Ok, ok, so it may not have been his finest hour. But for many of us of a certain age The Persuaders was our first real glimpse of the man that was Tony Curtis. The Boston Strangler out over-acting Simon Templar. Harry Houdini out safari-suiting James Bond. Whatta guy! Only then did we start to realise what we’d been missing. So this was who our mums had been swooning over for all those years, and this was the piece of manhood for which the young ladies of Hollywood had been gagging since the late 1940s.
Women (and no doubt some men) all over the world swooned as he wielded rope and handcuffs as the Strangler and Houdini, wore next to nothing in The Vikings and Spartacus and even melted when he wore a faux Herman Goering number in The Great Race. In Some Like it Hot he gave a wonderful Cary Grant impersonation and made for a pretty decent woman. If he’d been a young actor today he’d be labeled as both a gay icon and a smouldering gift to womankind. The one about who both your girlfriend and her slightly iffy brother would go to bed and thrash themselves to within an inch of their lives. One scene in Spartacus , when Curtis sensuously bathes Laurence Olivier, had to be removed from the original released edit for fear of multiple spontaneous combustions all over the US in movie theatres.
For every classic he starred in he also made a stinker. But by the time The Persuaders came into my life it dawned on me I’d probably missed his best bits, something which couldn’t been said of a legion of Hollywood starlets. Tony liked a bird, and the birds liked him. He’d go onto marry six times, underlining his reputation of a master swordsman, but he most famously had failed to bag the one that everyone wanted- Marilyn. He’s famously quoted as describing kissing Monroe in Some Like it Hot as akin to “Kissing Hitler”. Poor sod. Presumably Janet Leigh gave better lip service to him (perhaps more of a Himmler) as they married and produced Jamie Leigh Curtis, who years later would be, incredibly, at the centre of another gossip-led sexuality debate. (Anyone who’s seen the bedroom scene in True Lies could surely be in no doubt.)
“What’s the secret to a long and happy life? Young women’s saliva!” Tony Curtis
As his movie career waned Curtis took up art, for want of a better word, but never let anything get in the way of beautiful young women and magnificent wigs (some of his syrups would have done Phil Spector proud). But we shouldn’t dwell on the last rather sad few years of this once talented and likeable man, trying vainly to relive his youth and hold back the inevitable passage of time. Nor should we feel anything but mild envy for the life he led. Making 85 as he did is testament to the fact that you really can have your cake and eat it too.
I like to think of him running up and down those oars as that one-handed viking, or wearing a frock and playing the sax for Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators.
And let us not forget who first stood up to defend Spartacus. I’m Spartacus! (and so is my wife).
“I wouldn’t be seen dead with a woman old enough to be my wife.” Tony Curtis