Although she was most widely known for the association of her surname with one of Hollywood’s most enduring acting dynasties – she was the mother of actor Michael Douglas and his producer brother Joel, and former wife of the pair’s father Kirk Douglas – Diana Douglas had a lengthy performing career of her own, acting on film and TV from her screen debut in 1942 with a small role in the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn vehicle Keeper of the Flame to her official retirement at the age of 85 in 2008.
In the intervening 66 years her career was busy and varied, beginning with smaller roles in films, then settling into a groove as a guest star on various television series. She appeared in major 1980s soaps Dallas, Dynasty and Knots Landing, cop shows Cagney & Lacey and CHiPs, and in later years the celebrated US drama series The West Wing and ER.
Her major film role was in 1955’s The Indian Fighter alongside her ex-husband Douglas (they had divorced four years’ previously, but remained on good terms all their lives), while in later years she took parts in classic comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), religious horror Cold Heaven (1991) and It Runs in the Family (2003), in which she appeared alongside Kirk, her son Michael – pictured with her, left – and his son Cameron. She also appeared with Michael in 1983 thriller The Star Chamber.
“We’re both professionals,” she told the Bermuda News in 2011 about she and Kirk’s post-marriage work together, continuing on the subject of their friendship that, “I’ve always enjoyed [his] sense of humour, even when I was angriest at him… we both decided, too, that we had to maintain a certain amount of civility because of the children.” Diana married Broadway producer Bill Darrid in 1956 and remained with him until his death in 1992, with Darrid becoming a second father figure to her sons during their life together in New York.
Born Diana Love Dill in 1923 in Devonshire, Bermuda, Diana was part of a family on her father’s side which had been prominent on the island since the 17th century. Her father, Lt Col Thomas Melville Dill, had been the attorney general of the island, a member of its parliament, and a commanding officer in its artillery, while her mother Ruth had originally come from New Jersey. .It was while studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York that Diana first made Douglas’ acquaintance, and when she moved to Los Angeles to sign a $200 a week contract with Warner Brothers, it was against his suggestion that she stay and work on Broadway. A few years later and back in New York, working as a model and actress, she appeared on the cover of a spring fashion edition of Time magazine in 1943. Kirk, at sea with the Navy at the time, showed his friends the cover and declared his intention to marry her; writing to her care of Time, they were engaged within six months. Although they split in 1951, fans would still send Kirk Douglas copies of the magazine decades later.
Suffering from cancer at the time of her death, Diana Douglas Webster – as she had been known since her 2002 marriage to third husband Donald – died at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital, an industry retirement home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.
She is survived by Donald, her sons Michael and Joel, and their children.