Friday, April 18, 2008

Teaching Tony Curtis to Be Suave

At 82, he's still a star but not in the grand style, which never did fit Bernie Schwartz from the Bronx, as he goes down memory lane for the Guardian:

"He's rounder in the face than he was, his once-magnificent hair is now a pale white fuzz and he's a little more rotund than you'd expect, but once you get him rolling, he's all bada-bing, whatcha lookin' at me for! He's still a kid in all the best ways, and glimpses of the star of masterpieces such as Sweet Smell of Success and Some Like It Hot are still readily available."

In "Some Like It Hot," Tony Curtis did a Cary Grant impression to woo Marilyn Monroe. The year before, in 1958, I had given him a little lesson in how to be suave.

As the new editor of Redbook, I had met his then-wife Janet Leigh, who was not happy with a cover story about Tony we had just run under the title, "I Grew Up Stealing." But she relented to the point of an invitation to visit them on a trip to Hollywood the following month.

My wife, new baby and I arrived at their Beverly Hills mansion with a circular driveway full of antique cars. Inside, we met the children, a sweet little girl named Kelly and a baby sister, Jamie Lee. As Janet took my wife on a tour of the house, Tony took me aside.

He gave me an abashed Bernie Schwartz smile and admitted he didn't know to make the martini my wife had asked for. I gave him a demonstration of the fine art of handling gin, vermouth and lemon peel, a social skill he would put to good use in the following decades as an international movie star.

Being handsome, he tells his Guardian interviewer, took him out of Depression poverty into the good life. But along the way, he learned a thing or two about acting and enough about paintings to impress the Museum of Modern Art. Those Bronx kids knew how to make the most of their opportunities.

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