Tony Curtis Biography

PHOTO: Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis, real name Bernard Schwartz, was born one of three sons of a tailor in the Bronx, of Jewish-Hungarian stock.

A truck killed his brother, Julius, in 1938, by which time the young Curtis had already joined a street gang. Curtis served in the US Navy from 1943 and, after the Second World War, he joined the Dramatic Workshop in the City College of New York. In 1948, with the prospect of a job offer from Universal, he moved to California.

His screen debut was in 'Criss Cross' in 1948, for which he was initially billed as James Curtis, before changing to Anthony. He moved his family to California the next year, and in 1951 he married top actress Janet Leigh. Their daughters Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis followed their parents into the acting profession.

Curtis married a total of seven times, to Christine Kaufmann (1963–1967), Leslie Allen (1968–1982), Andrea Savio (1984–1992) and Lisa Deutsch (1993–1994). His last wife, Jill Vandenberg Curtis (1998—), was 42 years his junior. Tragically, his son, Nicholas (with Leslie Allen), died of a heroin overdose in 1994, at the age of 23.

Curtis demonstrated his range in a variety of roles, making it big with 'The Sweet Smell of Success', in 1957, and the Sidney Poitier film, 'The Defiant Ones', in 1958, for which he won an Academy Award nomination.

His enduring fame rests upon his starring role in Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, 'Some Like It Hot', where he showed off his comedic skills alongside Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon. He also shone throughout the next decade in films such as 'The Vikings' (1958), 'Spartacus' (1960) and 'The Boston Strangler' (1968). Curtis was also famous for his friendship with Hollywood’s ‘Rat Pack’: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior, and he appeared in several Rat Pack films, such as 'Pepe', in 1960.

In the early 1970s, Curtis appeared on British TV in 'The Persuaders' with Roger Moore, and wrote his first novel, 'Kid

Andrew Cody & Julie Sparrow', in 1977.

He underwent a cardiac bypass operation in 1994 and after this continued to work and write. He was also active in promoting Jewish-Hungarian culture and founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture in 1998.

Tony Curtis died at home in bed of a cardiac arrest on 29 September 2010.

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