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During their 12 years together, they’d had two children — one of whom was the actress Jamie Lee Curtis — but the relationship fractured, and set Curtis off on a merry-go-round of subsequent, ill-advised marriages. All day long I feel like a regular hero.’ He asked whether I had any medals. ‘You should buy some regular bravery medals,’ he advised me. You can face anything with a good medal pinned on your chest.
He married a German actress 19 years his junior, Christine Kaufmann, with whom he had two daughters, Alexandra and Allegra, but it was over in four years, and in 1968 he married model Leslie Allen — who was 20 years younger and who gave him two sons. It’s psychological.’His hypochondria, which had developed during his early career, had become intense.
It was in that year that he invited me to lunch at the 20th Century Fox studio in Hollywood, where he was making The Boston Strangler. ‘If I had to do a scene in the rain, I’d make ’em warm up the rain,’ he recalled when he came to England in the early Seventies to make The Persuaders, a TV series with Roger Moore.
He was wearing an Iron Cross First Class on his turtleneck sweater, along with several less impressive decorations from various nations.‘See that? He had also become seriously addicted to cocaine (he was also arrested for possession of marijuana when he arrived at Heathrow).
Later life: As his acting career waned, Curtis concentrated on painting and is seen in his studio at home in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2007 and one of his last public appearances earlier this year at the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood In the mid-Eighties, he reportedly married actress Andrea Savio, a union which ended acrimoniously before, in 1993, he wed a lawyer named Lisa Deutsch, who was nearly 40 years his junior and nicknamed Double Deutsch because of her chest size. The last time we met was in London in 2008, when he attended the opening of an exhibition of the surrealist paintings he had taken to creating, and in which he had eventually found fulfilment. I level with people; everybody knows exactly where they stand with me.
Magisterially overweight, and bald as an egg, his looks had finally gone; he was in a wheelchair. ‘When I made Sweet Smell of Success, The Defiant Ones, I should have continued in that milieu. I just went on blithely from one picture to the next, letting other people guide my destiny, instead of taking hold of it myself. I couldn’t have said that a few years ago, but I can now.
But neither the banality of his acting — he once said ‘Acting? Give me the line’ — nor the dreadfulness of the films in which he appeared, mattered.
When he died on Wednesday after suffering what is thought to have been a cardiac arrest at his home in Nevada at the age of 85, Tony Curtis had notched up more than 60 years in showbusiness, six marriages, and more than a hundred movies, and was never Bernie Schwartz again. Navy in World War II, he went on to study at the New York School for Social Research Dramatic Workshop — along with Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger.Guests at his lavish parties were entertained with strolling violinists; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Cary Grant were among his closest friends.He was almost pathologically unfaithful to most of the women in his life, including his first wife, the Psycho actress and MGM star Janet Leigh, whom he met at a cocktail party in 1949.Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx to poor Hungarian immigrants on June 3, 1925, but after taking acting classes moved to Hollywood, where movie-goers loved his dark-haired sex appeal and impish grin In 1957, he was cast as the creepy press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell Of Success.The following year, he was given the role of a racist convict chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Two years later, they were married in New York with Jerry Lewis as best man and went on to make five films together including The Vikings with Kirk Douglas.