with actress-wife, Janet Leigh
June 3, 1925
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 29, 2010
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
Cause of death
|Education||The City College of New York|
|Alma mater||The New School|
(m. 1951–1962; divorced)
(m. 1963–1968; divorced)
(m. 1968–1982; divorced)
(m. 1984–1992; divorced)
(m. 1993–1994; divorced)
(m. 1998–2010; his death)
|Children||6, including Kelly Curtis, Jamie Lee Curtis|
Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz; June 3, 1925 – September 29, 2010) was an American film actor whose career spanned six decades, but had his greatest popularity during 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 were partly the result of his good looks, by the later half of the 1950s he became a notable and strong screen presence. He began proving himself to be a fine dramatic actor, having the range to act 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 won his first serious recognition as a skilled 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 another drama, The Defiant Ones (1958). 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 a survey carried out by the American Film Institute 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 comedy 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 co-starred in Spartacus, which became another major hit for him.
His stardom and film career declined considerably after the early 1960s. 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.
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in Manhattan, New York, one of three sons of Helen (née Klein) and Emanuel Schwartz. His parents were Hungarian Jewish immigrants from Mátészalka, Hungary and Curtis didn't learn English until he was five or six, postponing 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 also 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 The New School in Greenwich Village under the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator. His contemporaries included Elaine Stritch, 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. He later claimed it was because he was the handsomest of the boys.
In 1948, Curtis arrived in Hollywood, at age 23. When he was placed under contract at Universal Pictures, he changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Tony Curtis. 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 only interested 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.
Curtis's uncredited screen debut came in Criss Cross (1949) playing a rumba dancer. In his second film, City Across the River (also in 1949), he was credited as "Anthony Curtis". Later, as "Tony Curtis", he cemented his reputation with breakthrough performances such as scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster (who also starred in Criss Cross). Curtis gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted white escaped convict chained to the black Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958).
He performed both screen comedy and drama, and became one of the most sought after stars in Hollywood. Curtis's comedies include Some Like It Hot (1959), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), and The Great Race (1965). His dramas include the role of slave Antoninus in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960), co-starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier; The Outsider (1961), the true story of WW II veteran Ira Hayes; Taras Bulba (1962), loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's short novel, starring Yul Brynner in the title role and Tony Curtis as his son Andrei; and The Boston Strangler (1968), in which he played the self-confessed murderer of the film's title, Albert DeSalvo. He was also part of the all-star ensemble in Elia Kazan's 1976 drama The Last Tycoon. Curtis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Supporting Actor for his performance in Spartacus (1960), alongside co-star Kirk Douglas.
Curtis appeared frequently on television; he co-starred with Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!. Later, he co-starred in McCoy and Vega$. In the early 1960s, he was a voice-over guest star on The Flintstones as "Stony Curtis".
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, 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, and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France in 1995.
Marriages and children
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. "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 came as a witness.
It was Leigh's third marriage. They divorced in 1962 and, in 1963, Curtis married Christine Kaufmann, the 17-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.
Curtis was also married to:
- Leslie Allen (April 20, 1968 – 1982); divorced, two sons: Nicholas Curtis (1970–1994) and Benjamin Curtis (born May 2, 1973)
- Andrea Savio (1984 - 1992); divorced
- Lisa Deutsch (February 28, 1993 – 1994); divorced
- Jill Vandenberg Curtis (November 6, 1998 – September 29, 2010; his death)
His last wife was 42 years his junior. They met in a restaurant in 1993 and married in 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."
His son Nicholas (December 31, 1970 – April 2, 1994, with Leslie Allen) died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23. On his son's death, Curtis remarked, "You never get over that. The death of a child. No. Can't talk about it," and that it was "a terrible thing when a father loses his son."
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 chairperson. The organization works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary. He dedicated this to the 600,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Hungary and lands occupied by the Hungarian Army. He also helped promote Hungary's national image in commercials.
Books and appearances
In 1965, Tony Curtis was animated in an episode of The Flintstones he also voiced his character. 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.
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.
Later years and death
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 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 a cardiac arrest. He left behind 5 children and 7 grandchildren.ref 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 thirty years earlier. 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.
