Legendary actor, Tony Curtis, was born Bernard Herschel Schwartz on Jun 3, 1925 in The Bronx, NY. Curtis appeared in over 125 film and TV roles. His best known films include Houdini (as Harry Houdini), Trapeze (as Tino Orsini), Sweet Smell of Success (as Sidney Falco), The Perfect Furlough (as Cpl. Paul Hodges), The Defiant Ones (as John 'Joker' Jackson), Operation Petticoat (as Lt. Nicholas Holden), The Boston Strangler (as Albert DeSalvo), Goodbye Charlie (as George Wellington Tracy) and Some Like It Hot (as Joe/Josephine). Curtis died at the age of 85 on Sep 29, 2010 in Henderson, Las Vegas and was laid to rest in Palm Memorial Park (Green Valley) Cemetery in Las Vegas, NV.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwarts on June 3rd, 1925 in New York City. His early childhood was by no means an easy one. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Hungary that lived in relative poverty. His father, Emanuel, worked as a tailor and housed his family in the back of his shop while his mother, Helen, was responsible for raising her three boys. According to Curtis, she was a difficult and angry woman, often aggressively beat young Curtis and his brothers. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, as was his brother Robert. In 1933, at the height of the great depression, Curtis and his brother Julius were temporarily placed the boys in the care of the state due to their parent's inability to provide for them financially. During this time Curtis grew extremely close to his brother in their struggle away from home. Both boys faced the teasing of anti-Semetic youths who physically assaulted the brothers. Although they were placed back in the care of their parents a month later, the experience gave the young 8 year old Tony a lesson that would shape the rest of his life: the only person you can count on is yourself.
In 1938, tragedy struck when Julius was hit and killed by a truck. It was the 12 years old Tony who went to identify the body. Clearly affected by the loss, Curtis joined a local neighborhood gang whose major crimes were slipping school and stealing goods from their local five and dimes. Before Curtis could slip further into a life of crime and delinquency, a friendly neighbor enrolled him into the Boys Scouts. Curtis attributes this with saving his life. He then attended Seward Park High School. It was there, at age 16, he had his first acting experience for the school's stage production. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tony forged his mother's signature to enlist in the United States Navy. His choice of military branch came from watching his hero, Cary Grant, in the film Destination Tokyo. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers on September 2, 1945, Curtis was aboard the USS Proteus in Tokyo bay and saw at this history being made from only a mile away. For his time in the Pacific, Curtis received the WWII Victory Medal, the Asia Pacific Medal and the American Area Medal.
After his honorable discharge from the Navy, Curtis was able to attend college thanks to the G.I bill. He attended City College of New York and then studied acting at The New School. He spent time honing his acting skills at the "Borscht Belt" circuit in the Catskills of upstate New York. While still in school, he was noticed by talent agent Joyce Selznick, niece of fames producer David O' Selznick. And in 1948 he headed west to Hollywood and was immediately put under contract with Universal Pictures. It was then his name was changed from Bernard Schwarts to Tony Curtis. In 1949 he made his screen debut in City Across the River. What followed was a series of bit roles in low budget movies such as Johnny Stool Pidgeon, Francis, and Woman in Hiding. Mostly hired for his good looks, it was not until 1950's Sierra that he would that would have a chance to show his actual acting skills. This would lead him to being cast in the big budget production of Winchester '73. Although his role a small he was able act opposite leading man James Stewart.
His career took a considerable turn for the better after marrying fellow rising Hollywood starlet, Janet Leigh, in 1951. Thanks to their photogenic good looks and youth, the two quickly became regulars in Hollywood gossip magazines. That year Curtis also played his first leading role in the swashbuckling adventure film The Prince Who Was a Thief. The film was successful and Curtis then starred in a series of hits such as No Room for the Groom, Son of Ali Baba, and Flesh and Fury. In 1953 he starred opposite his wife in the biography picture Houdini and the next year in another swashbuckling tale The Black Shield of Falworth. He continued to star in action adventure/comedic fodder through out the mid 1950s in films such as Six Bridges to Cross, So This is Paris and The Purple Mask. Although the films proved successful at the box-office, many of Curtis's roles were the result of his tremendous good looks as oppose to his acting skills.
