Profile of Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz; June 3, 1925 - September 29, 2010) was an American film actor whose career spanned six decades but who achieved the height of his popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. He acted in more than 100 films in roles covering a wide range of genres, from light comedy to serious drama. In his later years, Curtis made numerous television appearances.
Although his early film roles mainly took advantage of his good looks, by the latter half of the 1950s he had demonstrated range and depth in numerous dramatic and comedy roles. By the time he starred in Houdini (1953) with his wife Janet Leigh, "his first clear success," notes critic David Thomson, his acting had progressed immensely.
He achieved his first serious recognition as a dramatic actor in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with co-star Burt Lancaster. The following year he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in The Defiant Ones (1958) alongside Sidney Poitier (who was also nominated in the same category). Curtis then gave what could arguably be called his best performance: three interrelated roles in the comedy Some Like It Hot (1959). Thomson called it an "outrageous film," and an American Film Institute survey voted it the funniest American film ever made. The film co-starred Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, and was directed by Billy Wilder. That was followed by Blake Edwards’s Operation Petticoat (1959) with Cary Grant. They were both frantic comedies, and displayed his impeccable comic timing.
His stardom and film career declined considerably after 1960. His most significant dramatic part came in 1968 when he starred in the true-life drama The Boston Strangler, which some consider his last major film role. The part reinforced his reputation as a serious actor with his chilling portrayal of serial killer Albert DeSalvo.
He later starred alongside Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!, with Curtis playing American millionaire Danny Wilde. The series ran twenty-four episodes.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, at the Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital on 105th Street in Manhattan, New York City, his parents were Jewish emigrants from Czechoslovakia and Hungary, his father was a tailor and the family lived in the back of the shop.
Tony Curtis did not learn English until he was five or six, delaying his schooling. At 16, he had his first small acting part in a school stage play.
Inspired by Cary Grant's role in Destination Tokyo and Tyrone Power's in Crash Dive (1943), Tony Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor by joining the Pacific submarine force.
Following his discharge from the Navy, Curtis studied acting at The New School in Greenwich Village under the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator.
In 1948, Curtis arrived in Hollywood at age 23, on the plane to California, he met Jack Warner.
At Universal Pictures, he changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Anthony Curtis. The first name was from the novel Anthony Adverse and "Curtis" was from Kurtz, a surname in his mother's family, he also learned fencing and riding, in keeping with the cinematic themes of the era.
In 1959, Tony Curtis co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder's comedy Some like it hot. It was a huge success and became a classic; In the same year he starred alongside Cary Grant in equally popular Operation Petticoat, a military comedy directed by Blake Edwards.
In 1960, Kirk Douglas offered Curtis a key role in the former's epic production Spartacus. After that Tony Curtis movie career went downward, and after a decade of making non remarkable films, he turned his attention to TV, and one of the most memorable was the ITC TV series The Persuaders !, in which he played American millionaire Danny Wilde.
The fundamental requirements about a high class con man are that they should be personable, well dressed, amiable, well mannered, good looking, attractive to women, and utterly without conscience or scruple. I'm glad to say, I fit that bill to the letter."
In 1995, Tony Curtis received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France.
In March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award.
In October 2008, Curtis's autographs American Prince: A Memoir, was published.In it, he describes his encounters with other Hollywood legends of the time including Frank Sinatra and James Dean, as well as his hard-knock childhood and path to success.
The following year he published his next book, The Making of Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie. Curtis shared his memories of the making of the movie, in particular about Marilyn Monroe, whose antics and attitude on the set made everyone miserable.
Curtis was married six times. His first wife was actress Janet Leigh, to whom he was married from 1951 to 1962, and with whom he fathered actresses Kelly and Jamie Lee. "For a while, we were Hollywood's golden couple," he said. "I was very dedicated and devoted to Janet, and on top of my trade, but in her eyes that goldenness 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."
The couple divorced in 1962.
In 1963, Curtis married Christine Kaufmann, the 18-year-old German co-star of his latest film, Taras Bulba. He stated that his marriage with Leigh had effectively ended "a year earlier". Curtis and Kaufmann had two daughters, Alexandra (born July 19, 1964) and Allegra (born July 11, 1966). They divorced in 1968. Kaufmann resumed her career, which she had interrupted during her marriage.
His sixth and last wife, Jill Vandenberg, was 45 years his junior. They met in a restaurant in 1993 and married on November 6, 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."
Throughout his life, Curtis enjoyed painting and, since the early 1980s, painted as a second career. His work could command more than $ 25,000 a canvas, and in the last years of his life, he concentrated on painting rather than movies. A surrealist, Curtis claimed Van Gogh, Paul Matisse, Picasso, and Magritte as influences. "I still make movies but I'm not that interested in them any more. But I paint all the time." In 2007, his painting The Red Table was on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His paintings can also be seen at the Tony Vanderploeg Gallery in Carmel, California.
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 cardiac arrest. His widow Jill Vandenberg 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 30 years earlier.