The Year in Review: Tony Curtis

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The Independent Online

With his dark, curly hair and handsome looks, Tony Curtis began his film career playing small roles as gangsters or juvenile delinquents before his popularity with teenagers won him stardom in swashbuckling fantasies such as The Prince Who Was a Thief and The Black Shield of Falworth. Elvis Presley is said to have modelled his hairstyle on Curtis, whose marriage to the equally attractive Janet Leigh made the pair a popular subject of fan magazines throughout the Fifties.

Although critics mocked his earlier performances (he became famous for uttering in his Brooklyn accent, "Yonder lies the castle of my faddah") he was later to gain respect and admiration for his fine performances in such films as Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like It Hot and Spartacus, and he won an Oscar nomination for his powerful portrayal of a racist who finds himself chained to a black man in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones.

After the Second World War he studied at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York. Walter Matthau, Elaine Stritch and Harry Belafonte were among his classmates, and Matthau later recalled that he and Curtis had appeared together in Twelfth Night.

"Tony came over to me during rehearsals and asked me what the phrase, 'took the Phoenix and her fraught' meant. I said, 'I haven't the faintest idea, and you shouldn't worry about it either, because you're going to be a movie star.' Talk about pretty."

Curtis was only in The Defiant Ones because Marlon Brando was unavailable. His co-star Sidney Poitier credits Curtis with insisting Poitier receive co-star billing above the title, "the first time in my career – and in those days, getting co-star billing above the title was difficult."

In Some Like It Hot Curtis's "female" voice was dubbed by Paul Frees,but for his masquerade as a millionaire who meets Marilyn Monroeon the beach he adopted the accent of Cary Grant.

The director, Billy Wilder, said, "Tony's enormous contribution came when I said, 'When you have stolen the yachtsman's clothes you have to speak differently – not the English of a Brooklyn musician. What can you do?' He said, 'I can do Cary Grant.' I said, 'Do it.' And he did. And it was a huge, wonderful plus for the picture. I discussed it with Cary Grant later and he was roaring with laughter. He said he loved it."


Born 3 June 1925; died 29 September 2010.