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I Am Spartacus!

Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist
Narrated by: Michael Douglas
Length: 5 hrs and 15 mins
5 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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Summary

From Kirk Douglas, Hollywood royalty and bestselling author of The Ragman’s Son and My Stroke of Luck, comes the candid story of the making of Spartacus, the blockbuster film that broke the blacklist

One of the world's most iconic movie stars, Kirk Douglas has distinguished himself as a producer, philanthropist, and author of ten works of fiction and memoir. Now, more than fifty years after the release of his enduring epic Spartacus, Douglas reveals the riveting drama behind the making of the legendary gladiator film. Douglas began producing the movie in the midst of the politically charged era when Hollywood’s moguls refused to hire anyone accused of Communist sympathies. In a risky move, Douglas chose Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted screenwriter, to write Spartacus. Trumbo was one of the "Unfriendly Ten," men who had gone to prison rather than testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about their political affiliations. Douglas's source material was already a hot property, as the novel Spartacus was written by Howard Fast while he was in jail for defying HUAC.

With the financial future of his young family at stake, Douglas plunged into a tumultuous production both on- and off-screen. As both producer and star of the film, he faced explosive moments with young director Stanley Kubrick, struggles with a leading lady, and negotiations with giant personalities, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, and Lew Wasserman. Writing from his heart and from his own meticulously researched archives, Kirk Douglas, at ninety-five, looks back at his audacious decisions. He made the most expensive film of its era - but more importantly, his moral courage in giving public credit to Trumbo effectively ended the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

©2012 Kirk Douglas (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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  • A
  • 14-04-16

fascinating

one of the most fascinating books ive ever listened to. I love the film Spartacus one of my top 10 so listening to this was a must. I had no idea about the blacklist and this is a real inside into the history of Hollywood. I also have a new respect for Kirk and it was wonderfully narrated by his son Michael. I loved this book

2 people found this helpful

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A true artist

A true artist speaks with honesty about his life his loves and his work, kirk Douglas remains one of my most favourite actors my other favourite is his son Micheal Douglas. A very good book of honesty about his life's work well one of them

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OMG

what a great man, they don't make them like this anymore
pity on us
we need him

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Great

Great I’m a huge fan of this film and really loved hearing different perspectives on the politics in that time . Obviously well read by Kirk son x

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Quick and entertaining

A fast memoir of the making of the 1960 movie Spartacus. A great, quick read loaded with a significant social history and fun anecdotes, very much enjoyed.

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No crucifixions, but a tough time.

All collaborative projects face challenges but the film industry brings together so many strands that it seems a wonder that many films are completed. Add to the usual tensions the McCarthy blacklisting of writers and you can imagine the difficulties. If you're an IMDb fan, you soon realise that names are 'on board' who are not credited in the film and this raises a familiar feeling of suspense: wondering how they came to disappear. One strength of this book is KD's balanced view of sometimes problematic people: their flaws (often ones of ego) don't blind him to their strengths.
As an aside, let me mention Howard Fast's original novel. He appears in the story here and I was prompted to try the novel: it's really fine writing, although clearly a different thing altogether from the script - no spoilers - I won't mention the name, in case you're not an IMDb addict.

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A lesson for all time

History is best told by those who were there and listening to this excellent book, as read by his talented son, it shines a light on times sadly not to unlike those today where differences of opinion or thinking that goes against the grain can ruin lives.
It is difficult not to inject such political thinking when the very subject, the black list, is mentioned and discussed, but this work is one from the heart, more than just another Hollywood memoir, but one that remembers the making of a film well established today as a cinematic classic, highlighting good times and difficult situations both professional and personal bringing to back to life those involved in the marking of Spartacus in words full of honest integrity.
I cannot recommend this book enough, it is well worth a listen and worth getting in a printed version as well.

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Politics meets Hollywood

The film Spartacus tells the story of a great Roman slave revolt. But its the making of this film in the midst of the Hollywood blacklist and hysterical anti-communism that is the real story here. Kirk Douglas does a great job of weaving together the characters, both contemporary and historical, into a facinating account of how the film was made. And as the lead actor and producer he experienced it all first hand.

Most significant was the scriptwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who had to work anonymously as he had been blacklisted and even imprisoned. There are many more major Hollywood players involved in the making of the film, Stanley Kubrick and Laurence Olivier amongst them. Had never realised what an important film Spartacus was and is.

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fantastic book!

loved it and if Kirk can't read it to us himself then who better than Michael.

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Surprisingly Good

I really enjoyed this book. It is a good story, well read.

One might say the author is a little self - serving at points, I'm not sure. But overall this is well worth a listen especially for the historical context.

Recommended.

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  • Jefferson
  • 02-02-18

McCarthyism, Hollywood, Spartacus and Kirk Douglas

Imagine spending a day getting drunk while talking about Spartacus with Laurence ('Larry') Olivier, Dalton Trumbo, and Kirk Douglas--Douglas' memoir I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist (2012) is full of such entertaining vignettes.

