Early life[edit | edit source]
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, at the Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital on 105th Street in Manhattan, New York City, the first of three boys born to Helen (née Klein) and Emanuel Schwartz. Biographies have propagated a misconception that he was born in the Bronx, probably due to the family's moves when he was very young, but Tony pointedly corrected this in a TV interview. His parents were Hungarian-Jewish emigrants from Czechoslovakia and Hungary: his father was born in Ópályi, near Mátészalka, and his mother was a native of Nagymihály (now Michalovce, Slovakia); she later said she arrived in the U.S. from Válykó (now Vaľkovo, Slovakia). He spoke only Hungarian until the age of six, delaying his schooling. His father was a tailor and the family lived in the back of the shop—his parents in one corner and Curtis and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. His mother made an appearance as a participant on the television show You Bet Your Life on February 9, 1956, hosted by Groucho Marx. His mother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. His youngest brother Robert was institutionalized with the same mental illness.
When Curtis was eight, he and his 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 joined a neighborhood gang whose main crimes were playing truant from school and minor pilfering at the local dime store. When Curtis was 11, a friendly neighbor saved him from what he felt would have led to a life of delinquency by sending him to a Boy Scout camp, where he was able to work off his energy and settle down. He attended Seward Park High School. At 16, he had his first small acting part in a school stage play.
Military service[edit | edit source]
Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inspired by Cary Grant's role in Destination Tokyo and Tyrone Power's in Crash Dive (1943), he joined the Pacific submarine force. Curtis served aboard a submarine tender, the USS Proteus, until the end of the Second World War. On September 2, 1945, Curtis witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from his ship's signal bridge about a mile away.
Following his discharge from the Navy, Curtis attended City College of New York on the G.I. Bill. He then studied acting at The New School in Greenwich Village under the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator. His contemporaries included Elaine Stritch, Harry Belafonte, Walter Matthau, Beatrice Arthur, and Rod Steiger. While still at college, Curtis was discovered by Joyce Selznick, the notable talent agent, casting director, and niece of film producer David O. Selznick.
Career[edit | edit source]
In 1948, Curtis arrived in Hollywood at age 23. In his autobiography, Curtis described how by chance he met Jack Warner on the plane to California, and also how he briefly dated Marilyn Monroe before either was famous.
Universal as "Anthony Curtis"[edit | edit source]
Under contract at Universal Pictures, he changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Anthony Curtis and met unknown actors Rock Hudson, James Best, Julie Adams and Piper Laurie. The first name was from the novel Anthony Adverse and "Curtis" was from Kurtz, a surname in his mother's family. Although Universal Pictures taught him fencing and riding, in keeping with the cinematic themes of the era, Curtis admitted he was at first interested only in girls and money and was not hopeful of his chances of becoming a major star. Curtis's biggest fear was having to return home to the Bronx as a failure:
I was a million-to-one shot, the least likely to succeed. I wasn't low man on the totem pole, I was under the totem pole, in a sewer, tied to a sack.
In his second film, City Across the River (also in 1949), he was credited as "Anthony Curtis". He had four lines in The Lady Gambles (1949) and a bigger part in Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949). He could also be spotted in Francis (1950), Woman in Hiding (1950), and I Was a Shoplifter (1950).
He was in three Westerns, Sierra (1950), starring Audie Murphy, one of many names he worked with (including fellow Universal contractee, Rock Hudson), Winchester '73 (1950), starring James Stewart and Shelley Winters, and Kansas Raiders (1951), in which he supported Murphy again, playing Kit Dalton and billed as "Tony Curtis."
Stardom[edit | edit source]
Curtis was receiving numerous fan letters, so Universal awarded him the starring role in The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), a swashbuckler set in the Middle East with Piper Laurie. It was a hit at the box office and Curtis was now established.
He followed it up with Flesh and Fury (1952), a boxing movie; No Room for the Groom (1952), a comedy with Laurie directed by Douglas Sirk; and Son of Ali Baba (1952), another film set in the Arab world with Laurie.
Curtis then teamed up with then-wife Janet Leigh in Houdini (1953), in which Curtis played the title role. His next movies were more "B" fare: All American (1953), as a footballer; Forbidden (1953), as a criminal; Beachhead (1954), a war film; Johnny Dark (1954), with Laurie, as a racing car driver; and The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), a medieval swashbuckler with Leigh. The box office performances of these films were solid, and Curtis was growing in popularity.
For a change of pace he did a musical, So This Is Paris (1955), then it was back to more typical fare: Six Bridges to Cross (1955), as a bank robber; The Purple Mask (1955), a swashbuckler; The Square Jungle (1955), a boxing film.
