Kirk Douglas: How I Met My Wife at the Cannes Film Festival

In their latest memoir, Hollywood star Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne, reminisce about the iconic moment when he posed with Brigitte Bardot for a famous beach photo. However, behind the scenes, Douglas found himself falling for Anne, who was then working as the head of protocol at the Cannes Film Festival.

The images from 1953 of Kirk Douglas and Brigitte Bardot enjoying the beach together, a mix of spontaneity and staging, captured the essence of post-World War II cinema, blending American masculinity with European allure. Despite Douglas’s apparent fondness for Bardot, he was developing feelings for Anne Buydens, who had recently taken on the role of head of protocol at Cannes. In an excerpt from their joint memoir “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood,” the couple, who tied the knot in 1954, reminisce about their initial encounter in Paris in early 1953 and their time together at the Cannes Film Festival that year.

ANNE Anatole Litvak, the director of “Act of Love,” persuaded me to meet with Kirk, who needed a bilingual assistant for personal publicity. Kirk had already made a name for himself in Cannes, earning the nickname “Le Brute Cheri” and appearing in the company of various beautiful women. I expected our meeting to be just a formality. I had committed to a three-year contract for protocol duties at the Cannes International Film Festival.

KIRK I was captivated by the charming Parisian woman seated in my dressing room, her stylish blue suit accentuating her slender figure. Within moments, I offered her the position, but she declined in flawless English. It was a new experience for me to face rejection. Later that day, I called Anne, inviting her to a dinner at La Tour d’Argent. Her response, opting for a quiet night in with scrambled eggs, surprised and frustrated me. Determined to change her mind, at least about the job, I enlisted the help of Litvak, Irwin Shaw, and Anne’s friend, Robert Capa. Eventually, Anne agreed to a trial period, insisting that our relationship remain strictly professional. Despite the lack of romance, we spent a lot of time together. Anne impressed with her efficiency and sharp sense of humor, quickly becoming a favorite among our colleagues. As I improved my French, our conversations deepened. Without the distraction of romance, I shifted my focus from myself to Anne, learning more

about her background, including her upbringing in Nazi Germany.

ANNE Kirk received an invitation to the annual charity gala at Cirque d’Hiver, the renowned Winter Circus, and he asked me to join him. We had spent the afternoon working at his charming apartment near Bois de Boulogne when he began to inquire about my life. Opening up about my past was always difficult for me, given its painful nature. Yet, Kirk proved to be an attentive listener, and I found myself sharing candidly, even discussing the estrangement from my father. As we conversed for hours, I felt a peculiar sensation in my heart, a feeling that I could potentially fall for him. However, I was hesitant, having witnessed too many young women entangled in passionate affairs with visiting movie stars—Dean Martin, Marlon Brando, and Cary Grant among them—only to see them end as soon as filming concluded and the men returned to their families. At the circus, when Kirk was unexpectedly called upon to participate, I observed him, wondering how he would fare with no prior preparation. To my surprise, there was Kirk, donning his tuxedo, humorously wielding a giant broom across the arena to the audience’s delight. How could I resist a man who possessed such a self-deprecating sense of humor? Later, we returned to his apartment for a nightcap, which eventually evolved into something more.

KIRK As my relationship with Anne deepened, I cautioned her not to anti

cipate a commitment from me. I disclosed that I was secretly engaged to Italian actress Pier Angeli. If only I had perused the French movie magazines with the same dedication as learning the language, perhaps it could have spared us both considerable heartache. Anne was aware, albeit silently, of Pier’s frequent appearances in the media, often accompanied by another man. I assumed that my impending film project in Italy would alter the circumstances. The producers of “Ulysses,” Dino de Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, were scheduled to attend Cannes in April, where I would meet with them. Interestingly, they had already enlisted Anne Buydens to handle the unit publicity for the film.

ANNE While Kirk was in Cannes, I found myself preoccupied with other matters, leaving little time for our interaction. Amidst the chaos, Joe Drown, the proprietor of Hotel Bel-Air, arrived from California and insisted on treating me to dinner, which turned out to be disastrous as Joe became inebriated and engaged in heavy gambling. Disheartened, I left him and reached out to Kirk, who was staying next door at the Carlton. Despite having been asleep, Kirk immediately responded to my distress call. “How was your evening?” he inquired. Overwhelmed, I confessed, “Just awful… and it’s my birthday.” Without hesitation, Kirk offered to accompany me, and we ended up at a quaint café near the beach, where he effortlessly transformed my tears into laughter.

KIRK Ponti extended an invitation for us to visit his villa in the hills above Amalfi, an offer we gladly accepted. Our time there was filled with romance as we enjoyed a magical holiday in an ancient tower serving as the guest quarters. Throughout that enchanting week, Anne and I would embark on little rowboat outings, with her at the oars and me serenading her with Italian love songs.


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