TONY CURTIS 1925-2010: Star of many late 1950s films that featured his comedic skills and handsome looks, but probably most revered for his portrait of a self-destructive (and ethically-challenged) publicity agent trying to take on the infinitely more corrupt newspaper columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in the 1957 Sweet Smell of Success. Father of Jamie Lee Curtis and former husband of Janet Leigh, Curtis turned out several books on his Hollywood experiences and his Bronx childhood.
Born Bernard Schwartz
Born June 3, 1925 in the Bronx, New York
Died September 29, 2010 in Henderson, Nevada
Tony Curtis 1925 - 2010
Bernard Schwartz was born in the Bronx to Hungarian-jewish parents from Mateszalka, Hungary. He was raised speaking hungarian, and adopted to English through public schooling. His mother was afflicted with diagnosed schizophrenia and this also caused the institutionalized of one of his two brothers.
He was the member of a street gang that performed petty crimes, but a friendly neighbor of the family paid to send him to a summer boy scout camp which re-channeled his energy and focus. In high school he performed in theatre pieces. After graduation and the bombing at Pearl harbor which began the United States' participation in World War II, he joined the United States navy and sought submarine duty based upon his impressions from seeing the Cary Grant movie "Operation Tokyo."
After the war, he attended New York City College through the G. I. Bill and studied at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School. Sent by talent agent Joyce Selznick to Hollywood, he was placed under contract at age 23 in 1948. His name changed from Bernard Schwartz to Anthony Cross and later to "Tony Curtis." Of his prospects in Hollywood, Curtis later said to Life Magazine: "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."
His first role was a bit part as a rumba dancer in the 1949 film "Criss Cross" where he appeared briefly with Burt Lancaster, with whom he would later star opposite each other in the 1957 "Sweet Smell of Success." In the 1950 western "Sierra' which starred Audie Murphy and Burl Ives, 'Anthony Curtis' had his first strong movie role, which led to other important roles in other western films. By 1952 he was starring in films like "Son of Ali Baba" and "Houdini." He had also married Janet Leigh, the first of six wives.
Tony Curtis is probably best known among film fans for his part as Tony Falco in the critically-praised film "Sweet Smell of Success" where he plays a low-rent publicity agent whose past misdeeds and corrupt mechanizations catch up with him all at once when trying to assist maniacally evil newspaper columnist J. J. Hunsecker (played by Burt Lancaster).
Another stand-out part was as the captured slave in the Kirk Douglas' The Vikings from 1958. As the co-star with Sidney Poiters in the 1958 "The Defiant Ones" Curtis presents the contradictions of racism.
In comedies, Curtis is best known as the fugitive jazz musician "Joe" from "Some Like It Hot" (1959) which also featured Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon. Also, he is considered to have turned in a fine comedic role as Lieutenant Nick Holden in the Cary Grant film "Operation Petticoat" (also 1959).
Married six times and with six children, Curtis is almost as famous for his relationship with first wife Janet Leigh and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis.
Tony Curtis fell into chronic drug and alcohol abuse during the time when acting work became harder to acquire in the late 1960s and afterward. He eventually went to the Betty Ford California detox clinic for help, and recounted his struggles with addiction in his two autobiographies (see list below).
Altogether, Curtis appeared in over 130 films and television programs, and starred in a long-running live theatre presentation of "Some Like it Hot."
Curtis authored three books:
- Tony Curtis: An Autobiography (1994) amazon.com
- The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie
With Mark Vieira - amazon.com (2009)
- American Prince: A Memoir - amazon.com (2009)
Original Page 2010 | Updated Jan 2014
From former screen legends who have faded into obscurity to new revelations about the biggest movie stars, Valderrama unearths the most fascinating little-known tales from the birth of Hollywood through its Golden Age.
Winner of the 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award
Longlisted for the 2020 Moving Image Book Award by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation
Named a 2019 Richard Wall Memorial Award Finalist by the Theatre Library Association