- Criss Cross (1949)
- City Across the River (1949)
- The Lady Gambles (1949)
- Take One False Step (1949) (scenes deleted)
- Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949)
- How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border (1949) (short subject)
- Woman in Hiding (1950)
- Francis (1950)
- I Was a Shoplifter (1950)
- Sierra (1950) (Credited as Anthony Curtis)
- Winchester '73 (1950) (Credited as Anthony Curtis)
- Kansas Raiders (1950)
- The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951)
- Meet Danny Wilson (1952) (cameo)
- Flesh and Fury (1952)
- No Room for the Groom (1952)
- Son of Ali Baba (1952)
- Houdini (1953)
- The All-American (1953)
- Forbidden (1953)
- Beachhead (1954)
- Johnny Dark (1954)
- The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)
- Six Bridges to Cross (1955)
- So This Is Paris (1955)
- The Purple Mask (1955)
- The Rawhide Years (1955)
- The Square Jungle (1955)
- Trapeze (1956)
- Mister Cory (1957)
- Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
- The Midnight Story (1957)
- The Vikings (1958)
- Kings Go Forth (1958)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Perfect Furlough (1958)
- Some Like It Hot (1959)
- Operation Petticoat (1959)
- Who Was That Lady? (1960)
- The Rat Race (1960)
- Spartacus (1960)
- Pepe (1960) (cameo)
- The Great Impostor (1961)
- The Outsider (1961), as Ira Hayes
- Taras Bulba (1962)
- 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962)
- The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) (cameo)
- Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
- Paris, When It Sizzles (1964) (cameo)
- Wild and Wonderful (1964)
- Goodbye Charlie (1964)
- Sex and the Single Girl (1964)
- The Great Race (1965)
- Boeing Boeing (1965)
- The Flintstones (1965) (voice)
- Chamber of Horrors (1966) (cameo)
- Not with My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
- Arrivederci, Baby! (1966)
- Don't Make Waves (1967)
- On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who... (1968)
- Rosemary's Baby (1968) (voice)
- The Boston Strangler (1968)
- Monte Carlo or Bust (1969)
- You Can't Win 'Em All (1970)
- Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970)
- The Persuaders! (1971–1972)
- Mission: Monte Carlo (1974)
- Lepke (1975)
- The Count of Monte Cristo (1975)
- London Conspiracy (1976)
- The Last Tycoon (1976)
- Casanova & Co. (1977)
- Sextette (1978)
- The Manitou (1978)
- Vega$ (1978–81)
- The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)
- The Users (1978)
- Electric Light Orchestra Out of the Blue: Live at Wembley (1978)
- Double Take (1979)
- Title Shot (1979)
- Little Miss Marker (1980)
- It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980)
- The Mirror Crack'd (1980)
- Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980)
- Othello, the Black Commando (1982)
- Where Is Parsifal? (1983)
- BrainWaves (1983)
- The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985) (documentary)
- Club Life (1985)
- Insignificance (1985)
- The Last of Philip Banter (1986)
- Murder in Three Acts (1986)
- Balboa (1986)
- Mafia Princess (1986)
- The Passenger - Welcome to Germany (1988)
- Lobster Man From Mars (1989)
- Midnight (1989)
- Tarzan in Manhattan (1989)
- Walter & Carlo In America (1989)
- Thanksgiving Day (1990) (TV movie)
- Prime Target (1991)
- Center of the Web (1992)
- Christmas in Connecticut (1992) (Yardley/John)
- Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time (1992) (documentary)
- Naked in New York (1993)
- The Mummy Lives (1993)
- A Century of Cinema (1994) (documentary)
- The Immortals (1995)
- The Celluloid Closet (1995) (documentary)
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - TV series (1996) (Dr. Isaac Mamba)
- Roseanne - TV Series (1996) (role as Hal, ballroom dance studio instructor)
- Hardball (1997)
- Brittle Glory (1997)
- Elvis Meets Nixon (1997)
- Alien X Factor (1997)
- Stargames (1998)
- Louis & Frank (1998)
- Play It to the Bone (1999) (cameo)
- Reflections of Evil (2002) (narrator)
- Where's Marty? (2006)
- The Blacksmith and the Carpenter (2007) (voice)
- David & Fatima (2008)
- The Jill & Tony Curtis Story (2008) (documentary feature)
- Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom (2012) (documentary feature)
Box Office Ranking
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:
- 1954 - 23rd
- 1959 - 18th
- 1960 - 6th
- 1961 - 9th
- 1962 - 18th
- (He said he was born and grew up in Manhattan, in an interview with Terry Wogan British Television)
- Siegel, Scott and Barbara. The Encyclopedia of Hollywood’’ 2nd ed. Checkmark Books (2004) pp. 108-109
- Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film Alfred A. Knopf (2002) pp. 196-197
- "Hollywood Legend Tony Curtis Dead at 85" Fox News, September 30, 2010
- Broeske, Pat H. And McCarty, John. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: Actors and Actresses (3rd Ed.) St. James Press (1997) pp. 275-277
- wenn.com. "Jamie Lee Honours Her Dad". Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- "Tony Curtis". The Daily Telegraph (London). September 30, 2010.
- "Tony Curtis biography". biography.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved August 11, 2011.
- "Curtis, Tony 1925–". Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. encyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 11, 2011.
