Tony Curtis (1925-2010)
- Robert Wagner, Prince Valiant, 1954. One famous hair-style should not be hidden inside another!
- Audie Murphy, To Hell and Back, 1955. The WWII hero backed off, worried people would think he was “cashing in” on his fame as America’s most decorated soldier. “I don't think I'm the type. MaybeTony Curtis would do.” No, because Curtis looked like a hero, while it was difficult to imagine the skinny, shy Murphy killing 240 German soldiers, wounding and capturing heaps more and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, highest bravery award that a USoldier can receive. No, said Universal we want you and it took 20 years and Jaws to finally score better at the box-office.
- Elvis Presley, King Creole, 1957. Imagine Presley’s rapture at winning a role once aimed at his idols: Marlon Brando and James Dean! Before the Harold Robbins’ hero was tailored to suit Elvis, other potential Danny Fishers were: Curtis, John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Paul Newman, Gerald O’Loughlin. In his fourth, favourite and best movie, Presley never let his idols down. “Good comic timing,” noted the LA Times, “considerable intelligence and even flashes of sensitivity.” Sadly never again. After this, the US Army cut his hair and his manager, Colonel Parker, castrated the rest.
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Ricky Nelson, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur, 1958. For the MGMighty $5m epic re-make, the favourite for the hero was a disinterested Brando. Director William Wyler (one of the original’s 1924 crew) also studied Italians Cesare Danova and Vittorio Gassman. Plus Curtis, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Johnson (no, really!), Burt Lancaster - and Edmund Purdom, who had picked up another epic dropped by Brando, The Egyptian, 1953. Curtis and Douglas went off to Bavaria to make their own epic: The Vikings (and another, Spartacus, 1959). Judah Ben-Heston won his Oscar on April 4 1960.
- Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot, 1958. For some time it was Curtis and Frank Sinatra as the two jazzmen on the lam from gansgters... hiding out in an girls’ band. Not a great idea as they’d just finished Kings Go Forth - so first shots of them in drag would bpund to be headlined: Queens Go Forth. Once Wilder landed Jack Lemmon, the director immediately switched his stars. Lemmon was no longer Joe the randy sax player nor would Curtis be Jerry the earnest, adaptable and wacky bassist. And a 100% perfect comedy was born.
- Audie Murphy, The Unforgiven, 1959. Burt Lancaster suggested Tony (after making Trapeze and Sweet Smell of Success with him). “But I’d just been a racist in The Defiant Ones.” John Huston called his Red Badge of Courage star for his third major film only in a 21-year career, ending as it began as a B-movie Jesse James. Whatever turned on Huston about the Ben Meddow scenario did not transfer to the screen.
Larry Blyden, What Makes Sammy Run?, TV, 1959.
It was 1955 and the the mighty agent Lew Wasserman, warned off clients Curtis and Eddie Fisher, from Budd Schulberg’s 1941 roman-a-clef about hack reporter Sammy Glick lying, cheating, backstabbing his way to the top of Hollywood’s power game. What Fisher called the ultimate Jewish hustler was a classic negative Jewish stereotype that pissed off Wasserman (and Sam Goldwyn who’d tried go stop publication). It was too close for their comfort. So they even implied anti-Semitisim, which the Jewish author Budd Schulberg scoffed at - “Sammy’s victims were also Jewish.” (It’s like calling any Robert Madoff project, anti-Semitic). Budd (and Stuart) Schubert’s script was divided into two halves for Breck’s Sunday Showcase on NBC in 1959, Delbert Mann directing Larry Blyden (who?) as Sammy. First dramatised on TV in 1949, with José Ferrer, the book became a Steve Lawrence musical on Broadway in 1964. But as for the cinema? Nada! “Sinatra nearly happened once,” Budd told me at a Deauville festival, when he could see only Tom Cruise as Glick. “Steven Spielberg said it was anti-Hollywood and should never be filmed,” laughed Budd. Yet, Spielberg’s DreamWorks bought the rights for Ben Stiller to actor-direct. Or, to block it, for ever more. Which is exactly what happened between 1992-2009 - and ever since! PS: Curtis made it anyway, only his version was Ernest Lehman’s Sweet Smell of Success, 1956,when his memorable role of Sidney Falco was Sammy making a comeback under another name.
- Geoffrey Horne, Giuseppe venduto dai fratelli/The Story of Joseph and His Brethern, (UK: Sold Into Egypt), Italy-Yugoslavia, 1960. Planned for Curtis (and Rita Hayworth) in the 50s. Clifford Odets first wrote it for Cary Grant. Frank Capra was working on another version when Columbia's chief died and “it was cancelled before Harry Cohn's body was cold.” Finally made in Italy with the young Columbia find who’d saved David Lean from drowning during The Bridge on the River Kwai. (Omar Sharif said he was signed to double the star on Egyptian locations ... before any star had been signed).
