Goodbye Tony; Farewell Arthur
Tony Curtis is the only movie star--male or female--who ever called me "darling" through an entire interview.
Yes, the entire interview. And yes, it was more than a little disconcerting.
I had a long talk with Curtis on the phone in 1993 before he came to Buffalo to read from "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography "in 1993 as part of the Jewish Book Fair. "Darling" notwithstanding, he couldn't have been more likable, even though he did leave me with the thought that, yes, Hollywood people are often very different from the rest of us.
I had an even longer telephone interview with Arthur Penn eight years earlier on the occasion of the release of "Target", one of the negligible and unmemorable films from his final period.
Both Curtis and Penn died well into their 80's this week. They were remarkable figures entirely different but united sometimes by the world's frequent reluctance to recognize how very good and important they were. Here are some excerpts from both interviews:
On the idea that his stardom was so excessive that he''d been an "underrated" actor his whole life: "In the history of an actor, if you can count on one hand--or even half of one hand--memorable pictures, that's a lot. I've done about 20. I've never understood what this underrated bull---- is about. In no way, shape or form have I lived an underrated life as an actor. I've had the most wonderful parts in some outstanding films from 'Trapeze' all the down to 'Kings Go Forth' up to 'Some Like It Hot' around the corner to 'The Great Race' down to 'The Vikings' and then up to 'The Defiant Ones.' It's that not easy to accumulate films that are of high quality because of the people you work with, the director you work with, the producer, the person who wrote the script, the amount of money the studio spends on it. And there's no way of judging something before." (Great Curtis performances unmentioned in the above Tour De Tony onscreen: in "The Outsider" directed by Delbert Mann in 1961 and as Albert de Salvo in "The Boston Strangler" by Richard Fleischer in 1968, two of the least typical and most impressive performances in his life.)
On the stages of his life and how old age looked to him: "The living experience is the living experience. You cannot use anybody's else's places as your measuring sticks, those are only little nuggets in life. The sky is blue when you're 2 or 22 or 82. The last breath you take, if it's during the daytime, there will be clouds in the sky...Listen I'm happily married, I've got a beautiful wife and we're on our honeymoon, so I've got nothing to complain about. I take care of myself...I've got the most wonderful stimulating life. I'm 68 years old. I'm on my feet all day long. I run around. I have wonderful friends and wonderful living experiences. And I'm recognized all over the world by people who treat with much love and admiratiion. With all this there's nothing I can find that's demeaning or depressing...
"I'm tellng you, I'm lucky to be me. when I was a kid, I wanted to be Tony Curtis and that's exactly who I am."
On the enormous influence of his films and people who've lifted from them outright (the slow motion violence in "Bonnie and Clyde" became, for instance, a thematic device in Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch"): "Mostly I'm flattered by it. I've certainly done my share of it with Kurosawa and Welles when I could."
His least favorite film, as of 1985. " The Chase'. But that's probably an act of vanity. I didn't edit it and it looks alien to me."
On the commercial failure of one of his best films "Night Moves": "In a way, it's kind of a dark yarn, perhaps a bit too somber. What happened to it was that the studio didn't like the film. They didn't even want to release it...I think, though, had it had proper distribution, it could have been another Bonnie and Clyde."
On no longer being the 40-something director who changed the film-making world with "Bonnie and Clyde": "Lillian Hellman once said to me once that the only charge you can't defend yourself against is being old-fashioned."