Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis, 1925-2010

Tony Curtis, a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s who stayed in the spotlight for the rest of his life and had a very interesting life, has died at the age of 85. It's a bit difficult to figure out just where to start an obituary post on Curtis, since he wound up doing so much in his life. Perhaps a good place would be with Curtis' service in World War II -- he eventually wound up in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. TCM runs a piece from time to time in which Curtis discusses the influence Cary Grant had on his career, mentioning that it's Grant's 1943 movie Destination Tokyo that got Curtis in the Navy, and that Curtis was thrilled to work with Cary Grant the one time that he did, in Operation Petticoat.

From left: Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Lemmon in 'Some Like It Hot'Curits also mentions his work in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot, and that his millionaire persona was cribbed from Cary Grant, specifically Grant's performance in Bringing Up Baby. Of course, Grant cribbed the glasses from Harold Lloyd movies, and the piece on Some Like It Hot that you're more likely to see on TCM is the one that Jack Lemmon did on Billy Wilder, which mentions him and Tony Curtis being in drag for 85% of the movie (I don't think it's quite that much, but it's the whole point of the movie). But that shouldn't take away from Curtis' work, especially since he and Lemmon played so well off of each other. Indeed, Curtis's character has the same sort of scheming ways as the one on Operation Petticoat.

It wouldn't be fair to Curtis to mention only his comedies. Curtis got an Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones, in which he plays a prisoner handcuffed to fellow prisoner Sidney Poitier, with whom he tries to make an escape, despite the fact each of them hates the other's guts, in no small part because of their race. There's also The Sweet Smell of Success opposite Burt Lancaster, which the movie that really got Curtis noticed. And who could forget a hilariously silly adventure flick like The Vikings, where Curtis plays Kirk Douglas' mortal enemy, and the two go around wearing those ghastly Hollywood tunics that show off most of their legs and arms? It's supposed to be a drama, but boy is it funny.

As for Curtis' personal life, in addition to serving in World War II, he would go on to get married six times, including one to actress Janet Leigh, which would of course produce daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, who went on to become a pretty successful actress in her own right. There were also the well-publicized bouts with booze and drugs and, later in life, work as a serious painter. Curtis and his final wife also operated a horse shelter in Nevada.

As far as I can tell right now, TCM hasn't announced a schedule change. They've got a lot on their plate in October, with four of the five weeknights devoted to various features, so I'm not certain when the tribute is going to come.

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