Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tony Curtis and The Legend

It was no surprise to me the other day when I came into the office and no one even mentioned that Tony Curtis had passed away. I'm the oldest person in the office by about 10 years, and Mr. Curtis's last movie that might have been seen by a wide audience pre-dated the MTV, reality show crowd. And they're not so young anymore.

In another office I once remarked to the fellow I worked with that Robert Wagner has just passed away. He said, "You mean the fellow who was married to Natalie Wood?" Sigh, "No."

I suppose if there are any Tony Curtis impersonators out there who aren't getting their meals in homes, some would start with lines that have always been attributed to him. From a medieval sword and costume movie in which he is to have said, in as rich a Bronx accent as they come, "Yondah lies da castle of my foddah." In the NYT obituary for Mr. Curtis, Dave Kehr asserts that he never said that line in the 1954 movie 'The Black Shield of Falworth.'

In another obituary, an AP one, the writer claims that he said the lines in a 1951 picture 'The Prince Who Was a Thief.' Perhaps both writers are correct. Sometime between 1951 and 1954 the studio got Mr. Curtis a speech coach who flattened his Jewish Bronx accent. Probably not

Another obituary claims he said the lines in the 1952 movie, 'Son of Ali Baba'. Stephen Miller in the WSJ wisely completely ducks the disputed rendition of English and concentrates on other aspects of Mr. Curtis's life, of which there were more than enough.

In somewhat of a bonus track, Mr. Miller forwarded an out quote from a 1980 interview with Roger Ebert where Mr. Curtis claims to have never said the line that way. He doesn't however clear up what picture he never said it in. Perhaps, as Sinatra recorded a few versions of the same song, the studio hired the same screenwriter and used the same script many times. Tony was certainly in more than one movie that had a castle in it. It's a possibility.

Again something additionally provided by Mr. Miller, Mr. Curtis's reputation for being a ladies man is enhanced by his own version of an event he shares in his "ungentlemanly" autobiography, 'American Prince,' in which he boasts to someone he knows standing on a street corner that he just added Yvonne DeCarlo, to his list of horizontally happy people.

I grew up when Tony Curtis movies were the current releases. I saw several on them. One of my favorites for the memories it brought back was when he played a musician who just comes to New York, in the 1960 movie 'The Rat Race.'

Tony gets to play with some musicians who send him on an errand and then steal and hock his instruments. Tony doesn't have enough money to check into the Dixie Hotel, a fairly nice Times Square hotel that goes for $7 a night.

The Dixie Hotel! Swank at $7 a night! I used to go there with my mother when it was also a bus terminal in 1950s and get on an Adirondack Trailways bus headed for Malone, New York some summers when she went to visit a woman she was a nurse with during the war. Malone, New York, and no Thruway. Twelve hours of hearing gears being shifted as the bus made it's way through upstate New York.

The Dixie lost whatever cachet it had when it became The Carter Hotel and was basically a single room occupancy welfare hotel. It is still there as the Carter, but the bus terminal part is long gone.

And in what became life imitating art, Mr. Curtis suffered an arrest on marijuana possession in England when he was making the 1970s TV series 'The Persuaders' with Sir Roger Moore. Tony's character was somewhat like himself; Bronx born, little formal education who become the forerunner to Ivan Bosky and Gordon Gekko: a tycoon. He and Roger set out on good deeds, I think.

After being arrested Mr. Curtis didn't have enough money for bail, so he wound up being detained a bit in an English jail. It seemed his assets weren't liquid enough to even post freedom from a low-level marijuana charge.

But you had to like his directness. Years ago he told the story during a televised interview that on the set on 'Some Like it Hot' he mentioned something about another female's anatomy within earshot of Marilyn Monroe, who, as Tony tells it, strides over to him, pulls her top forward and offers him to look down and tells Tony, "I bet she doesn't have tits like mine."

Probably not.

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