Following World War II the major Hollywood studios were enthusiastically stockpiling young talent — eg., Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Janet Leigh, Natalie Wood, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Robert Wagner.
Another name to be added to that list is the subject of today’s Monday Quiz, Tony Curtis.
For some reason, Curtis is regarded today as something of a lesser light relative to the rest of this group despite his nearly 60-year career covering nearly 130 movie and tv credits. Born in the Bronx (nee Bernard Schwartz) of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, he had a horrendous childhood — spending time in an orphanage — before service in the Navy during World War II.
A streetwise good looker, who learned at an early age to take care of himself, Curtis found himself in Hollywood in 1948 signing a seven-year-contract with Universal Pictures.
He didn’t have much education and was wildly insecure. But he had a cocksure self awareness, an athletic presence and a yen for self-promotion. Curtis began his career as a teen heart throb but as he grew older, the roles grew better.
Who can forget his indelible performance as striving Broadway press agent Sidney Falco in 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success starring Burt Lancaster?
Offscreen, Curtis worked his way through six marriages (including his famous 11-year union with Janet Leigh), a cocaine addiction, multiple affairs and a number of other indiscretions. He also took up painting among several side talents, and was a pretty good raconteur-writer.
Today’s quiz is based largely on his American Prince: A Memoir, published two years before his death in 2010 at age 85. Curtis is unusually outspoken about his many loves as well as about the movies and the friends (and enemies) he made.
Let’s see how much you know about Tony Curtis (answers tomorrow):
1) Question: Elvis Presley as a teenager copied Curtis’ onscreen manner in which respect? a) The actor’s snarl; b) His dancing skills; c) His haircut; or d) His Bronx accent.
2) Question: Curtis’s most famous spoken line — “Yonder lies de castle of my fodda.” –comes from which one of his movies? a) The Prince Who Was A Thief; b) Son of Ali Baba; c) No Room For The Groom; or d) none of the above.
3) Question: Curtis famously made an early impression dancing the rhumba in just one brief scene in the excellent 1949 film noir, Criss Cross. Who was his dancing partner? a) Virginia Mayo; b) Veronica Lake; c) Lizabeth Scott; or d) Yvonne DeCarlo.
4) Question: When he first met first wife Janet Leigh, Curtis was really rattled by the presence of one of her suitors then who really frightened him. Who was this intimidating character? a) Johnny Sompanato; b) Greg Bautzer; c) Howard Hughes or d) Orson Welles.
5) Question: During his early Hollywood days Curtis roomed for a while with Marlon Brando. How did he describe the experience? a) A living hell; b) A “marriage” of convenience; c) “Loved” living in the same house with him; or d) None of the above.
6) Question: Although their divorce was acrimonious, Curtis regarded Janet Leigh as without sexual equal among his subsequent wives and lovers. a) True; or b) False?
7) Question: Curtis reports that Lou Costello of the hugely popular Abbott and Costello comedy duo had an unusual habit on the set. What was it? a) Never brushing his teeth before shooting a scene; b) Always showing up with garlic on his breathe; c) Pinching actresses’ bottoms non-stop; or d) Appropriating set furniture for his personal use.
8) Question: One experienced Hollywood hand was notorious for belittling Curtis on a personal basis in public and regularly. Can you identify this oafish actor? a) Laurence Olivier; b) James Stewart; c) Frank Sinatra or d) Danny Kaye.
9) Question: Which one of the following actresses did Curtis regard as “a pain in the ass?” a) Debbie Reynolds; b) Shelley Winters; c) Joan Crawford; or d) Mamie Van Doren.
10) Question: Curtis fondly recalls having a passionate affair with a foreign actress who also dated Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra. Who is she? a) Brigitte Bardot; b) Anita Ekberg; c) Sophia Loren; or d) Bella Darvi.