In what has to be a first for the normally sedate and reverential audiences at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, members of Monday night’s packed house for the 70MM presentation of 1960’s classic epic Spartacus stood and repeatedly chanted “I Am Spartacus” shortly after its 95-year-old star Kirk Douglas was introduced to a rousing standing ovation during the pre-screening Q&A (which I moderated). Cued by Academy President Hawk Koch after his opening remarks, Douglas was clearly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption and said he’d never seen that kind of response before. Koch’s predecessor Tom Sherak remarked to me later, “Did you see Douglas’ face when we did that? Priceless.” Sherak, an unabashed Spartacus fan (the original poster hung in his Academy office during his presidency and this was a special night for him) orchestrated it all telling me he came up with the idea during a morning yoga session, planned it with Koch and then prepped the audience before Douglas entered from backstage. It was quite a moment, almost surreal. It was also ironic since Douglas remembers that for some strange reason director Stanley Kubrick actually wanted to cut the now-iconic scene where Spartacus’ fellow slaves all uttered the famous phrase. It’s not the only time they butted heads. Kubrick also wanted to cut Douglas’ crucifixion closeup after the actor spent a full day on the cross. Suffice to say that idea didn’t play well with the producer/star and it remains in the film.
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