Friday, October 01, 2010

Tony Curtis (1925 - 2010)

He was born in 1925 when the masses were still swooning for silent icons like Rudolph Valentino. By the late 1950s he was a household name heartthrob himself if not a silent one. Still, that oft imitated Bronx accent "yonda lies the castle of my fadduh" couldn't derail his movie ascendance.

History continually teaches movie stars -- though scant few of them seem to really listen -- that what's important is not the paycheck or even necessarily a great role but working on enough top notch material with top directors to wind up in a few classics. It's one of the only ways to ensure that you are remembered, if screen immortality is indeed your goal.

Curtis, like any star, had his share of duds but history has and will continue to remember him because he appeared in a good share of classics, most notably that one-two-three-four punch of Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), Some Like it Hot (1959) and Spartacus (1960). That's a four year run of winners that would make any career a major one.

That kind of ascendance is nearly impossible to undo. Sure, huge stars usually fade and become "celebrities" rather than vital working actors... but you can't take the classics away from people.

And aside from often solid work in a wide variety of genres from those classics to thrillers (The Boston Strangler) to romantic comedies (Sex & The Single Girl with my girl Natalie Wood) we must thank Curtis for bringing Jamie Lee Curtis into the world (she's the infant in mama Janet Leigh' arms in the photograph below). That definitely made the world a better place.

The Curtis Family (left to right): Kelly, Tony, Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee

How heady must Curtis & Janet Leigh's "golden couple" years have been? Consider that during one calendar year they delivered unto the world three classics: Jamie Lee Curtis,  Touch of Evil and  The Defiant Ones. Then, they chased that triple with Some Like It Hot, Psycho, Spartacus and The Manchurian Candidate in the last four years of their marriage. It boggles the mind it does.

A few admittedly more timely farewells

  • Boy Culture remembers a Shelley Winters anecdote
  • Coffee Coffee and More Coffee shares a personal memory and marvels at Curtis ability to slide so easily back and forth between comedies and drama.
  • New York Times on his good looks and storied "vigorous heterosexuality" despite the sexually ambiguous roles.
  • Vanity Fair his idea of perfect happiness was "top billing"
Related amusements


chris na Taraja said...

OH, love Tony Curtis. check out his films. SOME LIKE IT HOT is one of my favs. Also grew up watching HOUDINI and TRAPEZE. then when they put that bath scene back in SPARTICUS, oh my!

Anonymous said...

I'ts funny, I also grew up watching 'Houdini' and 'Trapeze' on TV and I remember loving them, although I remember very little about them now (never happened to watch them on dvd).

Of course, I also love many of the classics he was in. I believe he had his "actor recognition" moment with 'The Boston strangler'. I mean when people stopped thinking of him as a matinee idol (like Tom Cruise in 'Born on the 4th of july'). He had already done 'Some like it hot' but since comedy doesn't get you any prestige.

Recently I happened to catch on TV some bits of one of his early Universal movies, one of those Hollywood-Arabian adventure fantasies. With Piper Laurie. Talking about early movies, I remember when I was watching 'Criss cross' for the first time on dvd, and suddenly I see Tony's face among the dancing crowd. What a surprise that was. He also had a bit in 'Winchester 73' as a soldier.

Daryn G said...

It's funny that neither Tony Curtis nor Burt Lancaster had the kind of career longevity that Charlton Heston and Paul Newman had. Paul Newman was probably the best actor among them, but even he had his limitations.

I think Ray Liotta is today's Tony Curtis. RL is also an extremely good looking and charismatic screen presence whose career never quite took off after the great promise of Something Wild and Goodfellas (and maybe Field of Dreams?).

Andrew R. said...

Five Oscar nominees in a week, and I had rented Some Like it Hot two days before he died. I watched it last night. RIP Tony.

Nick said...

I interviewed him a few years ago and only just blogged about it some weeks ago. Fabulous actor and lovely man.