Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, but many, like legendary director Stanley Kubrick, considered him the embodiment of royalty. He portrayed Antoninus in Kubrick's Roman epic Spartacus. He hobnobbed in the highest social circles. He married beautiful women (five to be exact, including Janet Leigh and his most recent companion Jill Curtis, formerly VandenBerg). Tony is the father of Jamie Lee Curtis (whose mom is Janet Leigh) and four other children. On September 29, 2010, Tony Curtis died of cardiac arrest at his Las Vegas home.
Tony Curtis ruled from a facade throne in la-la land, then dazzled for decades in Sin City and ended up presiding over the very real and noble task of helping stallions pass to greener pastures at the Shiloh Horse Sanctuary (a nonprofit organization that he co-founded with wife, Jill Curtis). I ran into him in Rome on June 29, 2009, where he sang the praises of a life well lived - even if he was, at that time, viewing it from a "broken down chariot" - his wheelchair. "Ciao Bella!" Tony across the hotel lobby, waving and winking up at me. The mirth of his smile and the lilt of his greeting was still the wild child superstar, albeit in an old man's body.
My interview with Tony Curtis was impromptu and short. Without the opportunity to research his 140 films, I could only name two off the top of my head (Spartacus and Some Like It Hot). However, Tony didn't care. "Don't worry, honey," Tony assured me. "This is the interview you really want. Everyone already knows my films any way. This will be something more."
As Jill Curtis reminds us, ""All Tony ever wanted to be was a movie star. He didn't want to be the most dramatic actor." However, in 1959, Tony Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of John 'Joker' Jackson in The Defiant Ones. He may have passed himself off as just a movie star, but his legacy in film, art and even poetry was a bright light in the sky for the 85 years he was alive.
Natalie: What's your favorite movie that you've starred in?
Tony Curtis: I really can't say. The movies were built around the culture and what was happening in the world at the time. Each is important in its own way.
Do you think movies are key to helping humanity understand their world and perhaps even transform the times?
They are simply important to the individual who sees them. I did love stories. Gangster stories. Guy meets girl. Guy gets the girl.
How do the Italians feel about your films? Are you popular here in Italy?
I was very popular in Rome for what I represent to the Roman audience, which is freedom. The Romans loved the impudence, the joy, the pleasure and the pain of life. Romans won't be chastised for these things.
What would you tell Americans about the magic of Rome, of what it feels like to stand in 2,000-year-old ruins?
I feel that I represent part of them. The ruins that I see, feel and sense here, now, in this moment of my time on Earth. The statues are broken down and seeking renovation. We all are. We are a product of the time we live in. I, like these ruins, have the strength and joy of being simply who I am.
With no regrets? No apologies or unfulfilled dreams?
If I failed in projecting anything, that is my fame. My fame is what I've contributed with my failures and my successes. I am like granite, broken, abused and refreshed by what has happened. My broken heart. My chariot that doesn't work. I am all of these things.
You can learn more about the legacy of this famous film star at his website, TonyCurtis.com. Tony's autographed memoir American Prince is available.
Tony Curtis has a nonprofit organization devoted to the rescue and care of abandoned horses that are destined for the slaughter house (and Verona, Italy, no doubt), called Shiloh Horse Sanctuary, which he established and operated with his wife, Jill Curtis.