Nationality: American. Born: Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, New York, 3 June 1925; known as James Curtis and Anthony Curtis during early career. Education: Attended Seward Park High School, New York; City College of New York; acting classes at New York's Dramatic Workshop. Military Service: World War II—served with U.S. Navy. Family: Married 1) the actress Janet Leigh, 1951 (divorced 1962), daughters: the actresses Kelly Lee and Jamie Lee Curtis; 2) the actress Christine Kaufmann, 1963 (divorced 1967),
Criss Cross (Siodmak) (as gigolo)
City across the River (Shane) (as Mitch); The Lady Gambles (Gordon) (as bellboy); Johnny Stool Pigeon (Castle) (as Joey Hyatt); Francis (Lubin) (as Capt. Jones)
Sierra (Green) (as Brent Coulter); I Was a Shoplifter (Lamont) (as Pepe); Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann) (as Doan); Kansas Raiders (Enright) (as Kit Dalton)
The Prince Who Was a Thief (Maté) (as Julna); Flesh and Fury (Pevney) (as Paul Callan)
No Room for the Groom (Sirk) (as Alvah Morrell); Son of Ali Baba (Newmann) (as Kashma Baba)
Houdini (George Marshall) (title role); The All-American ( The Winning Way ) (Hibbs) (as Nick Bonelli); Forbidden (Maté) (as Eddie Darrow)
Beachhead (Heisler) (as Burke); Johnny Dark (Sherman) (title role); The Black Shield of Falworth (Maté) (as Myles Falworth); So This Is Paris (Quine) (as Joe Maxwell)
Six Bridges to Cross (Pevney) (as Jerry Florea); The Purple Mask (Humberstone) (as René); The Square Jungle (Jerry Hopper) (as Eddie Quaid)
The Rawhide Years (Maté) (as Ben Matthews); Trapeze (Reed) (as Tino Orsini)
Mister Cory (Edwards) (title role); The Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick) (as Sidney Falco); The Midnight Story ( Appointment with a Shadow ) (Pevney) (as Joe Martini)
The Vikings (Fleischer) (as Eric); Kings Go Forth (Daves) (as Britt Harris); The Defiant Ones (Kramer) (as John Jackson); The Perfect Furlough ( Strictly for Pleasure ) (Edwards) (as Cpl. Paul Hodges)
Some Like It Hot (Wilder) (as Joe/Josephine); Operation Petticoat (Edwards) (as Lt. Nick Holden); Who Was That Lady? (Sidney) (as David Wilson)
The Rat Race (Mulligan) (as Pete Hammond Jr.); Spartacus (Kubrick) (as Antoninus); The Great Impostor (Mulligan) (as Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.); Pepe (Sidney) (as guest)
The Outsider (Delbert Mann) (as Ira Hamilton Hayes)
Forty Pounds of Trouble (Jewison) (as Steve McCluskey); Taras Bulba (Thompson) (as Andrei Bulba)
The List of Adrian Messenger (Huston) (as Italian); Captain Newman, M.D. (Miller) (as Cpl. Jackson Laibowitz); Paris When It Sizzles (Quine) (as second policeman)
Wild and Wonderful (Anderson) (as Terry Williams); Goodbye Charlie (Minnelli) (as George Tracy); Sex and the Single Girl (Quine) (as Bob Weston)
The Great Race (Edwards) (as The Great Leslie); Boeing-Boeing (Rich) (as Bernard Lawrence)
Not with My Wife, You Don't (Panama) (as Tom Ferris); Chamber of Horrors (Averback) (as Mr. Julian); Arrivederci, Baby ( Drop Dead, Darling ) (Hughes) (as Nick)
La cintura di castita ( A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crusades ; The Chastity Belt ) (Campanile) (as Guerrando da Montone); Don't Make Waves (Mackendrick) (as Carlo Cofield)
Rosemary's Baby (Polanski) (as voice of Donald Baumgart); The Boston Strangler (Fleischer) (as Albert de Salvo)
Quei temerari sulle loro pazze, scatenate, scalcinate carriole ( Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies ; Monte Carlo or Bust! ) (Annakin) (as Chester Schofield)
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (Averback) (as Shannon Gambroni); You Can't Win 'em All (Collinson) (as Adam Dyer)
The Third Girl from the Left (Medak—for TV)
Lepke (Golan) (title role)
The Count of Monte Cristo (Greene—for TV) (as Mondego); The Big Rip-Off (Hardgrove—for TV)
The Last Tycoon (Kazan) (as Rodriguez)
Casanova & Co. ( The Rise and Rise of Casanova ; Some Like It Cool ) (Legrand, i.e., Franz Antel) (title role); The Manitou (Girdler) (as Harry Erskine)
Sextette (Hughes) (as Alexei); The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (Berry) (as Marvin); The Users (Hardy—for TV); Vegas (Richard Lang—for TV) (as Phillip Roth)
It Rained All Night the Day I Left (Gessner) (as Robert Talbot); Title Shot (Rose) (as Frank Renzetti)
Little Miss Marker (Bernstein) (as Blackie); The Mirror Crack'd (Hamilton) (as Marty N. Fenn); Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War (Erman—for TV)
The Million Dollar Face (O'Herlihy—for TV); Inmates: A Love Story (Green—for TV)
Brainwaves (Lommel) (as Dr. Clavius); Portrait of a Showgirl (Stern—for TV); Othello—The Black Commando (Boulois) (as Iago); Balboa (Polakof) (as Ernie Stoddard)
Where Is Parsifal? (Helman) (as Parsifal Katzenellenbogen)
Insignificance (Roeg) (as the Senator)
The Last of Philip Banter (Hachuel) (as Charles Foster); Mafia Princess (Collins—for TV) (as Salvatore "Sam" Giancana); Balbao (Polakof) (as Ernie Stoddard)
Club Life (Vane) (as Hector)
Pascsagier—Welcome to Germany (Brasch) (as Cornfield)
Lobster Man from Mars (Sheff) (as J. P. Shelldrake); Midnight (Vane); Walter & Carlo i Amerika (Friis-Mikkelsen) (as Wally La Rouge)
Tarzan in Manhattan (Schultz—for TV) (as Archimedes Porter); Bloodlaw (Heavener); Thanksgiving Day (Tanasescu—for TV) (as Max Schloss)
