(Adds dropped letter in slugline)
By Mary Milliken
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Jan 14 Oscar-winning
actor Michael Douglas says his main philanthropic cause -
nuclear disarmament - is not exactly the kind of "touchy-feely"
issue that celebrities and their fans covet, and it can be
awfully frustrating when it comes to progress.
It's one, however, he has stuck with for years as a United
Nations Messenger of Peace since 1998, and for that persistence
he will be recognized on Tuesday night with the Danny Kaye
Humanitarian Peace Award from the U.S. fund for UNICEF, the U.N.
branch for children.
"I was born in 1944, one year before the first bomb went
off, and I hope in my lifetime to see the elimination of the
weapons," Douglas told Reuters ahead of UNICEF's Beverly Hills
ball, with childhood friend Dena Kaye, the only daughter of the
late comic actor and UNICEF's first ambassador, by his side.
That he is being honored with the Danny Kaye award is
especially meaningful, he said, because he knew Kaye as a child,
admired his impact on children and can still recite rhymes from
his films. He said Kaye "did more for the United Nations and for
UNICEF than anyone I can think of."
It will be the 69-year-old actor's second honor this week
after winning a Golden Globe on Sunday for his acclaimed
portrayal of the exuberant pianist Liberace in the HBO drama
"Behind the Candelabra," a role that made many in Hollywood see
the famously virile Douglas in a new light.
The recognition for his work both on and off screen comes in
the wake of his successful treatment for stage IV cancer that
made him so weak, as he said in his acceptance speech Sunday,
that the Liberace biopic had to be put on hold.
And although he recognizes that he "is the cancer poster boy
right now," supporting cancer charities is not his main focus.
He decided long ago, he said, that to deal with the
overwhelming demand for him to show up for charity, that he
would principally work with the elimination of nuclear weapons
and small arms at the United Nations, a cause that can move at a
"Sure, it's painful," said Douglas. "We were gearing up just
a few years ago for the START talks with President Obama and the
Russians and there was a reduction in warheads."
"But things have gotten cool now again between Russia and
the U.S. and it has slowed down. I think it will happen again.
We will have an increased reduction."
COLD WAR INFLUENCES
The guiding principles of Douglas' philanthropic work are
rooted in the Cold War and how actors like Kaye - who died in
1987 and would have been 101 this week - and his own father Kirk
Douglas navigated the channels of exchange where Western leaders
Kaye, the star of films like 1947's "The Secret Life of
Walter Mitty," had "a childlike joie de vivre and was a
wonderful host," Douglas remembers from when he was invited to
the Kaye house for the famous Asian meals that Kaye himself
"He was the greatest spokesman you could possibly have,
because especially during the Cold War, the one thing that the
East knew were the movie stars," Douglas said.
Dena Kaye called Douglas "like my father, a 100-percenter,
gives 100 percent, doesn't give his name without giving
Douglas believes Hollywood's celebrities are doing a good
job these days with philanthropic and humanitarian causes and
cites the work of Angelina Jolie with refugees as a noteworthy
example. Most talent agencies these days have specialized
departments to match their clients up with philanthropic
projects, a necessity for the modern-day movie star, he said.
While Kaye did film roles for children and humanitarian work
for children, Douglas says there is no such connection in his
onscreen/offscreen work, even though he started looking at the
nuclear issue in the 1979 film he produced and starred in, "The
China Syndrome." Many of his roles have been men of dubious
morals, like the ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko in "Wall
Street" for which Douglas won an Oscar in 1988.
"I always go with what the best movie is," he said, adding
that it is about "how good the material is, and my role comes
To that end, on Monday Douglas came out with another
unconventional career choice, this time playing scientist Hank
Pym in Marvel superhero film "Ant-Man," due for release in 2015.
"Sometimes - like (when) they didn't see you for Liberace -
you've got to shake them up a little bit and have some fun,"
Douglas said of surprising both studios and audiences with his
decision to do a superhero film.
And he'll keep plugging away at disarmament, but he did
acknowledge that he plans to do some more work advocating for
more lenient sentencing for non-violent drug criminals "just
because of my situation with my son."
His son, Cameron, is in federal prison serving a 10-year
sentence for drug dealing, a situation Douglas criticized when
he won an Emmy for his Liberace role last year.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Eric Walsh)