Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Late,Great Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis, the star of such films as The Defiant Ones, Some Like It Hot, Spartacus, and Boeing Boeing, passed yesterday at the age of 85. The cause was a heart attack.

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in The Bronx on June 3, 1925. He was only eight years old when his parents decided they could not take care of their children, so that Mr. Curtis and his brother Julius were put in a state institution. Eventually Mr. Curtis returned to his old neighbourhood and attended Seward Park High School in Lower East Manhattan. During World War II Mr. Curtis served in the United States Navy.

After the war Tony Curtis returned to New York and began taking acting classes the New School for Social Research. One of his classmates was Walter Matthau. Mr. Curtis began performing in theatre in the Catskills. He was discovered by casting agent Joyce Selznick, This led to him signing a contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. It took him some time to adopt his stage name. Initially he considered James Curtis, then he settled on Anthony Curtis, later shortened to Tony Curtis. He made his film debut in How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border (1949). He would appear in such films as City Across the River (1949), Criss Cross (1949), and Francis before appearing in bigger films such as Sierra (1950), Winchester '73 (1950), and Kansas Raiders (1950). He received top billing for the first time in the movie The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951). For the next few years Mr. Curtis would star in such films as Flesh and Fury (1952), Son of Ali Baba (1952), No Room for the Groom (1952--his first comedy), Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), So This is Paris (1955), Trapeze (1956), and The Midnight Story (1957). Mr. Curstis also appeared on television, on The Red Skelton Show, Schlitz Playhouse, and GE Theatre.

It was in 1958 that Tony Curtis entered the height of his career. It was that year that he appeared in the ever popular The Vikings. It was also in 1958 that he starred in The Defiant Ones (for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role) and The Perfect Furlough (his first sex comedy). In 1959 Tony Curtis starred in the classic Some Like It Hot, regarded by some as the greatest comedy movie of all time. Mr. Curtis would go onto appear in Operation Petticoat (1959),  Spartacus (1960), 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), Captain Newman M.D. (1962), Goodbye Charlie (1964), The Great Race (1965), Boeing Boeing (1965), Don't Make Waves (1967), The Boston Strangler (1968), Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970). He also appeared on television on The Flintstones and Rowan and Martin's Laugh In.

In the Seventies Tony Curtis shifted from movies to doing more television. He starred as Danny Wilde in the British series The Persuaders and he starred in the title role in the series McCoy. He was a regular on the show Vega$. He also guest starred on the TV show Shaft and in a television version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Mr. Curtis appeared in such films as Lepke (1975), The Last Tycoon (1976), Casanova and Co. (1977), Sextette (1978),. The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978), Title Shot (1979), and Little Miss Marker (1980).

The Eighties through the Naughts saw Mr. Curtis appear in such films as Where is Parsifal (1983), Brain Waves (1985), Insignificance (1985), Balboa (1986), Midnight (1989), Prime Target (1991), The Immortals (1995),  Louis and Frank (1998), Play It to the Bone (1999), and David and Fatima (2008). He was the host on television of Hollywood Babylon and guest starred on Hope and Faith.

Tony Curtis was one of the last great stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. And while it may have been his dashing good looks which may have initially attracted Hollywood, and audiences, to him, it was his talent which would insure his success as an actor. Mr. Curtis was incredibly versatile. He could be outstanding in such dramatic roles as an escaped convict in The Defiant Ones or a serial killer in The Boston Strangler. At the same time, however, he excelled in comedy roles, such as a musician forced to dress in drag to protect his life in Some Like It Hot or a journalist juggling three different, stewardess girl friends in Boeing Boeing. Of course, he was naturally at his absolute best in those roles which relied upon his natural charm, whether in the movie The Perfect Furlough or the TV series The Persuaders. Very few actors in the history of movies possessed the charm, looks, and talent which Tony Curtis did. Quite simply, he was one of the last few true movie stars.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't a big fan of Tony Curtis until I saw him in Captain Newman, M.D. Now, I'm starting to realize that he was more than just a handsome guy who was terrific at comedy. Kind of sad how sometimes one doesn't really appreciate great actors until they're gone.

Did you know he also appeared in Paris, When It Sizzles with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden? It's a rather terrible film on a whole, but his small role isn't half bad.

Wonderful post!

Along These Lines ... said...

I interviewed him a few years ago and only just blogged about it some weeks ago. Fabulous actor and lovely man.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for the link to the interview, Nick! It is good to know that in real life Mr. Curtis was much like the picture I have of him in my head!

Yes, Emm, I was aware he was in Paris, When It Sizzles. I've often thought it was a shame the only movie Miss Hepburn and Mr. Curtis did together was one in which Mr. Curtis didn't really have a big role and wasn't very good!