Spartacus Meets Spartacus: Kirk Douglas Talks with Liam McIntyre

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Two generations of cinematic gladiators united Thursday night when Kirk Douglas, the star of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film Spartacus, and Liam McIntyre, who plays the action hero in the STARZ original series Spartacus: Vengeance, visited the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for a panel discussion. In a full house divided between fans of the classic sword-and-sandal epic and devotees of the risqué, boundary-pushing TV series, attendees witnessed history: McIntyre, decked out in red carpet attire and holding a sword, took the stage and yelled, “I am Spartacus!” The 95-year-old Douglas followed, declaring, “No, I am Spartacus!”

The night was rife with moments both funny and touching. While on the topic of loincloths, McIntyre asked Douglas if the one he wore in the film was “comfy.” Later, to commemorate his 58th wedding anniversary, a picture of Douglas and his wife Anne was shown to the audience. In it, Douglas held a mug that read I AM SPARTACUS! while Anne held another mug that read NO, I AM SPARTACUS!

In jovial spirits, Douglas explained the political significance of his new book, which not only chronicles the behind-the-scenes highlights of Spartacus but also details the end of Hollywood’s blacklist. “I got so mad at the injustice… that people were sent to jail for expressing how they felt,” Douglas said. “Where was freedom of thought? Freedom of speech? More and more, I thought, ‘I’m going to end this.’”

By giving screen credit to writer Dalton Trumbo, Douglas effectively ended the blacklist that had barred many Hollywood professionals from employment because of their political beliefs and associations. The crowd lauded Douglas for his efforts, while Steven S. DeKnight, a writer and producer on the STARZ show, explained how Spartacus remains a fable about the fight against injustice.

“It’s amazing that it’s been 52 years since Kirk Douglas’ production of Spartacus,” DeKnight said. “One of the things we really struggled with was our message; it wasn’t about the blacklist; it wasn’t about the Red Scare or McCarthyism. But we did figure out that it was still about oppression.”

Citing Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, DeKnight said his message depicted the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Not only did Douglas’ version push political boundaries, Spartacus also gave censors a run for their money. One scene in particular, had many up in arms: the now-classic scene in which Laurence Olivier attempts to seduce Tony Curtis in a Roman bathhouse. Olivier asks Curtis if he prefers oysters or snails. Some like both, he suggestively says. The four-minute scene was cut from the original 197-minute version, but exchanges like this pushed the envelope and gradually made way for the edgy scenes prevalent in the new incarnation of Spartacus.

More gore, more skin, and more obscenities give the legendary story a modern feeling in DeKnight’s Spartacus. Though the show, which is currently shooting its third season (Spartacus: War of the Damned), has been fairly successful, the Seattle Post Intelligencer broke the news Monday that STARZ will end the saga after season three.

Spartacus is a timeless message, and it’s our hope that 50 years from now somebody else catches that and really keeps this message and this story going,” DeKnight said. “Every generation should be exposed to this story.”

Douglas’ latest work, I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, will be available as an eBook and as a paperback June 12 from Open Road Media.

Photograph courtesy of toutlecine.com