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Tony Curtis on life, wife and art

Actor wears pants in stage production of 'Some Like it Hot'

Forty-four years after he donned a dress to star in 'Some Like It Hot,' Tony Curtis appears in the stage version of the film that also featured Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.

Curtis, 77, starred in 106 films during his Hollywood career, including 'Spartacus,' 'Trapeze' and the 'The Defiant Ones,' which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Despite a lengthy filmography, it's the role of Josephine in 'Some Like it Hot' that Curtis is best known for.

In the 1959 movie, Curtis and Lemmon played Depression-era musicians who, after witnessing a mob massacre, are forced to go undercover as 'Josephine' and 'Daphne,' the homeliest women in an all-girl jazz band. As Curtis tries to win the affections of the band singer played by Monroe, Lemmon deflects the advances of Osgood Fielding III, a frisky millionaire enamored of Daphne.

Curtis plays Fielding in what is his musical stage debut.

He spoke about not getting the respect he deserved as an actor, why marriages aren't meant to last and what his work as a visual artist gives him that acting doesn't.

Tribune: You were surprisingly pretty as Josephine in the movie.

Curtis: Thank you. People said that I looked like Eve Arden. But they had to dub my voice; it was too deep for the part of the girl.

Tribune: You were part of the Hollywood star machine. What was it like to be 'created' by the movie industry? (Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, the son of Hungarian immigrants, and raised in the Bronx.)

Curtis: I wanted a new name. I didn't like my name because of what the Germans were doing to my brother Jews, and the name Schwartz is German.

Then I got out to the studio, and I was a handsome lad, and everybody loved my looks. I was the pinup boy of the century on the cover of every movie magazine. They'd have polls and I would win 'Most Popular Actor.' Because of that, I wasn't thought of as much of an actor. My peers didn't treat me too well, and I didn't win any awards for my acting. I got roles because I was a popular figure.

But I loved it. (The industry) gave me a career and I was not trained to do anything. I was in the movies at 23 and a star at 24, so what am I going to do? Bum-rap it? My dear friend, I may not have won any prizes, but I'm not interested in that. I am so proud to be who I am and to have had the career that I've had. All those people that bum-rapped me and called me all those terrible names they're all dead.

Tribune: So you've had the last laugh.

Curtis: I've had the last laugh. I have a 32-year-old beautiful wife and I'm having a good time. She was about 24 when we first started going out. I remember we went to England, where a newspaper man said to me, 'It must be very dangerous.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Making love to a 24-year-old girl is dangerous.' And I said, 'Well, if she dies, she dies.' That's an old one.

Tribune: She's your fifth wife. You must find monogamy overrated.

Curtis: I think that people grow apart, but they don't want to go through the rigmarole of starting over. But I think this will be my last marriage.

Tribune: You were quoted as saying, 'Kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler.'

Curtis: Never said it, honey. Marilyn and I were really good friends we were lovers, in fact, 10 years earlier when we first started in the movies. She was having a lot of trouble; the studio was trying to bum-rap her. They wanted to replace her, so they started dropping these items, and this was one of 'em.

Tribune: Has the press been hard on you?

Curtis: There's a lot of salaciousness. People want to know everything: who's a homosexual, who's a lesbian, who's a Jew. These people are envious and angry and frustrated, so they print a lousy photo of someone and write some stupid article about it and you're up for grabs. In this profession you're chased and hounded by people who wish they were you, and if they could get rid of you, they'd do it.

Tribune: Your daughter, Jamie Lee (Curtis), is an actress. Are you two close?

Curtis: I'm very proud of her, but I don't see my children that much, and Jamie doesn't extend herself like that.

Tribune: So there aren't a lot of Sunday brunches.

Curtis: No, I'm not around their necks like my mother was around mine. I give all five of my kids a lot of room.

Tribune: You're an accomplished painter. How much time do you devote to your art these days?

Curtis: I paint all day when I'm not working. There's a solitude and a calmness where I don't have to rely on anyone around me. Art is a silent language. My heart or my eye tells me what to do, and not a script. That's why I like it so much; it's so individual and quiet. Which is not to say that it's easy. It takes a lot of intensity; your mind can't be wandering.

Curtis: What recent films have you liked?

Curtis: My dear friend, I haven't seen a lot that I do like. There's nothing to draw me into the movies anymore. They've changed. It's harder to find movies that are pertinent to what life's about. I don't want to hear about a guy named Schmidt. Those movies self-glorify the actor, thinking that the actor will bring you something you've never seen before. That's not the way it should be. Individual performances are not as important as the whole concept and story. I'd rather stay home and watch movies on DVD.

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