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Book Review: Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot

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Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot is a biography of the award-winning actor and producer. Mr. Douglas is an actor who had his share of ups and downs yet always managed to capture attention. The book highlights the accomplishments of his professional and personal career as well as what influenced and drove the man to achieve such levels of height and fame. Mr. Eliot concentrates on Douglas’ competitive nature as well as his relationship with his parents, especially his famous father Kirk Douglas.

One of the few second-generation kids to grow up and become a movie star, Michael Douglas has managed to emerge from the long shadow of his father. The struggle to become his own man in an unforgiving environment is only a part of this biography.

With success in his professional life, Michael Douglas’ personal life became a mess. His unhappy first marriage, infidelity, drug use, as well as a series of tragedies would unbalance anyone, especially someone in the public eye.

The relationship between Michael and Kirk Douglas is the cornerstone of this book. The author even encompasses a mini-biography of Kirk Douglas, from his defining childhood as a son to Russian Jewish immigrants and his success as a movie star to his recent stroke. Once the reader understands Kirk, we can understand Michael and the love/hate relationship which defined much of young Mr. Douglas’ life.

As a film buff I appreciated the insight about the film industry, what it took to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and securing movie rights. but also thought that some of the author’s comments were disparaging and inappropriate (about Sharon Stone: “One quick flash of her pubic hair would make her a star—if not at the morning-after water coolers, like Fatal Attraction, then in the night-before wet dreams of the film’s vast male viewers.”). These comments distracted from the book.

It’s OK to include the author’s opinion in a biography but comments like this do not help us understand anything about the subject and, while trying to interject a bit of humor, distract from the reading.

Michael Douglas provides no new information or anecdotes that one cannot get on the Internet with a bit of research, although it is all referenced in an attractive package. Mr. Douglas’ frank and open past interviews offer a colorful glimpse into what otherwise would have been a very detailed resume.

What made the book worthwhile for me was the account of the turbulent relationship and reconciling the past between father and son. Michael Douglas’ struggle to overcome his father’s immense shadow makes for a worthwhile and interesting story which can, and should, be told in a solid biography instead of as highlights.

  • 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307952363

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

 

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  • Jan Beaujon, PhD

    I think Mr. Eliot sort of soft-soaps the Kirk-Michael-Cuckoo clash.
    According to the most believable version, Kirk expected to get the leading role in the movie after Michael bought the property. When he didn’t, father and son didn’t speak for at least two years.

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