Following America’s entry into World War II, he legally changed his surname to Douglas and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1941. He worked as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare serving aboard the USS PC-1139. In 1944, Douglas received an honorable discharge from the Navy after suffering injuries from a depth charge explosion that occurred prematurely.
Depth charges are explosive devices detonated at a specific depth to damage or destroy underwater targets. Despite his brief time in the military, Douglas remained a proud veteran for the rest of his life, and he was deeply grateful for the experiences and lessons he gained during his service.
The Tenacious Kirk Douglas
After graduating in 1934, Kirk Douglas knew that he wanted to pursue acting professionally. He was determined to continue his education after high school, but finances were tight. Undeterred, he talked his way into the dean's office at St. Lawrence University and showed him a list of his high school honors. Impressed, the dean allowed him to enroll.
Despite financial difficulties, Kirk worked hard and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in 1939. To pay back a loan he received for tuition, he worked part-time as a gardener and a janitor. He was a standout athlete on the university's wrestling team, even wrestling in a carnival one summer to make extra money. Through wrestling, Kirk also developed a friendship with world-champion wrestler Lou Thesz.
He Earns a Scholarship and Also Falls in Love
Kirk Douglas's acting talents did not go unnoticed at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. In recognition of his potential, he earned a special scholarship to further his studies. It was here that he met his future wife, Diana Dill, who was also a student at the academy. The two quickly hit it off and eventually tied the knot.
Another important figure in Douglas's life at the academy was his classmate, Betty Joan Perske, who later went by the name Lauren Bacall. The two had a brief romantic relationship, and Bacall would go on to play an instrumental role in launching his film career.
Life After War
After completing his service in the Navy during World War II, Kirk Douglas returned home to New York City to pursue his passion for acting. He initially found work in radio, where he could hone his vocal skills in soap operas and commercials. Douglas also worked in theater, taking on the role of Richard Widmark in “Kiss and Tell,” which opened doors to other opportunities.
He recognized the value of his experience in radio, where he learned the importance of vocal expression for actors. He only wished that such opportunities were more accessible. His talents on stage earned him critical acclaim and helped pave the way for his eventual success in film.
Kirk and Diana Get Married
On November 2, 1943, Douglas tied the knot with his first wife, Diana Dill. The couple had two sons, Michael Douglas, who would later become an accomplished actor, and Joel Douglas, a successful producer. The good times didn't last, however. Their marriage ended in 1951, and the couple eventually divorced.
In his autobiography, "The Ragman's Son," Douglas also revealed that he was once engaged to the Italian actress Pier Angeli in the early 1950s. The couple met while working together on the sets of "The Story of Three Loves" (1953), and their romance blossomed on set. Their engagement did not lead to marriage, and the two went their separate ways.