Tony Curtis was an American film actor. He played a variety of roles, from light comedy, such as the musician on the run from gangsters in Some Like It Hot, to serious dramatic roles, such as an escaped convict in The Defiant Ones, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. From 1949, he appeared in more than 100 films and made frequent television appearances.
Tony Curtis Early Life: Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, New York, the son of Emanuel Schwartz and his wife, Helen Klein. His parents were Hungarian Jewish immigrants from Mátészalka, Hungary. Hungarian was Curtis’ only language until he was five or six, postponing his schooling. His father was a tailor and the family lived in the back of the shop — the parents in one corner and Curtis and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. His mother had once made an appearance as a participant on the television show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Tony Curtis said, “When I was a child, Mom beat me up and was very aggressive and antagonistic.” His mother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness which also affected his brother Robert and led to Robert’s institutionalization. When Curtis was eight, he and his younger brother Julius were placed in an orphanage for a month because their parents could not afford to feed them. Four years later, Julius was struck and killed by a truck. Curtis attended Seward Park High School.
During World War II, Curtis joined the United States Navy, inspired by watching Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo and Tyrone Power in Crash Dive (1943). He served aboard USS Proteus, a submarine tender, and on September 2, 1945, he witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from about a mile away. Following his discharge, Curtis attended City College of New York under the G.I. Bill and studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator, along with Elaine Stritch, Walter Matthau, and Rod Steiger. He was discovered by a talent agent and casting director Joyce Selznick. Curtis claims it was because he “was the handsomest of the boys.” Arriving in Hollywood in 1948 at age 23, he was placed under contract at Universal Pictures and changed his name to Tony Curtis, taking his first name from the novel Anthony Adverse and his last name from “Kurtz”, a surname from his mother’s family. Although the studio taught him fencing and riding, Curtis admits he was at first only interested in girls and money.
Tony Curtis Personal Life: Curtis was married six times. His first wife was actress Janet Leigh, to whom he was married from 1951 to 1962, and with whom he fathered actresses Kelly and Jamie Lee Curtis. “For a while, we were Hollywood’s golden couple,” he said. “I was very dedicated and devoted to Janet, and on top of my trade, but in her eyes that goldenness started to wear off. I realized that whatever I was, I wasn’t enough for Janet. That hurt me a lot and broke my heart.” It was Leigh’s third marriage. Curtis, who admitted to his infidelity throughout their marriage, divorced Leigh in 1962 to marry Christine Kaufmann, the 17-year-old German co-star of his latest film, Taras Bulba. He stated, however, that his marriage with Leigh had effectively ended “a year earlier”. In 1963 Curtis married Kaufmann. They had two daughters, Alexandra (born July 19, 1964) and Allegra (born July 11, 1966). They divorced in 1968. Kaufmann resumed her career, which she had interrupted during her marriage.
Curtis was also married to:
* Leslie Allen (April 20, 1968 – 1982); divorced, two sons
* Andria Savio (1983 – 1992); B movie actress (e.g. 1983’s Stryker)
* Lisa Deutsch (February 28, 1993 – 1994); divorced
* Jill Vandenberg Curtis (November 6, 1998 – September 29, 2010; his death)
In 1998, he founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, and served as honorary chairperson. The organization works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary. He dedicated this to the 600,000 Hungarian victims of the Holocaust.
His son Nicholas (December 31, 1970 — April 2, 1994, with Leslie Allen) died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23. Of this Curtis said, “As a father you don’t recover from that. There isn’t a moment at night that I don’t remember him.
Curtis stated on the television series Shrink Rap that he had a brief relationship with Marilyn Monroe in 1949, which had to end due to their different work commitments. He also details their brief relationship in his memoir, American Prince.
His last wife was 42 years his junior. They met in a restaurant in 1993 and married in 1998. “The age gap doesn’t bother us. We laugh a lot. My body is functioning and everything is good. She’s the sexiest woman I’ve ever known. We don’t think about time. I don’t use Viagra either. There are 50 ways to please your lover.”
Because of his Hungarian descent he participated in Hungary’s country image commercials. In 2004, 16% more American tourists visited Hungary.
In 2004, he was inducted into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Hall of Fame. A street is named after him in the Sun City Anthem development in Henderson, Nevada.
Curtis nearly died when he contracted pneumonia in December 2006 and was in a coma for several days. As a result he used a wheelchair and could only walk short distances.
In 2008, he was featured in the documentary The Jill & Tony Curtis Story about his efforts with his wife to rescue horses from slaughterhouses.
In October 2008, Curtis released his latest autobiography American Prince: A Memoir (Harmony Books), written with Peter Golenbock. In it, he elaborates on encounters with other Hollywood legends of the time including Frank Sinatra and James Dean, as well as his hard-knock childhood and path to success.
In September 2009, Curtis released his second book The Making of Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie (John Wiley & Sons), written with Mark A. Vieira. In it, Curtis shared his memories of the making of the movie, in particular about Marilyn Monroe, whose antics and attitude on the set made everyone miserable.
There is a mural of him on U.S. Highway 101 Southbound at the Sunset Boulevard exit.
On May 22, 2009, Curtis apologized to the BBC radio audience after he used three profanities in a six-minute interview with BBC presenter William Crawley. The presenter also apologized to the audience for Curtis’s “Hollywood realism”. Curtis explained that he thought the interview was being taped, when it was in fact live.
On July 8, 2010, Curtis, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was hospitalized in Las Vegas after suffering an asthma attack during a book signing engagement in Henderson, Nevada at Costco.
Tony Curtis Death: Curtis died at his Henderson, Nevada (near Las Vegas) home on September 29, 2010, of cardiac arrest. In a release to the Associated Press, his daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, stated:
“My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages. He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed.”
He is interred at Palm Memorial Park Cemetery in Green Valley, Las Vegas, Nevada.