'I had more action than Mount Vesuvius!' - The legacy of screen legend Tony Curtis

The text beneath the late actor Tony Curtis's portrait of his one-time lover and co-star, Marilyn Monroe, is pretty telling. It reads "FUN" in big capital letters.

Writers and obituarists seem to have drawn a similar conclusion to the actor's own life, which ended, aged 85, after a cardiac arrest at his home in Henderson, near Las Vegas, last week.

While a sense of fun and adventure appeared to drive Curtis's life and success through iconic roles in classic films like Some Like it Hot!, he also had more than his fair share of hard knocks.

Curtis at a signing for his memoir

Born to Hungarian immigrant parents and raised in poverty, Curtis himself was the first to admit: "I could have been a politician or a brain surgeon. But I didn't have an education, so there wasn't anything I could do but get into the movies.

"And, boy, did I ever. To burst into the movies like I did. Isn't that neat?"

Curtis's dreams of film stardom began during his childhood, but his calling came much later when his parents were finally in a position to offer him a formal education.

But Curtis, already the product of a tough life, chose against it. Instead, he joined the Navy in 1942 and spent the next three years getting the life 'real' experience he so craved.

He began acting in Navy productions during this time and, following his honourable discharge in 1945, seized the opportunity to go to acting school for free courtesy of the GI Bill.

A period at the New York Dramatic Workshop and in various stage productions eventually lead to a seven-year contract with Universal Studios. It was then that Curtis "burst into the movies."

Curtis's painting, Marilyn 1936-1937 

Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon and - of course - Marilyn Monroe would be among his co-stars in subsequent years, as audiences were beguiled by Curtis's good looks and easy charm.

Around this time, his love affair with Monroe later blossomed. "There was no guy that was safe. If she liked you, there was no man who could resist," he later commented.

"You could tell she'd already been battered by life, and I found that she'd been in an orphanage, as I had, and that her mother was also schizophrenic [like Curtis's].

"I loved her. And she loved me, but we both wanted to be in the movies, and that meant everything."

Curtis's career heights in the '60s cemented his status as a classic Hollywood icon but, as with many of his contemporaries, the following decades proved more problematic.

With wife Janet Leigh

During this period, he suffered further detriment through depression and drug use. But it wasn't the end of Curtis, as the enterprising star bounced back into TV roles in the 1980s. When the roles again became more scarce, he branched out into painting.

"My art will give me more," enthused Curtis. "There'll be more shows... There's still so much to discover. So I have to take good care of myself so you don't find me in the gutter."

Curtis's twilight forays into painting also brought success - among them his Marilyn 1936-1937 portrait - with his canvasses bringing as much as $20,000 on the auction block.

These artworks will be sure to add to Curtis's legacy which, along with his status as a bona fide 'golden age' Hollywood icon, is sure to endure for decades to come.

What's more, his legacy will also surely result in appreciating values and success on the world's auction blocks, as collectors rush to preserve the works and memories of a truly one-of-a-kind star.


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