Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony Curtis (1925 - 2010)

He was born in 1925 when the masses were still swooning for silent icons like Rudolph Valentino. By the late 1950s he was a household name heartthrob himself if not a silent one. Still, that oft imitated Bronx accent "yonda lies the castle of my fadduh" couldn't derail his movie ascendance.

History continually teaches movie stars -- though scant few of them seem to really listen -- that what's important is not the paycheck or even necessarily a great role but working on enough top notch material with top directors to wind up in a few classics. It's one of the only ways to ensure that you are remembered, if screen immortality is indeed your goal.

Curtis, like any star, had his share of duds but history has and will continue to remember him because he appeared in a good share of classics, most notably that one-two-three-four punch of Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), Some Like it Hot (1959) and Spartacus (1960). That's a four year run of winners that would make any career a major one.

That kind of ascendance is nearly impossible to undo. Sure, huge stars usually fade and become "celebrities" rather than vital working actors... but you can't take the classics away from people.

And aside from often solid work in a wide variety of genres from those classics to thrillers (The Boston Strangler) to romantic comedies (Sex & The Single Girl with my girl Natalie Wood) we must thank Curtis for bringing Jamie Lee Curtis into the world (she's the infant in mama Janet Leigh' arms in the photograph below). That definitely made the world a better place.

The Curtis Family (left to right): Kelly, Tony, Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee

How heady must Curtis & Janet Leigh's "golden couple" years have been? Consider that during one calendar year they delivered unto the world three classics: Jamie Lee Curtis,  Touch of Evil and  The Defiant Ones. Then, they chased that triple with Some Like It Hot, Psycho, Spartacus and The Manchurian Candidate in the last four years of their marriage. It boggles the mind it does.

A few admittedly more timely farewells

  • Boy Culture remembers a Shelley Winters anecdote
  • Coffee Coffee and More Coffee shares a personal memory and marvels at Curtis ability to slide so easily back and forth between comedies and drama.
  • New York Times on his good looks and storied "vigorous heterosexuality" despite the sexually ambiguous roles.
  • Vanity Fair his idea of perfect happiness was "top billing"
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