Tony Curtis (June 3, 1925 - September 29, 2010) was an American film actor. Famous for his thick black wavy hair, handsome good looks, flashing long eyelashes and trademark New York accent, he was popular during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the actor's most enduring role has been in Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. He has appeared in over 100 films since 1949.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, the son of Jewish Hungarian (from the city of Mátészalka, Szatmár) immigrants Emanuel and Helen Schwartz, in the Bronx, New York. His father was a tailor who had left his home country to find a new life in the United States. In the early days the family lived in the back of his tailor's shop, parents in one corner and Tony and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. Curtis has said of his mother in interview 'My mother was a very difficult mother. When I was a child she beat me up and was very aggressive, antagonistic.' His mother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness which also affected his brother Robert and led to him being institutionalized. When Curtis was 8, he and his younger brother Julius were put in an orphanage for a month because their parents could not afford to feed them. There were more hard times to come, when Curtis was 13 Julius was hit by a truck and he had to identify his body. He has said that he still keeps his cap and school books because that's all which is left of him. With the realities of real life all too harsh, a young Curtis sought refuge in the cinema.
'When I was a child, I used to go to the movies and became enthralled by all the fencing, horseback riding, kissing the girls. I said to myself "Why can't I do that?"
Between 1942 and 1945 Curtis served in the U.S. Navy aboard a submarine tender. He witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in September 1945 from a vantage point of 300 yards away. After his service in the navy the young Curtis studied acting alongside Elaine Stritch, Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger. To use his own words, he got into the movies because he was 'the handsomest of the boys.' Arriving in Hollywood in 1948 aged 23 he was put under contract to Universal Pictures and had his name changed to Tony Curtis. The studio sent him to fencing and riding lessons, but Curtis admits he was only interested in girls and money.
Originally seen as just another pretty boy, he nonetheless proved he had great acting talent as well as good looks with many great performances in outstanding films such as the scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success, with Burt Lancaster, and an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted escaped convict chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
Tony Curtis was so popular as a screen hunk during the 1950s that Elvis Presley (after seeing it on screen) copied his ducktail (DA) hairstyle.
Curtis has also appeared frequently on television; he co-starred with Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!. He later starred in McCoy and Vega$. He made his screen debut uncredited in Criss Cross playing a rhumba dancer. He also did the voice of "Stony Curtis" as a guest star on The Flintstones.
Since at least the early 1980s, Curtis has had a second career as a painter. His work can command more than £25000 a canvas now and it is on this he now focuses rather than movies. 'I still make movies but I'm not that interested any more. I paint all the time.' In 2007 his painting The Red Table will be on display in the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.
Curtis has stated his disappointment at never being awarded an Oscar 'I've never felt that my profession has recognized me for my work.' In March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received France's honor, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters), in 1995.
Relationships[edit | edit source]
Tony Curtis was married six times. His first (and most famous) wife was the actress Janet Leigh (1927–2004), to whom he was married for 11 years, and with whom he fathered actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis. He said of their relationship 'For a while, we were Hollywood's golden couple. I was very dedicated and devoted to Janet but then she was unfaithful to me. I was on top of my trade, but in her eyes that golden-ness had started to wear off. I realized that whatever I was, I wasn't enough for Janet. That hurt me a lot and broke my heart.'
He has also been married to:
- Jill Vandenberg Curtis (November 6, 1998—)
- Lisa Deutsch (February 28, 1993–1994); divorced
- Andrea Savio (1984–1992); divorced
- Leslie Allen (April 20, 1968–1982); divorced, two children
- Christine Kaufmann (February 8, 1963–1967); divorced, two children
His son, Nicholas (with Leslie Allen), died of a heroin overdose on July 2, 1994 at the age of 23. Of this, Curtis has said 'As a father you don't recover from that. There isn't a moment at night that I don't remember him.' About his sexuality Curtis stated : "I was 22 when I arrived in Hollywood in 1948. I had more action than Mount Vesuvius; ! I loved it too. I participated where I wanted to and didn't where I didn't. I've always been open about it."  His last wife was 42 years his junior. They met in a restaurant in 1993 and married in 1998. 'The age gap doesn't bother us. We laugh a lot. My body is functioning and everything is good. She's the sexiest woman I've ever known. We don't think about time. I don't use Viagra either. There are 50 ways to please your lover.'
Later years and death[edit | edit source]
Curtis was a lifelong Democrat and attended the 1960 Democratic National Convention alongside such liberal performers as Edward G. Robinson, Shelley Winters, Ralph Bellamy, and Lee Marvin.
