Oscar-nominated Tony Curtis dies, age 85

Thu Sep 30, 2010 8:37pm EDT
 
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tony Curtis, whose dark hair and good looks made him a Hollywood star well before he became an accomplished actor in hit movies such as "Some Like It Hot" and "The Sweet Smell of Success," died Wednesday night at his home in Nevada. He was 85.

Curtis, one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and 1960s and one of Hollywood's busiest playboys, died of cardiac arrest at his home in Henderson, Nevada, outside Las Vegas, where a memorial service is planned for Monday.

The handsome leading man starred in more than 140 films including the classic gladiator drama "Spartacus" and he received an Academy Award nomination for 1958's "The Defiant Ones."

Curtis, who was born Bernard Schwartz in New York to poor Hungarian immigrants on June 3, 1925, got off to a rocky professional start. In one of his first major roles, playing an Arabian in "Son of Ali Baba" in 1952, he wrote in a memoir that he was roundly mocked for proclaiming in a thick New York accent, "Yonduh in the valley of the sun is my fadder's castle."

Still, Universal Pictures' star-making machinery and teen fan magazines managed to make him a heartthrob, and movie-goers loved his dark-haired sex appeal and impish grin.

Within a few years, Curtis had improved enough for Saturday Review magazine to call him "a rare phenomenon, an authentic screen personality who, through hard work, has made himself into an actor of considerable subtlety and some breadth."

Two of his most enduring performances came in "Some Like It Hot" as he teamed with Jack Lemmon -- playing cross-dressers opposite Marilyn Monroe -- and "The Sweet Smell of Success," in which he played a fawning press agent.

His Oscar nomination was for "The Defiant Ones," playing a racist prison escapee chained to a black man played by Sidney Poitier. Other notable films included "Houdini," "Trapeze," "Operation Petticoat," "The Boston Strangler," "The Vikings" and "The Great Imposter."   Continued...