Thursday, February 19, 2009

American Prince by Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis. American Prince. New York: Harmony House, 2008.

The author knew from childhood he wanted to be an actor. Curtis acted at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York when an agent recommend Universal do a screen test on him. Universal signed him under his real name Bernie Schwartz to a seven year contract which had to be renewed every six months by Universal, beginning at $75 a week in 1948 at age 22. Fellow actors criticized his New York accent so he learned how to speak in other accents. He also dated a young actress, Marilyn Monroe.

Early in his movie career, he gained notice for his unique hair style.

Lou Costello was a serial prop stealer. Studio employees finally confronted him, even though he was a big star, because they needed the props for future filming.

Shelley winters was an insecure woman who pretended to be pretentious on sets to mask her fears.

Curtis played Houdini in “Houdini”, a film that boosted his career. His acting was so good that once during filming prop personnel rescued him because his acting made them think he was in bodily danger.

Curtis married actress Janet Leigh. Together, they attended two or three studio parties a week and became friends with other actors. He proudly noted despite all the parties he was almost always on time on sets the next day. They were close friends with Jerry Lewis. Curtis notes while Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin worked well as a professional team they never became close as friends. Later on, Curtis would become friends with Dean Martin and the Rat Pack.

While filming “Beachhead” in Hawaii for Universal, his wife miscarried in California. The move required a few more days of shooting. Universal refused to accept the costs of delaying completion of the movie and stated they just drop and never finish the movie if Curtis left. Curtis completed the movie.

Curtis credits his agent Lew Wasserman for his skills in timely finding great roles for Curtis.

While filming “Trapeze”, Curtis saw some dangers of filmmaking. A lion in the movie attacked a custodian and badly injured him.

When filming “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas, Douglas offered to pay $200 to every male actor who grew a beard. All the men, including Curtis, did this. Kirk Douglas thus is the only clean shaved male in the movie.

Curtis filmed “The Defiant One” in 1958 with Sidney Poitier only to learn the movie needed approximately one million dollars to be completed. The movie was a controversial story concerning race relations. Curtis convinced a friend Al hart to invest the money. An irony in the movie is actor Carl Switzer’s character gets into an argument over a hunting dog. Soon after the movie was completed, Switzer was shot to death following a real life argument over a hunting dog.

Curtis filmed “Some Like it Hot” with noted directed Billy Wilder. Marilyn Monroe often failed to show up on time and became enraged at times on the set. Billy Wilder became so stressed directing her that he required a muscle relaxant. Curtis enjoyed filming the love scenes with Monroe. He flippantly answered a question as to what it was like to kiss Monroe by responding with a sarcastic answer to what he thought was a stupid question. He answered “Kissing Marilyn is like kissing Hitler.” Unfortunately, his response has been reprinted often as it it were his real opinion.

Yul Brynner was a pretentious actor, even having an assistant on sets light cigarettes for him.

Curtis divorced Janet Leigh. He later, at age 37, married Christine Kaufman, age 18. They met while filming “Taras Bulba” and after marriage filmed “Wild and Wonderful” together.

Director Blake Edwards knew how to get actors to give their best performances. He did so without even using harsh or belittling words.

Curtis found it difficult to work with Joan Collins. She wouldn’t film a scene until she felt ready. This often kept others waiting.

Curtis filmed “Sextette” in what would be Mae West’s last movie. Mae West repeated her lines after hearing them through transmission from the director to an earpiece she worn. She even repeated when the director accidentally coughed and the words from a police broadcast that broke into her frequency.

Curtis began using cocaine. It was expensive but some actors found ways to charge it to the studios. Curtis noted that cocaine users tended to hang out tougher while their non-drug using friends were forgotten. Cocaine is a very addicted drug. Curtis turned to freebasing that led to many days with blank memories of the previous evenings. Cocaine didn’t ruin his career because cocaine was prevalent in the film industry. Curtis went to the Betty Ford Clinic to overcome his cocaine addiction. The clinic gets patients to realize why they take drugs and then guides patients to overcome the feeling of needing drugs.

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