Pete Hammond

Emmy voters received official ballots in the mail today with instructions that they must be returned by 5 PM on June 28. However, voting can’t actually take place until ballot listings are posted at a secure Emmy address online after 6 PM Monday, June 11th. With the race for nominations (they will be announced July 19) moving into the home stretch, campaigning is heating up — particularly at the Goldenson Theatre of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, where almost nightly screenings/panels with TV casts and creators are taking place. None are endorsed or sponsored by the Academy itself. Studios and networks rent out the space to give their shows the aura of Emmy but on invitations must specifically stress that it is not an Academy official activity. These events have been happening with regularity since April and May and will continue right up to the close of voting. Among those campaigning in June are CBS’ Blue Bloods (June 5),The Glee Project (June 7), Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies (June 8), Leverage (June 9) and a Grammys event  (June 11). On June 10th, Matt Weiner will fly back from the southern location of his feature directorial debut to appear with virtually the entire cast of 4-time Emmy-winning drama series Mad Men as they participate in a screening/discussion/reception for the season finale of the show two hours before it airs on AMC.

But none of these are as unique as an event last night at the Academy, where Spartacus met Spartacus. Although the blood-soaked, sex-drenched Starz series Spartacus:Vengeance isn’t necessarily high up on most pundits lists of potential drama series Emmy nominees (it should compete in technical categories, though) it got a high-profile boost when the original Spartacus himself, 95 year-old Kirk Douglas, joined series star Liam McIntyre and creator Steven S. DeKnight for what Starz billed as a “Once In A Lifetime Event: Celebrating Spartacus”, which consisted of a 40-minute onstage discussion (I moderated) and reception. It drew a capacity crowd and some had to be turned away.

Douglas clearly stole the show recounting tales from the making of the 1960 film which he has also done in a new book, his 10th, I Am Spartacus! Making A Film, Breaking The Blacklist coming out next week. George Clooney did the forward. It is such a riveting read it could make a great movie itself. Doulgas told me along with his first book, The Ragman’s Son, which came out a quarter of a century ago this is the one of which he is most proud. It is a remarkable account of not only the film classic’s rocky road to production but also a real page-turner about the breaking of the Hollywood Blacklist of the ’50s and Douglas’ key role in it when he hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to pen the Spartacus script (working under the pseudonym Sam Jackson). Douglas then got the studio to agree to give Trumbo full credit on the film, a major breakthough that ended a sad and shameful chapter in Hollywood history. In 1991, Douglas recounted that the Writers Guild of America gave him a special award for breaking the blacklist. “When I got home after the ceremony I was in bed with my wife and I said, ‘Honey I think I did a wonderful thing’ and she said ‘yes, but what have you done lately?’ “, he said to big laughs.

The actor, who literally ran out onstage to a huge standing ovation, addressed the problems he still has with his speech. “Fifteen years ago I had a stroke and lost my speech. What is an actor to do when you can’t talk? Wait for silent pictures to come back?” he said, getting another big laugh with the obvious  reference to the success of this year’s big Oscar winner The Artist. Douglas, whose comic timing is impeccable even at 95, also struck a poignant note when he reminisced about his late friend Burt Lancaster. “Getting old is lonely. So many of your friends disappear and you have only a memory of them,” he said before once again lightening the tone of the evening.

Whether the night did anything to increase the Emmy chances of  Spartacus: Vengeance, it didn’t really matter. This was a night that belonged to the man who so memorably played him 52 years ago and has lived to tell the tale again. As McIntyre, a newcomer who just finished his first season as Spartacus, told me on his way out, “This is a night I will never forget”.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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