- Private Screenings: Tony Curtis Turner Classic Movies, January 19, 1999.
- "You Bet Your Life 0". YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
- Life magazine, Nov. 17, 1961 pp. 161-176
- "TenderTale". TenderTale. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- Rizzo, Frank (October 1, 2009). "My Interview With Tony Curtis". Hartford Courant. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
- City Across the River at the Internet Movie Database
- "Full cast and crew for Spartacus". Internet Movie Database, Retrieved September 30, 2010
- "A Bronx boy who mastered his art". The Australian. October 1, 2010.
- Video clip compilation on YouTube 2 minutes
- Drye, Brittny. "Tony Curtis: 6 Women Behind the Hollywood Heartthrob", The Stir, September 30, 2010, accessed January 13, 2011.
- Social Security Death Index
- Petronella Wyatt (April 18, 2008). "Tony Curtis on Marilyn Monroe: It was like kissing Hitler!". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved February 28, 2011.
- "Movie star Tony Curtis had Cape ties". Cape Cod Times. October 1, 2008. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
- Steves, Rick. Rick Steves' Budapest, Public Affairs publ. (2009) pp. 72-73
- "Curtis aiding Hungary Jews". Chicago Sun-Times via HighBeam Research. June 29, 1988. Retrieved September 30, 2010. (subscription required)
- "Csináljon velünk országimázs filmet!". Origo.hu. June 8, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2010.
- "Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles". Retrieved October 3, 2010.
- "View Newspapers: "TONY CURTIS: Now a local legend"". Viewnews.com. September 10, 2004. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- "Jill VanderBerg Curtis Worked With Husband On Last Film". CBS News. September 30, 2010.[dead link]
- Curtis, Tony; Golenbock, Peter. American Prince, Harmony Books (2008) ISBN 978-1-905264-34-6.
- Curtis, Tony; Vieira, Mark A. The Making of Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, John Wiley and Sons (2009) ISBN 978-0-470-53721-3
- Video on YouTube
- Curtis, Tony American Prince: My Autobiography (2008) p. 303
- "Tony Curtis". The Daily Telegraph (London). October 30, 2010. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- "Tony Curtis 1925-2010: A movie star and icon in the golden age of Hollywood". Daily Record (Scotland). October 30, 2010. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- Roberts, Laura (April 17, 2008). "Bald and in a wheelchair: Tony Curtis cuts a frail figure as he rolls into Harrods". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- "Tony Curtis 'stable' after asthma attack". AZcentral.com. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
- Kehr, Dave (September 30, 2010). "Tony Curtis, Hollywood Leading Man, Dies at 85". New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- "Film star Tony Curtis dies at 85". BBC News. September 30, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- "Film star Tony Curtis dies aged 85". The First Post. September 30, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- "Coroner:Actor Tony Curtis Dies At Las Vegas Home". Associated Press. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- Culbertson, Caroline (September 30, 2010). "Tony Curtis died after long history of lung problems from smoking, says widow Jill Curtis". Daily News (New York). Retrieved August 5, 2014.
- "Legendary actor Tony Curtis has died". CNN.com. September 30, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- "Memorial Service for actor Tony Curtis Set For Monday". cnn.com, Retrieved October 1, 2010
- Lissa Simon (June 7, 2012). "Variety".
- Curtis, Tony; Barry Paris (1993). Tony Curtis: The Autobiography. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 978-0-688-09759-2.
- Ayres, Ian (2006). Van Gogh's Ear: The Celebrity Edition. Paris: French Connection. ISBN 978-2-914853-07-1. The book includes Tony Curtis's prose, poetry, and artwork.
- Curtis, Tony; Peter Golenbock (2008). Tony Curtis: American Prince: My Autobiography. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-307-40849-5.
- Curtis, Tony (2009). Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Making of the Classic Movie. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-470-53721-3.
- Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724
||This section's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (August 2013)|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tony Curtis.|
- Remembering Tony Curtis  Bronx News, 2012
- CBS news: Tony Curtis 1925-2010 on YouTube video: 1.5 minutes
- Tony Curtis at the Internet Movie Database
- Tony Curtis at the TCM Movie Database
- Biography and naval service from the California Center for Military History website
- Tony Curtis' Famous Friends - slideshow by Life magazine
- 2009 interview with Dodd Vickers for the Magic Newswire
- John Patterson, "Some like it very hot", The Guardian, 18 April 2008
- Alison Jackson, Some tormented Hollywood souls still like their gossip hot, Profile: Tony Curtis, Sunday Times, 20 April 2008
- Documentary film, The Jill & Tony Curtis Story
- Photographs and literature
- Tony Curtis: Life and Times - slideshow by Life magazine
- The Telegraph obituary
- Interview by Michael Hainey for GQ Magazine