Anne Douglas

Born Anne Buydens in Hanover, Germany, Douglas was in her early teens when her family fled fascism and emigrated to Belgium, where she became a citizen. Douglas continued her education there and in Switzerland before moving to Paris, where her fluent knowledge of several languages kept her busy subtitling films. She went on to oversee protocol for the Festival de Cannes and to work on publicity campaigns for films including John Huston's 1952 version of "Moulin Rouge" and 1954's "Ulysses." Anne met Kirk while working for his 1953 film "Act of Love," and the two were married in Las Vegas in 1954.

"When I met her, she wanted to become a (U.S.) citizen," Kirk Douglas says. "She felt this country was something special, and as soon as she became a citizen, she became anxious to pay back."

And pay back she has. For years, Douglas traveled the world with her husband as goodwill ambassadors on behalf of the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency. Kirk Douglas also named Anne president of his production unit, the Byrna Co., and she produced the 1973 film "Scalawag."

Although the couple established their charitable foundation early on, it was not until the early '90s -- upon liquidating their Impressionist art collection -- that they began major philanthropic undertakings.

"Anne and Kirk looked at the beautiful art on their walls and said, 'We've gotten many years of real pleasure out of this beautiful work; now, let's let someone else benefit from it,'" says Marcia Newberger, Anne's publicist for the past six years.

One of Anne Douglas' first forays into powerhouse philanthropy came on the heels of recovering from breast cancer: With six fellow survivors, she established Research for Women's Cancers, which raised millions of dollars to help finance a research facility at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Douglas has been a member of Cedars-Sinai's women's guild for more than 38 years.)

Both Douglases were behind the establishment of Harry's Haven, an Alzheimer's disease unit at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Home in Woodland Hills. Named for Kirk's father, Harry's Haven cares for 40 patients.

"What they've done so effectively is not just give their own money but inspire others to do so," MPTF Foundation CEO Ken Scherer says. "Anne's way is to talk about her passion to people and ask them to join her. To me, that's the ultimate donor: You give of yourself as well as your resources."

But the Douglases perhaps are best-known for rebuilding Los Angeles Unified School District playgrounds. The effort began when Anne read in the newspaper that the district's schoolyards were so decrepit that children were being kept indoors -- and she was outraged.

"It's her belief -- and I think it's backed up by research -- that it's on the playground that kids learn socialization skills and get to experience democracy in action," Newberger says.

Douglas vowed immediately to fix the playgrounds. "I thought she was crazy," recalls Kirk, shaking his head. But Anne quickly marshaled the troops, beginning with a phone call to then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

"We are extremely fortunate that Anne Douglas identified building school playgrounds as her passion," LAUSD superintendent Roy Romer says. "The children are the beneficiaries of these wonderful structures she's been providing over recent years, and we are all very appreciative."
The Douglases also have funded three playgrounds and a park in Israel.

"It's been a dream of theirs that the Jewish kids and the Arab kids would play together, and it would foster an understanding between the cultures," Newberger says. "It hasn't really worked out that way, but the idealism is there."

The Douglases' largess is spread even when they travel close to home. For example, during a visit to the downtown Los Angeles Mission, Anne innocently asked what was being done there for women.

"We had a small facility with only a few beds for women, with a sheet separating them from the men's beds," Los Angeles Mission president and CEO Marshall McNott says.

That was not the case for long: In 1992, the 30-bed Anne Douglas Center for Women opened to provide long-term care and recovery for homeless women laid low by depression, substance abuse and family issues. During a recent visit, Douglas listened as some women told their tales -- and poured out gratitude for helping to make their recovery possible.

"That's the best testimony," McNott says. "Anne is very self-effacing, but she's put her resources and her heart into our program."

Douglas evinces surprise and deep gratitude at receiving the prestigious Jefferson Award, which joins a growing list of personal honors. But her most satisfying reward is viewing the impact of her philanthropic work.

"You have no idea how it makes me feel when the children hug me and thank me," Douglas says. "I just hope that this makes a little difference for the children and that when they grow up, they remember and have the impulse to give back themselves."