Curtis in 1958
June 3, 1925
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 29, 2010 (aged 85)|
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
|Resting place||Palm Memorial Park (Green Valley), Las Vegas, Nevada|
|Education||City College of New York|
|Alma mater||The New School|
|Children||6, including Kelly, Jamie Lee, and Allegra 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. In his earliest parts he acted in a string of mediocre films, including swashbucklers, westerns, light comedies, sports films and a musical. However, 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 Oscar 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. He often collaborated with Edwards on later films. In 1960, Curtis played a supporting role in Spartacus, which became another major hit for him.
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.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, at the Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital on 105th Street in Manhattan, New York City, to Helen (née Klein) and Emanuel Schwartz. Biographies have propagated a misconception that he was born in the Bronx, probably due to the family's moves when he was very young, but Tony pointedly corrected this in a TV interview. His parents were Jewish emigrants from Czechoslovakia and Hungary: his father was born in Ópályi, near Mátészalka, and his mother was a native of Nagymihály (now Michalovce, Slovakia); she later said she arrived in the US from Válykó (now Va?kovo, Slovakia). He did not learn English until he was five or six, delaying his schooling. His father was a tailor and the family lived in the back of the shop--his parents in one corner and Curtis and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. His mother once made an appearance as a participant on the television show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Curtis said, "When I was a child, Mom beat me up and was very aggressive and antagonistic." His mother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. His brother Robert was institutionalized with the same mental illness.
When Curtis was eight, he and his brother Julius were placed in an orphanage for a month because their parents could not afford to feed them. Four years later, Julius was struck and killed by a truck. Curtis joined a neighborhood gang whose main crimes were playing hooky from school and minor pilfering at the local dime store. When Curtis was 11, a friendly neighbor saved him from what he felt would have led to a life of delinquency by sending him to a Boy Scout camp, where he was able to work off his energy and settle down. He attended Seward Park High School. At 16, he had his first small acting part in a school stage play.
Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor and war was declared. Inspired by Cary Grant's role in Destination Tokyo and Tyrone Power's in Crash Dive (1943), he joined the Pacific submarine force. Curtis served aboard a submarine tender, the USS Proteus, until the end of the Second World War. On September 2, 1945, Curtis witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from his ship's signal bridge about a mile away.
Following his discharge from the Navy, Curtis attended City College of New York on the G.I. Bill. He then studied acting at The New School in Greenwich Village under the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator. His contemporaries included Elaine Stritch, Harry Belafonte, Walter Matthau, Beatrice Arthur, and Rod Steiger. While still at college, Curtis was discovered by Joyce Selznick, the notable talent agent, casting director, and niece of film producer David O. Selznick.
In 1948, Curtis arrived in Hollywood at age 23. In his autobiography, Curtis described how by chance he met Jack Warner on the plane to California, and also how he briefly dated Marilyn Monroe before either of them was famous.
Under contract at Universal Pictures, he changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Tony Curtis and met unknown actors Rock Hudson, James Best, Julie Adams and Piper Laurie. The first name was from the novel Anthony Adverse and "Curtis" was from Kurtz, a surname in his mother's family. Although Universal Pictures taught him fencing and riding, in keeping with the cinematic themes of the era, Curtis admitted he was at first interested only in girls and money. Neither was he hopeful of his chances of becoming a major star. Curtis's biggest fear was having to return home to the Bronx as a failure:
I was a million-to-one shot, the least likely to succeed. I wasn't low man on the totem pole, I was under the totem pole, in a sewer, tied to a sack.
In his second film, City Across the River (also in 1949), he was credited as "Anthony Curtis". He had four lines in The Lady Gambles (1949) and a bigger part in Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949). He could also be spotted in Francis (1950), Woman in Hiding (1950), and I Was a Shoplifter (1950).
He was in three Westerns, Sierra (1950), starring Audie Murphy, one of many names he worked with (including fellow Universal contractee, Rock Hudson), Winchester '73 (1950), starring James Stewart and Shelley Winters. He supported Murphy in another Western, Kansas Raiders (1951), playing Kit Dalton; this time he was billed as "Tony Curtis".
Curtis was receiving numerous fan letters, so Universal awarded him the starring role in The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), a swashbuckler set in the Middle East with Piper Laurie. It was a hit at the box office and Curtis was now established.
He followed it up with Flesh and Fury (1952), a boxing movie; No Room for the Groom (1952), a comedy with Laurie directed by Douglas Sirk; and Son of Ali Baba (1952), another film set in the Arab world with Laurie.
