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Closing Credits: Tony Curtis

TonyCurtis.jpgThe iconic actor Tony Curtis has died at his home aged 85, an actor who was part of the old, classic Hollywood and marked so many great films. He'll always be remembered for a number of great performances namely Some Like it Hot and The Defiant Ones in a career of some one hundred and thirty films, one of which was currently filming.

I think that everyone will remember his great performance in Some Like it Hot, his wonderful parody of Cary Grant, but above all his excellent comedy timing.

Tony Curtis was born on the 3rd June 1925, Bernard Schwartz, the son of Hungarian immigrants, started life on the streets struggling for a living, indeed he didn't even speak English until he was four. However he still found Hollywood, or rather Hollywood found him, and his life's career was born.

In 1950 he starred in Winchester '73 amongst a host of other big name actors, and his career began to pick up some pace from the smaller roles he'd been starring in through his previous nine films. His first leading role was in The Prince Who Was a Thief in 1951 and that continued with each film and saw him starring in the 1953 Houdini as Harry Houdini himself, beside his wife Janet Leigh.

What's amazing is that every film from then on saw him star as the leading man, although the films weren't huge successes and some of them were definitely B films, that's quite an achievement. In 1956 Carol Reed's Trapeze saw him step down and take a supporting role next to Burt Lancaster, a role that gathered him a lot of recognition and praise.

In 1957, after leading in a Blake Edwards film he joins Sweet Smell of Success playing a somewhat sleazy character, again supporting the great Burt Lancaster, but this time his performance gathered him even more notice and his next role, leading again, in Appointment with a Shadow brought a darker side to his acting.

A quick turn on television probably planted the seed for some future television work, but his next film was the following year in The Vikings starring alongside Kirk Douglas, and now his career was taking a huge upward turn. Although the film gets negative commentary these days, it's still a huge film.

He then starred next to Frank Sinatra and Natalie Wood in Kings Go Forth before the 1958 film The Defiant Ones, where he led with Sidney Poitier supporting. However Curtis insisted that Poitier receive equal billing rather than appear as a supporting actor. Stanley Kramer's film added to his burgeoning career and marked a huge moment for him as a leading actor.

Another leading role came in a Blake Edwards film, Strictly for Pleasure and still in 1958, before he hit his iconic role in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot. Starring alongside Jack Lemmon he turned in a stunning performance even getting a chance to play his hero, Cary Grant. He proved he was a leading man who could deliver a fantastic comedic performance, possibly assisted by starring in two Blake Edwards films, but here it was one of his finest moments and undoubtedly his most memorable. He and Jack Lemmon were superb.

Then something amazing happened. He then starred alongside Cary Grant in Operation Petticoat in another Blake Edwards film, and that's something I didn't realise, that it was a Edwards directed film. However just ten years after his first role, a career that had seen him play leading role after leading role, and supporting some huge Hollywood names, he starred with his acting hero.

He continued with comedy and in 1960 starred next to Dean Martin and his wife Janet Leigh, by now a regular in his career, in Who Was That Lady? and then The Rat Race leading with Debbie Reynolds.

The epic 1960 film Spartacus was next with a supporting role alongside a raft of stars and led by Kirk Douglas.

Another two leading roles followed with the 1961 films The Great Impostor and The Outsider, before leading with Yul Brynner in the 1962 film Taras Bulba, a sixteenth century Ukrainian version of Romeo and Juliet, not your average Hollywood role at all.

The roles continued to fall in, leading and supporting, in all types of films. Some memorable roles during this run were the 1964 Sex and the Single Girl beside Natalie Wood, another Blake Edward's film The Great Race from 1965 which I remember seeing time and time again, and an uncredited role in what I think was his first horror film, Chamber of Horrors in 1966.

Follow that with more comedic leading roles and then a voice role in Rosemary's Baby which led to the 1968 film The Boston Strangler, his darkest role of all, and yet it was one of his most famous performances and perhaps, next to Some Like It Hot, the performance his career should be remembered for.

Strangely Monte Carlo or Bust! followed that film in 1969, with more comedies to come, including another Turkish story in You Can't Win 'Em All. It took three comedies and a dismissive Oscar that he wasn't even nominated for in the Richard Fleischer directed The Boston Strangler before he turned to the British television series The Persuaders with Roger Moore.

He received one Oscar nomination in his life for The Defiant Ones, not even Some Like It Hot, although the BAFTA's nominated him for Sweet Smell of Success and The Defiant Ones, both of which earned him Golden Globe nominations as well.

Twenty four episodes and two years (1971 to 1972) away from Hollywood before he returned. His return was a dramatic one, at least in film genre, with the 1975 Lepke, The Big Rip-Off and The Last Tycoon in 1976 before The Rise and Rise of Casanova brought him back to comedy in 1977.

The Manitou in 1978 saw his first horror film, although his career was not where it used to be, and it became a string of smaller films, television movies and a real mixed bag of films and performances.

There were many other things in his life, and after defeating drink and drugs which plagued him through his Hollywood return, he found another string to his bow, art. Through his life he was married six times, including to actress Janet Leigh and through that marriage was born Jamie Lee Curtis, a woman who carried the talent and the looks of her parents.

I think there are a number of things that will define Tony Curtis' career, but to film audiences around the world, and I'm sure for a long time to come, Some Like It Hot will remain the iconic Tony Curtis film. For me that's a tiny bit of a shame, for it does slightly overshadow the excellent The Boston Strangler, his breakthrough performance in Sweet Smell of Success, and the lesser talked about The Defiant Ones.

I'm sure I speak for most Filmstalker readers when I say our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Actor, artist and true Hollywood star
Tony Curtis



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