Major star[edit | edit source]
Curtis made a Western, The Rawhide Years (1957), was a gambler in Mister Cory (1957) and a cop in The Midnight Story (1957). Lancaster asked for him again, to play scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring and co-produced by Lancaster. The film was a box office disappointment, but Curtis, for the first time in his career, received sensational reviews.
Another star-maker, Kirk Douglas, was eager to work with him in The Vikings (1958). Janet Leigh also starred, and the resulting movie was a box office hit. Curtis then co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Natalie Wood in Kings Go Forth (1958), a war story. It was mildly popular, but The Defiant Ones (1958), was a bigger success. Curtis gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted white escaped convict chained to a black man, Sidney Poitier.
Curtis and Janet Leigh then made a popular comedy for Blake Edwards at Universal, The Perfect Furlough (1958). He co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). It was a huge success and became a classic; equally popular was Operation Petticoat (1959), a military comedy which Curtis made for Edwards alongside Cary Grant.
Douglas came calling again, offering Curtis a key role in the former's epic production Spartacus (1960). It was a huge hit and earned Curtis a Golden Globe nomination.
Curtis then made two biopics: The Great Impostor (1961), directed by Robert Mulligan, playing Ferdinand Waldo Demara; and The Outsider (1961), in which he played war hero Ira Hayes. He returned to epics with Taras Bulba (1962), co starring Yul Brynner and Christine Kaufmann, who became Curtis' second wife.
Comedic roles[edit | edit source]
Curtis was one of many stars who had small roles in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963). He supported Gregory Peck in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) and had an uncredited dual role in Paris When It Sizzles (1964). He and Kaufman made their third movie together, the comedy Wild and Wonderful (1964). His focus remained on comedies: Goodbye Charlie (1964), with Debbie Reynolds; Sex and the Single Girl (1964), with Natalie Wood; The Great Race (1965), with Wood and Lemmon for Blake Edwards — the most expensive comedy film up till that time, but popular; Boeing Boeing (1965) a sex farce with Jerry Lewis; Not with My Wife, You Don't! (1966) with George C. Scott; Drop Dead Darling (1966), a British comedy; Don't Make Waves (1967), a satire of beach life from director Alexander Mackendrick, with Claudia Cardinale; and On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who... (1967), an Italian comedy with Monica Vitti. In the early 1960s, he was a voice-over guest star on The Flintstones as "Stoney Curtis".
The Boston Strangler[edit | edit source]
Because of the poor performance of a series of comedies, Curtis fired his agent and took a pay cut to $100,000 to play the title role in The Boston Strangler (1968), his first dramatic film in several years. Response from the critics and public was excellent. He returned to comedy for Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969), an all-star car race film in the vein of The Great Race.
He was one of the villains in The Count of Monte Cristo (1975) and had the title role in the gangster film Lepke (1975). Curtis had the lead in a TV series that did not last, McCoy (1975–76). He was one of many names in The Last Tycoon (1976) and had the title role in an Italian comedy Casanova & Co. (1977). Later, Curtis co-starred as a casino owner in the Robert Urich 1978-1981 ABC series Vega$ and was in The Users (1978).
Later career[edit | edit source]
Curtis supported Mae West in Sextette (1978) and starred in The Manitou (1978), a horror film, and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), a comedy. He had good roles in It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980), Little Miss Marker (1980) and The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980) and was one of many stars in The Mirror Crack'd (1980). On television, he continued to make occasional guest appearances (sometimes playing fictional versions of himself) into the mid-2000s. His final TV series was as host of the documentary-retrospective series "Hollywood Babylon" (adapting Kenneth Anger's book series) in 1992–1993; each episode would include Curtis recalling some anecdotes from his own career.
Painter[edit | edit source]
Throughout his life, Curtis enjoyed painting and, beginning in the early 1980s, painted as a second career. His work commands more than $25,000 a canvas now. In the last years of his life, he concentrated on painting rather than movies. A surrealist, Curtis claimed Van Gogh, [Paul] Matisse, Picasso, and Magritte as influences. "I still make movies but I'm not that interested in them any more. But I paint all the time." In 2007, his painting The Red Table was on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His paintings can also be seen at the Tony Vanderploeg Gallery in Carmel, California.
