AMERICAN PRINCE, Tony Curtis, 2008, Harmony Books, hardcover, 364pp, photos, index, filmography.
An excellent anecdote-filled Hollywod autobiography by Tony Curtis, a Jewish kid from New York whose mentally-ill mother continually attacked his self-esteem and made life unbearable but somehow got out of the neighborhood, first into the Navy during World War II where he served in the submarine service, and later became an actor.
The first chapter sets the stage discussing his early days in Hollywood with Marilyn Monroe where they were both ambitious actors just starting out, offering there and later some interesting insights about her.
Curtis also tells engaging stories about working with Cary Grant (his childhood idol and later co-star in the service comedy Operation Petticoat), Frank Sinatra (Sinatra said he liked Curtis, who became an unofficial Rat Pack member, because “he beat the odds”), Sammy Davis Jr. (their friendship cooled when Davis failed to visit Jeff Chandler in the hospital before his death on the operating table, because Sam was hanging out with Sinatra), Yul Brynner (Taras Bulba co-star who had a guy to light his cigarettes), Laurence Olivier (with whom he did the infamous subtly homoerotic oysters-and-snails bathtub scene in Spartacus that was cut and not restored to the movie until 40 years later), war hero and Western actor Audie Murphy (Curtis and everyone else was afraid of the temperamental Murphy knowing his war record), and more.
There’s also plenty about his marriages, expecially to the marriage to the gorgeous Janet Leigh which faded away and resulted in a drawn-out liveless relationship.
He discusses the ups and downs of his career, including the decline in the later years and his adjustment to that situation.
His comments on Monroe are interesting because an Amazon reader’s comment noted that an earlier autobiography by Curtis was harsher on the actress than this book. However, I would suggest…and I’m obviously not in the position to ask Curtis…that after 85 years of life, his attitude to Monroe has simply mellowed. I know I’ve had the same experience with my relationship with my father, so it’s a situation I can understand.
Speaking of Marilyn, Curtis points out that the line about “kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler” was taken out of context. After shooting a scene in which he kisses Monroe, he’s asked by crewmembers what it was like and he replies to what he regarded as a colossaly silly question that it was like kissing Hitler. Somehow, the quote found its way into print and is often passed off as an insult to Monroe.
Speaking of famous lines, Curtis is alleged to have said in a movie (Son of the Sheik) “Yonder lies the castle of my fodda.” When Hugh Hefner laid that line on him, Curtis said, that’s not even the line in the movie. Hefner said don’t tell anyone, it’s a great movie story.
Very good book, very entertaining.