived, because often I had seen American Marines marching between Geleen and Heerlen(two municipalities in the south of the Netherlands), chanting stuff like “I like working for Uncle Sam” In fact I thought it was cool, and in a way it was I suppose.

Not realizing those very soldiers were there to assist the Dutch army in case of a potetntial WW3 breaking out.

The Germans though were a funny bunch particularly when it came to their music. From the 50’s to the early 80’s there music was really Schlagers, it can only be described as German folk music I suppose, I would call it crap but it is still very popular with some people who I don’t want to offend.

At the start of the 80’s though a new direction of German music emerged, it was called ‘die Neue Deutsche Welle, New German wave and it brought a few great bands and songs to the front. Bands like Nena,Trio,Bap and indeed Peter Schilling whose song Major Tom is used as the theme for Deutschland 83

 

One of my favorites of the NDW is a Cologne band called BAP , the song is about the Kristal Nacht (in english known as the night of broken glass) from a dark period in German history. The band sings in the local Cologne dialect which is very similar to the Limburg dialect. I will leave it with that. I hope you enjoy this little peace of history. Enjoy the song.