For Men Only
Kirk Douglas had mysteriously disappeared. For months, he had been a regular at the smartest spots in town, every other night squiring a different girl, and all of them beauties—Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth. Then, suddenly, he vanished. Columnists made ready to put imagination and ingenuity into high gear, to chase after some new romance that called for a retreat to discreet hideaways. But that wasn’t the solution to the mystery. The truth was infinitely warmer and more’ appealing, and the story began like this . . .
Kirk Douglas waited with some trepidation for the train to pull in.
He hadn’t seen his two sons, Mike, seven, and Joel, five, since Christmas, and now they were coming to spend not just a few festive days, but three whole months—their summer school vacation—with him at his bachelor home in Beverly Hills.
Kirk’s apprehension stemmed from two sources. For one thing, he knew that small boys can do an awful lot of growing up in a few short months. He had found that out on previous occasions. “Last Christmas, for instance,” he recalls, “I told Mike a bedtime story that had fascinated him when he was four. This time he listened politely but obviously bored. When I ran out of breath, words and courage, he finally announced, ‘That’s a silly story, Daddy.’ ” Kirk grinned. “That’s tough in this business. An actor has to know his audience is with him.”
To make things even worse, this time the boys’ mother was going to be 3,000 miles away. Their governess was coming with them, but that wasn’t like having Diana within hurrying-over distance in a moment of possible crisis. Diana Douglas hadn’t been in hurrying-over distance since she and Kirk were divorced two years ago and she took the boys to live with her in New York.
But the train was in now, and the boys and Madame Duprava, the governess, were piling out of their Pullman car and—for better or worse—Kirk was in for it. First came Mike, amazingly taller and leaner, then Joel, an enormous, rounded-out version of the “baby” Kirk had remembered. Both had butch hair cuts. Both wore mannish blue suits. His sons.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” they shouted, coming at him and climbing up his fortunately muscular frame as though he were a Jungle Jim. In one voice they chanted, “When can we go swimming?”
Possible Crisis No. One. In the early spring, when Kirk and Diana agreed on the long Hollywood holiday for the boys, Kirk had promptly bought property—a large lot complete with swimming pool and tennis court—but no house! (Things like that actually happen in Hollywood.) He had planned to build a house. But that takes time and concentration, of which recently he had had none to spare. The house in Beverly Hills which he had rented and which was spacious and lovely had (horrors!) no swimming pool.
But Kirk—for the boys’ benefit—had joined a private club which had a pool. And, of course, they could always go to the beach.
“The beach!” The boys remembered it more than fondly.
“We can jump in the waves,” said Joel.
“And dig,” said Mike. “I have a very large shovel.”
He had, indeed. Mme. Duprava exhibited it. Among their assorted pieces of small-boy baggage were enough shovels and pails to begin heavy construction.
And when could they go to the beach?
“Okay, today,” Kirk conceded. But first they would have to stop off at the house and have lunch. He had stocked up, like a conscientious father, with all the things that are “good” for little boys—carrots and celery and apples and milk—the works.
“We want lunch at the beach,” cried Mike, who has a memory like a baby elephant. “We want hot dogs!”
“Ten hot dogs!” said Joel. “With lots of mustard!”
Kirk looked questioningly at the governess, who nodded approval and promised to make up the score on lost vitamins at dinner time.
So the stop-off at the house was the shortest in history—just time enough for the boys to change from traveling clothes to beach duds and for Mike to compliment his father, as one bachelor housekeeper to another: “Say, you keep this place neat!”
A threat was implied, Kirk sensed. He took what he feared was a last look for a while at the immaculate, orderliness—flowers in the vases, cigarettes in the boxes, books on the shelves.
“It is neat,” he thought, adding to himself with trepidation, “but not for long.”
They drove out to Malibu in Kirk’s open convertible, stopped for lunch at a place where the boys could eat hot dogs while watching a family of seals at play.
They didn’t manage the ten hot dogs they had threatened, but they did put away three apiece, with mustard, and potato chips, and two chocolate ice-cream cones each for dessert.
“Now,” said Joel,* “we can swim!”
“Not yet,” Mike told his little brother with the authority of advanced age. “We have to wait at least an hour for our food to develop.”
While their food “developed” they dug—Kirk, too. And though he is as fit as any actor in these parts, he knew all too soon that he had been neglecting a few very important muscles. They dug a trench two feet wide and four feet long and deep enough for the boys to stand in. Great for playing cowboys and Indians, Kirk thought. While they played cowboys and Indians, he thought, he would grab a nap.
The boys climbed down into the trench and right back out again.
“It’s a fine trench,” Mike conceded. “Now let’s go swimming!”
So they went swimming.
THE GIRLS HE USED TO DATE!
“Now for a nap,” Kirk proposed when he finally lured the little fish out of the surf. Surely by now even they were exhausted!
“Daddy, I’m seven. And even Joel is five. We never nap. Absolutely never! Let’s play baseball.”
So they played baseball. Mike, whose athletic skills had multiplied in the year since he had spent any appreciable time with his father, was surprisingly good.
As for Kirk:
“My batting average was never anything to brag about. And my pitching arm had gone a little rusty.
“I decided I’d better get them out of there before I lost face entirely.”
They were induced to leave the wonderful beach— “There’s so much of it,” said Mike, accustomed, by now, to the East’s more crowded playing areas—by Kirk’s promise to practice tumbling before bedtime. Kirk had been a good tumbler in his growing-up days, and had had recent opportunity to brush up in preparing for his trapeze-artist part in “The Story of Three Loves.”