Curtis spoke of his disappointment at never being awarded an Oscar. In March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame inducted in 1960, and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France in 1995.(citation needed)
Filmography[edit | edit source]
Film[edit | edit source]
|1949||City Across the River||Mitch||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||Johnny Stool Pigeon||Joey Hyatt||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||The Lady Gambles||Bellboy||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1949||Take One False Step||Hot Rod Driver||Uncredited|
|1949||How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border||unknown role||Short|
|1950||Francis||Captain Jones||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Woman in Hiding||Dave Shaw||Voice, Uncredited|
|1950||I Was a Shoplifter||Pepe||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Sierra||Brent Coulter||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Winchester '73||Doan||credited as Anthony Curtis|
|1950||Kansas Raiders||Kit Dalton|
|1951||The Prince Who Was a Thief||Julna|
|1952||Flesh and Fury||Paul Callan|
|1952||No Room for the Groom||Alvah Morrell|
|1952||Son of Ali Baba||Kashma Baba|
|1952||Meet Danny Wilson||Himself – Nightclub Patron||Uncredited|
|1953||All American||Nick Bonnelli|
|1954||Johnny Dark||Johnny Dark|
|1954||The Black Shield of Falworth||Myles|
|1954||So This Is Paris||Joe Maxwell|
|1955||Six Bridges to Cross||Jerry Florea|
|1955||The Purple Mask||Rene de Traviere aka Purple Mask|
|1955||The Square Jungle||Eddie Quaid/Packy Glennon|
|1956||The Rawhide Years||Ben Matthews|
|1957||The Midnight Story||Joe Martini|
|1957||Sweet Smell of Success||Sidney Falco||also Executive Producer|
|1958||Kings Go Forth||Corporal Britt Harris|
|1958||The Defiant Ones||John "Joker" Jackson|
|1958||The Perfect Furlough||Corporal Paul Hodges|
|1959||Some Like It Hot||Joe / Josephine/ Shell Oil Junior|
|1959||Operation Petticoat||Lieutenant Nicholas Holden|
|1960||Who Was That Lady?||David Wilson|
|1960||The Rat Race||Pete Hammond, Jr.|
|1960||The Great Imposter||Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr. / Martin Donner / Dr. Gilbert|
|1961||The Outsider||Ira Hamilton Hayes|
|1962||Taras Bulba||Andriy Bulba|
|1962||40 Pounds of Trouble||Steve McCluskey|
|1963||The List of Adrian Messenger||Organ Grinder||cameo|
|1963||Captain Newman, M.D.||Corporal Jackson "Jake" Leibowitz|
|1964||Paris When It Sizzles||Maurice / Philippe – 2nd Policeman||Uncredited|
|1964||Wild and Wonderful||Terry Willams|
|1964||Goodbye Charlie||George Tracy|
|1964||Sex and the Single Girl||Bob Weston|
|1965||The Great Race||The Great Leslie|
|1965||Boeing, Boeing||Bernard Lawrence|
|1966||Chamber of Horrors||Mr. Julian||Uncredited|
|1966||Not with My Wife, You Don't!||Tom Ferris|
|1966||Arrivederci, Baby!||Nick Johnson||also known as Drop Dead Darling|
|1967||Don't Make Waves||Carlo Cofield|
|1967||On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...||Guerrando da Montone|
|1968||Rosemary's Baby||Donald Baumgart||Voice, Uncredited|
|1968||The Boston Strangler||Albert DeSalvo|
|1969||Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies||Chester Schofield||also known as Monte-Carlo or Bust!|
|1970||You Can't Win 'Em All||Adam Dyer|
|1970||Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?||Shannon Gambroni|
|1975||Lepke||Louis "Lepke" Buchalter|
|1976||The Last Tycoon||Rodriguez|
|1977||Some Like It Cool||Giacomino / Casanova|
|1977||The Manitou||Harry Erskine|
|1978||The Bad News Bears Go to Japan||Marvin Lazar|
|1979||Title Shot||Frank Renzetti|
|1980||Little Miss Marker||Blackie|
|1980||It Rained All Night the Day I Left||Robert Talbot|
|1980||The Mirror Crack'd||Martin N. Fenn|
|1982||Black Commando||Colonel Iago|
|1982||Sparky's Magic Piano||TV interviewer||Voice, Direct-to-Video|
|1983||Dexter the Dragon & Bumble the Bear||unknown role||Voice, English version|
|1984||Where Is Parsifal?||Parsifal Katzenellenbogen|
