The ‘Spartacus’ duel: UA, Yul Brynner and the rival ‘Gladiators’

Stanley Kubrick's classic was almost derailed by a competing project

Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects.

In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made.

Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but United Artists had its own Spartacus project planned, with Yul Brynner to star, and had trademarked several titles, including “The Gladiators” and “Spartacus.”

UA upped the ante with a full-page ad in Variety for “The Gladiators” in Feb. 1958. Douglas thought it was a bluff, but in his book “I Am Spartacus!” he recounts telling his agent Lew Wasserman, “That damned Variety ad makes it seem like ‘The Gladiators’ is in the can. Nobody wants to risk a fight.”

Wasserman suggested Douglas try Universal.

Douglas was skeptical that the money-losing studio of “Francis the Talking Mule” would or could make the picture. What he didn’t know was that Wasserman and MCA were moving to buy the lot, and eventually the studio.

Within hours, U had called Douglas. It gave him four weeks to deliver a script. When a draft by Fast proved unusable, Douglas needed a scribe who could give the studio a good script in just a fortnight.

He turned to the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, known as the best and fastest scripter around.

The rest, as they say, is history.

More Film

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    Box Office: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Hits $230 Million at International Box Office

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Captain Phasma

    Box Office: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Soars to $220 Million Opening Weekend

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Les Arcs Film Festival

    Les Arcs European Film Festival's Industry Village Kicks Off with Strong Roster

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    Box Office: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Rockets to $215 Million Opening Weekend

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Disney-Fox Deal Sets Up Scramble for

    Disney-Fox Deal Unleashes Flood of Free-Agent Executives, Talent

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Anita Hill

    Anita Hill Chairs Hollywood Anti-Sexual Harassment Commission Formed by Top Execs

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

  • Warren Beatty

    Arnon Milchan Sues Warren Beatty Over 'Rules Don't Apply' Flop

    Studios today face off over dueling superheroes and Snow White projects, but in the late 1950s, Kirk Douglas and United Artists were at swords point over competing “Spartacus” projects. In fact, the Douglas epic directed by Stanley Kubrick nearly didn’t get made. Douglas’s production company, Bryna, held the rights to Howard Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” but […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content