Actor Tony Curtis, Father of Jamie Lee, Dies at 85

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    NEWSLETTERS

    He starred in more than 100 films, many of them during the 50s and 60s -- but he'll likely be remembered the most for the time he starred in a dress.

    Legendary actor Tony Curtis, the son of a Bronx tailor who went on to star in such classics as "The Defiant Ones," "Some Like it Hot" and "Spartacus," died late Wednesday after going into cardiac arrest in his Las Vegas home. He was 85.

    The father of actress Jamie Lee Curtis, he was a classically handsome actor with a range that allowed him to play comedic or dark roles. He was nominated for an Oscar for playing an escaped convict in the 1958 "The Defiant Ones," and starred opposite Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in the 1960 film "Some Like it Hot." Later in the decade, he gained weight to take on the role of a killer in "The Boston Strangler."

    "My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages," Jamie Lee Curtis said in a statement. "He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed."

    Born Bernard Schwartz to Hungarian Jewish parents, Curtis took up acting after serving in the Navy during World War II. In the late 1940s, he studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York, where fellow students included Walter Matthau and Rod Steiger. He went to Hollywood at age 23 and promptly changed his name.

    Roger Moore, who starred with Curtis as a pair of international playboys in the early 1970s TV show "The Persuaders," recalled Curtis as a jokester and a talented actor.

    "He was great fun to work with, a great sense of humor and wonderful ad libs," Moore told the BBC. "We had the best of times."

    Film and television work came slowly for Curtis in the 1970s and beyond.  After recovering from addiction in the early 1980s, he later became a painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000.

    In his 2008 autobiography, "American Prince: A Memoir," Curtis wrote of a brief fling with Marilyn Monroe and their later reunion in the gender-bending comedy "Some Like it Hot." He also set the record straight about a flip and misunderstood answer he gave when someone on the set asked him about kissing the sexy screen siren.

    "After the scene on the yacht, some of the crew and I stood around to watch the rushes, and afterwards they wanted to know what it was like to kiss her. I figured a question that stupid deserved a stupid answer, so I flippantly responded by saying, 'Kissing Marilyn is like kissing Hitler,'" Curtis wrote.

    "[My] thoughtless comment became public knowledge, and the story still makes the rounds. So let me set the record straight once and for all: I hated Hitler. As a Jewish kid in New York, I threw condom bombs on pro-Nazi parades. I loved Marilyn Monroe. And she was a terrific kisser."

    Curtis' final screen role came in 2008 in the independent film “David & Fatima,” about a romance between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim. Curtis' character was named Mr. Schwartz.

    Curtis married six times. His first wife was actress Janet Leigh, who starred in "Psycho," "Touch of Evil," and "The Manchurian Candidate." The couple was married from 1951-62 and had two daughters, Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis.

    He is survived by his wife, Jill Vandenberg Curtis, and six children.

    Selected Reading: Entertainment Tonight, IMDb, The New York Times.