Curtis then teamed up with then-wife Janet Leigh in Houdini (1953), in which Curtis played the title role. His next movies were more "B" fare: All American (1953), as a footballer; Forbidden (1953), as a criminal; Beachhead (1954), a war film; Johnny Dark (1954), with Laurie, as a racing car driver; and The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), a medieval swashbuckler with Leigh. The box office performances of these films were solid, and Curtis was growing in popularity.
For a change of pace he did a musical, So This Is Paris (1955), then it was back to more typical fare: Six Bridges to Cross (1955), as a bank robber; The Purple Mask (1955), a swashbuckler; The Square Jungle (1955), a boxing film.
Curtis made a Western, The Rawhide Years (1957); was a gambler in Mister Cory (1957); and was a cop in The Midnight Story (1957). Lancaster asked for him again, to play scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring and co-produced by Lancaster. The film was a box office disappointment, but Curtis, for the first time in his career, received sensational reviews.
Another star-maker was eager to work with him - Kirk Douglas - in The Vikings (1958). Janet Leigh also starred, and the resulting movie was a box office hit. Curtis then co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Natalie Wood in Kings Go Forth (1958), a war story. It was mildly popular, but The Defiant Ones (1958), was a bigger success. Curtis gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted white escaped convict chained to a black man, Sidney Poitier.
Curtis and Leigh then made a popular comedy for Blake Edwards at Universal, The Perfect Furlough (1958). He co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). It was a huge success and became a classic; equally popular was Operation Petticoat (1959), a military comedy which Curtis made for Edwards alongside Cary Grant.
Douglas came calling again, offering Curtis a key role in the former's epic production Spartacus (1960). It was a huge hit and earned Curtis a Golden Globe nomination.
Curtis then made his first movies in a while without a significant "name" co star. Both were biopics: The Great Impostor (1961), directed by Robert Mulligan, playing Ferdinand Waldo Demara; and The Outsider (1961), where he played war hero Ira Hayes. He went back to epics with Taras Bulba (1962), co starring Yul Brynner and Christine Kaufmann, who soon became Curtis' second wife.
He and Kaufmann were reunited on the comedy 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), which was a mild hit.
Curtis was one of many stars who had small roles in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963). He supported Gregory Peck in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) and made a cameo in Paris When It Sizzles (1964). He and Kaufman made their third movie together, the comedy Wild and Wonderful (1964). His focus remained on comedies: Goodbye Charlie (1964), with Debbie Reynolds; Sex and the Single Girl (1964), with Natalie Wood; The Great Race (1965), with Wood and Lemmon for Blake Edwards -- the most expensive comedy film up till that time, but popular; Boeing Boeing (1965) a sex farce with Jerry Lewis; Not with My Wife, You Don't! (1966) with George C. Scott; Drop Dead Darling (1966), a British comedy; Don't Make Waves (1967), a satire of beach life from director Alexander Mackendrick, with Claudia Cardinale; and On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who... (1967), an Italian comedy with Monica Vitti. In the early 1960s, he was a voice-over guest star on The Flintstones as "Stoney Curtis".
Curtis's first dramatic film after a number of years was The Boston Strangler (1968) playing the title role. Response from the critics and public was excellent. He returned to comedy for Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969), an all-star car race film in the vein of The Great Race.
He was one of the villains in The Count of Monte Cristo (1975) and had the title role in the gangster film Lepke (1975). Curtis had the lead in a TV series that did not last, McCoy (1975-76). He was one of many names in The Last Tycoon (1976) and had the title role in an Italian comedy Casanova & Co. (1977). Later, he co-starred in Vega$ and was in The Users (1978).
Curtis supported Mae West in Sextette (1978) and starred in The Manitou (1978), a horror film, and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), a comedy. He had good roles in It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980), Little Miss Marker (1980) and The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980) and was one of many stars in The Mirror Crack'd (1980).
Throughout his life, Curtis enjoyed painting and, since the early 1980s, painted as a second career. His work commands more than $25,000 a canvas now. 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.
Curtis spoke of his disappointment at never being awarded an Oscar. In March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame inducted in 1960, and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France in 1995.
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 studio he was under contract with, Universal-International, generally stayed out of their stars' love lives. However, when they chose to get married, studio executives spent three days trying to talk him out of it, telling him he would be "poisoning himself at the box office." They threatened "banishment" back to the Bronx and the end of his budding career. In response, Curtis and Leigh decided to defy the studio heads and instead eloped and were married by a local judge in Greenwich, Connecticut. Comedian and close friend Jerry Lewis was present as a witness.
The couple divorced in 1962, and the following year 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.
