When asked who the most attractive person he worked with was,
he replied calmly, "I am".
Tony Curtis has starred in over 150 major films over a vast and varied career - from comedy to serious and complex drama - and is widely recognised as a movie icon of the Twentieth Century.
The Early Years
Born June 3 1925 as Bernie Schwartz to Hungarian immigrant parents - Tony Curtis was involved with street gangs as a child, but joined the Navy during World War II. Towards the end of the 1940s he got involved in acting by joining New York’s Dramatic Workshop. It was playing the lead in a production of “Golden Boy” that came as his big break – his talents and good looks were recognised by a scout and he was signed to Universal with a seven year contract and a new stage name – Anthony Curtis. After a crash course in drama, voice and horse riding he landed his first role in the film "Criss Cross" (1949), where he briefly danced with Yvonne De Carlo. He gained more prominent roles in "Johnny Stool Pigeon" (1949), "I Was a Shoplifter" and "Kansas Raiders" (both 1950). His fan base was growing fast and his publicity went into overdrive, all of which contributed to him being cast in his first lead role in "The Prince Who Was a Thief" (1951) opposite Piper Laurie. The film turned out to be a box-office success, and meant further leading roles for Curtis – in "Son of Ali Baba" (1952), as a deaf-mute boxer in "Flesh and Fury" (also 1952) and then starred with his wife Janet Leigh (who he had married in 1951) in the biopic "Houdini" (1953).
In 1956, the film "Trapeze" became a huge box-office smash. The story was based around a love triangle set against the backdrop of the circus and it effectively marked a turning point for Curtis in so much as serious critics started to pay attention to him as an actor with ability not just good looks. The best roles of his career followed this – he played a press agent in "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) opposite Burt Lancaster; in "The Defiant Ones" (1958) his portrayal of an escaped convict chained to Sidney Poitier earned him an Oscar nomination. Billy Wilder’s classic comedy "Some Like It Hot" (1959) saw him playing one of a pair of cross-dressing musicians – the other being Jack Lemmon; Curtis’ character woos Sugar Kane (played by Marilyn Monroe) in his guise of rich businessman - Shell Junior. In "Operation Petticoat" (1959) he had the opportunity to play opposite one of his idols – Cary Grant – who he had actually somewhat parodied as the business man character in "Some Like it Hot". In the 1960s, his success continued with the epic "Spartacus" (1960) and "The Great Imposter" (1960). In "The Outsider" of 1961 he received great critical acclaim for his portrayal of Native American war hero Ira Hayes, but following from this he mainly confined himself to more lightweight comedies like "Forty Pounds of Trouble" (1963), "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964) and "The Great Race" (1965). He had divorced from his wife Janet Leigh in 1962, having had two daughters with her – Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis (both went on to be actors themselves). He remarried in 1963 to Christine Kaufmann.
Into the 70s and 80s
After a string of unsuccessful films towards the end of the decade, Curtis was eager to re-assert his worth by trying something a little more demanding – he played Albert de Salvo in "The Boston Strangler" of 1968, creating a very complex and striking performance, but not one that rejuvenated his career completely. Another period of disappointing roles followed, although his "gangster" in the 1975 film "Lepke" was well received as was his portrayal of a fading star in "The Last Tycoon" (1976).
More recently he has appeared in the films "Where Is Parsifal?" (1984), and "Midnight" (1989) and has also taken on TV roles. His career of flops and hits seems to be recurrent – in 1980 he again received huge acclaim for the role of David O. Selznick in the TV movie "The Scarlett O'Hara War" and similarly in Nicolas Roeg's "Insignificance" (1985) where he played a Joe McCarthy-like senator. Also on the subject of TV, he famously played alongside Roger Moore in the cult classic "The Persuaders".
Tony Curtis the Artist
Aside from his acting career, Curtis has also been painting for around 30 years and after going public with his work in 1987, he now also displays some pieces on his personal webpage www.tonycurtis.com. His work has been compared in style to Van Gogh and Matisse. Certainly the use of bright vibrant colours would echo this. Many celebrities have purchased his work - Billy Wilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Sinatra, Walter Mathau, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. His work has also been displayed at some high-profile galleries - Butler Institute of American Art, the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, The Toronto Museum and the National Hungarian Museum.
Curtis received a lifetime achievement award from the Italian Oscars in May of 1996, was knighted in France in March 1995, with the Chevalier De L'Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres for his work in Films and his original art works and has been honoured by the USA Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Whilst not consistently successful, Curtis has created some classic cinema and has devoted over 50 years to the profession of acting. Today he is still seen as an icon and is internationally revered. He is now living in Las Vegas, happily married to his fifth wife - his latest project is starring as the character of Osgood Fielding III in a musical stage version of "Some Like It Hot".
http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Curtis,+Tony (Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia) - headline quote taken from here