HOLLYWOOD —Houdini returned to the The Magic Castle or rather the man who played him in a hit film release for Paramount—Tony Curtis. A sold out audience greeted Mr. Curtis on Sunday, January 31, as the next featured artist in the highly anticipated and popular “Legend Series” held at the Magic Castle. The series was developed to celebrate the life and careers of some of stage and screens greatest icons. The response has been overwhelming with previous guest appearances including Phyllis Diller, Rose Marie and Tippi Hedren that were hosted by B. Harlan Boll.
For Mr. Curtis’s engagement, patrons were treated to a screening of “Some Like It Hot,” followed by a Q&A, hosted by Castle member Joseph Bauer and then invited to meet the American icon as he signed copies of his two books [American Prince: A Memoir and The Making of Some Like It Hot- and offered remarkable pieces of artwork by Curtis himself. All proceeds will benefit the Shiloh Horse Rescue (shilohhorserescue.com).
Famous for his thick black wavy hair, handsome good looks, flashing long eyelashes and trademark New York accent. Mr. Curtis flexography includes many of the greatest movies in Hollywood history including “The Prince Who Was a Thief” (1951), “Houdini” (1953), “The Sweet Smell of Success” (1957), “The Vikings” (1958), “The Defiant Ones” (1959), “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and the 1960 epic “Spartacus” to name only a few. Curtis, spoke of how he met the man whom would be responsible for discovering him on his first flight to Los Angeles. The man offered to have his driver take him to the Knickerbocker Hotel in his Rolls Royce. The man was none other than the great Jack Warner of Warner Studios. Mr. Warner had initially wanted to change his name from Bernard Schwartz to Tyrone Goldfarb, but settled on Tony Curtis. Eventually starring in over 150 major motion pictures during a 60-year career, Mr. Curtis reminisced on his first films that then had budgets of 100 to 200 thousand dollars and usually involved girls chasing his character or in one case he played the corpse of a drug dealer in a coffin. He recalled how he saw the director and a nurse off to the side having a conversation and then how the director approached him and explained, “The nurse will be coming over shortly to administer your shots. It isn’t going to hurt.” When he asked what the shots were for, the response was that it is hard to play dead and they had to make sure he didn’t move, Tony declared, “Just watch me!” It was decided that the shots would not be necessary, as “He looked dead enough.” Of particular interest to an audience of magic lovers at the Castle, were the stories about playing the title role of Houdini. Curtis remarked, “I was fascinated with Houdini. We were both Hungarian, Jewish boys and I love magic,” said Curtis. “I learned more than magic working on the film. I learned to develop an attitude about the craft that would later help me develop a style of my own in acting.” Curtis spoke of a certain pride with regard to working on the film “The Defiant Ones.” “Up until then Hollywood had a rather demeaning practice of listing black actors below the title,” remarked Curtis. “That was ridiculous to me and when they told me that the opening credits would read Tony Curtis in ”˜The Defiant Ones’ and then list Sidney Poitier, I complained. They told me that it was just how things were done and I said, then you’ll do it without me. They eventually consented to both our names before the title, although you may notice I still took top billing.” Many patrons wanted to know about what it was like working with Marilyn Monroe. Curtis replied, “Marilyn and I had met around 1950 and dated for a while. However, as our careers grew, we went in different directions and although we tried to keep in touch we didn’t really connect again until filming ”˜Some Like It Hot.’ Marilyn was a sweet and caring girl, but not the smartest or most reliable actress.”
Today, Curtis is now enjoying a successful second career as a fine artist. Since at least the early 1960s, Curtis has had a second career as a painter, assemblage creator, and sketcher. His work can command more than $50,000 a canvas now and it is on this he now focuses rather than movies. “I still make movies but I’m not that interested any more. I paint all the time,” he said. Tony’s paintings are featured in galleries all around the world, including in Las Vegas, Carmel, Maui, Whistler, London, Paris and New York. In 2007 his painting The Red Table went on display at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan. In addition, Tony is the biggest supporter of Shiloh Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, a non-profit horse rescue started by he and his wife, Jill. For more information visit shilohhorserescue.com.
The event was hosted by The Magic Castle, which is the world’s most famous club for magicians and magic enthusiasts and home to The Academy of Magical Arts, Inc. The Magic Castle is the showplace for some of the greatest magicians from around the globe and houses one of the largest original collections of Houdini’s great tools of the trade. Great pride is taken in showcasing the magnificent building that houses the Magic Castle. Construction of the original mansion was completed in 1909, so the now established Hollywood landmark recently celebrated in centennial. Among the citations and acknowledgments of accomplishment presented to Mr. Curtis, was a special presentation by The Academy of Magical Art’s Executive Director, Mark Felicetti, of a pair of cuff links designed to resemble Lifesavers. Mr. Felicitti explained the purpose for which, with a story about how Mr. Curtis had lost one half of a very special pair of cuff links as he and his manager entered a limo through a crowd. At a quick glance, they saw a young boy on a bike pick something up from the ground that appeared to be his missing cuff link. The manager existed the car, retrieved the item from the boy without explanation and handed it to Mr. Curtis as he entered the car. Mr. Curtis gave his manager a puzzled look as he revealed a piece of lifesavers candy declaring, “You just mugged a little boy.” The next legend to be highlighted has yet to be announced.
Photographs Courtesy: Bill Dow Photography