Tony Curtis wasn’t just good-looking. He was ridiculously good-looking.
The jet-black, spit-curled hair. The piercing blue eyes. The tight, athletic body. The brilliant smile. The Bronx bravado and machismo. They were all there. He wasn’t just a matinee idol. He was a great actor in a beautiful shell.
I remember the first time I saw Tony Curtis in a film. The film was “Houdini,” and it was one of the many films featured as “Family Classics,” presented by WGN TV in Chicago by the legendary Frazier Thomas. I spent many Sundays with my family, watching classic movies like “Old Yeller,” “When Worlds Collide,” and “My Friend Flicka.” “Houdini” was one of my favorites though, mostly because of the story of Harry Houdini, but especially because of the impossible-to-resist Tony Curtis in the lead role.
I was a pretty clever kid back in the day. I paid attention to details, like actors’ names and directions to my relative’s homes. It’s a trait that has stuck with me to this very day. I knew the name “Tony Curtis,” and as I grew older, I would seek out films featuring stars I had seen that I had liked. Tony Curtis was one of those stars. Sure, I knew he was much older than me, but I didn’t care– I knew that he was good-looking and a good actor. That’s all that mattered to me.
One of my favorite films was “Trapeze.” It featured Curtis and Burt Lancaster, with the sultry Gina Lollobrigida in her first American movie role. It was a tense, sexy movie that featured Curtis and Lancaster in all forms of skimpy attire. My young gay self could hardly stand it.
It would be years before I finally caught all of the incredibly funny “Some Like It Hot,” with Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in the hilarious cross-dressing camp classic. It quickly became one of my all-time favorite films– featuring someone I had admired for years, even though I never really had the chance to know how good he was at comedy as well as drama.
I could go on about his later years: the crummy movie choices, the multiple wives, and the bouts with drugs and recovery– but I really prefer to remember Tony Curtis for the man he was at the top of his game. I wanted to be him. I wanted hair like his, lips like his, eyes like his. He was the man every woman (and many men) wanted, and the man every man wanted to be. He was, for me, my original heartthrob.