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Good bye, Tony Curtis

When I was a little girl I swooned over Tony Curtis as The Great Leslie in THE GREAT RACE, the 1965 screwball comedy costarring Natalie Wood and Jack Lemmon as competitors in a turn-of-the-century car race from New York to Paris. Older now, I appreciate Jack Lemmon’s contribution to the film more. Actually, he steals the show with one of the best comedic performances of his career, but to a young girl a pretty face and a soft voice somehow makes more of a lasting impact. Curtis had a chance to show his comic abilities six years earlier in SOME LIKE IT HOT, another screwball he starred in opposite Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Here, Curtis got to play dress-up as both a woman and as a Cary Grant-inspired millionaire bachelor (see clip above).

Even though Curits appeared in SPARTACUS and earned an Oscar for THE DEFIANT ONES, his comedic roles in films like OPERATION PETTICOAT and SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, as well as a fair share of flops earned his career the reputation of being “frivolous and forgettable.” His career, nonetheless, spanned seven decades, and I suppose it’s only reasonable to expect a few duds along the way. As his star began to fade in the 70s, he made some unfortunate films like SOME LIKE IT COOL as well as several made-for-TV-movies; At age 64 he appeared in something called LOBSTER MEN FROM MARS.

But most remember Curtis from his glory days as a handsome leading man with a notorious off-screen life. After he divorced his first wife, Janet Leigh (with whom he fathered Jamie Lee Curtis), he married four more times. He died at home with his wife at his bedside. Five years ago he was asked about how it felt growing older. “Eighty f—ing years old,” he said. “I don’t feel any different now than I did when I was 30. Dying, I just don’t feel like it.” When Curtis was good, he was very very good. Watch him woo Marilyn Monroe in drag if you don’t believe me.