- Paul Newman, The Hustler, 1961. “Couldn’t do it because of another movie.”
- George Peppard, Breakast At Tiffany’s, 1961. When director John Frankenheimer was prepping it for Marilyn - before Blake Edwards took over because fional, choice Audrey Hepburn had never heard of Frankenheimer. Blake called Curtis back for The Great Race, 1965 - their fourth partnership after Mister Cory, 1957, The Perfect Furlough (UK: Strictly For Pleasure), 1958, and Operation Petticoat, 1959.
- Marlon Brando, Bedtime Story, 1964. Writer Stanley Shapiro wanted Tony and Gregory Peck or, if everyone got real lucky, Cary Grant. No one got real lucky.
- Paul Newman, Lady L, 1965. An exit of Houdinian skill. “I bought one share in MGM stock and threatened to sue as a minority stockholder for mismanagement of the studio unless they released me from the contract. They did.... Terrible script! I just couldn’t do it... even though they’d paid me $400,000 while hanging about, waiting for it to start.’ Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida became, once producer Carlo Ponti heard about it, Newman and Sophia Loren.
- 1George Segal, King Rat, 1965. "Just wasn't available," he told me.
- Doug McClure, Beau Geste, 1966. With beau Dean Martin, Tony as brother John and Charlton Heston as the brutal sergeant Dagineau. Then, Universal went cheaper.
- Marcello Mastroianni, Lo Straniero/The Stranger, Italy-France-Algeria, 1967. Italian maestro Luchino Visconti shuffled through Alain Delon, George Charikis and Tony before going with the choice of his producer Dino De Laurentiis.
- Albert Finney, Two For The Road, 1967. A very keen Curtis had several meetings with director Stanley Donen - who actually wanted Michael Caine or Paul Newman to be Audrey Hepburn’s on-off husband, Mark Wallace.
- Omar Sharif, Funny Girl,1968. Tony was all set for Nicky Arnstein - until understanding that the on-screen emphasis would be 99.9% on Barbra Streisand.
- Elliott Gould, The Day They Raided Minsky's, 1967. Not fully in love with “the major musical comedy about the last days of burlesque.” Curtis was keen but “you gotta tell Norman [Lear, co-producer and scenarist] to put some meat on the bones.” Curtis didn’t wait. He became The Boston Strangler, giving up on April 19, 1925… the day they (say they) invented strip-tease in New York.
- Richard Chamberlain, The Count of Monte Cristo, TV, 1975. The cousins from Hell, Golan & Globus (not yet Cannon), planned it in ’74 after making Lepke with Curtis. When the project moved, he stayed on as the villainous Count Mondego. “Anybody in this business should take any job he can get.”
- Roger Moore, Gli esecutor (US: Street People; UK: The Sicilian Cross), Italy, 1975. Director Maurizio Lucidi seemed to like The Persuaders, TV, 1971. And if he couldn’t get Danny Wilde, he’d make do with Lord Brett Sinclair - who also happened to be a certain Commander Bond.
- Richard Chamberlain, The Man in the Iron Mask, TV, 1977. Also announced in ’74. “I’d decided to make a few pictures for young people before I get too old.”
- Terence Stamp, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Australia, 1994. An even more obvious idea than Tim Curry, leggy Dr. Frank-N-Furter as Mitzi - greatly improved upon by Stamp.
- Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, 2001.
After about 30 years of B-pix, directing 18 of them, Larry Cohen moved from B to A List scripter at 58. “I wrote the character of a small-time hustling publicist. I patterned him on Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success and even had Tony ready to star but…” It took 40 years to get his suspenser made. Alfred Hitchcock wanted it in the ’60s, but neither man could work out why the hero stayed trapped in the titular box. By the ’90s, Cohen found the (all-American) idea of a sniper - threatening to shoot the hero if he left the booth. Director Joel Schumacher talked to Jim Carrey when they made Batman Forever, 1994, then Mel Gibson, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg and, finally, the young Irish lad he’d made into a sudden star with Tigerland, 1999. But young film fans with their cell phones, didn’t know from … whaddyer call ’em again… phone booths? Cohen heard them and brought his tale up to date as Cellular for Kim Basinger and Chris Evans in 2003.
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken, 2014. Laura Hillenbrand’s book was sub-titled: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The hero, Louis Zamperini, required such attributes again during a 54-year wait for his incredible story to be filmed. Universal bought rights in the 50s for Curtis to make after Spartacus. Who better for the Depression Era trouble-maker becoming the youngest American competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, crash-landing in the Pacific during WWII, drifting for 47 days in a crowded boat, then enduring unimaginable torture from brutal Japanese guards as a POW (they never broke him). More recently Nic Cage was keen. Then, Angelina Jolie took over the project as director and turned the rising UK Skins find, O’Connell, into Zamperini… who saw a rough-cut on Jolie’s laptop weeks before he died in hospital from pneumonia at age 97 on Juy 2, 2014 The film opened four months later.