Thursday, September 30, 2010

A few memories of Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in 1957's Sweet Smell of Success.

Some facts (and observations) about Tony Curtis, who died Wednesday at the age of 85.*

-- Curtis began his movie-start life as a $75-a-week contract player at Universal International Studios.

-- He grew up in the Bronx; his real name was Bernie Schwartz.

-- At times in his life, things went a little too well, and he had a little too much fun. When I met Curtis in 1996 (at the Denver International Film Festival), he said he'd been clean and sober for more than 15 years.

-- Sure he made the Defiant Ones, The Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like It Hot and Spartacus, but he also appeared in a movie called The Continued Adventures of Reptile Man.

-- He had a sense of humor about himself.

-- Curtis told me he based the character of Josephine (the musician in drag in Some Like It Hot) on his mother and Grace Kelly. He originally wanted to be a blonde in the movie, but Marilyn Monroe insisted that no one be as blonde as she was.

-- He told me that it annoyed him that the aristocratic parts in costume dramas always went to Englishmen.

-- He spoke fluent Hungarian.

-- The Sidney Falco character he played in Sweet Smell of Success, a rabid New York press agent, came from a variety of street types he'd known in New York.

-- He told me that Cary Grant once told him that you could tell a great bottle of white wine because when it was properly chilled, it tasted like cool water. The remark helped him to master movie acting.

-- He pointed that, despite the myth, he never said "Yonda lies da castle of my foddah" in 1952's Son of Ali Baba. The real line: "Yonder is the valley of the sun and my father's castle."

-- His real father was a tailor and never had a castle, but it's nice to think that Tony Curtis ultimately found his valley of the sun. RIP, Tony.

*All this from back in the Pleistocene days when there was still a Rocky Mountain News, and I worked there.

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