Lots of appalling details of McCarthyism: 'pompous ass' congressional committee chairmen, contempt of congress prison sentences, black listing, etc. Lots of interesting details on how movies were made in the 1950s: securing funding, securing rights to adapt novels, writing and revising screenplays, casting actors, finding directors, promoting films, worrying about entertainment columnists, costume fittings, table readings, editing, satisfying the Motion Picture Association censors, etc. Lots of snapshots of Hollywood stars: Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, George Sanders, Jean Simmons, etc. Lots of intriguing pieces of Kirk Douglas' biography: Russian Jewish ancestry, birth name Issur Danielovitch, beloved mother, first movie role, stardom, marriages and children, production company, etc. Lots of apt insights into human nature: why persecuted people like Jews would persecute their fellows; what kind of people name names of friends to save their careers and what kind don't; what kind of religion would be most helpful to the world; etc.

Of course the book is full of interesting details about how the classic historical epic Spartacus was made: the involvement of the author of the novel, Howard Fast; the race to beat a rival studio before they could make their similarly themed epic; the efforts of Douglas to find another studio to back his movie; and the chaotic making of the picture, including the director and the female lead actress getting fired after filming had begun, Douglas breaking the jaw of another actor during a fight scene, and Tony Curtis splitting his Achilles tendon while playing tennis with Douglas, the recording of 73,000 college football fans at an MSU game shouting 'I am Spartacus' in unison, and the purchase from Franco of the Spanish army to play clashing armies in the climactic battle filmed at the last second. Douglas' depictions of the large personalities involved are entertaining: Laurence Olivier suffering the break up of his marriage to Vivien Leigh; Charles Laughton throwing temper tantrums; Peter Ustinov stealing scenes; Tony Curtis greeting Douglas, 'Hail Spartacus!' Not to mention Kubrick, the young director, rubbing everyone the wrong way with his perfectionist genius, deficient empathy, and refusal to change his clothes, and Dalton Trumbo, the Oscar-winning black listed writer, chafing at having to write yet another screenplay under yet another pseudonym, a screenplay plagued by constant requests for changes.

Although the book is mostly about the making of Spartacus and the raising of the Hollywood blacklist, part of its appeal concerns the struggles of Douglass at 95 to recall his 1950s' self, not only because it's difficult to remember events from long ago but especially because it's painful to remember the man he was then: cocky, energetic, and at times possessed of an anger that pains him to realize resembled that of his 'cruel' father (as when he threw a chair at Kubrick in a rage over the scene of Spartacus on the cross being cut without prior discussion). Without pride, Douglas, mentions that Tony Curtis' description of him back then was spot on: 'A panther with a thorn in his side.'

Douglas writes a lot of witty lines, like these:
--'I didn't enjoy firing people. I'm not Donald Trump.'
--'Nobody wrote outrage better than Dalton even in a telegram.'
--'Eddie was a man of conviction. Stanley was a man of calculation.'
--'His sighs and grunts and soft reproaches somewhat unhinged me at close quarters.'

Michael Douglas gives a fine reading of the audiobook, his gravelly voice a nostalgic echo of his father's.

Fans of Spartacus or Kirk Douglas or people curious about McCarthyism or Hollywood of the 1950s should like this book.

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  • kym
  • 12-07-12

Great personal account

This is a great personal account of a film that I loved when I was a kid and still love today. I love the fact that it is read by his son, although it is hard to believe he is an actor as his diction is sometimes unclear. For a man who is 95yo it feels like it just happened to him a decade ago and there are often personal reflections from his past and present that make this an enjoyable listen.

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  • TH
  • 19-07-13

Top-notch listening experience

Would you consider the audio edition of I Am Spartacus! to be better than the print version?

I have not read the print version, but would imagine it is as entertaining as the audio version.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I was enthralled by many characters, like Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Dalton Trumbo and Douglas himself.

What about Michael Douglas’s performance did you like?

I enjoyed being able to trust that Michael was giving us an authentic interpretation of his father's words, attitudes and manner.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was brought close to tears on many occasions. How can you listen to a 95-year-old man reflect on his many decades and not be moved?

Any additional comments?

I listened to this on long drives, and was always amazed at how quickly those miles passed. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

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  • BG853
  • 08-10-14

McCarthyism and its Effects in Hollywood

Kirk Douglas gives us a fascinating memoir on the making of an epic movie during the shameful era of Hollywood blacklists. Spartacus had some of the biggest stars of the day Kirk, Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis and Jeanne Simmons. Listening to the interplay among this outsized egos was fascinating.

