Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Kirk Douglas’s Chicken in Dill Sauce

Veni, vidi, I had the chicken in dill sauce

So I'll make Chicken in Dill Sauce and see you around 8, deal? Oh, and remember, show as much ass-cheek as you want but no belly button, versteh?

When I looked for a Kirk Douglas recipe (I knew there had to be one out there somewhere; he was in the pubic eye for decades and lived through the Golden Era of women’s magazines and syndicated celebrity recipe newspaper columns) I was expecting to find his take on how to grill a perfect Porterhouse steak, or something like that. Imagine my surprise when I came across this recipe, which I’m guessing came out sometime between his star turn in Once is Not Enough, the filmed version of Jacqueline Susann’s steamy potboiler from 1975, both highly recommended by your correspondent, and Queenie, a TV two-parter from 1987 based on a novel by Michael Korda about his aunt, Merle Oberon, again, both highly recommended. Why? This was the period when dill was unavoidable, and even Kirk Douglas was unable to escape its grasp.

He was born Issur Danielovitch in upstate Amsterdam, NY, to Jewish immigrants from what is now Belarus at the tail end of 1916. They were very, very poor. I’ll get this out of the way here: he lived to be 103, dying in 2020, so he was born at a time when D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance silent film was the top box office draw, and died right around the time Brad Pitt won Best Supporting Actor for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. That might be what finished him off, actually.

He made his film debut in 1946’s film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. I’ll give away no spoilers, except to say that it has nothing to do with avocados or shiplap. In 1949 he was in a kind of Rocky precursor called The Champion, which earned him his first Oscar nom. His filmography has its own wiki page, so prolific was he, so let’s skip around. I think he’s really well-known for 1960’s Spartacus, a “sword-and-sandals” epic, and he looks hot for a man in his 40s. Did you know that was directed by Stanley Kubrick? Spartacus has its own fascinating history. Kirk had control over it, and was very public about the then-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo being its screenwriter. When it opened President Kennedy crossed a picket line to go see it. Pretty much after that the Hollywood blacklist was dead. 

Two of my favorite movies of his are 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which you should watch for the special effects alone, and 1956’s Lust for Life, a lurid technicolor retelling of the life of Vincent van Gogh. In 1963 he appeared on Broadway in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and liked it so much he bought it and gave it to his son, Michael, who made the Oscar-winning movie out of it.

Kirk was only married twice. His first marriage, to Diana Dill, produced Michael and another son Joel. Then in 1954 he married Anne Buydens, a non-Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, and they stayed married to his death, so for 65 years. That’s incredible for Hollywood until you learn this from the somewhat catty wiki entry: 

Throughout their marriage, Douglas had affairs with other women, including several Hollywood starlets. He never hid his infidelities from his wife, who was accepting of them and explained, “as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.” 

In 1991 Kirk barely survived a helicopter crash and went through a life transformation, returning to his Jewish roots in a very serious way. You can read about it in exhausting detail in his second autobiography, Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning (1997).

I think that’s the highlights, but there’s so much more, good and bad. For example, Kirk is alleged to have raped a teenage Natalie Wood in 1955, but that was never really proven. On the  good side, Kirk traveled around the world at his own expense as a kind of American goodwill ambassador and was particularly fond of helping out Israel and popping in on Anwar Sadat to keep the peace settlement going. Let’s return to, say 1981, when Kirk was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter (for the Israeli-Egyptian efforts, mostly), and whip up some chicken in dill sauce.

Kirk Douglas’s Chicken in Dill Sauce


3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (instructions below)
1 frying chicken, cut into 8 pieces [so get one of those multi-piece packs from the supermarket]
Salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 green onions, chopped, including white and green parts
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1/2 cup sherry wine [another clue that this is from the 70s/80s: “sherry wine”]
1 cup sour cream

How to:

Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 2 minutes then plunge into cold water; skin will peel off easily then chop tomatoes into chunks.

To make chicken: Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Wipe chicken parts with damp paper towels; season with salt and pepper. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, brown chicken in olive oil; season with salt and pepper. During last 5 minutes of browning, add green onions; cook until greens wilt and white stems turn golden; add tomatoes, dill and sherry. Cover and bake for 1 hour, then remove chicken to a platter.

Spoon sour cream into pot; stir with juices from chicken; place pot over low flame and put chicken back into the sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes. Do not let the sauce boil or it will curdle. Serves 3-4.



  1. My first exposure to Mr Chin Dimple was Spartacus (along with The Bridges Of Toko Ri) were Sunday afternoon old movie staples that bummed me out because the “good” guys lost.

    I then saw him in Saturn III which was terrible.  My dad, not caring about movie ratings (it was AA aka Adult Accompaniment) took 10 year old me and a friend to see it. My friend wouldn’t shut up about seeing Farrah Fawcett’s boobs.

    It landed my dad in trouble with my mom and my friend’s mom.

    Hilariously, the making of this shit movie was chronicled by the screenwriter of Saturn III Martin Ames who made fun of Mr Chin Dimple and his obsession with virility.  It would explain the frequency of shirtless scenes with Kirk (a lot) vs Farah.

  2. I am down to eat Spartacus’ chicken in dill sauce.

    And I’ve never seen the Queenie series, but can confirm that the Michael Korda novel it’s based on is very fun, as are many of Korda’s books.  I don’t know how I got on a Korda kick back in the 90s, but I read a bunch in a row and liked them.

    I’ll have to seek out the series.

    • Michael Korda was at the right place at the right time, Editor in Chief of Simon & Schuster in book publishing’s heyday. Big advances, bigger personalities, three-hour lunches, lavish launch parties, extensive coverage of the industry in the New York Times and many other newspapers. It didn’t hurt that the family was very, very well off. Astonishingly, one of the worst movies I ever watched was based on a piece by Michael Korda that appeared in the New Yorker, was written by Paul Rudnick, starred Bette Midler and Nathan Lane, and also featured Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, and John Cleese. Yes, I am talking about Isn’t She Great, about the life of Jacqueline Susann. With all that talent and with that subject matter, they really went to heroic lengths to produce that stinker.

  3. This got me going down a rabbit hole, and there’s also the mystery of whether or not he was connected to the murder of actress Jean Spangler.

    Spangler disappeared shortly after filming a small role in the Douglas movie “Young Man With a Horn” and her body was never found. Her purse was found in a park, though, with a note saying “Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way wile mother is away,”

    Douglas denied any connection to Spangler off set and said he had no idea who the Kirk in her note was, and her body was never found. Spangler had been involved in a long custody battle with her ex husband, so it’s always possible her disappearance was connected to her ex, and if she had sought out an illegal abortion, her disappearance may have had a connection to a botched procedure, which was a higher risk than today.

  4. I saw Spartacus when I was a tween. It was the first time that it dawned on me that “old” people, in the sense of age but also era, could be hot. As Luigi Vuoto likes to put it, I’d take a bite out of Kirk Douglas’ chicken thighs.

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