Hollywood heartthrob of the 1950s Tony Curtis died last night at the age of 85. The actor was at his Las Vegas area home when he suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead upon arrival of Emergency Medical responders. Curtis leaves six children including actress Jamie Lee Curtis, current wife Jill Vandenberg Curtis, and five ex-wives.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz , the son of immigrant parents who was raised in poverty and spent time in foster care and at an orphanage. He joined the military and was later discharged so he could join acting school, where he got his start performing in stage productions. He showed immediate promise and was offered the opportunity to meet famed producer David O. Selznick who offered him a 7-year contract with Universal. He then changed his name to “Tony Curtis” and began his film career with several small roles in the late 1940s before accepting a part in the bid-budget film Winchester ’73.
Throughout his career Tony Curtis always searched for films of various tones and with some type of political message. He first achieved major acclaim for playing a press agent named Sidney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success and the following year he received an Oscar nomination for his leading role in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones. Other credits include Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, David Miller’s Captain Newman, MD, and Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat. Altogether his film credits include over 100 titles as well as numerous television and stage credits.
My favorite Tony Curtis moment is in Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing comedy Some Like It Hot, where he plays the cocky Joe alongside Jack Lemmon’s neurotic Jerry. In the movie Curtis’ character really is deplorable, using his female alter-ego to spy on the woman he wants to sleep with in order to create a second alter-ego who characterizes her ideal man. However, Curtis has such an undeniable charm and he dropped the tough guy outer shell just long enough to gain the audiences complete sympathy. His husky attempt at a feminine voice makes every line of dialogue he delivers in drag sound absolutely hilarious and his timing was impeccable. Curtis perfectly balances Jack Lemmon whose style was more eccentric and externalized with a calm coolness that makes his scenes marvelously entertaining.
The only other film that I’ve seen Tony Curtis in is Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, where he plays the young manservant to Laurence Olivier in a very small part. Even though Curtis probably only has about 5 lines in the entire film, his segments with Olivier make for some of the most fascinating of the entire film as the two characters’ deadlocked gazes drip with homo-eroticism. Curtis was so convincing in that role that when I first saw the movie I thought he was gay in real life.
As Andrew R. pointed out, this is the fifth Oscar nominee we have lost this week with the deaths of Gloria Stuart, Sally Menke, Arthur Penn, Joe Mantell, and now Tony Curtis. Share your favorite moment from the legend that was Tony Curtis in the comments.