But more importantly, the book reminds us of the damage the blacklists had on the careers of those who stood up for their rights in the face of the House on Unamerican Activities and Kirk Douglas's courage in helping to break the blacklist. Recommended!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Shining Rainbow
  • 04-06-14

Heroic, sincere, human, moving

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

A great window on a part of recent american history and a very human self-portrait of a fighting man read by his son

What did you like best about this story?

Kirk's Douglas unabashed fighting spirit

What about Michael Douglas’s performance did you like?

You can't but think that while he was reading his father's biography, he was moved by it and there was a lot of self-identification in his father, too. Touching.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Never give up!

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  • Nicholas
  • 16-03-13

All Hail Mr. Douglas!

What did you love best about I Am Spartacus!?

It's an important story that needed to be told by a man who was not only there, but helped end the stigma of the Hollywood Blacklist.

What did you like best about this story?

Michael Douglas does a masterful job (as usual) and he sounds so much like his dad, it's as if Kirk himself was there telling you the story.

Any additional comments?

I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in this part of Hollywood/American history.

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  • Bubikon
  • 16-03-20

A Remarkable Memoir

Kirk Douglas’ I am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist is an amazing memoir written over fifty years after he made the remarkable film. The book details the life in Hollywood during the red scare of McCarthyism that was a dark period of hatred, divide and anti-American behavior that gripped the country for over a decade. It resulted in the imprisonment of many people including the incredible movie script writer Dalton Trumbo. Mr. Douglas’ narrative places in context the Blacklist of Hollywood’s elite writers, actors and others and describes his production and acting in Trumbo’s remarkable film. More than being the bestselling movie for Universal pictures for a decade, it was the first to name the Blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo in the credits despite much adverse opinion including a boycott and picketing of the film by millions of American Legion members. The book teaches us of the personalities of remarkable people including Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, the young Stanley Kubrick, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Francisco Franco and even John F. Kennedy. It is a wonderful autobiography, wonderfully written. If you have a chance, I highly recommend the Audiobook spoken by Kirk Douglas’ son Michael Douglas with an introduction by George Clooney. In the epilogue Mr. Douglas laments that many of the causes of hatred and division in our country seem to be returning, and this was years before Donald Trump even thought of being President. He mentions the work of Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh. If your interest is history, Hollywood, Kirk Douglas or just a wonderful story, you will like this book.
A note about the criticism of this book. Kirk Douglas' recollection was most famously called into question in Atlantic Magazine by John Meroney and Sean Coons in 2012 in an article entitled "How Kirk Douglas Overstated His Role in breaking the Hollywood Blacklist." Without denying any of the recollections of Kirk Douglas, they instead point to the weakness of the Blacklist by 1959, and Dalton Trumbo's family and Edward Lewis disputing that Kirk Douglas "broke the blacklist." They do not deny anything Douglas wrote, but think there were other issues that were more important, and Trumbo's part was certainly more significant over the years. So what? That doesn't deny the fact that Kirk Douglas was the first to have a Blacklisted writer, the most famous of all, credited in his true name as the writer of a significant motion picture. The article states that Otto Preminger named Trumbo the writer of Exodus before Spartacus came out, but as the book notes he did so only AFTER learning of Douglas naming Trumbo as the writer of Spartacus. Certainly no one denies Douglas receiving a book from Trumbo crediting Douglas with finally allowing Trumbo to use his born name. Rather, the article concludes that some people say Douglas' "legacy is untrue" as taking credit for ending the Blacklist. Certainly, the book's title is Making the Film, Breaking the Blacklist, but Douglas never says he was solely responsible, and he recognizes the genius and courage of Trumbo especially. It also mentions the rift between Trumbo and Douglas AFTER Spartacus which doesn't diminish the impact of the movie. They finally say about the Trumbo family and the other critics, "None of the individuals interviewed wanted to diminish the fact that Douglas made a bold move when embraced a communist writer who was persona non grata in studio circles. And Douglas does acknowledge the roles that other people played in getting Trumbo hired on Spartacus." The article criticizes Douglas as claiming to be the prime mover who rescued Trumbo and vanquished the blacklist" which Kirk Douglas never says in the book. Kirk Douglas faced the horrible edits of Universal Studios and risked the effect of the boycott and picketing by every American Legion Post in the country. He won. It was the most successful Universal Studio movie of all time, a record that stood for ten years. The book is an accurate and a wonderful story.

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  • MG
  • 09-03-20

brought back memories. wish it were longer

would like to hear more production details. mike sounds just like kirk at times.

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  • Paul
  • 28-02-20

I am Spartacus’ new best friend.

A small but great book, beautifully written and read. It opened my eyes to the immensity of putting together a quality film, among many other things.

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  • Bruce
  • 09-02-20

A wonderful way to remember Kirk Douglas

Michael Douglas reading this wonderful memoir of Kirk Douglas’ involvement in managing the Hollywood blacklist while making Spartacus heightens the story beyond what is attainable from the written word.