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Kirk Douglas fired Spartacus director for being 'scared' after on-set argument

EntertainmentKirk Douglas fired Spartacus director for being 'scared' after on-set argument


Spartacus is a legendary historic drama starring Douglas as the titular hero. The picture is based on the true story of a real-life slave named Spartacus who almost overturned the Roman empire.

Ironically, Douglas was forced to remove the captain of the ship, director Anthony Mann, from the film early into production.

Douglas’ company Bryna Productions was putting together Spartacus, so had the final say on a lot of things. But the film’s executives wanted Mann to direct the feature film, which later racked up a 3+ hour runtime.

Douglas objected to Mann’s involvement, but the executives believed his experience in filming Westerns (Man of the West, The Naked Spur) would be beneficial to Spartacus. 

After just a week of shooting, Douglas and Mann had reportedly had a “major falling out” (according to Sir Peter Ustinov). Mann had only filmed a handful of the film’s beginning scenes before he was eventually fired by Douglas.

The Oscar-winning actor recalled in his memoir: “He seemed scared of the scope of the picture.” He added that he “never wanted Mann” to be the film’s director.

Douglas went on: “The studio wanted him because he had made so many successful pictures.” He also noted that Mann was “intimidated” by the cast, which was comprised of Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis.

He went on: “Ustinov captivated him. He saw Ustinov as a genius, so he let him do whatever he wanted. After three weeks, the studio said: ‘Kirk, you were right. You have to fire him.'” Still, there was no love lost between the two Hollywood behemoths. Douglas said he took the firing well, and they went on to work on the 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark together. 

With no director for Douglas’ epic feature, fate intervened.

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Douglas recalled: “I remember when I introduced [Kubrick] to the cast, he looked like he was about 14, like a little kid. I said: ‘This is your new director.’ They thought I was joking.”

Thankfully, Kubrick was not deterred by the cast’s apprehension. “[He] wasn’t intimidated,” Douglas added. “He did a great job.”

Kubrick turned in an incredible film that would go on to win four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Spartacus was a change of pace for Kubrick, however.

Kubrick would go on to create such memorable titles as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Spartacus was not originally his choice. Therefore, it became the only film he directed in his entire career that he did not have complete creative and artistic control over.

Douglas later praised his director pal. He said: “You can be a s**t and be talented and, conversely, you can be the nicest guy in the world and not have any talent. Stanley Kubrick is a talented s**t.”

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