Tony Curtis, the screen star of the 1950s and '60s who dressed in drag for the Billy Wilder comedy Some Like It Hot, died Wednesday night at his Las Vegas home. He was 85.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Curtis appeared in more than 100 movies and received a best actor Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones, in which he and Sidney Poitier starred as escaped convicts chained together.
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in 1925 in New York City. He served in the Navy during World War II and later enrolled in acting classes. He won his first contract with Universal in 1949, after which time he changed his first and last names.
Curtis's early life was a series of struggles -- he said he was constantly taunted for being young, Jewish, and handsome. He grew up defending himself on whatever turf his parents lived on at the time: the East 80s in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan's Lexington Avenue.
At 17, he enlisted in the Navy, serving in the Pacific during World War II. After leaving the service, he used the GI Bill for acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.
In addition to his performance in Some Like It Hot, Curtis encountered gay overtones in Spartacus with Kirk Douglas.
"In 1960, Curtis starred with Douglas in the swashbuckling Spartacus, a box-office hit that was also notable for the bathtub scene that didn't appear in the original but was restored in the 1991 re-release," reported Los Angeles Times. "In the scene, Laurence Olivier, playing a Roman general, tries to seduce Curtis, the young slave, in dialogue alluding to one's preference for oysters or snails. (Because the original scene had not been properly recorded, Anthony Hopkins dubbed the dialogue for Olivier, who died in 1989. 'I did me,' Curtis said of the restoration.)"
Curtis is survived by family members including the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, his daughter with Psycho star Janet Leigh.
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