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Tony Curtis' Hollywood legacy

September 30, 2010 |  5:29 am

Sweet

He was nominated for only one Oscar, but Tony Curtis leaves behind a big-screen legacy as few other actors have or, for that matter, probably ever will.

The actor, who died late Wednesday night at the age of 85 at his home in Nevada (you can read The Times' obituary here), was shortlisted by the academy for his role as a racist convict in "The Defiant Ones."

It was one of numerous parts that epitomized Curtis' career and shaped a filmgoing zeitgeist throughout the 1950s and '60s. In "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), Curtis played a slick and shady press agent to Burt Lancaster's equally unscrupulous Broadway publicist. In the Blake Edwards' World War II comedy "Operation Petticoat" (1959), Curtis inhabits the role of a submarine officer with unorthodox motives and methods.

Billy Wilder's 1959 comic romp "Some Like It Hot" had Curtis and Jack Lemmon as struggling Chicago musicians who fled town while dressed as women to escape the Mafia. (A funny scene from that film, with Curtis and Lemmon in drag, is below.) In the screwball comedy "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), Curtis plays a reporter for a men's magazine who impersonates a psychologist to get closer to a successful author (Natalie Wood).

Later in his career, the 1968 drama "The Boston Strangler" saw Curtis taking on the heady character of a disturbed serial killer.

The actor with the pin-up looks continued working well past the point when most performers would have hung it up and simply accepted lifetime achievement awards. (He was slated, at least according to some databases, to take on a role in an upcoming adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story "Morella.")

In his personal life, Curtis was almost as colorful as he was on screen, from his humble beginnings as the son of immigrants in the Bronx to numerous marriages, a stint in rehab, a second career as a painter and a stubborn refusal to go quietly into old age. Curtis' life and Hollywood history are  permanently entwined -- he played opposite iconic actors as diverse as Sidney Poitier and Marlyn Monroe. And of course he was married to Janet Leigh, with whom he fathered Jamie Lee Curtis.

But what's perhaps most remarkable about Curtis' career was his fluid ability to move between comedy and drama, and our willingness to embrace him in both. In the current era of typecasting, few even try, and those who do rarely succeed.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco in 'Sweet Smell of Success.' Credit: United Artists

[For the record, 6:10 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said Lauren Bacall played the successful author in "Sex and the Single Girl." She played the married woman who lives next door to Curtis; Natalie Wood played the author.]



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Comments () | Archives (7)

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He had real style in clothing ,nice talored suits white shirts with Bill Ecstien collars, and the hair oh man I tried so hard but not with the straw stuff I had and I din't mind a lot of his movies , It's sad for his fans but I think he had a great life

Wasn't it Tony who playing a young prince in his early films that said in a brooklyn accent. "Yonder lies the castle of my faaatha?"

Tony Curtis was a fine natural actor who appeared to delight in being a movie star. He gave great performances is so many films and his impersonation of Cary Grant in "Some Like it Hot" was the funniest thing in the movie. Who can forget his line "Did I play water-polo. I'll say. I've had two ponies drowned under me." A unique and sadly missed personality. He managed to be a star in an era when pretentious Method actors were chewing up the scenery and whining about how being rich and famous was a heavy cross to bear for the sake of their art. Bernard Swartz had the good grace to enjoy being Tony Curtis.

Well this is more like it, honouring his Legacy rather than pointing out his possible flaws. Tony will be greatly missed, we adore you & always will.
Rest in Peace*

I showed my students Some Like It Hot when I was preteaching the 1920's. They came into it skeptical because the movie was in black and white, but came out of it fans of the entire trio. Some of the parents who came to back to school night told me that they went to the video store to find more Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemon videos. They were all interested when I told them that Tony Curtis died, and their reaction shows that at least some of his movies will live on.

I've tried to post...I've tried to post!

About 6 years ago, got to spend about 45 minutes with Tony on a flight from Midland/Odessa, TX to Las Vegas, NV.....I hate to fly...but we had a "GREAT" 45 minutes together!

He kept my mind off that we were "flying"...I only wish that he were with me all the way into Burbank!

Jammie...I know that this is but one of a thousand messages you'll be getting....I've lost both parents....I know what it's like! It doesn't get easier...everyone will now look to you to help them with their problems!

GOOD LUCK!

HONESTLY, WHAT I FOUND AMAZING ABOUT CURTIS' DEATH WAS THE DEAFENING SILENCE FROM THE SURVIVING SIX WIVES AND FIVE CHILDREN. LOUD MOUTHED JAIMIE LEE CURTIS IS ALWAYS GOOD FOR A LAUGH BUT EVEN CURTIS' CURRENT WIDOW HAD LITTLE ENOUGH TO SAY FOR PUBLICATION. ONE WONDERS WHAT WAS GOING ON IN HENDERSON THAT WAS KEPT FROM THE PUBLIC...


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