He married Leigh in 1951, when they were both rising young stars; they divorced in 1963.
“Tony and I had a wonderful time together; it was an exciting, glamorous period in Hollywood,” Leigh, who died in 2004, once said. “A lot of great things happened, most of all, two beautiful children.”
Mr. Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent. He settled for tailoring jobs, moving the family repeatedly as he sought work.
“I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids,” Mr. Curtis recalled in 1959. “I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken, so I became the crazy new kid on the block.”
His sidewalk histrionics helped avoid beatings and led to acting in plays at a settlement house. He also grew to love movies. “My whole culture as a boy was movies,” he said. “For 11 cents, you could sit in the front row of a theater for 10 hours, which I did constantly.”
After serving in the Pacific theater during World War II and being wounded at Guam, he returned to New York and studied acting under the GI Bill. He appeared in summer stock and on the Borscht Circuit in the Catskills. Then an agent lined up an audition with a Universal-International talent scout. In 1948, at 23, he signed a seven-year contract with the studio, starting at $100 a week.
Bernie Schwartz sounded too Jewish for a movie actor, so the studio gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, “Anthony Adverse,” and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. After his eighth film, he became Tony Curtis.
The studio helped smooth the rough edges off the ambitious young actor. The last to go was his street-tinged Bronx accent, which had become a Hollywood joke.
Curtis pursued another career as an artist, creating Matisse-like still lifes with astonishing speed. “I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he said in 1990 as he concluded a painting in 40 minutes in the garden of the Bel-Air Hotel. “Painting has given me such a great pleasure in life, helped me to recover.”
He also turned to writing, producing a 1977 novel, “Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow.” In 1993 he wrote “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography.”
Associated Press writer Bob Thomas in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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