Exclusive Family Portraits: Honoring Jamie Lee and Tony Curtis

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CHICAGO – When the envelope was opened, containing the name of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards earlier this month, it was veteran actor Jamie Lee Curtis who won the honor. She brought down the house with her memorable “we just won an Oscar” speech. She tearfully finished with “ … and my mother [Janet Leigh] and my father [Tony Curtis], who were both nominated in different categories, I just won an Oscar.”

Photographer Joe Arce of HollywoodChicago.com has captured both Jamie Lee Curtis and Tony Curtis in his lens, with the Exclusive Portrait of Jamie Lee from 2004 published for the first time. Tony Curtis was photographed during his last trip to Chicago in 2009. He passed away in 2010.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Chicago, circa 2004
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Hollywood “It” couple Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, living with her mother after her parents split in 1962. After attending only one semester in college, she joined in her parent’s profession, and in 1977 she made her TV debut on the series “Columbo” … but her big splash came one year later as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” As a movie star, she has been in several classics, including “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988), “True Lies” (1994) and “Freaky Friday” (2003). In her recent revival, she was executive producer on the last “Halloween” reboot trilogy, concluding with “Halloween Ends” in 2022. And then, of course, she was Deirdre in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, New York, the son of Hungarian and Slovak immigrants. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, and served submarine duty in WWII. He enrolled in New York acting schools and did small stage roles after the war, moving to Hollywood in 1948. After his film debut (uncredited) in “Criss Cross” in 1949, he went on to have an unprecedented string of box office hits in the 1950s and ’60s, including “Houdini” (1952), “The Black Shield of Falworth” (1954), “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957), “Some Like it Hot” (1959), “Spartacus” (1960), “Boeing, Boeing” (1965) and “The Boston Strangler” (1969). Although his career stalled after that period, he is still acknowledged as one of the great “Silver Age” movie stars. He was married six times, most famously to fellow movie star Janet Leigh, and their daughters are Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis.

Tony Curtis in Chicago. Circa 2009
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Tony Curtis was interviewed twice in 2009 by Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com. Here are some highlights …

HollywoodChicago.com: You worked with two renown comedy directors around the same time in 1959, Billy Wilder [‘Some Like it Hot’] and Blake Edwards [‘The Great Race’]. What were the notable differences between the two men in their approach to comedy?

Tony Curtis: Both directors were very different. Blake and I were approximately the same age, he’s a couple years older than I. Billy Wilder was 20 years older than I. Billy Wilder was a European, German, Jewish fellow. Tough as nails. You knew when you stepped into his company, be careful. You are liable to step on a barb. He would find jokes about you, that you didn’t want to hear, about your hair or about the way you stood. The attitude of who you were.

Blake on the other hand, had a comic sensibility at all times. He had seen all the early silent film comedies. He brought their sensibility to his films and gave them another level of consciousness. The similarity between the two men is that they both had a tremendous sense of comedy, but they were very different when developing it.

HollywoodChicago.com You were one of the iconic figures shown in the background on The Beatles ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album. Can you remember the circumstances of the band contacting you about it, and how did you react?

Curtis: I was in Venice doing a film, and Paul McCartney was there doing two days of interviews. He was in charge of everything, or it seemed that way to me. So I went down to where he was, on a stage in a theater. In order to get down to him quickly, I cut through under the seats. That’s when I heard Paul McCartney say, ‘there’s Tony Curtis, under your seats, coming over to see me.’

Later, the art director of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ photo shoot – that designed the picture and organized it [artist Peter Blake] – was still deciding on the images, and I was in the mix. He mentioned me to the band, I was approved, and they put me in the shot. From what I hear, one of The Beatles said, ‘Yeah, put him in the middle.’

HollywoodChicago.com: As one of the true survivors of Hollywood, fame and life to this point, do you have an personal philosophy or advice to share regarding that survival?

Curtis: I do. Pay no attention to what is going around. Just make sure you are in an environment where you can be knowledgeable. If you know where you’re at, and what the dialogue is – and you know as much as you can while you are there – no one can screw you up. Nobody. Someday, you’ll be on the set with somebody who is very dictatorial, either a director or an actor. The key to that situation is just don’t give up your spot. If you feel a certain way about things, just let that be the way it is. If you do that, they will leave you alone. One more thing… don’t give up the ship, baby.

Source bios for this article are from wikipedia.com. To read the complete interviews with Tony Curtis, click INTERVIEW ONE and INTERVIEW TWO.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Critic/Writer

© 2023 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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