Prime Target (Heavener) (as Marrietta Copella)
Center of the Web (Prior) (as Stephen Moore); Christmas in Connecticut (Schwarzenegger—for TV) (as Alex Yardley)
The Mummy Lives (Gerry O'Hara) (as Aziru/Dr. Mohassid); Bandit: Beauty and The Bandit (Needham—for TV) (as Lucky Bergstrom); A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor (Tash—for TV) (as Johnny Steele); Naked in New York (Algrant) (as Carl Fisher)
The Immortals (for TV); The Celluoid Closet (Epstein and Friedman—doc) (as interviewee); Roger Moore: A Matter of Class (for TV) (as himself)
Elvis Meets Nixon (Arkush) (uncredited—as himself); Hardball (Erschbamer) (as Wald); Brittle Glory ( The Continued Adventures of Reptile Man ) (Schill) (as Jack Steele); Alien X Factor (Sondberg) (as Dr. Lancaster)
Louis & Frank (Rockwell); Stargames (Gordon Clark)
Play It to the Bone ( Play It ) (Shelton) (as Ringside Fan)
Those Old Broads
Kid Andrew Cody and Julie Sparrow (novel), 1977.
Tony Curtis: The Autobiography , with Barry Paris, New York, 1993.
Interview with Brian Baxter, in Films and Filming (London), August 1985.
Interview with G. Fuller, in Interview , June 1991.
Interview with Maria Lexton, in Time Out (London), 16 November 1994.
Interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), 22 April 1995.
Richards, Jeffrey, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York , London, 1977.
Farber, Stephen, and Marc Green, Hollywood Dynasties , New York, 1984.
Leigh, Janet, There Really Was a Hollywood , 1984.
Munn, Michael, The Kid from the Bronx: A Biography of Tony Curtis , London, 1984.
Hunter, Allan, Tony Curtis: The Man and His Movies , Edinburgh, 1985.
Cassa, A., "Tony Curtis," letter, in Films in Review (New York), January 1973.
Letter from K. Canham in Films in Review (New York), May 1974.
Ecran (Paris), September 1978.
Root, Steve, "Tony Curtis," Los Angeles Magazine , March 1989.
* * *
Ironically, Tony Curtis is today best known as the father of actress Jamie Lee Curtis. But in a career that spans more than five dozen films and a panorama of genres, he has proved to be an engaging light comedian—particularly when guided by Blake Edwards or Billy Wilder; he has also startled critics with a smattering of sharp-edged dramatic portrayals. Sadly, his acting reputation has long been eclipsed by that of his personal life, most notably his marriages (which proved fodder for fan magazines during their heyday). Even his physical qualities, his "pretty-boy" looks, which initially propelled him to stardom during the glamour-obsessed late 1950s and early 1960s, have worked against him.
Certainly, he was badly miscast early in his career: with his Bronx accent, the former Bernard Schwartz stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb in a string of Westerns, swashbucklers, and Arabian Nightsinduced flights of fancy, wherein he uttered such immortal lines as "Yonda is the castle uv my fodda."
The critical sniggering that dogged those early performances came to a halt in 1957 with Curtis's stunning portrayal of oily press agent Sidney Falco in the gritty film noir The Sweet Smell of Success . Incomprehensibly, Curtis was not nominated for an Oscar in that performance. A year later, however, he was Best Actor nominee for The Defiant Ones , a chase film about racial prejudice directed by Stanley Kramer. Armed with critical acclaim, Curtis gave confident performances (sans Bronx accent) in the memorable period spectacles, The Vikings and Spartacus .
It was the back-to-back release in 1959 of two frantic comedies— Some Like It Hot , directed by Wilder, and Operation Petticoat , one of his many collaborations with Edwards (they also teamed up for such films as Mister Cory and The Great Race )—that displayed his impeccable comic timing. At his most convincing when cast opposite strong (or, at the very least, ingratiating) performers, Curtis proved a deft foil for Jack Lemmon and a charming romantic lead opposite Marilyn Monroe in the Wilder comedy. In Operation Petticoat he more than held his own with Cary Grant (whose distinctive voice he successfully parodied in Some Like It Hot ).
Curtis went on to breezy work in so-called sophisticated comedies such as Sex and the Single Girl , then reinforced his dramatic reputation with his chilling portrayal of Albert de Salvo in The Boston Strangler (1968). Curtis campaigned long and hard to win the role, knowing it was a long shot; he gained almost 30 pounds and had his face rebuilt with a false nose to look like de Salvo. His perseverance earned him the role and good reviews, but not the Oscar nomination he sought and expected. The academy did not like serial killers, regardless of how persuasively they were played on the screen; it had previously ignored Anthony Perkins's now-classic performance in Psycho . Not until Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal the Cannibal in Silence of the Lambs in 1991 would such an honor be bestowed—not only was Hopkins nominated, he won.
The Boston Strangler proved to be Curtis's last major film role. He has since appeared mostly in low-budget and foreign films and in various television productions, often playing aging Sicilian godfathers and other Mafioso types.
—Pat H. Broeske, updated by John McCarty