• I Am Spartacus!

  • Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist
  • By: Kirk Douglas
  • Narrated by: Michael Douglas
  • Length: 5 hrs and 15 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (413 ratings)

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Publisher's 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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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

11 people found this helpful

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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.

6 people found this helpful

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  • TH
  • 07-19-13

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.

3 people found this helpful

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Amazing book and flawless narrating

What a good listen. I was blown away by how well this book was written. If you don’t envoy this book there’s something wrong with you.

1 person found this helpful

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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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    5 out of 5 stars
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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!

1 person found this helpful

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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A little disappointing.

While I can appreciate his many accomplishments and admire his talent, why must he make snarky comments about anyone that is not of his political leaning? He names someone on the right as being divisive, yet fails to mention ALL those in Hollywood who are divisive on the left. Bill Maher, Kathy Griffin, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, just to name a few. I enjoyed the history of the making of this film, but it was marred by the authors irrisitable urge to take a swipe at modern men who had nothing to do with the politics of the 50's. Shame.

2 people found this helpful

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Appreciating "Spartacus" and Kirk Douglas.

Exceptional story about a tumultuous time in America and American film-making. Truly entertaining and thought provoking.

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Revolt

Well done thank you Kirk 😊 Thank God for men like Dalton Trumbo. If only there were more each and every generation

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  • A
  • 04-14-16

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-30-22

loved it!

I really enjoyed this. Really explained about this period in history and the blacklist whilst recounting a period in his life. Loved it!

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  • pjw
  • 04-30-22

interesting

An intriguing insight behind-the-scenes of the making of an epic movie coupled with the dark ages of America's reds under the bed paranoia. which informs much of what the world has witnessed in U.S.A. policy and action ever since.

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  • ValleyBoy
  • 04-27-22

Quite Simply a Wonderful Audio Book…

A superbly written and narrated account of the making of Spartacus and the problems posed politically,financially and the personal effort to get it to the big screen.
I have always loved the film and it WAS worth it Kirk!
Have a listen, it made my day…

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  • craig pickard
  • 03-23-22

Outstanding!

As I gear up for Easter and my annual viewing of Spartacus, 'I Am Spartacus' has now got me aching to watch it again.

This is a superb listen. Long walks with my dog flew by as I listened to the splendid reading by Michael Douglas. How perfect and fitting that he speak his fathers words and does so, so eloquently. As I walked along listening, I completely forgot I was listening to Michael Douglas as Kirk appeared completely in my mind.

Right from the suggestion to make a film from Howard Fast's book, through to the firing of the original director, the relationships with actors and producers and the complete adoration for his wife, this audiobook has been a delight for me as a Spartacus fan and as a movie enthusiast and of course great admirer of the legend that is Kirk Douglas. He was Spartacus. 10/10.

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  • Hard to please guy.
  • 03-12-22

What an incredible story.

Loved every minute and read so beautifully by Micheal. Going to watch the film yet again.

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  • kewill
  • 11-22-21

Well Read

Loved the way the book was read by Michael Douglas, it really took you in that time

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  • Graham
  • 10-29-21

Excellent

A very interesting and enjoyable account of the life and times of Kirk Douglas, well presented by his son Michael Douglas.

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  • Ash Roskell
  • 10-28-21

I Am Spartacus Too!

So strong is the impression that a ghost writer must have assisted in the rendering of this tale, it’s practically haunted. It’s just too good to have been written without a professional’s help!
But, for all that, this disarmingly honest, warts-and-all tale of the ensuing battles to make the epic movie, Spartacus, are equally epic in scope and drama. Everyone, from luminaries of the press, the nation’s most noteworthy (and notorious) political figures and a broader constellation of stars than you might expect, are swept up in this story of the breaking of the Hollywood Blacklist, told with a moving eloquence that keeps the listener’s attention riveted, right up to the final utterance.
And who better to narrate the book than the star’s nearest vocal proxy, his son Michael Douglas?
A patchwork of raucous humour, enraging injustices, brave battles and unsurprisingly moving moments, this insightful book is a must for fans of the film, or fans of Hollywood movies and the film making process in general. Skilfully written, with pace and drama, there’s not a single dull moment.
And the point it makes is as valid today as ever it was, as we hear the expression, “Cancel Culture,” grow into common usage; an expression that everyone loathes, yet no one takes responsibility for. The book asks the question: Is our indifference to injustice as damaging to society as our active complicity in it?
I love a book that challenges the reader to think, while it entertains with anecdotes that can make you laugh out loud or cry in equal measure.
I got far more out of this story than I expected to. An important book, casting a light on the ways in which our culture reflected its times back in the 20th century, whilst looking forward into the 21st.
A perfect example of its class. Genuinely flawless.

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  • Me & Him 2022
  • 10-21-21

A superb and detailed walk through another era

I loved this audio book, and i dont say that often. It's autobiographical but paired with research and insight into a time that those in middle age won't remember today. Kirk's reflections are interesting, funny and often a delight to listen to. I was amazed that I knew so little about this time in what is recent history, and to see it from the inside - the culture, politics and the growth of Kirk's family and career in the midst of it all is something I have already recommended to others. And at the core of it, the relationship between Kirk and his wife Anne - she sounds like an amazing person. This whole listening experience left me with a big smile, made even better by the fact that Michael Douglas performs it, evoking his father every step of the way. Wish there was more!