September 30th, 2010

RIP Tony Curtis

He wasn’t considered the greatest of actors, although his role in “The Defiant Ones” was highly praised in its time. He had a lot of tragedy in his life. Hungarian was his only language until the age of six. He was married six times. And in recent years, it sometimes seems as though he’s been most well-known for being the father of actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Now Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85. His most lasting legacy will probably be his brilliant comic turn as the cross-dressing saxophone player who romances Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder’s 1959 masterpiece “Some Like It Hot.”

I loved it when I first saw it as a child in the movie theater, and I have loved it every time I’ve seen it since then—which is many. And I am hardly alone.

Co-star Jack Lemmon may be more flamboyant and wildly manic in his obvious delight in his role. Marilyn Monroe is—well, Marilyn Monroe. But Curtis’s more understated genius is equally important, and equally wonderful. Watch him in his maiden scene, as he goes back and forth between his masculine self and his new feminine persona:

His Wiki bio says that Curtis was inspired to join the Navy in WWII after watching Cary Grant in “Destination Tokyo.” But that wasn’t the only inspiration he drew from Grant:

16 Responses to “RIP Tony Curtis”

  1. Adrian Day Says:

    A terrific performance, to be sure. I always kinda dug him in “Houdini” too.

  2. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Curtis’s co-star was, I believe, Jack Lemmon not Jack Lennon.

    I also loved the movie. I always admired Tony Curtis’s ability to emulate Cary Grant, who, next to John Wayne was my favorite actor. Yes, I know John Wayne was not an actor; he played John Wayne. Well, John Wayne on the screen was what many young men of my generation aspired to be. Same with Cary Grant. He played Cary Grant and in many ways was the antithesis of John Wayne. One rough and tumble, the other suave and sophisticated. But they were both men’s men. Something we see little of in Hollywood these days.

    Unfortunately, for Tony he was just an emulator of Grant and could not fill a screen with the magnetic virility of the real man. This was certainly his most memorable film.

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    J.J.: oops, typo. Will fix.

  4. neo-neocon Says:


    As for who Cary Grant really was, did you ever see the following quote from him:

    Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.

  5. Jed Skillman Says:

    Tony Curtis, we’ll miss him. He was also terrific in The Sweet Smell of Success and in Trapeze.

    But, Some Like It Hot… a classic of the first order.

    Next time you watch that film pay particular attention to the photography by Charles Lang. Lang really captured a feel for the Roaring 20s. Even working on a Hollywood backlot the Chicago scenes look like Chicago in the winter. And Marilyn Monroe never looked better.

  6. Artfldgr Says:

    i have an internal list of people i would like to meet.. and have met many of them.. (and have met many who are luminary, but i had no desire)…

    He was one i would have liked to meet
    his daughter is nice…
    (unlike others, thats her real personality you often see)

    by the way, for the record…
    the personality of Felix Unger as played by tony Randall, was very close to Tonys real personality.

    i will say that as the years go forward.
    that special video put together by AMC after new year has been harder and harder to watch.

    of course, after a certain point, it will get real easy as most will not feel as much for the modern personalities than we do for these who were so much more than just cardboard cut outs…

    i am very proud to have been signed and shoot for Globe Photos, which is known today for all those great celeb shots that were more personal and intimate!

    you can see the Curtis picks available here.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    by the way, not everyone can be the leading man…

    Tony by far was one of the worlds greatest supporting actors…

    like a really great setting, he made the diamonds shine brighter.

  8. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Great bunch of quotes at the link.

    This one is apropo the love scene between Tony Curtis and Marilyn in SOME LIKE IT HOT.
    “To succeed with the opposite sex, tell her you’re impotent. She can’t wait to disprove it.”

  9. SteveH Says:

    Tony’s and Tommy’s never look like Anthony’s and Thomas’s even at 80 years old. And how did they know this at 20?

  10. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I’m not sure speaking only Hungarian until age six counts as a tragedy.

    Having to learn Hungarian after age six, now that’s a tragedy. They have at least four vowels among the o’s and u’s that only they can hear the difference in.

  11. waltj Says:

    Not much of a movie buff, but as I recall Tony had a fair sized role as the educated Sicilian slave (Antoninus) in “Spartacus”. It was a good part for him, and he was on the receiving end of a famous bit of film trivia. Laurence Olivier’s character, Marcus Licinius Crassus, asked him, “do you prefer clams or oysters?”, which was about as close as you could get in 1960 to asking, “do you prefer women or men?” I had seen the movie several times as a kid, and didn’t understand until I was well into my late teens why my dad always laughed in a rather sly way at that line. RIP, Tony.

  12. RickZ Says:

    Another of Hollywood’s WWII generation gone with the wind.

  13. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Two wonderful clips…

    With Tony Curtis in the wonderful Some Like It Hot, at neoneo…

  14. Tom Says:

    His NYT obit states Curtis died of “cardiac arrest.”
    Reminds me of my internship. We interns completed all death certificates, unsupervised, at that major academic medical center. The certif. called for statement of the immediate cause of death, with a “due to” cascade leading to citing the other diagnoses.
    In my brash newfound responsibility as a greenhorn MD, I always put down “Cardiac arrest” as the immediate cause; what else causes death? One was legally dead only sans heartbeat. Duh!

    It took a few months for me to realize that “Cardiac arrest” as the primary cause had no demographic or epidemiologic value, and it was only after this brilliant insight I began to write “Cerebrovascular Accident”, or “Acute Myelocytic Leukemia” or whatever it actually was that killed the poor soul.

  15. Beverly Says:

    Ah, MGM has blocked access to the two clips, on copyright grounds.

    But I remember them. “Jello on springs,” indeed!

  16. Ralph Says:

    The movie is over 50 years old? The copyright must have expired a few decades ago. So MGM had no legal right to block it – but Utube folded as usual.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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