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Tony Curtis, Hollywood Legend

Updated on September 22, 2014

You Can't Keep a Good Man Down

Tony Curtis had a long, successful career in movies and television. He appeared in over 100 films, playing a great variety of roles ranging from serious dramatic roles such as 'The Boston Strangler' and 'The Defiant Ones' through period adventure movies such as 'Spartacus' and 'The Vikings', to out and out comedy roles in movies like the classic 'Some Like It Hot'.

On the way he had a thoroughly good time. He admits he went into movies originally in order to meet pretty girls and he has certainly done that. Married six times he has also squired some of Hollywood's greatest beauties such as Marilyn Monroe,

Curtis was nominated for an Oscar in 1958 for his role in 'The Defiant Ones' and in March 2006, he received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France in 1995.

His longevity was remarkable and at the end of his career he was as popular as a raconteur as he had ever been as an actor.

Early Days

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925 in the Bronx, New York. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Hungary and the family were poor. Curtis's upbringing was tough and he had almost no formal education, speaking only his mother tongue, Hungarian, for the first five years of his life. His father was a tailor and Curtis and his two brothers, Robert and Julius, lived at the back of the shop. Curtis's mother, who, he claims, used to beat him, was diagnosed as schizophrenic. When Curtis was eight, he and his brother, Julius, were placed in

an orphanage for 4 weeks as their parents could not afford to feed them. His brother Robert was diagnosed with the sme mental illness as his mother and was institutionalised. Curtis grew close to to his other brother, Julius, and was devastated when he was killed in a motor

accident when Curtis was 12 years old. Even at this age the tough young man had already become a member of one of the New York gangs.

The Novice

When America entered WWII, Curtis, aged 17 joined the Marines, and after basic training, served aboard a submarine tender. He got the acting bug when he performed in a stage play at the Illinois Navy Signalman School, and when he was honorably discharged at the end of the war, there arose in him a fierce determination to become an actor.

He took advantage of the G.I. bill of rights to go to acting school free of charge and he returned to New York and studied under the charismatic German director, Erwin Piscator at the City College Dramatic Workshop. He had one major advantage over the other male students - he was an exceptionally handsome young man - and after appearing in several amateur stage productions he was noticed by Joyce Selznick, a theatrical agent and casting director who obtained an interview for Curtis with her uncle, none other than David Selznick, the film producer and a major player in Hollywood. Bernard Schwartz had just had his lucky break.

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The young actor
The young actor

The Young Actor

David Selznick liked what he saw and offered the young man a seven year contract with Universal Studios but first Bernard had to change his name. He chose Tony from the novel 'Anthony Adverse' by Harvey Allen and Curitis from the Hungarian family name Kertiz. And so Tony Curtis was born although for his first few films he was credited as John Curtis or Anthony Curtis.

He started his movie career with supporting roles in various run-of-the-mill dramas such as 'City Across the River', 'The Lady Gambles ' and 'Johnny Stool Pigeon', all in 1949. After an appearance with Burt Lancaster in 'Criss Cross' later that year he appeared with James Stewart in the feature film 'Winchester '73'.

All his early movies capitalised on his dark good looks. In these early years of his career he became extremely popular with teens and fan-magazine readers,and Universal were receiving over 10,000 letters a week from Curtis fans, many of them asking for a lock of his trademark dark wavy hair. In 1951 his star quality was recognised by the studio and he received top billing in 'The Prince Who Was a Thief', co-starring Piper Laurie.

The Hollywood Star

In 1952, after many months of intensive coaching from the studios in voice projection, drama and gymnastics Curtis returned to movies as a boxer in 'Flesh and Fury' and after two more pictures with Piper Laurie he was lent to Paramount to for his first starring role in 'Houdini' opposite his new wife, Janet Leigh.

Over the next three decades Curtis became well known as a strong, versatile actor of real ability, capable of tackling any sort of role. He was at first regarded by the studio as nothing more than a 'pretty boy' who could tackle lightweight costume dramas such as 'The Black Shield of Farnsworth' in 1954, but Curtis, himself, was ambitious for more substantial roles and gradually he was able to get them.

1958, The Defiant Ones, with SidneyPoitier - The Quarry Scene

The escapees learn the value of co-operation.

Later Career

He began attracting favorable critical attention for his acting first with the circus drama 'Trapeze' in 1956 and the following year with 'Sweet Smell of Success', both of which starred Burt Lancaster and he received an academy Award Best Actor nomination for his performance in 'The Defiant Ones' in 1958, with Sidney Poitier. Curtis was now a major Hollywood star and hehad another hit a year later in Billy Wilder's memorable comedy, 'Some Like It Hot' starring opposite Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.

Curtis continued his string of successes with quality adventure movies such as 'The Vikings' in 1958 and 'Spartacus' in 1960, both co-starring Kirk Douglas and he appeared in many other successful films during the 1960s such as 'The Boston Strangler' in 1968, in which he played,

to great critical acclaim, Albert DeSalvo, the murderer of the film's title and another well-received comedy in 1964, 'Sex and the Single Girl'.

From the 1970s to the present day Curtis has worked proifically but the emphasis has been on quantity rather than quality. 1970s 'Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?' was a flop, and the 1971 television series, 'The Persuaders', with Roger Moore fared little better. There followed many very average movies and in the late 1970s he starred in the disappointing television series 'McCoy' and 'Vega$' although Curtis's personal popularity has never dimmed.

Personal Life

Curtis's romantic life has been very active. He has been linked to many beautiful actresses and famously had a relationship with the young, pre-fame Marilyn Monroe. He has been married six times, firstly to the actress Janet Leigh from 1951 to 1962. The marriage produced two children, Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis, both actresses.

After his divorce in 1962 he married another actress, Austrian Christine Kaufmann, with whom he was working in the movie 'Taras Bulba'. The marriage lasted 4 years and they had 2 daughters. Curtis was then married to Leslie Allen, a model, from 1968 to 1982, producing 2 sons, one of whom, Nicholas, died from an accidental heroin overdose in 1994.

His fourth wife was actress Andrea Savio,to whom he was married from 1984 to 1992 and in 1993 he married Lisa Deutsch, a lawyer. They divorced after one year and he married his current wife, Jill Vandenberg.

Curtis is as much in demand now as he has ever been. He is one of the few remaining links to the fabled Golden Age of Hollywood and one of the few people alive who can claim to have been a boyfriend of Marilyn Monroe. He relishes the limelight and makes many personal appearances, reminiscing and answering questions. He is a genuine living legend.

Tony Curtis DVD's

Guestbook Comments

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    • Lemming13 profile image

      Lemming13 

      6 years ago

      Actually The Persuaders was a big hit in Europe, there were several seasons, but perhaps it didn't take off in the US in the same way. Great lens, very informative.

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