Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Some liked it

Last night Harry and I accepted a couple of complimentary tickets to hear Tony Curtis talk about his new autobiography with Joan Bakewell at the Criterion Theatre.

Curtis, who once looked like this

Now looks like this
(and is bald as a boiled egg under the hat.)

Still, what a moving an memorable evening! Joan Bakwell was continuously prompting the quite deaf Curtis to talk about Marilyn, and eventually he did recounting the brief affair they had when both had just arrived in Hollywood after the war. He was 20, she was 18; both were unknowns who had not yet made a movie.

But Harry and I agreed that of far greater resonance were his recollections of his childhood in the Bronx, of extreme poverty and anti-semitism, of speaking Hungarian at home until he learned English at the age of five, of the tragic death of his brother in a street accident when he was nine just after they were released from a month in an orphanage because their parents were too poor to buy food.

What Curtis really wanted to talk about was the Navy, the great institution which he described as his mother and his father, which gave him equality and an escape from poverty and racism. And under the GI Bill sent him to acting school. You felt that he loved the Nany more than all his years in Hollywood.

Though rather deaf and unable now to walk, his wit was as fast as ever. A male member of the audience asked him: 'What was it like to be as handsome as Elvis and as charismatic as Steve McQueen?' Quick as a flash he answered, 'You'd love it.'

Curtis is only really famous for one film, Some Like It Hot, his career had nothing like the highs of Jack Lemmon's - but what a film that was. Like having a starring role in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


Marti said...

One of my all time favorite movies is The Great Race. He is the hero in white.

greying pixie said...

Yes, The Great Race is one of my all time favourites too! The Great Lesley is my idea of a man! And any woman who loves clothes cannot fail to take notes from the Natalie Wood character - a feminist who changes outfit and smokes cigars at least five times a day! Now that's the sort of woman I aspire to be!

Linda, what a very special experience to be in his presence; one I'm sure you will never forget. I've always remembered what Jamie Lee Curtis said about her simple, unassuming childhood and how thankful she is to her parents for it.

Toby Wollin said...

Sorry - I think Curtis is at his very best in Captain Newman, MD as Corp. Liebowitz. Best scene: when the Italian POWs show up and the only person at the base who can talk to them is Liebowitz. When asked how he does it, Curtis says, "In my neighborhood, you had to know xx languages just to do business." Genius. Larry Storch is also in it, as is Gregory Peck, James Darren(who won an Oscar), and Eddie Albert as a truly scary Captain with a personality disorder. As good as SLIH is, Capt. Newman is, I think, much better.

fashionforaliens said...

Have to disagree with you Linda, Curtis' greatest film is The Sweet Smell of Sucess where he plays a craven publicty agent in thrall to Burt Lancaster's columnist. Its an amazing movie far more coruscating about celebrity obession than anything released since.

Anonymous said...

I agree with marti. The Great Race is much fun and Curtis is very good in it.

His best role? He has been one of the great benefactors of the Budapest Jewish community. Without his initial donation the magnificant Great Synagog (Dohany Templom ) would have never been renovated.

Patricia said...

The Great Synagogue is indeed impressive. Even more so, but in a quieter way, is the courtyard at the back, with a metal sculpture of a willow tree, the leaves of which have the names of Hungarian Jewish individuals and families who died in the Holocaust.
Definitely worth a visit.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the `The Sweet Smell of Success,``The Defiant Ones`and
`Spartacus,` all of which are well known among American movie buffs.