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Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz, June 3, 1925) is an American film actor. Famous for his thick black wavy hair, good looks, flashing long eyelashes and trademark New York accent, he was most popular during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He is best known for his light comic roles, especially his musician on the run from gangsters in Some Like It Hot (1959). He has also essayed a number of more serious dramatic roles over the years, such as his escaped convict in The Defiant Ones (1958), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He has appeared in over 100 films since 1949, and has also made frequent television appearances.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, the son of Jewish Hungarian (from the city of Mátészalka, Szatmár) immigrants Emanuel and Helen Schwartz, in the Bronx, New York. His father was a tailor who had left his home country to find a new life in the United States. In the early days the family lived in the back of his tailor's shop, parents in one corner and Tony and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. Curtis has said of his mother in interview ' When I was a child she beat me up and was very aggressive, antagonistic.' His mother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness which also affected his brother Robert and led to his institutionalization. When Curtis was 8, he and his younger brother Julius were placed in an orphanage for one month because their parents could not afford to feed them. There were more hard times to come. When Curtis was 13, Julius was hit by a truck and died. It fell to Tony to identify the body. He has said that he still keeps his brother's cap and school books because that's all that's left of him. With the realities of real life all too harsh, a young Curtis sought refuge in the cinema.
'When I was a child, I used to go to the movies and became enthralled by all the fencing, horseback riding, kissing the girls. I said to myself "Why can't I do that?"
Between 1942 and 1945 Curtis served in the U.S. Navy aboard the submarine tender, the USS PROTEUS. He witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in September 1945, from a vantage point of 300 yards away. After his service in the Navy, the young Curtis studied acting alongside Elaine Stritch, Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger. To use his own words, he got into the movies because he was 'the handsomest of the boys.' Arriving in Hollywood in 1948 aged 23 he was put under contract to Universal Pictures and had his name changed to Tony Curtis. The studio sent him to fencing and riding lessons, but Curtis admits he was only interested in girls and money.
Originally seen as just another pretty boy, he nonetheless proved he had very significant acting talent with many impressive performances in outstanding films such as the role of the scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success, along with Burt Lancaster, and an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted escaped convict chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
Tony Curtis was so popular as a screen hunk during the 1950s that Elvis Presley copied his ducktail (DA) hairstyle after seeing it on screen.
Curtis has also appeared frequently on television; he co-starred with Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!. He later starred in McCoy and Vega$. He made his screen debut, uncredited, in Criss Cross playing a rumba dancer. He also provided the voice of "Stony Curtis" as a guest star on The Flintstones.
All his life, Curtis has enjoyed painting, and since the early 1980s, has had a second career as a painter. His work can command more than £25000 a canvas now and it is on his career in paint that he now focuses rather than movies. 'I still make movies but I'm not that interested any more. I paint all the time.' In 2007 his painting The Red Table will be on display in the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.
Curtis has spoken of his disappointment in never being awarded an Oscar 'I've never felt that my profession has recognized me for my work.' In March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received France's honor, the Order of Arts and Letters, in 1995.
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