Curtis developed a heavy cocaine addiction in 1974 while filming Lepke, at a time when his stardom had declined considerably and he was hardly being offered any film roles. In 1984, Curtis was rushed to hospital suffering from advanced cirrhosis as a result of his alcoholism and cocaine addiction. He then entered the Betty Ford Clinic and vowed to overcome his "various illnesses". He underwent heart bypass surgery in 1994, after suffering a heart attack.
Curtis nearly died when he contracted pneumonia in December 2006 and was in a coma for more than a month. As a result, he used a wheelchair afterwards and could walk only short distances.
On July 8, 2010, Curtis, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was hospitalized in Las Vegas after suffering an asthma attack during a book-signing engagement in Henderson, Nevada, where he lived.
Curtis died at his Henderson home on September 29, 2010, of a cardiac arrest. His widow Jill told the press that Curtis had suffered from various lung problems for years as a result of cigarette smoking, although he had quit smoking about thirty years earlier. In a release to the Associated Press, his daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, stated:
"My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages. He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed."
He was interred at Palm Memorial Park Cemetery in Green Valley, Nevada, on October 4, 2010. His memorial service was attended by his daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rich Little, and Vera Goulet, Robert Goulet's widow. Investor Kirk Kerkorian, actor Kirk Douglas and singer Phyllis McGuire were among the honorary pallbearers.
Trivia[edit | edit source]
- Audie Murphy suggested Curtis portray him in his biopic To Hell and Back.
- Despite Lew Grade suggesting otherwise in his biography Still Dancing, Curtis is good friends with Roger Moore.
- Curtis and actress-activist Bo Derek met in Washington, D.C. in support of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act in May 2004.
- Has appeared in tourism advertisements for his ancestral homeland Hungary.
- Has stated that his favorite movie star and co-star was Cary Grant.
- Made "Top 10 stars of the year", 1961 and 1962.
- In late 2005, Curtis voiced criticism of the film Brokeback Mountain, stating that he had no intention of seeing it.
- Curtis made two movies with Kirk Douglas: The Vikings and Spartacus. By mutual agreement, each one would kill the other, in different movies. In the Vikings, Curtis's character kills Douglas's; in Spartacus, Douglas's character kills Curtis's.
- Being measured for their costumes for Some Like It Hot, the designer apparently said after measuring Marilyn "you know Tony has a better-looking ass than you do." To which Monroe opened her blouse and said "Yeah, but he doesn't have tits like these!"
- Curtis has reportedly enjoyed watching science fiction for decades, and is a fan of the British science fiction comedy television series Red Dwarf (1988). In 1994, this show achieved its highest accolade so far, winning an Emmy Award for the Outstanding Popular Arts category. Curtis was 69 at the time and presented the award to Robert Llewellyn (who played Kryten in the show).
- Tony Curtis is used as a continuing in-joke in the 2005 BBC series Look Around You.
- On the March 17 edition of Soccer AM Big Stan Hibbert finally told his rendition of the ' Tony Curtis Gag' which lead to fireworks exploding and applause heard around the world. He was then showered in flowers from the watching audience and show crew and almost forgot to do his trademark ‘centrifugal force’ celebration.
References[edit | edit source]
- Curt;s, Tony American Prince: My Autobiography (2008) p. 303
- "Tony Curtis", London: telegraph.co.uk, 2010-10-30. Retrieved on 2010-10-01.
- Tony Curtis 1925-2010: A movie star and icon in the golden age of Hollywood. Daily Record (Scotland) (2010-10-30). Retrieved on 2010-10-01.
- "Daily Mail", London: Daily Mail, 2008-04-17. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
- Tony Curtis 'stable' after asthma attack. AZcentral.com. Retrieved on 2010-07-19.
- Kehr, Dave. "Tony Curtis, Hollywood Leading Man, Dies at 85", New York Times, 2010-09-30. Retrieved on 2010-10-01.
- "Film star Tony Curtis dies at 85", BBC News, 2010-09-30. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Film star Tony Curtis dies aged 85. The First Post (2010-09-30). Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- "Coroner:Actor Tony Curtis Dies At Las Vegas Home". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- "Legendary actor Tony Curtis has died", CNN.com, 2010-09-30. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- "Memorial Service for actor Tony Curtis Set For Monday". cnn.com, Retrieved 2010-10-01
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Curtis, Tony; Barry Paris (1993). Tony Curtis: The Autobiography. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 978-0-688-09759-2.
[edit | edit source]
- Tony Curtis at the Internet Movie Database
- Tony Curtis at the TCM Movie Database
- Biography and naval service from the California Center for Military History website
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