|1986||The Last of Philip Banter||Charles Foster|
|1988||Welcome to Germany||Mr. Cornfield|
|1989||Lobster Man from Mars||J.P. Shelldrake|
|1989||Walter & Carlo i Amerika||Willy La Rouge|
|1991||Prime Target||Marietta Copella|
|1992||Center of the Web||Stephen Moore|
|1993||Naked in New York||Carl Fisher|
|1993||The Mummy Lives||Aziru / Dr. Mohassid|
|1997||Bounty Hunters 2: Hardball||Wald||Direct-to-Video|
|1997||Brittle Glory||Jack Steele|
|1998||Louis & Frank||Lenny Star Springer|
|1999||Play It to the Bone||Ringside Fan|
|2002||Reflections of Evil||Host|
|2007||The Blacksmith and the Carpenter||God||Voice, Short|
|2008||David & Fatima||Mr. Schwartz||Final film role|
Television[edit | edit source]
|1955||Allen in Movieland||Himself||Television Movie|
|1955–1956||The Ed Sullivan Show||Himself (Guest)||3 episodes|
|1959||The Joseph Cotten Show: On Trial||Charlie||Episode: "Man on a Rock"|
|1960||Startime||The Juggler||Episode: "The Young Juggler"|
also Executive Producer
|1965||The Flintstones||Stony Curtis||Voice, Episode: "The Return of Stony Curtis"|
|1968||The Song Is You||Himself||Television Movie|
|1968–1971||Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In||Himself (Guest Performer)||recurring role (8 episodes)|
|1970||American Cancer Society anti-smoking public service announcements||Himself||multiple PSAs plus interview with Martin Agronsky on WTOP-TV News.|
|1971–1972||The Persuaders!||Danny Wilde / Aunt Sophie||series regular (24 episodes)|
|1972||The ABC Comedy Hour||Himself (Guest Performer)||Episode: "The Friars Roast of Joe Namath"|
|1972||The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour||Himself (Guest Performer)||2 episodes|
|1973||The Third Girl from the Left||Joey Jordan||Television Movie|
|1973||Shaft||Clifford Grayson||Episode: "Hit-Run"|
|1975||The Count of Monte-Cristo||Fernand Mondego||Television Movie|
|1975–1976||McCoy||McCoy||series regular (5 episodes)|
|1978||The Users||Randy Brent||Television Movie|
|1978–1981||Vega$||Roth||series regular (17 episodes)|
|1980||The Scarlett O'Hara War||David O. Selznick||Television Movie|
|1981||Inmates: A Love Story||Flanagan||Television Movie|
|1981||The Million Dollar Face||Chester Masterson||Television Movie|
|1982||Portrait of a Showgirl||Joey DeLeon||Television Movie|
|1983||The Fall Guy||Joe O'Hara||Episode: "Eight Ball"|
|1986||Mafia Princess||Sam Giancana||Television Movie|
|1986||Murder in Three Acts||Charles Cartwright||Television Movie|
|1989||Tarzan in Manhattan||Archimedes Porter||Television Movie|
|1989||Charlie||Scott Parish||Television Movie|
|1990||Thanksgiving Day||Max Schloss||Television Movie|
|1992||Christmas in Connecticut||Alexander Yardley||Television Movie|
|1992–1993||Hollywood Babylon||Himself (Host)||5 episodes|
|1994||Bandit: Beauty and the Bandit||Lucky Bergstrom||Television Movie|
|1994||A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor||Johnny Steele||Television Movie|
|1994||Cilla's World||Himself||Television Movie|
|1995–2003||Biography||Himself (Interviewee)||4 episodes|
– Episode: "Roger Moore" (1995)
– Episode: "Ernest Borgnine" (2000)
– Episode: "Tony Curtis" (2001)
– Episode: "Janet Leigh" (2003)
|1996||Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman||Dr. Mamba||Episode: "I Now Pronounce You..."|
|1996||Roseanne||Hal||Episode: "Ballroom Blitz"|
|1997||Elvis Meets Nixon||Himself||Uncredited, Television Movie|
|1998||Suddenly Susan||Peter DiCaprio||Episode: "Matchmaker, Matchmaker"|
|2004||Hope & Faith||Morris||Episode: "Jack's Back"|
|2005||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||Himself||Episode: "Grave Danger (Part 1)"|
|2006||60 Minutes||Himself||Episode: "Gay Marriage/The Marilyn Mystery"|
|2010||Who Wants to Be a Millionaire||Himself (Celebrity Question Presenter)||Episode: "Million Dollar Movie Week 1"|
Box office ranking[edit | edit source]
For a number of years Curtis was voted by exhibitors in an annual poll from Quigley Publishing as among the top stars in the United States:
[edit | edit source]
- Tony Curtis on Wikipedia