The Lesson Michael Douglas’s Father Taught Him

Most people have one father to live up to. Michael Douglas has two: Issur Danielovitch and Mladen George Sekulovich. The first is better known as Kirk Douglas. The second is the birth name of Karl Malden, whom Douglas starred opposite in the 1970s television series The Streets of San Francisco.  “Karl always made me feel like I was the son he never had,” says Michael Douglas, who is featured in the July issue of SUCCESS. “I loved him.”  (To read the cover story, subscribe for instant access.)

Along with inheriting his father’s cleft chin, Douglas says that Kirk taught him “how to conduct your life as a star and handle the public scrutiny.” But he didn’t make a bigger deal of it than it was, Douglas tells SUCCESS. “Promoting a movie and interacting with fans was part of your responsibility as an actor.”

Malden, who grew up in the steel mill town of Gary, Ind., taught Douglas a fierce work ethic. “He knew what those steel jobs were like back home, so he had a tremendous appreciation for what our business offered,” Douglas says.

Douglas shares the story of working on The Streets of San Francisco: “He had it in his contract that when we began shooting a new episode [that] we’d already have the script for the next shows. While they were setting up cameras for a scene, he’d say, ‘Come on, Michael, let’s go rehearse next week’s show.’ The writers hated us. We knew our lines so well and spoke them at such a good clip, they had to make the scripts six or seven pages longer.

“And we developed a reputation among other actors that if you were going to guest-star on the show, you’d better be on your toes. These guys move. They’re not prima donnas. We shot on location for six days a week, eight and a half months a year, and it just gave me a tremendous amount of tenacity and toughness.”

Says Douglas, “Working with Karl was a phenomenal experience that really helped me in producing. I owe him everything.”


Shrewd businessman and consummate professional Michael Douglas opens up about his choices and his children and shares his playbook on dealing with life’s ups and downs in the July 2014 SUCCESS cover story, available for your desktop, mobile or tablet device.

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