At home, the three he-men ate three man-sized steaks and then, with no time out for breath-catching, got right down to tumbling on the king-size bed in the master bedroom. (This was chosen as the boys’ room for the summer, Kirk having retreated to a small bedroom across the hall.)
“It was a shambles,” Kirk admits, almost boastfully. “The kids really like to rough it up. I’m afraid Diana wouldn’t have approved.”
But Diana wasn’t there.
Once again Mike proved his prowess. Joel is still too bottom-heavy to be very bouncy on his feet (and has a bump on practically every inch of him to prove it), but Mike is shaping up for the Olympics.
His father made an admiring comment about his muscles.
“Me too?” asked Joel.
“You too,” Kirk fibbed fondly.
Joel apparently sensed a note of insincerity. Kirk is a better actor when he has a little time to get up in the part.
After the boys were bathed and brushed and tucked snugly into the remade bed, Joel was still cogitating.
“I do too have muscles, Daddy,” he insisted. “I have muscles on my legs and on my arms and all over my body.”
“Fine muscles,” his daddy reassured him solemnly.
Joel smiled and went to sleep. Mike, the athlete, was already dreaming of trenches five feet deep and waves ten feet high and pyramids built of hot dogs—with mustard.
As for their father, his bed looked good.
Kirk had planned, once the boys were settled in bed, to fancy up a bit and go in search of grown-up company. As a matter of fact, he had a date that night with a beautiful girl.
But he was tired. He was downright weary.
He called the B.G. and explained.
The whole summer was like that. That’s why the glamour spots saw so little of Mr. D. while his fellow bachelors were in residence.
Actually, Kirk didn’t mind. He had missed the boys painfully since they had gone East to live. He had looked forward for a year to this reunion. The beautiful girls, the adult world, could wait. This was an adventure in rediscovery—of youth, his own included.
But he wasn’t seven years old any more (you can add thirty years), and keeping up with the small fry was hard work.
“I actually found myself looking upon the days I had to be on the set as resting-up periods.’’
But the fun periods came when he was free to scout for adventure with his sons.
They had one blissful week together at a dude ranch.
Kirk had promised Joel a look at some real cowboys and Indians. Mike was one up on him there, because he had visited his father the summer before on “The Big Sky” location in Wyoming.
He had slept in a tent with his father (no governesses along on this trip) and had eaten his meals sitting at a big sawbuck table smack between two Black-hawk Indian chiefs in full regalia.
He rode, and swam and fished.
“Boy,” he said over and over again, “wait till the kids in school hear about all this.”
Kirk was pleased, and eager to hear the details of Mike’s triumphant homecoming.
He telephoned him in New York.
“Hey,” he said, “how did it go?”
Mike was surprisingly subdued.
“Not so good, Daddy,” he said. “They didn’t believe me!”
“We’ll do it again next summer,” his father comforted him. “And this time we’ll take pictures.”
“Me too?” pleaded Joel, who was listening in on the extension phone.
“You too,” his father promised.
And Kirk is a man who keeps his premises.
They’d go to the dude ranch, Kirk told him, soon after they arrived next summer, and they’d ride horses together every day. He knew the boys had had some lessons.
“Can we ride just with you, Daddy,” Joel asked, “without the master?”
They’d better not even mention the master to the cowboys at the ranch, Kirk said. Real cowboys wouldn’t understand that city talk.
‘Real cowboys!” Joel gasped. “Boy!”
And this time, their father assured them, they’d take pictures. This time the kids back home would have to believe it.
“The kids will never believe that you know real cowboys,” Mike put in cynically. “They all think you’re just an actor!”
Just an actor!
Kirk counted ten, and while he counted, he thought.
The boys hadn’t seen many movies, all told, and they had seen none of his. He and Diana had planned it that way.
“The heavy dramatic stuff was a little bit thick, we thought, for little-boy blood,” he says, “and then, too, you can never tell—the kids might get it into their heads that their daddy is really a heel. A lot of supposed adults confuse a performance with the guy who is giving it. You can’t expect kids to know better.”
But the time had come, obviously, when something had to be done.
Fortunately “The Big Trees” was playing when the problem came up, and in this picture—while it is not Kirk’s favorite—Daddy starts out as a hard guy, but winds up pure hero, without a neurotic quirk in his make-up.
Kirk took his sons to see it. He’d show ’em who was “just an actor.”
They were fascinated, of course, and during the scene where Kirk, single-handed, holds back a rampaging caboose which is about to plunge over a cliff, they were overwhelmed.
“Bey!” Mike marvelled afterward. “Oh, gee! That was somethin’.”
And then he thoughtfully bestowed the highest compliment at a boy’s command:
“Gee, Daddy,” he said, “you’re almost as good as Roy Rogers!”
“You’re pretty good yourself,” Kirk laughed, and catapulted Mike up on his shoulder.
“Me, too?’ chimed in Joel, once again.
“You, too,” his daddy said, and threw him up on the other shoulder. (He was really getting in shape this summer.)
Mike and Joel have gone back to school now, full of tales of great adventure—and a new respect for “just actors.” Kirk, himself, has left his bachelor diggings for a while, to make “The Juggler” in Europe. But they’ll all be together again next summer. If not in Hollywood—then in Rome, Paris, Switzerland.
Their world is growing up. All of their worlds. And they have a lot more living and learning to do together.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1952