Although mostly cast for his striking features, Curtis finally was able to show off his acting chops in the 1956 Carol Reed circus drama Trapeze opposite Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida. The film was success with both audience and critic, with many taking note of Curtis's improving dramatics. Although the film proved he was more than just a pretty face, it would be his next picture that would that would solidify his reputation as a skilled actor. In 1957 Curtis starred in the Alexander Mackendrick film-noir Sweet Smell of Success. In the film, Curtis played the sleazy, morally corrupt press agent, Sidney Falco. The film was a commercial failure as audiences where not very keen on seeing two of their most beloved matinee idols, Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster, playing such slimy and unethical characters. The critics, however, were much more kind, praising the film and the performances of its two leading men.
The next year Curtis continued to show his dramatic flair in the powerful drama The Defiant Ones opposite Sidney Poitier. The film chronicles two escaped chain-gang members who must overcome their own racial prejudices to work together and keep the law at bay. The film was a massive hit with both at the box-office and in the trade papers, with much of the praise going to the films two leading men. The film went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Actor for Tony Curtis. In 1959 he returned to comedy for the Billy Wilder mega hit Some Like it Hot, playing a cross-dressing jazz musician masquerading in an all-female band after witness a mob hit. That same year he got to star opposite his silver screen idol, Cary Grant, in the World War Two comedy Operation Petticoat. The next he was cast as slave turn solider, Crassus, in the Stanley Kubrick epic Spartacus.
At the start of the new decade, Curtis starred in string of successful comedies and dramas. In 1961 he starred as the Native American solider, Ira Hamilton Hayes, who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima. Two year later he starred with Gregory Peck and Bobby Darin in the War Time Drama, Captain Newman, M.D. In 1965 Curtis starred opposite Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood in the Blake Edwards Cult classic The Great Race. Soon, however, his tenure as one of Hollywood's leading would come to end.
By the mid 1960s Curtis's career would begin to falter. Not only were his matinee good looks beginning to fade but the movie going publics taste in films began to change as well. He began making forgettable comedies such as Don't Make Waves and Not with My Wife, You Don't. In 1968 he was able to remind viewers of his acting prowess as the serial killer Albert De Salvo in The Boston Strangler. Although he was nominated for a Golden Globe, his film career continued to go on the decline. In the 1970's Curtis remained busy by appearing in numerous television productions. In 1972 he starred opposite Roger Moore in the British adventure series The Persuaders! In 1975 he tried to recreate this success in the states with the series McCoy, however, it failed to capture the popularity of the original series and was canceled after one season. In 1976 he appeared in the big screen adaption of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Last Tycoon opposite Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicolson. Despite the success of the film, he closed the decade with box-office failures such as Sexette, The Manitou, the Bad News Bears Go to Japan and Title Shot.
In 1980 he was once again achieved success with the television movie The Scarlett O' Hara Wars, playing infamous studio boss David O' Selznick. For his efforts, he was nominated for a Best Actor in a mini-series Emmy Awards. He remained on the medium of television in series such as Vegas and TV movies such as The Million Dollar Face, Portrait of a Showgirl, and Mafia Princess. In 1984 he admitted himself to the Bette Ford Clinic for alcohol and drug dependency. After leaving the clinic, he began to dabble in the arts, a hobby that he would become increasingly serious about in age with exhibitions in highly respected institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Entering the 1990's , Curtis remained busy mainly on television, guest starring on televisions shows such as Roseanne, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Suddenly Last Susan. He also appeared in many made for TV movies such as Bandit: Beauty and the Bandit, A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor. However, by the mid 1990's his health began to deteriorate. In 1994 he suffered a heart attack and was forced to under go bypass surgery. The same year he published two autobiographies Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1994) and American Prince: A Memoir. As the new millennium approached, Curtis finally began to slow down. In 2002 he appeared in the fantasy comedy Reflections of Evil. Two years later he made a guest appearance on the sitcom Hope and Faith. In 2006, after contracting pneumonia, he almost died after suffer a coma for almost a month. He made his final film appearance in 2008 in the film David & Fatima. Tony Curtis died on July 8th, 2010 of cardiac arrest. He was 85 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
Curtis' autobiography American Prince: A Memoir was published in 2008, followed by The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie.
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Although Curtis was nominated for one Oscar, he never won a competitive Academy Award.
|1958||Best Actor||The Defiant Ones (1958)||John 'Joker' Jackson||Nominated|
He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. He appears on the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
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J.J. Hunsecker: Yes, Sidney. You sound happy, Sidney. Why should yoy be happy when I'm not? How do you spell Picasso, the painter? One S or two?
Sidney Falco: Two.
Kit Dalton: I'm thinking this may not be the sweetest smelling way to live, but it's downright better than walking behind a plow.
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