No one on the L.A. scene would believe it today, but when she was first Mrs. Kirk Douglas in the mid '50s, Anne Buydens' insecurities seemed as pronounced as, well, filmdom's most famous dimple. She tells a story about how "Kirk's PR man would stand next to him at parties and whisper, 'Here comes Mr. So-and-so,' or 'Here comes Mrs. So-and-so.' " Indeed, once, she insists, "I heard him say to Kirk, 'Here comes your wife, Anne.' "

Twenty-six years later Kirk still casts a giant shadow, but his Belgian-born lady has come into her own. At 57, Anne is a stunning fixture on the international best-dressed list, a sought-after hostess by out-of-towners like the Kissingers, and chairwoman of some of the town's most important fund-raisers.

Anne also runs Kirk's Bryna Productions (named for his mom) with French-accented authority. "I handle all the day-to-day business," she explains. "That frees Kirk to concentrate on acting. He only sees the good scripts and gets the right phone calls." When they met, many of Kirk's biggest hits—Champion, The Glass Menagerie and The Bad and the Beautiful—were behind him, and he has had some recent clinkers like Saturn 3. But with Anne administering his career, he has demonstrated his staying power with films like Paths of Glory and The Fury and his recent hands-across-the-generations gig as host of Saturday Night Live.

Equally important, Anne aided in the creation of his entertainment dynasty. Their two sons are both entering the business; Eric, 22, is an actor studying in London, and Peter, 24, produced Kirk's latest work, The Final Countdown. And by his first wife, actress Diana Dill, there are two sons (whom Anne helped raise): China Syndrome's producer-star Michael, 34, and Joel, 32, now producing his first film, King Cobra. Says Kirk: "They'll see that the old man keeps working."

But on what? Anne will probably henceforth cast a more skeptical eye on family properties. In Countdown the nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz (which Kirk skippers) travels through a time warp to December 1941, but it was the movie that got bombed by critics. As producer, Peter's most impressive accomplishment may have been getting the Navy to let him film on the Nimitz—which he managed, in part, by lying about his age. "On our 25th anniversary," Kirk relates, "Peter wanted to have a celebration. But since he'd told the Pentagon he was 26, how was he going to explain the party when it made the papers?"

It didn't always look as if the Douglases would make it to that silver anniversary. When they met, Kirk was dating the likes of Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney and Joan Crawford. Anne, divorced from her first husband, was working as a movie publicist in Paris. The film that brought them together was Anatole Litvak's GI love story, Act of Love. Kirk poured on the charm, but, he says, "I hit a wall." The first time he asked her out, "She said no, she was going to have some scrambled eggs and go to bed. I'd never been insulted so politely."

Anne defends: "I'd seen enough big stars to know that I wasn't going to get involved in a one-night stand and then have him go off into the arms of Lana Turner." As if to make her point, Anne helped throw Kirk a birthday party—inviting every woman he'd dated in Paris. Grins Kirk: "It was a pretty bitchy thing to do." But Douglas did persuade Anne to come to L.A., and three weeks later they were married in Las Vegas by a justice of the peace. Confused by his drawl, Anne promised to obey her "awful wedded husband."

Though soon fluent in English (and three other languages), Anne felt "lost" in Hollywood until Merle Oberon, Barbara Stanwyck and Pamela Mason made her part of the group. "It helped that I was not an actress," she says. Still, the gossip about Kirk persisted—and hurt. "I was so nervous, I finally decided to ignore it," she reports. "All I knew was that Kirk was a good husband and father."

At the same time, Douglas was stirring up controversy on his own. In the '50s he fought the Hollywood blacklist by insisting that Dalton Trumbo be credited for the screenplay of Spartacus at a time when other banned writers were still using noms de plume. And he battled the studio system by becoming the first actor to produce his own films. "He does not tolerate hypocrisy," beams Anne. But Kirk maintains, "What I did wasn't heroic. I just didn't want to do crap. Movies are a silly enough profession for an adult." He also accepted parts other stars wouldn't touch, like Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life. After that one, he laughs, "John Wayne advised me to stop playing sissies."

Douglas' own life had as many showbiz clichés as any of the films he turned down. Born to Russian immigrant parents in Amsterdam, N.Y., he started life as Issur Danielovitch and first changed it to Isadore Demsky. The only son sandwiched between six girls, he felt even more alone when his peddler father drifted away: "I needed him desperately. I have fantasies of what could have been with my dad."

Kirk won a scholarship to St. Lawrence University, where he was a wrestling star and student body president. After graduating, he moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. There he met and married Dill before enlisting in the Navy and seeing combat duty in the Pacific. An apprenticeship in radio and on Broadway and a recommendation from old friend Lauren Bacall got him a screen test. In Hollywood the Douglases' marriage crumbled, but soon after Kirk married Anne, Diana wed her present husband, writer Bill Darrid. "Now," says Kirk, "they're among our closest friends. The boys drew us together." Concurs Michael: "If I've turned out well, it's because I have four really wonderful parents."

Anne, like Kirk, felt she had only one. When she was 5 her parents divorced and her father returned to his native Germany, while Anne stayed behind in Switzerland with her mother. "My world ended," she says. "I felt betrayed and never really got over it. I was educated at boarding schools, feeling very much abandoned." A language major, she moved to Paris to do translating for film companies, then slid into public relations.

Over the years Anne has blossomed as the more social of the two. "I've always been a loner," Kirk admits, "and Anne fills a tremendous void in my life." She concedes that "Kirk has an annoying habit of checking out when he's bored with a conversation."

Kirk and Anne entertain friends like the Gregory Pecks and the Jack Valentis for tennis weekends at their home in Palm Springs or dinners in Beverly Hills. It's a smaller house than the one nearby where the boys grew up—though there's still room for their seven-figure art collection, which includes Picasso, Miró, Chagall and Dubuffet. All four boys still visit constantly, and Kirk wouldn't have it any other way. "When you reach a certain state in your celebrity, making real friends is almost impossible," he finds. "Acting is so lonely. You're part of a movie for a short time and you make close friends; then everyone moves on to other projects. As you grow older, you cherish your family more and more."