Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tony Curtis (1953-1957)

Good afternoon! I was swamped with tracking down missing books (where do all these books go?) in the reference department today, so it's taken me all this time to grab a spare moment to introduce, or reintroduce, you to a handsome leading man of the mid-century. But well worth the wait for the black-haired, blue-eyed, confident good looks of Mr. Tony Curtis! Here he is in a 1954 ad for Van Heusen shirts, looking every bit the movie star in Mamie pink and grey.

My most recent memory of Tony Curtis comes from reading his second autobiography-- there's Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1993), followed, fifteen years later, by 2008's American Prince: A Memoir. As half of one of the most glamorous couples to come out of fifties' Hollywood, I was of course attracted immediately to see what the star of Sweet Smell of Success and Spartacus (ah, alliteration!) had to say about not only his work with some of the most famous actresses and actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but about his wife, my top-five-girl-crush-of-all-time, Janet Leigh. She wrote her own memoir There Really Was a Hollywood (1984), which was well-written, kind, and interesting, so I thought the three books together would give me a pretty good idea of what it was like to be in the center of the media tornado that would have encircled their superstar marriage and subsequent married life.

Both Curtis books do a bang up job of providing information on his poignant background as a Jewish kid born Bernie Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925 to Hungarian immigrants, and some interesting insights into his working relationships with Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, and Jack Lemmon. With regard to Janet Leigh, the first book was cordial...the second was weirdly frank and retroactively uncomplimentary towards his first wife, all the while touting affairs with various Hollywood leading ladies', from Yvonne de Carlo in his first movie role in Criss Cross, to Marilyn Monroe during the making of Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot. Less openly obnoxious than the male posturing that went on in Songs My Mother Taught Me (to this day I don't forgive him for spending a two pages on a Hollywood romp with a prostitute, and LESS THAN ONE SENTENCE on the making of one of my favorite of his fifties' movies, Desirée), but still a mixed bag from a very complicated person. His promoting the book in this hat also didn't help his case for me.

However! Flipping through Google Books entries on his early and classic days of stardom made me forget his mean-spirited memoir meanderings and re-appreciate the DROP DEAD GORGEOUSNESS of his middle to late twenties'. I also think it's hilarious he did so many commercial-tie-ins in his early stardom days. Take a look!

This 1955 clipping from Life was in an article exploring the new craze for ruffled shirts (meaning Danny Zuko's pink ruffled number in Grease is not necessarily a 70's-only-phenomenon in an otherwise 50's movie!). The first, full page picture of the article shows a banker in a white ruffled, polka dotted shirt with matching string tie and velvet jacket...the ensemble really does look straight out of the a riverboat gambler's wardrobe circa 1855. Curtis fairs a little better in this shot, as he's handsome, and I love that this shirt is also pink. Dude wore a lot of pink in the early fifties'! He was a trailblazer.

I was surprised to find this 1954 clipping from Billboard talk about a possible jazz record Curtis had been in talks to record. He was "the singer of songs" in Spartacus, and also did one musical in 1955 (check out this great montage of the On the Town-esque servicemen movie...his stage presence/likeability is really suited for musical comedy, but his voice isn't really anything to write home about), but the record with the Page Cavanaugh trio never came to fruition. Too bad, right? It might have been something! It couldn't have possibly been worse than any singing recordings the esteemed Clint Eastwood has made in his career. And I still love him.

Here's the really kookala part of my diggings though... this is from 1953, when he was still trying to establish himself around the Universal lot:

It's like, "TONY CURTIS! JACKET MODEL!" The jacket isn't too bad, but the expression...well, you make your own conclusions.  

These clips are from Jet magazine in 1955 and 1952, respectively. How cool is it to see Curtis hanging out with Joe Louis and Scatman Crothers (a fabulous old character actor, and Mr. Halloran from The Shining)?!

Here, a bit of cheesecake from a Camels ad in 1953. I love how it's like "People thought I smoked Camels, so then I started to! They are so cool!" Also LOOK. HOW BRIEF. THOSE SWIMMING TRUNKS ARE. Early publicity on future stars knows no decency.

I mercilessly cropped Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner out of this Life magazine item from 1954, but I only miss Rock Hudson (also, you can see the full photo here). What a cute idea to have them hanging off the ladder! Also, while I don't know how tall his circus strong man grandfather really was, there is no living WAY that Tony Curtis is taller than 5'9''. Just sayin.

What do you think? Any fifties' Hollywood hunk or starlet crushes that you're willing to divulge? Isn't Tony Curtis a cutie? Do you remember any movies that stand out in your mind as giving you a positive or negative impression of him? Are there any movie memoirs penned by the subjects themselves that made you either like the personality more or less as a result of having read it? Do tell!

See you guys tomorrow!


  1. I want the grey pants in the first picture and the Sport Chief jacket in the third. I also want to be friends with Scatman Crothers!!!

  2. Ah heck, I want BOTH Sport Chief Jackets!

    1. Haha, now that I think of it, they are SO YOU! :)

  3. Somebody needs to bring back the "riverboat gambler" look. It's totally awesome. I have to say, I try not to read Hollywood biographies and autobiographies because I'm afraid it will make me think less of people and then taint my movie-watching experience! I guess I have a low capacity for suspension of disbelief....

    1. Re: "the gambler": At first, I was like..."Eh, this is a little kooky," then I decided I totally loved it. I have a pink ruffled tuxedo shirt, with black edges to the ruffles, that Bab wears on occasion with a cutaway, fifties', black Navy dress coat...he looks way more elegant than kitsch in it, surprisingly enough!

      I read all the movie books I can get my hands on, and in some cases it does make you like them more (Errol Flynn and his decidedly wicked, wicked ways are mostly just charming and fun, plus you realize he has a great intellect behind that handsome and hard boozing exterior), and in some cases less (Marlon Brando, as said, is just a P-I-L-L pill. And such a shame!).



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