Defiance, resilience marked career of Tony Curtis

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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.”

Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, had 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,” 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.”

He suffered tragedy at age 12 when his younger brother was killed in a traffic accident. Finding refuge in movies, he would skip school to catch matinees starring Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and other screen idols.

After serving on a submarine during World War II, he enrolled in drama school on the G.I. Bill and was doing theater work when an agent lined up an audition with Universal, where he signed a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week at age 23.

The studio gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, “Anthony Adverse,” and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. He later shortened it to Tony Curtis.

As his big-screen star faded in the 1960s, Curtis remolded himself as a character actor and turned to television with the 1970s action series “The Persuaders,” co-starring Roger Moore, and a recurring role on the crime drama “Vegas.”

Curtis earned an Emmy nomination in 1980 as producer David O. Selznick in the “Gone With the Wind” chronicle “The Scarlett O’Hara War.”

He also turned to writing with a 1977 novel, “Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow” and 1993’s “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography.”

Curtis remained vigorous following heart bypass surgery in 1994, although his health declined in recent years.

Jill Curtis said her husband had been hospitalized several times in recent weeks for lung problems she blamed on smoking 30 years ago. He recently returned home, where he died in his sleep, she said.

Longtime friend and casino executive Gene Kilroy said memorial services would be held Monday in Las Vegas, with a reception at the Luxor hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Through his ups and downs, Curtis maintained a brash optimism.

“One thing Tony always said: ‘God is great. He won’t hurt us, ‘cause he looks like Tony Curtis,’” said wife Jill Curtis. “I guess now he knows how he looks.”

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