Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis.jpeg
Bernard Schwartz
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Birth date
(1925-06-03)June 3, 1925
Death place
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
Death date
September 29, 2010(2010-09-29) (aged 85)
Active Years

Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz; June 3, 1925 – September 29, 2010) was an American film actor whose career spanned six decades. He is the father of Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis.

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.[1][2] 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.[3] 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).[4][5] He spoke only Hungarian until the age of six, delaying his schooling.[6] 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.[5] 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.[7]

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.[6] 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.[8]

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.[9] The first name was from the novel Anthony Adverse and "Curtis" was from Kurtz, a surname in his mother's family.[10] 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.[7]

Curtis's uncredited screen debut came in Criss Cross (1949) playing a rumba dancer, dancing with Yvonne de Carlo. The male star was Burt Lancaster who would make a number of films with Curtis.

In his second film, City Across the River (also in 1949), he was credited as "Anthony Curtis".[11] 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 graduated to more prestigious projects when he was cast in support of Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze (1956). It was one of the biggest hits of the year.

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 with Marilyn Monroe in
Some Like It Hot (1959)

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.

Curtis and Leigh made one more film together Who Was That Lady? (1960), a comedy with Dean Martin. He and Debbie Reynolds then starred in The Rat Race (1960).

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]

He starred with Suzanne Pleshette in the comedy 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), which was a mild hit.

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.[12] 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 made some comic adventure tales: You Can't Win 'Em All (1970) with Charles Bronson and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970).

Curtis decided it was time to turn to television and co-starred with Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!.

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]

File:Tony Curtis 1997 cropped.JPG

Curtis in 1997

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.[6] "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]

Year Title Role Notes
1949 Criss Cross Gigolo Uncredited
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 Houdini Harry Houdini
1953 All American Nick Bonnelli
1953 Forbidden Eddie
1954 Beachhead Burke
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 Trapeze Tino Orsini
1956 The Rawhide Years Ben Matthews
1957 Mister Cory Cory
1957 The Midnight Story Joe Martini
1957 Sweet Smell of Success Sidney Falco also Executive Producer
1958 The Vikings Eric
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 Spartacus Antoninus
1960 Pepe Himself uncredited
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 Sextette Alexei Karansky
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 BrainWaves Dr. Clavius
1982 Sparky's Magic Piano TV interviewer Voice, Direct-to-Video
1983 Dexter the Dragon & Bumble the Bear unknown role Voice, English version
1983 Balboa Ernie Stoddard
1984 Where Is Parsifal? Parsifal Katzenellenbogen
1985 Insignificance Senator
1986 Club Life Hector
1986 The Last of Philip Banter Charles Foster
1988 Welcome to Germany Mr. Cornfield
1989 Lobster Man from Mars J.P. Shelldrake
1989 Midnight Mr. B
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
1995 The Immortals Dominic
1997 Bounty Hunters 2: Hardball Wald Direct-to-Video
1997 Brittle Glory Jack Steele
1998 Louis & Frank Lenny Star Springer
1998 Stargames King Fendel
1999 Play It to the Bone Ringside Fan
2002 Reflections of Evil Host
2006 Where's Marty? Himself Direct-to-DVD
2007 The Blacksmith and the Carpenter God Voice, Short
2008 David & Fatima Mr. Schwartz Final film role

Television[edit | edit source]

Year Title Role Notes
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[13] 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:

  • 1954—23rd
  • 1959—18th
  • 1960—6th
  • 1961—9th
  • 1962—18th

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Tony Curtis biography.
  • Template:Cite encyclopedia
  • Interview with cable TV host Skip E Lowe.
  • "USA: Zomrel americký herec Tony Curtis, po matke slovenského pôvodu", September 30, 2010. (in sk) 
  • 5.0 5.1 Template:Cite episode
  • 6.0 6.1 6.2 Private Screenings: Tony Curtis Turner Classic Movies, January 19, 1999.
  • 7.0 7.1 Citation.
  • World War Two - and a young man serves his country.
  • Citation.
  • Rizzo, Frank. "My Interview With Tony Curtis", October 1, 2009. 
  • City Across the River at the Internet Movie Database
  • Template:Cite magazine
  • Template:Cite AV media
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