On April 20, 1968, Curtis married Leslie Allen, with whom he had two sons: Nicholas Bernard (December 31, 1970 - July 2, 1994) and Benjamin Curtis (born May 2, 1973). The couple divorced in 1982.
Two years later, in 1984, Curtis married Andrea Savio; they divorced in 1992.
The following year, on February 28, 1993, he married Lisa Deutsch. They divorced only a year later in 1994.
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."
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Curtis, who had a problem with alcoholism and drug abuse, went through the treatment center of the Betty Ford Clinic in the mid-1980s, which was successful for him.
Beginning in 1990, Curtis and his daughter Jamie Lee Curtis took a renewed interest in their family's Hungarian Jewish heritage, and helped finance the rebuilding of the "Great Synagogue" in Budapest, Hungary. The largest synagogue in Europe today, it was originally built in 1859 and suffered damage during World War II. In 1998, he also founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, and served as honorary chairman. The organization works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and the 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary and is dedicated to the 600,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Hungary and lands occupied by the Hungarian Army. Curtis also helped promote Hungary's national image in commercials.
In 1965, Tony Curtis was animated in an episode of The Flintstones; he also voiced his character Stoney Curtis. In 1994, a mural featuring his likeness, painted by the artist George Sportelli, was unveiled on the Sunset Boulevard overpass of the Hollywood Freeway Highway 101 in California. The mural was relocated to Hollywood Boulevard and Bronson Avenue in September 2011. His face is featured among the celebrities in the cover of the Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album by The Beatles.
Also in 1994, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation awarded its Lone Sailor Award for his naval service and his subsequent acting career.
In October 2008, Curtis's autobiography 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. It was followed by the publication of his next book, The Making of Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie (2009). 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.
On May 22, 2009, Curtis apologized to the BBC radio audience after he used three profanities in a six-minute interview with BBC presenter William Crawley. The presenter also apologized to the audience for Curtis's "Hollywood realism." Curtis explained that he thought the interview was being taped, when it was in fact live.
During the 1971 filming of The Persuaders!, Curtis developed a reputation among his costars and crew as a frequent marijuana smoker. Curtis developed a heavy cocaine addiction in 1974 while filming Lepke, at a time when his stardom had declined considerably and he was being offered few film roles. In 1984, Curtis was rushed to the 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.
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. He left behind five children and seven grandchildren. 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 30 years earlier. In fact, during the 1960s Curtis served as the president of the American 'I Quit Smoking' Club. 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.
His remains were interred at Palm Memorial Park Cemetery in Henderson, 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.
|1949||City Across the River||Mitch||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||The Lady Gambles||Bellboy||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||Take One False Step||Hot Rod Driver||Uncredited|
|1949||Johnny Stool Pigeon||Joey Hyatt||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border||Short film|
|1950||Francis||Capt. Jones||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Woman in Hiding||Dave Shaw||Voice; Uncredited|
|1950||I Was a Shoplifter||Pepe||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Sierra||Brent Coulter||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Winchester '73||Doan||Credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Kansas Raiders||Kit Dalton|
|1951||The Prince Who Was a Thief||Julna|
|1952||Flesh and Fury||Paul Callan|
|1952||No Room for the Groom||Alvah Morrell|
|1952||Son of Ali Baba||Kashma Baba|
|1952||Meet Danny Wilson||Himself - Nightclub Patron||Uncredited|
|1953||All American||Nick Bonelli|
|1954||Johnny Dark||Johnny Dark|
|1954||The Black Shield of Falworth||Myles|
|1955||So This Is Paris||Joe Maxwell|
|1955||Six Bridges to Cross||Jerry Florea|
