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Tony Curtis Dead at 85: Girls Swooned at His Good Looks and Critics Made Fun of His Bronx Accent; But He Had the Last Laugh as He Portrayed Terrific Characters in Films Such as ‘Some Like It Hot’ and ‘Sweet Smell of Success’

Sep 30, 2010  •  Post A Comment

"Tony Curtis, the Bronx tailor’s son who became a 1950s movie heartthrob and then a respected actor with such films as ‘Sweet Smell of Success,’ ‘The Defiant Ones’ and ‘Some Like It Hot,’ has died," reports the Associated Press and CBS News. He was 85 and died Wednesday night, Sept. 29, 2010, of cardiac arrest at his Las Vegas home, the report says.

One of Curtis’ last public appearances was when he introduced his film "Sweet Smell of Success" earlier this year as part of the TCM’s Film Festival at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. 

In the film, Curtis played a smarmy Broadway publicist named Sidney Falco. With dialogue by Cliford Odets and Ernest Lehman that is sharp and sarcastic, many critics say it’s Curtis’ best role. 

While Curtis’ career was mostly on the big screen, he was nominated for an Emmy in 1980 for playing producer David O. Selznick in the TV movie  "The Scarlett O’Hara War."

According to the AP report, "His first wife was actress Janet Leigh of "Psycho" fame; actress Jamie Leigh Curtis is their daughter."

In one now forgotten incident, TVWeek has seen a kinescope of a wonderful piece of TV history from the old TV show "Person to Person" from the 1950s. In this popular show, CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, would, on live TV, interview guests in their homes from Murrow’s New York studio. Just as Murrow was about to interview Curtis and his wife Janet Leigh in their Beverly Hills house, Murrow’s feed to the house from New York went out. So for the first half of the interview a clearly uncomfortable Curtis does his best interviewing both himself and his wife until Murrow’s feed kicked back in.

The AP report says that "In 1958, ‘The Defiant Ones’ brought [Curtis] an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his portrayal of a white racist escaped convict handcuffed to a black escapee, Sidney Poitier. The following year, he donned women’s clothing and sparred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder’s ‘Some Like It Hot.’ "

In the parts of the movie where Curtis is trying to seduce Monroe, he did a spot on imitation of film star Cary Grant that both audiences and critics loved.

Says the AP report: "In later years, he returned to film and television as a character actor after battling drug and alcohol abuse. His brash optimism returned, and he allowed his once-shiny black hair to turn silver. He also became a painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000.

According to the report, "Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, had yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent."

" ‘I’m not ready to settle down like an elderly Jewish gentleman, sitting on a bench and leaning on a cane,’ he said at 60, the AP reports. ‘I’ve got a helluva lot of living to do.’ " 

Here’s the trailer for "Sweet Smell of Success""

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