Tony Curtis - A Lifetime of Achievement
Tony Curtis (Bernard Schwartz), the eldest of three sons of a Manuel and Helen Schwartz, was born on June 3, 1925, in New York City. Curtis grew up in an impoverished section of the Bronx, and had joined a street gang by the age of eleven. He joined the Navy in 1943, and upon his release from active duty, he returned to New York where he used the GI Bill to war, attend the City College of New York. He took acting lessons at the Dramatic Workshop and first gained attention in a Greenwich Village stage production of "Golden Boy". He was quickly offered a seven year contract by Universal Pictures. In 1948 he headed for California where his screen debut had him dancing with Yvonne de Carlo in Criss Cross (1948). His few seconds on screen were enough to generate tens of thousands of fan letters a week asking for a lock of his hair. Universal realized it had a rising star. Soon afterward, his good looks made him a matinee idol, initially under the name James Curtis, and then Anthony Curtis.
There was even a contest, "Win Tony Curtis for a week." Clearly, he was on the brink of stardom and earned him top billing in his next picture, The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) which co-starred another up-and-comer, Piper Laurie. Despite his surging popularity, however, he still had much to learn about his craft and spent the remainder of the year training in voice, dramatics, and gymnastics. Curtis returned to the screen as a boxer in Flesh and Fury (1952). Two more pictures with Laurie, No Room for the Groom and Son of Ali Baba, followed. Paramount borrowed Curtis to for the movie Houdini (1953) which cast him opposite Janet Leigh (his wife). Despite continued -- albeit measured -- box-office success, Curtis was roundly panned by critics for his performances, a problem exacerbated by Universal's reliance on formula filmmaking. Pictures like Beachhead (1954) and Johnny Dark (1954) and The Black Shield of Falworth (1955) were all by-the-numbers products. Finally, in 1956 United Artists borrowed him to star in Trapeze (19--).
Curtis got his first taste of The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster. Curtis even made it seem natural for a Norseman to have a New York accent in The Vikings (1958). But it was in 1958 when Curtis and Sidney Poitier starred in Stanley Kramer's social drama The Defiant Ones (1959) which earned both men Academy Award nominations and was among the most acclaimed and profitable films of the year. He returned to Universal a major star and a much better actor. Now back at Universal, he first starred in a Blake Edwards comedy, The Perfect Furlough (1958). Curtis' most memorable role was in Some Like It Hot (1959) playing opposite Marylin Monroe and Jack Lemon. Riding on the crest of Some Like It Hot, Curtis got to work first hand with his idol Cary Grant in Blake Edward's comedy, Operation Petticoat (1959), another massive hit.
But like his mentor Cary Grant, Curtis most often played the character he created for himself. For director Stanley Kubrick, Curtis co-starred in the 1960 epic Spartacus, followed a year later by The Great Impostor. He delivered a strong performance in The Outsider (1961) but the film was drastically edited prior to release and was a box-office disaster. Curtis made a brief appearance in John Huston's acclaimed The List of Adrian Messenger before appearing opposite Gregory Peck in Captain Newman, M.D. With second wife Christine Kauffman, he starred in Wild and Wonderful (1964) which was his last film for Universal. Curtis then focused almost solely on comedy, including Goodbye Charlie, the big-budget The Great Race, and, with Jerry Lewis in Boeing Boeing. He battled long and hard to win the against-type title role in The Boston Strangler (1968). Curtis returned to comedy again with Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969).
A versatile actor, Curtis sought work in a variety of roles in order to avoid being typecast --staring in over 125 major motion pictures. An American icon, Tony not only appears on the cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club but was the inspiration for, and the voice of, the character "Stony Curtis" in the cartoon The Flintstones..Curtis also enjoyed a close friendship with Hollywood’s “Rat Pack” --Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. He was Tony Curtis whether he was playing the daredevil escape artist in Houdini (1953) or a Roman sentry in Sparticus (1960). When one thinks of Tony Curtis, one thinks of his unique style, his hair, and that voice. His unique accent brought a bizarre mix of Cary Grant and the Lower East Side to each of Curtis' films.
On a personal note, Mr. Curtis has been married five times. He first wed actress Janet Leigh in 1951, and the couple had two daughters, Kelly (b.1957) and Jamie Lee (b.1958). After a marriage of 11 years, Curtis married actress Christine Kaufmann. They had two daughters, Alexandrea (b.1964) and Allegra (b.1966). Curtis and Kaufmann divorced in 1967 and a year later he married Leslie Allen in 1968 and they had two sons: Nicholas (b.1971, who died in 1994) and Benjamin (b.1973) but Curtis and Allen divorced in 1982. He wed lawyer Lisa Deutsch in 1993, and divorced her in 1994. Despite a cardiac bypass operation in 1994, Curtis is still vibrantly active and still occasionally plays supporting roles in films. On November 6, 1998, Tony married his fifth wife, Jill Vanden Berg, who is 45 years younger than him.
Tony Curtis has devoted more than 50 years to his profession and is always a consummate professional on the set. Tony still averages at least two features a year and numerous television roles. His latest television roles include Suddenly Susan and Lois and Clark but Tony is now enjoying a successful second career as a fine artist.