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- More from Dann Gire
I have interviewed Hollywood superstar Tony Curtis three times. Each time was a joy because I felt as if I were interviewing a kid who only looked like adult.
"Do you know what I love the most?" Curtis asked me back in 2003. "Being a movie star! There's something so nice about it. Every time somebody looks at you, their faces light up and laugh. Everybody smiles when they see me."
Curtis, dashing Hollywood leading man and character actor, died at his Las Vegas home of a cardiac arrest Wednesday night. He was 85.
Last December, I asked the star, born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, how it felt to be turning the big 8-5.
"85! Yes, can you imagine? I can't imagine! Not possible!" Curtis said.
"I have a beautiful wife, a most charming, lovable woman (Jill Curtis). We've been married 15 years. I'm in an environment with this woman that is most pleasant and charming. I'm not getting into too many troubles. With Jilly, I have a wonderful camaraderie between us. I'm so very happy. And that happiness makes me want to go on for as along as I can."
"The Defiant Ones" (1958) gave Curtis his only best actor Oscar nomination. After honing his craft in a series of dismissible movies, Curtis distinguished himself as an actor of great range and abilities in films such as "Spartacus," "The Sweet Smell of Success," "The Vikings," "Taras Bulba," "The Great Race" and "The Boston Strangler."
"I was able to bring to each part in these movies everything they ever needed, and then, I added some," Curtis said. "There was a little bit of Errol Flynn in me. A little bit of Tyrone Power. A little bit of Harpo Marx. A little Bill Holden.
"I had a whole slew of these guys that I could learn from. And that's what I try to bring to my parts in movies. Whether I've been successful or not, I don't know."
Curtis displayed his chameleonic range after being rejected for "The Boston Strangler." His agent showed the casting director photos of Curtis in makeup, and the director was very excited by them, then asked "Who is he?"
I asked Curtis if being devastatingly handsome proved to be a curse or blessing as a young, struggling actor.
"I didn't get into the movies because I was Othello," he said bluntly. "Or because I was Hamlet. I got into the movies because my name was Bernie Schwartz, and I was the handsomest kid on the block. That's what Billy Wilder told me."
Billy Wilder said that?
"Yes. He said, 'I want to hire the handsomest actor in the business. And you're it!' What a compliment that is. I don't want to be known as a great actor. I want to be known as a great handsome guy. That kind of eased my way into the movies. While I was in, I started learning everything I had to do, about how I could make it in the movies."
Tony Curtis never really grew old. He made sure of that.
"I do it all," he said. "I'm an ardent collector of paintings. I'm a writer. I travel a lot. I collect watches. I read a lot. I've written two novels, some poetry. I assemble collages. I get to know people. I am interested in what goes on in the world. I live an interesting and stimulating life. I'm not stuck away on some hill clicking on a TV."