Tag Archives: Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas: Once A Downshifter…

Michael Douglas has had quite a life.

The actor/producer/son of Kirk Douglas has won Emmy and Golden Globe Awards. He’s a political activist, and the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones.

He spent some of his growing-up years in Westport. He did not go to Staples High School — his parents shipped him off to Choate — but he did join the Downshifters. That’s the hot rod club that flourished here in the 1950s and ’60s.

Michael Douglas is still making movies. And while promoting “Ant-Man” on Dan Patrick’s radio show this week, the talk turned to those long-ago days.

A screen grab from the Dan Patrick Show website.

He had a 1947 Mercury with a Model A axle in the back, the actor said. The car was named the “Ruptured Duck.”

He said he pretended to be a tough guy. “Tough being a tough guy in Westport,” Patrick noted.

And that was that. Host and guest moved on to other things.

But it’s nice to know that in some ways, Michael Douglas has never moved far from the Downshifters.

 

(Hat tips: Jim Harman and Carl Swanson)

 

Downshifting

Well-known fact: Michael Douglas was a teenager in Westport.

Less well-known: He was a member of the Downshifters hot rod club.

Virtually unknown, unless you grew up in Westport in the late 1950s and early ’60s: Westport had a hot rod club.

Meetings were held at the Y.  Members brought their girlfriends — but they sat outside.

Inside, there were formal presentations on cars — carburetors, brake systems, that sort of thing. Dues were collected, officers elected and minutes recorded.

Michael douglas 2

But the Downshifters were not a book club or sewing circle. They found spots around town to race (like “the asphalt near Mahackeno” — presumably, now the entrance to the Y). They “had something to do” with the Dover Drag Strip, just across the state line in Dutchess County.

The Downshifters are now receiving Social Security. The gears they shift are probably automatic.

But the club lives on in the memories of all its members (and their girlfriends, who sat outside).

Charlie Taylor, today.

Charlie Taylor, today.

As part of this weekend’s Staples High School’s Class of 1960 reunion, Charlie Taylor and Mike James will talk about the Downshifters. They’ll show photos and memorabilia, and discuss the possibility of a movie about the group. (Michael Douglas, anyone?)

Charlie and Mike are great storytellers. (They also have intriguing, non-hot-rod back stories. Charlie is a noted Nashville musician, while Mike was a prominent political activist.)

On Saturday though, they’ll concentrate on their Downshifter days. Those engines provided the soundtrack for some of the best times of their lives.

(The Downshifters talk is this Saturday, September 19, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in the Westport Library 2nd floor seminar room. It’s free, and open to the public.)

 

Downshifting With Michael Douglas

Westporters who grew up here in the late 1950s and early ’60s remember Michael Douglas. The son of actor Kirk Douglas did not go to Staples — he’s a Choate grad — but he was friends with many who did.

He’s been gone for decades. Does he remember Westport at all?

Apparently. Check out a recent post on his personal Facebook page:

Michael douglas 2

The Downshifters were legends. To read more about them, click here.

To learn more about Michael Douglas, join Netflix.

(Hat tip: Bill Banks)

Word On The Street (And We Do Mean “Street”) …

… is that Michael Douglas is making a movie about Westport.

An unconfirmed source says that the famed actor/producer’s new project looks back on his teenage days here. It will focus on his beloved Downshifters — the club that met at the Y to talk about, learn about, work on (and sometimes race) cars.

American Graffiti: Eat your heart out.

In 2013 -- while filming "And So It Goes" in Bridgeport -- Michael Douglas drove Westporter Bill Scheffler's Mercedes.

In 2013 — while filming “And So It Goes” in Bridgeport — Michael Douglas drove Westporter Bill Scheffler’s Mercedes.

Bill Scheffler’s Benz Is A Movie Star

There’s something about Michael Douglas and Westport cars.

Growing up here, he was a member of the Downshifters — the high school club that met at the Y to talk about, learn about, work on (and sometimes race) cars.

Last summer, he filmed “And So It Goes” in Bridgeport. Directed by Rob Reiner, and also starring Diane Keaton, it’s about a self-absorbed realtor suddenly left in charge of a granddaughter he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off. It was released last week.

Besides the familiar Black Rock scenes (and familiar former Westport actor), there’s a familiar car.

Michael Douglas driving Bill Scheffler's Mercedes.

Michael Douglas driving Bill Scheffler’s Mercedes.

Westporter Bill Scheffler’s 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Cabriolet takes a star turn. With the star.

Douglas drives it — and it is featured prominently in the promos.

Scheffler bought the Benz in January 2013, at a Scottsdale auction. It’s a fairly limited production car — about 3100 hard tops and convertibles were made over the model’s 6-year life — and was built to rigorous standards.

The auction catalogue says the 300SE offered “a stirring combination of luxury and performance along with technical specifications better than anything else of its era.”

So how did Scheffler’s car make it onto Rob Reiner’s set?

It was spotted by a “talent scout/car wrangler” while being restored in Stratford.

And so it goes.

Michael Douglas poster

 

 

 

Miggs And Michael

Most people, if they saw Michael Douglas in a restaurant, would do 1 of 2 things: They’d ask for his autograph. Or they’d stare.

Miggs Burroughs is not “most people.”

The other day, he saw the actor at Barcelona in Fairfield. Miggs — a well-known artist/designer — had a great opening line for the even better-known actor.

Michael Douglas -- older than when he wanted to be a stuntman, younger than today.

