Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz) will turn 77 on June 3, one day before the opening night of Some Like It Hot, a musical based on the 1959 Billy Wilder movie in which he co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. In this production Curtis will play the rich suitor, Osgood Fielding III, a different character from Joe, whom he portrayed in the film. The show premieres at the new $100 million Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston before embarking on a fifty-city tour.
Eileen Schwartz: It’s an honor to be talking to you.
Tony Curtis: Don’t do that to me. Let me ask you a question. Are your parents immigrants?
ES: My great-grandfather emigrated from Poland and changed his name from Charney to Schwartz because it was more fashionable to have a German name at that time.
TC: I never liked that German name.
ES: Maybe you’re actually my real father?
TC: What was that name, Polish?
TC: Well, my parents were Hungarian.
ES: I guess not then.
TC: Well, no. But I could be your mother. I’ll just adopt you, honey.
ES: I would love to be adopted by you.
TC: Perfect. Perfect.
ES: I guess I should ask you about coming to Texas. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.
TC: You’re not.
ES: Have you done much work here before? What memories do you have?
TC: When I first started in the movies, Universal Pictures used to send me out on tour with some of the movies I made. I got into movies in 1948. By ‘49 and ‘50, I was hitting them heavier than anybody. So they sent me out on the road with any movie I was in. I remember we did Dallas. And what happened there was really neat. I came out of the theater and these girls jumped all over me.
ES: I’m sure that still happens and will probably happen again.
TC: Really, I’ve got suits that fall apart.
ES: I guess I should ask you about the show.
TC: Ask me anything.
ES: How will you recreate Some Like It Hot without Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, or Billy Wilder?
TC: This is completely different. Although Some Like It Hot lends itself to a musical, this is an out-and-out Technicolor musical. We want to make it snappy and very American. I sing three songs. [Sings]: I fall in love too easily
ES: Flutter. Flutter.
TC: Ha, ha, ha. I sing three songs, I do a couple of production numbers, and then I do these wonderful scenes playing Osgood Fielding. I’m going to play him in homage to Joey. I won’t be anything like he was in the picture. He was kind of stumpy.
ES: He was a funny character. It must be fun to play a different character than you did in the film.
TC: Yes, it is. And you know, it’s that same project I did 43 years ago and here I am back in the saddle again.
ES: Did Billy Wilder know about the project before he died?
TC: Yes, he did. But there was a lot of going back and forth.
ES: Was he excited about it?
TC: I guess he was, I don’t know.
ES: Why do you think the film still holds up?
TC: From my observation, the reason is a simple and solid one. There’s nothing we can do to obliterate the fact that we come from man and woman. We all were on the breast once in our lives. We share a lot of things. That’s the way life is. Isn’t it amusing that two guys got to get dressed up like girls ‘cause they don’t want to get murdered, and one guy falls in love with the girl singer, and this millionaire falls in love with the other guy. We’re going to get people to laugh and enjoy themselves. That’s what theater should be. Theater is of the time and it’s present. You’re there; you’re sharing.
ES: What do you think of the films being made today?
TC: Not much. I mean they’re all right, but they make short cuts, with the exception that the technical end of films—special effects and things of that nature—has improved. The quality of these movies has not. And that’s because of the person who’s making them. A person who makes a movie must be attuned to the human condition so that the pictures he makes are representations of the period of time. You must remember that the meaning comes after the work. If Laurel and Hardy knew how funny they were when they did those things, it would have been a whole different ball game.
ES: Is there any hope for Hollywood?
TC: Listen, I have a great deal of admiration for films and the filmmaking process. I don’t have too much admiration for the way they’re made—the way they’re orchestrated and organized. With so many movies being made, rarely do you find something that’s intriguing or interesting.
ES: I go to a movie expecting to be mildly entertained at best.
TC: You can’t expect anymore.
ES: Are there any young comedians you like?
TC: I like Robert Downey, Jr., a lot—the way he handles himself on-screen. There’s a handful of fellows now that you mention it, but it’s hard for me to recall who they might be. There are a lot of girls that I like. My daughter, Jamie, she’s amusing. Elisabeth Shue. There’s a whole slew of girls. Ashley Judd. They’ve all worked their way through. But you know what’s happened, though. Have you noticed none of them can really get a strong foothold?
ES: Yeah. As soon as they hit 35.
TC: They’re passing from one to another. The thing that helped Marilyn was that she died early. She didn’t have to suffer her way through