|1955||The Purple Mask||Rene de Traviere|
|1955||The Square Jungle||Eddie Quaid / Packy Glennon|
|1956||The Rawhide Years||Ben Matthews|
|1957||The Midnight Story||Joe Martini|
|1957||Sweet Smell of Success||Sidney Falco|
|1958||Kings Go Forth||Cpl. Britt Harris|
|1958||The Defiant Ones||John 'Joker' Jackson|
|1958||The Perfect Furlough||Cpl. Paul Hodges|
|1959||Some Like It Hot||Joe / Josephine / Shell Oil Junior|
|1959||Operation Petticoat||Lt. JG Nicholas Holden|
|1960||Who Was That Lady?||David Wilson|
|1960||The Rat Race||Pete Hammond Jr.|
|1961||The Great Impostor||Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. / Martin Donner / Dr. Gilbert /
Ben. W. Stone / Dr. Joseph Mornay / Robert Boyd Hammnd
|1961||The Outsider||Ira Hayes|
|1962||Taras Bulba||Andrei Bulba|
|1962||40 Pounds of Trouble||Steve McCluskey|
|1963||The List of Adrian Messenger||Organ grinder||Cameo|
|1963||Captain Newman, M.D.||Cpl. Jackson 'Jake' Leibowitz|
|1964||Paris When It Sizzles||Maurice / Philippe - 2nd Policeman||Uncredited|
|1964||Wild and Wonderful||Terry Williams|
|1964||Goodbye Charlie||George Tracy|
|1964||Sex and the Single Girl||Bob Weston|
|1965||The Great Race||The Great Leslie|
|1965||The Flintstones||Stony Curtis||Voice|
|1965||Boeing Boeing||Bernard Lawrence|
|1966||Chamber of Horrors||Mr. Julian||Cameo; Uncredited|
|1966||Not with My Wife, You Don't!||Tom Ferris|
|1966||Arrivederci, Baby!||Nick Johnson|
|1967||Don't Make Waves||Carlo Coifed|
|1967||On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...||Guerrando da Montone|
|1968||Rosemary's Baby||Donald Baumgart (actor who goes blind and is replaced
by Rosemary's actor-husband character)
|Voice only on phone with Mia Farrow; Uncredited|
|1968||The Boston Strangler||Albert DeSalvo|
|1969||Monte Carlo or Bust!||Chester Schofield|
|1970||You Can't Win 'Em All||Adam Dyer|
|1970||Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came||Shannon Gambroni|
|1975||The Count of Monte Cristo||Fernand Mondego||TV Movie|
|1975||Lepke||Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter|
|1976||The Last Tycoon||Rodriguez|
|1977||Casanova & Co.||Giacomo / Casanova|
|1978||The Manitou||Harry Erskine|
|1978||The Bad News Bears Go to Japan||Marvin Lazar|
|1978||The Users||Randy Brent||TV Movie|
|1978||Electric Light Orchestra Out of the Blue: Live at Wembley||Himself|
|1979||Title Shot||Frank Renzetti|
|1980||It Rained All Night the Day I Left||Robert Talbot|
|1980||Little Miss Marker||Blackie|
|1980||The Scarlett O'Hara War||David O. Selznick||TV Movie|
|1980||The Mirror Crack'd||Martin N. Fenn|
|1982||Othello, the Black Commando||Col. Iago|
|1982||Bambo & Dex||English version, Voice|
|1984||Where Is Parsifal?||Parsifal Katzenellenbogen|
|1985||The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal||Himself||Documentary|
|1986||Mafia Princess||Sam Giancana||TV Movie|
|1986||Murder in Three Acts||Charles Cartwright||TV Movie|
|1988||The Passenger - Welcome to Germany||Mr. Cornfield|
|1989||Lobster Man from Mars||J.P. Shelldrake|
|1989||Tarzan in Manhattan||Archimedes Porter||TV Movie|
|1989||Walter & Carlo In America||Willy La Rouge|
|1990||Thanksgiving Day||Max Schloss||TV Movie|
|1991||Prime Target||Marietta Copella|
|1992||Christmas in Connecticut||Alexander Yardley||TV Movie|
|1992||Center of the Web||Stephen Moore|
|1992||Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time||Himself||Documentary|
|1993||Naked in New York||Carl Fisher|
|1993||The Mummy Lives||Aziru / Dr. Mohassid|
|1994||A Century of Cinema||Himself||Documentary|
|1995||The Celluloid Closet||Himself||Documentary|
|1997||Brittle Glory||Jack Steele|
|1997||Elvis Meets Nixon||Himself||Uncredited|
|1997||Alien X Factor||Dr. Lancaster||(archive footage)|
|1998||Louis & Frank||Lenny Star Springer|
|1999||Play It to the Bone||Ringside Fan||Cameo|
|2002||Reflections of Evil||Narrator|
|2003||The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary||Himself|
|2007||The Blacksmith and the Carpenter||God||Voice|
|2008||David & Fatima||Mr. Schwartz||(final acting role)|
|2008||The Jill & Tony Curtis Story||Himself||Documentary|
|2012||Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom||Himself||Documentary|
|1971-1972||The Persuaders!||Danny Wilde / Aunt Sophie|
|1974||Mission: Monte Carlo||Danny Wilde||Archive footage|
|1996||Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman||Dr. Isaac Mamba|
For a number of years Curtis was voted by exhibitors in an annual poll from Quigley Publishing as among the top stars in the US:
|1951||Suspense||The McKay College Basketball Scandal|
|1952||Stars in the Air||Model Wife|
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