Michael Douglas — older than when he wanted to be a stuntman, younger than today.

Miggs reminded Michael that they were tennis partners at Westport legend Doc Marshall’s camp, held on the courts behind Bedford Junior High School (now Saugatuck Elementary) when the boys were 10 or 12.

As Miggs tells it: “Michael’s jaw  dropped with surprise, or maybe I was standing on his foot.”

Miggs remembered that Michael “hurled himself over the net and rolled around on the ground because, as he told me then, he wanted to be a stuntman when he grew up.”

Miggs continues: “Well, when the son of Spartacus” — or, anyway, Kirk Douglas, who played Spartacus in the movies — “tells you he wants to be a stuntman, then I wanted to be a stunt man too.”

So later in the week Miggs threw himself off the roof of a neighbor’s chicken coop. Unlike actual stuntmen — or Spartacus — Miggs did a nasty face plant on the ground. His nose split open.

He ran home. Covering his face, he dashed into the living room, where his parents were entertaining friends.

They asked what was wrong. Miggs dropped his hands. A torrent of blood spilled on the carpet, as the guests ran for cover. 

“Since it was all his fault, I should have asked Michael to autograph the scar on my nose from the stitches,” Miggs says.

“But I didn’t think of it until now.”

Miggs Burroughs. You can barely see his scar.

Miggs Burroughs. You can barely see his scar.

Back To The Big Top

I’ve been accused of glorifying the Remarkable Book Shop — making the Main Street store (now Talbot’s) into a symbol for a long-ago unique, mom-and-pop downtown now replaced by faceless, corporate chain stores.

But whether you think I’m a starry-eyed, stuck-in-the-past romantic or a long-time Westporter recalling a funkier community, I dare you to look at this picture and tell me that what’s there now is an improvement.

That was the Big Top, sitting coolly at the corner of the Post Road and Roseville.

Today it’s McDonald’s.

Through the 1960s and ’70s, the Big Top was the place to go for burgers, dogs, fries, onion rings, ribs, chicken and shakes.

An enormous range of people went — teenagers, lawyers, local workers, college kids. Pretty much anyone except mommies with little kids. They hung more at Chubby Lane’s. If burger places were music, Chubby’s was the Beatles. Big Top: the Stones.

(Carrol’s came later. It was the Monkees.)

Ours was not the only Big Top — there were others, with the same funky sign and striped roof, in New Haven, Bridgeport, Monroe and Greenwich. But ours might be the most famous.

Jay Leno has referenced it at least twice. Once, in 2005, his guest was Paul Newman. Almost immediately, the talk turned to the Big Top. Here’s the clip:

A few year’s earlier, Jay’s guest was Michael Douglas. The talk turned to the early ’60s — and the Big Top.

Michael lived almost behind it — down Roseville, left on Whitney, left on Webb Road. Leno said he always stopped there, on his way to and from wherever.

A few years ago, a fan spotted Leno in California. “Greetings from Westport, Connecticut!” he said.

Leno immediately replied: “Big Top hamburgers!”

I don’t think anyone ever felt that way about McDonald’s.

Ours, or any of the other 32,736 on the planet.

Doc Anderson And The Downshifters

It’s been more than 40 years, and James “Doc” Anderson now lives all the way across the country.

But when Doc’s mother sent him a recent “Woog’s World” column, his mind double-clutched back to Westport, high school, and especially his passion:  cars.

The story his mom sent was about Charlie Taylor — a Staples grad with a long career in music — but this line caught Doc’s eye:

(Charlie) joined the Downshifters, a hot rod club whose members included Mike Douglas (now known as “Michael” — yes, that one).

Doc was a Downshifter too.  He emailed me from his Seattle home, and asked me to call.  He picked up the phone, and immediately described that very formative time in his life.

Not much beats a 1960 'Vette.

Doc graduated from Staples in 1967.  By then the Downshifters had died — victim of both a changing Westport and changing auto industry.  Doc and president Flip Webb put their club jackets up for sale.  Doc joined the Drag Masters — a smaller, younger club outside of Westport.

“The Drag Masters had a club car everyone worked on,” Doc recalls.  “By that time, kids in Westport no longer worked on their own cars.  Everyone drove their parents’ cars.  It was when Westport started becoming a rock-star community.  With affluence came less interest in cars.”

Plus, Doc notes, cars themselves became more specialized.  It got harder and harder for teenagers to work on them.

But even in its dying days the Downshifters — a huge part of Staples life in the 1950s — meant a lot to Doc.

Meetings were held at the Y, he says.  Members brought their girlfriends — but they sat outside.

Inside, there were formal presentations on cars.  Doc made one on carburetors; a friend talked about brake systems.  Dues were collected, officers elected and minutes recorded.

The Downshifters “had something to do” with the Dover Drag Strip, just across the state line in Dutchess County.

And Doc remembers Corky Cookman running his dragster on “the asphalt near Mahackeno” — presumably, what’s now Sunny Lane.  (Presumably too the statute of limitations has long since expired.)

Doc went on to Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.  He spent more than 6 years as a Navy pilot and instructor, then became a commercial pilot for over 2 decades with Wien and Alaska Airlines.

He’s now in his 2nd year of retirement.  He sails a catamaran in Washington waters, and says life is good.

But can anything ever compare to the hot rod days of high school — even if those days were spent as one of the last Downshifters in the rapidly changing suburban town of Westport?