|Curtis, best known for his role opposite Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot,” has died at the age of 85. [AFP PHOTO]|
Tony Curtis, whose good looks made him a Hollywood star well before he became an accomplished actor in movies such as “The Sweet Smell of Success” and “Some Like It Hot,” died on Wednesday evening in his home near Las Vegas.
Curtis, 85, was one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and one of Hollywood’s busiest playboys during that time.
He had a memorable role in the classic gladiator movie “Spartacus” in 1960 and received an Academy Award nomination for 1958’s “The Defiant Ones.”
His first starring role was in “The Prince Who Was a Thief” in 1951, and critics were appalled as Curtis, playing an Arabian prince, proclaimed in a thick New York accent, “Yonduh lies de castle of de caliph, my fadder!”
Still, Universal Pictures’ star-making machinery and teen fan magazines managed to make Curtis a celebrity and movie-goers loved his dark-haired sex appeal and impish grin.
After a series of frivolous movies that exploited his handsome physique and appealing personality, Curtis moved to more substantial roles.
Curtis made more than 140 films, mixing comedies with dramas, but part of his life was plagued by poor movies and struggles with cocaine and alcohol.
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in New York to poor Hungarian-Jewish immigrants in 1925.
He quit school to join the Navy in World War Two, serving on a submarine tender, and pursued acting after his discharge.
Curtis was known to be demanding at the height of his stardom. Television producer Lew Gallo called him “an impetuous child.”
As fascinating to fans as his performances was Curtis’ private life. He was an inveterate womaniser whose girlfriends included Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood.
He was married six times, starting with actress Janet Leigh in a union he later admitted was partially motivated by publicity value. After divorcing Leigh, he married Christine Kaufman, who was 17 when they met while filming “Taras Bulba.”
Curtis was once quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t be seen dead with a woman old enough to be my wife.”
His sixth wife, Jill Vandenberg, was 45 years younger than Curtis.
Curtis’ children included actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was estranged from him for much of his life.
As his acting career waned, Curtis concentrated on painting and in 1989 he sold more than $1 million worth of his art in the first day of a Los Angeles exhibition.
“Painting is more meaningful to me than any performance I’ve ever given,” he told an interviewer.
Curtis eventually moved to Las Vegas. In 1989, he released an exercise videotape for people past age 50.
He operated the Shiloh Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, a refuge for horses that were abandoned or
abused, on the California-Nevada border with wife Jill.