It's one, however, he has stuck with for years as a United
Nations Messenger of Peace since 1998, and for that persistence
he will be recognized on Tuesday night with the Danny Kaye
Humanitarian Peace Award from the U.S. fund for UNICEF, the U.N.
branch for children.
"I was born in 1944, one year before the first bomb went off,
and I hope in my lifetime to see the elimination of the
weapons," Douglas told Reuters ahead of UNICEF's Beverly Hills
ball, with childhood friend Dena Kaye, the only daughter of the
late comic actor and UNICEF's first ambassador, by his side.
That he is being honored with the Danny Kaye award is especially
meaningful, he said, because he knew Kaye as a child, admired
his impact on children and can still recite rhymes from his
films. He said Kaye "did more for the United Nations and for
UNICEF than anyone I can think of."
It will be the 69-year-old actor's second honor this week after
winning a Golden Globe on Sunday for his acclaimed portrayal of
the exuberant pianist Liberace in the HBO drama "Behind the
Candelabra," a role that made many in Hollywood see the famously
virile Douglas in a new light.
The recognition for his work both on and off screen comes in the
wake of his successful treatment for stage IV cancer that made
him so weak, as he said in his acceptance speech Sunday, that
the Liberace biopic had to be put on hold.
And although he recognizes that he "is the cancer poster boy
right now," supporting cancer charities is not his main focus.
He decided long ago, he said, that to deal with the overwhelming
demand for him to show up for charity, that he would principally
work with the elimination of nuclear weapons and small arms at
the United Nations, a cause that can move at a glacial pace.
"Sure, it's painful," said Douglas. "We were gearing up just a
few years ago for the START talks with President Obama and the
Russians and there was a reduction in warheads."
"But things have gotten cool now again between Russia and the
U.S. and it has slowed down. I think it will happen again. We
will have an increased reduction."
COLD WAR INFLUENCES
The guiding principles of Douglas' philanthropic work are rooted
in the Cold War and how actors like Kaye — who died in 1987 and
would have been 101 this week — and his own father, Kirk Douglas,
navigated the channels of exchange where Western leaders could
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Kaye, the star of films like 1947's "The Secret Life of Walter
Mitty," had "a childlike joie de vivre and was a wonderful
host," Douglas remembers from when he was invited to the Kaye
house for the famous Asian meals that Kaye himself cooked.
"He was the greatest spokesman you could possibly
have, because especially during the Cold War, the one thing that the
East knew were the movie stars," Douglas said.
Dena Kaye called Douglas "like my father, a 100-percenter, gives 100
percent, doesn't give his name without giving himself."
Douglas believes Hollywood's celebrities are doing a good job these
days with philanthropic and humanitarian causes and cites the work
of Angelina Jolie with refugees as a noteworthy example. Most talent
agencies these days have specialized departments to match their
clients up with philanthropic projects, a necessity for the
modern-day movie star, he said.
While Kaye did film roles for children and humanitarian work for
children, Douglas says there is no such connection in his onscreen/offscreen
work, even though he started looking at the nuclear issue in the
1979 film he produced and starred in, "The China Syndrome." Many of
his roles have been men of dubious morals, like the ruthless
corporate raider Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" for which Douglas won
an Oscar in 1988.
"I always go with what the best movie is," he said, adding that it
is about "how good the material is, and my role comes secondarily."
To that end, on Monday Douglas came out with another unconventional
career choice, this time playing scientist Hank Pym in Marvel
superhero film "Ant-Man," due for release in 2015.
"Sometimes — like (when) they didn't see you for Liberace — you've
got to shake them up a little bit and have some fun," Douglas said
of surprising both studios and audiences with his decision to do a
And he'll keep plugging away at disarmament, but he did acknowledge
that he plans to do some more work advocating for more lenient
sentencing for non-violent drug criminals "just because of my
situation with my son."
His son, Cameron, is in federal prison serving a 10-year sentence
for drug dealing, a situation Douglas criticized when he won an Emmy
for his Liberace role last year.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Eric Walsh)
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