Footnotes: Kirk Douglas, Dance With The Devil

The legendary actor, who passed away this week, had a successful side career as an author who made 'Fifty Shades look like Mary Poppins'

Kirk Douglas Dance With The Devil

What's the book?

In his seventies, having enjoyed long and prolific success as an Oscar-nominated mainstay of Golden Era Hollywood, Kirk Douglas embarked upon a new career: writing.

What he lacked in practice he made up for with experience. After all, Douglas had risen from the being a ragman’s son to the glittering echelons of Tinsel Town, learning the lessons necessary to write Dance With The Devil, his eyebrow-raising debut novel. 

Loosely autobiographical (with plenty of artistic flourish), Dance With The Devil was published in 1990 and tells the story of Danny Dennison, a hotshot director. Dennison is wealthy and successful, but nevertheless living a lie: his real identity lurks in 'the ruins of a Nazi concentration camp'. Like a West Coast Don Draper, Dennison’s big secret risks being exposed after he is lured in by the siren-like Luba, a call girl who is both “young” and “sensuous”.

It was a riot, of course, and both Dance With Devil and its follow up, The Gift, were bestsellers. The Washington Post’s in particular couldn’t get enough, with its reviewer "gulping it down in a single sitting” and claiming: “Kirk Douglas has a winner on his hands… it has the charm, sophistication and insight of some of actor Dirk Bogarde's well-received work.”

With age, Dance With The Devil became best-known for its profligacy. As some cad on Twitter quipped in 2013: “it makes Fifty Shades look like Mary Poppins.” They weren’t wrong: the first 50 pages alone contains incest, prostitution and a threesome.

Why talk about it now?


The early hours of Wednesday morning saw the sad passing of Douglas, who had reached the fine innings of 103. As the rest of the world clamoured to celebrate his many achievements – the great films, the political courage, the fearsome on-set belligerence – we thought it only fair to shine a light on his career as an author. Dance With The Devil was no solo effort: Douglas published 10 books, mostly forms of memoir (of which Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning may be the most illuminating), and also a couple of children’s books.


 Douglas maintained his writing was an act of generosity. 'If you write a book, you don’t write it for yourself,' he told Ability magazine in 2001. 'You write a book hoping that other people will want to share your experiences.' We're not sure how many people share the experiences of Dance With The Devil, but it's certainly a noble idea.

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