Tony Curtis, died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Nevada last night. He was 85. For those of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, this guy was the king of cool. Mr. smooth. His beginnings though, were humble.
Bernard Schwartz, was born in the Bronx in June of 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who emigrated to the U.S. following World War I. His father was a tailor, the family moving frequently as he looked for work.
In 1959 Curtis recalled, “I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids…I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block.”
According to his profile on IMDB-
“Tony was to find this real-life experience a few years later when he enlisted in the Marines in 1942. Tony spent the next three years getting the life experience he desired, as he did everything from working as a crewman on a submarine to honing his future craft as an actor by performing as a sailor in a stage play at the Navy Signalman School in Illinois.”
After the war he used the GI Bill to study acting, eventually marrying Janet Leigh.
Tony Curtis appeared in more than 100 films, including Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.” The movie co-starred Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, and was ranked by the AFI as the funniest film ever made. As good as “Hot” was, Blake Edwards “Operation Petticoat,” which put Curtis together with Cary Grant, Gavin MacLeod and Dina Merrill, will always be one of my favorite films. The hustling “procurement officer” for a beaten-up submarine limping its way through the war, Lt. JG Nick Holden, was a role tailor made for the Curtis persona.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Curtis just once, during a promotion for his artwork at a gallery in West Los Angeles. Off-screen, I found him to be pretty much the same smiling, congenial character he played in all those movies. I recall being impressed with his painting, which has been described as “Matisse-like.” I remember thinking, “I should probably buy one of these now, because one day this guy’s paintings will be worth a whole lot of money….” I didn’t. I wish I had.
Tony Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of an escaped convict in “The Defiant Ones” released in 1958. He married six times and had five children, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis.