Our Hero, Tony Curtis
A Tucson woman wins a contest and gets to host the film legend for a day.
By A.J. FLICK, Tucson Citizen
Tucson, Arizona (Special to Classic Movies) – Tony Curtis leapt into the phone interview, acting more like the questioner than the questionee.
“Tell me everything,” he cooed. “What’s happening? But first, tell me your name again.”
Ever the showman, Curtis has enthusiastically lent himself out for a day for a Turner Classic Movie contest that asked viewers why they would like a daylong visit with the star.
Tucsonan Bobbi Miller, a longtime fan of Curtis and his actress daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, won with a reference to a fictional contest.
“I remember when I was a little girl, there was a ‘Flintstones’ episode with a lot of celebrities with funny names,” Miller said. “The Flintstones had won a visit from ‘Stony Curtis,’ but Fred Flintstone abused the heck out of him.
“I told TCM that the Millers would treat Tony Curtis so much better than Fred Flintstone.”
Curtis and his wife, Jill, were scheduled to ride in a carriage with Miller and her 12-year-old daughter, Jeanine, in the Feb. 24 La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Tucson Rodeo Parade. They were joined for lunch by the rest of the Miller clan: Kevin, 46; Christine, 20; and Kevin, 13. Miller’s 21-year-old newlywed daughter, Amanda, lives in Washington state.
The afternoon was be spent at the rodeo, and dinner was hosted by Cox Communications. The day was taped by a TCM crew for an upcoming feature on the cable network.
When she was notified last fall that she’d won, Miller’s reaction was, “Oh, my God! What am I going to do with him?” She compiled a list of upcoming events, and Curtis picked La Fiesta de los Vaqueros because it sounded like fun.
Speaking from his Los Angeles home, Curtis said he’s looking forward to returning to southern Arizona. He filmed parts of the 1970 movieSuppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came in Tucson and Fort Huachuca.
“I remember meeting a Tucson woman who had an organic chicken farm,” Curtis said. “I don’t know what organically grown chickens are; I’ve never seen one. But I spent some time in Tucson, so it’ll be like I’m coming home.”
This isn’t the first time Curtis was the grand prize of a contest, “Flintstones” aside.
“Years ago when I first started making movies, the studio would send me out on tour,” Curtis said. “One time, a magazine — Modern Screen or maybe Photoplay, I can’t remember which — had a contest to win me for a day. So this sweet family won me, in Walla Walla, Washington, I think.
“I was 23, 24 years old then, so I met these people and it was a wonderful experience. It was amusing, though, because here I was the first prize, and the second prize was a new Frigidaire. The woman who won me was so nice and so kind to me, but she said what she really wanted was the Frigidaire!
“So when I got back home, I got her a Frigidaire.”
TCM did offer the Millers a choice: a refrigerator or Curtis. They chose Curtis.
In his youth, Curtis was one of the biggest matinee idols, charming millions with his campy performance alongside Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, his smoldering sexuality in such films as Spartacus, and his skillful dramatic roles in such classics as The Defiant Ones, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
“I was born in and worked in a period that could be called enviable,” Curtis said. “Every movie I’ve been in has ended up on television. I’ve made 122 movies, and I daresay there’s a picture of mine showing somewhere in the world every day.”
More than 50 years after his first film role, the 74-year-old Curtis is still acting, making TV appearances and occasional film roles such as 1994’sNaked in New York.
In addition, Curtis is an accomplished artist. His Web site, www.tonycurtis.com, features a rotating selection of prints, many of which are signed and available for several hundred dollars.
At 41, Miller is too young to have seen the peak of Curtis’ career, but she remembers being entranced by his performance in the title role ofHoudini.
“I would love to ask him whether he got to meet Houdini’s widow and if he did, if she told him any secrets,” Miller said, grinning.
Curtis adeptly takes fame, and being recognized wherever he goes, in stride.
“My dear,” Curtis said, his Bronx upbringing still evident despite decades of California living, “very little of it has to do with being famous from being in movies. It’s such a human condition, whether you’re a great track star or a great knitting person or you paint watercolors — someone knows who you are. I enjoy being recognized whatever environment I’m in.”
Fans aren’t shy when they see him, Curtis added.
“They come right up to me, right up to my face and say, ‘Tony Curtis !’ And I say, ‘Who else could it be?’ I’ve turned it into a game for myself. I do enjoy it a lot.”
To keep her company until Curtis’ arrival, TCM sent Miller an autographed photo of Curtis in his younger years, complete with the moody smile and dark curl over his forehead that made him a ’50s sex symbol. Miller has added the autographed photo to her extensive autographed photos collection, which includes Bob Hope, Sir Edmund Hillary, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Celine Dion.
Miller has been gathering trinkets for two baskets she will present to Curtis and his wife. The gifts include decorative Arizona plates, Sonoran honey and chile swizzle sticks.
Miller thinks Curtis is brave to lend himself out like this.
“We could have been crazies, for all he knew,” she said, smiling.
“Isn’t it nice that something like this can happen?” Curtis said. “And you don’t even have to get married to a multimillionaire on TV. Isn’t that wonderful?”
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