If you head South on the Hollywood Freeway, there's a nice-sized mural of Tony Curtis
to greet you as you pass under Sunset Boulevard. Why Tony Curtis
? Who knows. With so many screen legends available for such an honor, why the man who was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925? No doubt there's a story behind it, but I was always glad this singular honor was there for an actor and movie star who was respected but never seemed appreciated quite enough.
I discovered Tony Curtis as a kid in the '70s on the Saturday Afternoon Movies. My dad was a fan and everything in the house stopped cold whenever "Houdini
" or "The Great Imposter
" aired. As for my sister and I, we loved the somewhat infamous Technicolor swashbuckler "The Black Shield of Falworth
." Back then there was no such thing as home video or cable television, so you watched what was on. One of the advantages of the Vacuum Tube Age was seeing films like these. Unlike the classics, these programmers were most likely cheaper for local television stations to rent so you were exposed to all kinds of terrific films you might not have normally bothered with had all of today's choices been available.
Janet Leigh and husband Tony Curtis, holding Daughters Kelly Lee and Jamie Lee.
Which isn't to say Tony Curtis didn't star in classic films. He most certainly did, and a respectable number of them: "Sweet Smell of Success," "The Defiant Ones" (incredibly, his only Oscar nomination), "Some Like it Hot," "Operation Petticoat," "Spartacus," and "The Boston Strangler."
It's become cliche to make fun of Curtis's New Yawk accent which popped up occasionally in period films like "Spartacus" and "The Vikings," (and "Falworth"), but I'm biased and choose to blame the directors. Curtis himself had considerable chops and nowhere did he prove this more than in "Sweet Smell of Success," where he more than holds his own on screen where many a lesser actor was blown away -- next to The Mighty Burt Lancaster.
"Success" would make any list of mine naming the films I re-watch the most. As J.J. Hunsecker, a ruthless columnist who holds court in all the best Manhattan night clubs, Lancaster's a marvel of passive aggressive evil, but the movie really belongs to Curtis's Sidney Falco; a sniveling, needy little grasping press agent caught in a trap of his own making. Other than his stunning good looks, Curtis was also known for characters filled with boundless energy and can-do American optimism. Through Falco, Curtis showed us the dark side of those qualities, what can happen when they bump up against the reality of a harsh world.
In "Success" Curtis gives one of my favorite performances in one of my favorite films, period. For 96-minutes the camera cruises through a noirish world of gorgeous black and white photography, most of it shot on location, and the story has too many layers to even begin listing. This is the film I'd shove down the throat of anyone who questioned Curtis' acting ability. The second would be "The Boston Strangler," a fascinating procedural/psychological docu-drama where Curtis completely loses himself in the character of real-life serial rapist and strangler, Albert DeSalvo.
A few years ago, at one of those autograph shows, I had the opportunity to meet Curtis. I shook the great man's hand and for me he signed a color glossy from "Spartacus," for dad it was a black and white shot of Curtis as Harry Houdini sawing his then-wife and co-star Janet Leigh in half (Dad framed the 8x10 and today it holds a place of honor in his dining room). Curtis also took a moment to ogle my wife, which she still considers one of the great honors of her life.
In the AP obituary excerpted below, you can read about all the usual-usual in the Hollywood bio department: addiction, divorce, career highs, career lows, comebacks and, in the end, cursed old age. Like all the great stars, though, the inconvenience of reality will soon fade away and be taken over forever by the immortal screen image, a man forever young and classically handsome and optimistic.
Which is as it should be.
Tony Curtis was the father of Jamie Lee Curtis, fought and was wounded for his country in the Pacific during World War II, and died yesterday at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 85.
Tony Curtis shaped himself from a 1950s movie heartthrob into a respected actor, showing a determined streak that served him well in such films as "Sweet Smell of Success," "The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot."
Read the full article here.
The Oscar-nominated actor died at age 85 Wednesday evening of cardiac arrest at his home in the Las Vegas-area city of Henderson, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Thursday.
Curtis began in acting with frivolous movies that exploited his handsome physique and appealing personality, but then steadily moved to more substantial roles, starting in 1957 in the harrowing show business tale "Sweet Smell of Success."
In 1958, "The Defiant Ones" brought him an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his portrayal of a white racist who escaped from prison handcuffed to a black man, Sidney Poitier. The following year, he donned women's clothing and sparred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot."
His first wife was actress Janet Leigh of "Psycho" fame; actress Jamie Lee Curtis is their daughter.
"My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages," Jamie Lee Curtis said in a statement Thursday. "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."