Like many Generation X'ers, my list of favorite male actors has always included Michael Douglas, who starred in several of the most commercially successful (as well as culturally significant) Hollywood films of all time. My appreciation of Douglas goes back even further, when he co-starred with Karl Malden in the Streets of San Francisco. As a native Californian, San Francisco, along with CHIPS, was one of those shows I watched religiously, week after week. When the handsome son of Kirk Douglas made the jump to the silver screen, I followed his every move, and have continued to do so for the last thirty years. For me, Douglas had the combination of intelligence, charisma, believability (flaws), and leading man looks. Also, Douglas's performances typically possessed an underlying sense of angst, perhaps anger, which always made his characters even more compelling.
Michael Douglas has never quite achieved the level of critical praise reserved for the rare likes of the DeNiro's and Pacino's--even though he has won multiple Oscars--but he is inarguably one of the most iconic male actors in Hollywood history, thanks to his roles in The China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and of course Wall Street. Perhaps better than any other actor of his generation, Douglas became the on-screen embodiment of the flawed, contemporary American male. He created compelling characters who, despite their quirks and dark sides, gave an audience plenty to root for; and when you weren't rooting for him, as was the case with his unforgettable Gordon Gecko, you were nonetheless fascinated by the complexity of the character.
Let me say this before continuing: the curt, dismissive reviews posted here for Marc Eliot's Michael Douglas: a Biography are in no way an accurate assessment of this work. This is a great book, an astute, descriptive recap of not only the work of Douglas himself, but also the numerous eras in which he thrived as a producer, actor and visionary, starting with the sixties and continuing to the present day. If you are a lover of American films and the tradition of big Hollywood movie-making at its best, you will love this book. Eliot takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the circumstances surrounding the making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest--almost enough information for a book unto itself--and continues on to describe his subject's involvement in many film projects that would go on to become fixtures of American culture en masse.
There is much here to praise. First, the biographer spends an appropriate amount of time exploring the various phases of the actor's life: his strained relationship with father Kurt, a huge Hollywood icon himself, his early years of hippie/counter-cultural listlessness (Kirk once said Michael was the least ambitious of all his children!), his gradual ascent in Hollywood, first as a producer, and his many artistic and commercial ups and downs through the decades, his struggles to balance the desire to be a family man with his relentless Hollywood ambitions (the latter won the battle for a long, long time), and ultimately, his transition from leading man to aging character actor/cancer survivor.
While many might view Douglas's life and career as highly enviable, Eliot clearly shows the reader that the actor's life was never a picnic; it was, and continues to be, his unwavering energy and passion, not only for moviemaking but also numerous causes, which has kept Michael Douglas in the public eye for so many years. Even if you are not particularly interested in the life of Michael Douglas--I was, because as mentioned, I have long been a fan--this is still a recommended book, because there is so much great information about the inside deals and machinations that surround the world of filmmaking. It took many years to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to the screen, for example, and while the movie's title immediately conjures up early images of a smiling, conniving Jack Nicholson, the whole project was conceived by Kirk Douglas, who had developed it as a vehicle for himself, first on Broadway, and was resolved to play the lead up until the day the studio refused son Michael's pleas to allow his father to get the role.
This is but one of many, many fascinating insider stories this book offers for the film lover. Furthermore, the Eliot's biography will disabuse the reader of the popular notion that the Hollywood life is filled with glamour and good times. Indeed, as Douglas's storied life and career show, it is a fabulous ride filled with riches, accolades, privileges and famous friends--but there are also great peaks and valleys (you're only as cool as your last movie), disappointments, pressures, setbacks, and frustrating business snags. At points in the story, Douglas, despite his fame and stature in Hollywood, spends the vast majority of his time chasing down money (investors) to finance the projects he believes in. Other times, he cashes in and takes the money, acting in roles he doesn't think much of, only to be surprised when these are the vehicles which propel him to superstardom!
This is simply a great story, with multiple, fascinating elements: the son of a Hollywood giant, struggling to emerge from his father's shadow, a brilliant producer/visionary, who at times is almost prescient in delivering films with relevant, timely messages, a subtle actor who impressively manages to pioneer his own archetype, and a talented but flawed man who lives out his numerous, personal mistakes and failures in the public eye, taking full accountability without apologizing. In other words, a Great American Story. The Lizard Stays in the Cage: Music, Art, Sex, Screenplays, Booze & Basketball