On September 29th, one of the last great Hollywood legends, Tony Curtis died in his Las Vegas area home; He was 85. Born Bernie Schwartz , he was the son of a Bronx tailor. He recalled growing up in a tough neighborhood “I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids,” Curtis recalled in 1959. “I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block.” And he never lost that Bronx accent.
He felt his name sounded too Jewish for a movie actor, so he chose a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, Anthony Adverse, and the name of a favorite uncle. After his eighth film, he became Tony Curtis.
After a number of forgettable films that featured his athletic physique and charming personality, Curtis moved to more substantial roles, starting in 1957 in the harrowing show business tale Sweet Smell of Success. In 1958 he received the best actor Oscar for The Defiant Ones.
The next year, with Jack Lemmon he dressed in drag and hammed with Marilyn Monroe in perhaps the most celebrated film comedies ever, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. (You can check out my review of the film here).
Later, he returned to film and television as a character actor. He said “I’m not ready to settle down like an elderly Jewish gentleman, sitting on a bench and leaning on a cane,” he said at 60. “I’ve got a helluva lot of living to do.”
Among his many memorable roles: In The Last Tycoon (1976), he played Rodriguez; Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?, Shannon Gambroni; You Can’t Win ‘Em All (1970), Adam Dyer; The Boston Strangler (1968), Albert DeSalvo; Don’t Make Waves (1967),Carlo Cofield; Arrivederci, Baby!, Nick Johnson, Not with My Wife, You Don’t! (1966), Tom Ferris; Boeing Boeing , Bernard Lawrence; The Great Race (1965),The Great Leslie; Sex and the Single Girl, Bob Weston, Goodbye Charlie (1964) George Wellington Tracy; Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), Cpl. Jackson ‘Jake’ Leibowitz; Taras Bulba (1962), Andrei Bulba; Spartacus (1960), Antoninus; Operation Petticoat, Lt. JG Nicholas Holden, Some Like It Hot (1959), Joe / Josephine / Shell Oil Junior; The Defiant Ones, John ‘Joker’ Jackson; Kings Go Forth, Cpl. Britt Harris, The Vikings (1958), Eric; Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Sidney Falco; and Houdini (1953), Harry Houdini.
Chuck Wiebe teaches Film Studies at the Pittsburgh Campus of the University of Phoenix. He has published over 60 articles on film as the National DVD Movies Examiner on www.examiner.com . His work has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He holds a BA in Fine Art from West Virginia University, and an MA in Art History from The Pennsylvania State University. He also studied at the University of Rome, Italy. He believes that film is the most influential art form of our time. For more on Mr. Wiebe’s thoughts on Tony Curtis, check out his review of Some Like It Hot featured above, and read his review of Curtis’ book detailing the making of the comedy classic here.