Actress from an old Bermudian family who married actor Kirk Douglas
Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30
Diana Douglas, who died on July 3 aged 92, was the first wife of the Hollywood film star Kirk Douglas and the mother of his two sons, the elder being the producer and Fatal Attraction star Michael Douglas.
The marriage lasted only a few years, but in 1999, when she was 77, she published a candid memoir, In the Wings, in which she accused her former husband of being a drug-addicted, "sexually voracious bird of prey".
She also claimed that in the course of the marriage she had an affair with Errol Flynn. The next year, Kirk Douglas threatened to boycott the wedding of his son Michael to the British actress Catherine Zeta-Jones if his ex-wife attended, calling Diana a "blabbermouth".
Her own acting career spanned more than half a century, starting during World War II, when she tried to make her way in Hollywood. But much of her work as a young actress was in television, appearing in live dramas before taking roles in popular series such as Naked City and, later, The Streets of San Francisco.
As the 17-year-old ingenue Diana Dill, she met Kirk Douglas in 1940, when they were both students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He had been reduced to tears by some ferocious criticism from the academy's director, Charles Jehlinger, and as the actor stumbled off stage he found Diana sitting on a trunk in the wings, sobbing for him in sympathy.
After graduating from the academy, she went to Hollywood but struggled to find acting work, and took assignments as an agency model, posing in front of battleships for cheesecake shots.
Her fortunes changed when, in May 1943, Life magazine featured her as its cover girl in a checked blouse and matching parasol. Kirk Douglas, by then preparing for war service in the US Navy, saw the magazine and exclaimed to his sceptical room-mates: "Hey, I know that girl! And you know what else? I'm going to marry her." The couple wed six months later.
The youngest of six children, she was born Diana Love Dill on January 22, 1923, in Bermuda, where her landowning family could trace their origins to the 1630s. Her British father, Lt Col Thomas Melville Dill, was the island's attorney general and a former commander of the Bermuda Militia Artillery.
Diana was sent to boarding school in England and at the Upper Chine School for Girls on the Isle of Wight acquired what she described as an "English schooling reticence". Although her father wanted her to become a lawyer, she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where she met Kirk Douglas.
Offered a contract with Warner Brothers, Diana Dill moved to Los Angeles, but struggled to pick up film parts and took assignments as a photographer's model. After being spotted by Douglas on the cover of Life, she arranged to meet him in New York and the couple were married the following November.
When Douglas rejoined his ship and prepared for active service, Diana went to live with her sister in New Jersey, and took a job with the Squibb chemical company testing the new drug penicillin. Douglas was discharged from the US Navy with amoebic dysentery in June 1944 and picked up the threads of his acting career. For a time the couple lived in a castle owned by the millionaire husband of Diana's sister before returning to New York and an apartment in Greenwich Village.
By the time they separated in 1951, the family had moved to Hollywood, where Kirk Douglas had begun his ascent to fame on the strength of Champion (1949). Stardom continued to elude Diana, however. In his autobiography, Douglas recalled her losing the lead in the Western My Darling Clementine (1946) to Linda Darnell after Darryl Zanuck told her: "I don't like your teeth."
While still married to Douglas she played a supporting role in Joseph Mankewicz's House of Strangers (1949) and some years after her divorce appeared in The Indian Fighter (1955), the first film made by Douglas's own production company.
Although he had remarried, he arranged for his second wife to remain in Los Angeles looking after his two sons while he and Diana went to Oregon on location. "I thought this was amazingly broad-minded on the part of my [second] wife," he noted.
In all she appeared in more than 20 films, her last being It Runs in the Family (2003) with her former husband, her son Michael and one of her grandsons, Cameron.
After divorcing Kirk Douglas, she married the producer Bill Darrid, who died in 1992. She married, thirdly, in 2002, Donald Webster, a US Treasury chief of staff under President Nixon, whom she met at a party in Washington in 1999 to mark the launch of her memoirs. He survives her, with the two sons from her first marriage.