The star of scores of films, including Some Like it Hot and The Defiant Ones, Tony Curtis now spends his time painting and writing. His latest is American Prince, which details his long career in Tinseltown. Curtis talked to TIME about being an aging actor, hooking up with Marilyn Monroe, and why living well is the best revenge.
You write about your time in Hollywood from the 1950's to the 80's. How would you compare the industry now to when you were first getting started?
It was different then. It was a lot more spontaneous. Kids were coming to the citybeautiful girls, good looking guysand they'd sell themselves around town, hoping someone would pick them up and give them a six-month studio contract. It seems much more calculated now. Not to mention television. Television just eats up everything. You can have a career start over the weekend on television!
Lew Wasserman, who was my agent then, told me, "Tony, you're going to have to work three pictures a year for ten years. At the end of ten years, you should be a star all around the world." He was absolutely right. I just worked, worked, worked. Today, there are no such animals. I don't know anybody who's putting together a career like that. I made 150 movies of every conceivable kind.
You write, "Now, 60 years later after I began, despite all that success, no one will give me a chance to show what I can do." Is that just something that happens to people as they get older in Hollywood, or do you think you have it worse than others?
I don't want to play old men on the screen. I don't want to be just sitting in chairs or walking slowly up and down. I'm 83 years old, but I'm as healthy as one can be, and still a fine-looking gentleman. I can fence, I can drive a car. But no one offers me any work. No one. Absolutely nothing to work on. The Screen Actors Guild, only if I press them, will they send me news about what's going on. It's as if once you get out of the movies, you disappear. You never was in the pictures before. I say f--- it, but I still get sad, I get depressed. I spent my life learning this profession, and learning it well. Do you think that it's diminished because I'm 83?
Is that part of the reason you wrote this book?
That's exactly one of the reasons. I want to let whoever reads it, or hears of it, to know that I would like to join the community again. I earned a nice healthy living in my career as a young actor. I'm sorry that I have to come to grips with the fact that I'm not getting any work.
You live in Las Vegas now. Why not Los Angeles, where the movies are at?
I wouldn't live in LA anymore. I gave that city the best shot I could. 50 years, I worked hard. But I found it a hard-nosed environment. And it was very hard to settle down with a girl there. All us actors were running around without any relationship because we didn't know which new girl was going to come through town for us to latch on to. I would have loved to have found a girl I could relax and be with for a long time, but it was very hard there. I had to marry a couple of them in order to find out. My wife now, Jillie, we've been married for over ten years, and I'm still crazy about her.
You write a lot about all the starlets you had relationships withMarilyn Monroe, Janet Leigh, Natalie Wood. Do you regret anything from hopping around so much?
Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. Some of us guys in the movies got married, stayed married for a little while, then got a divorce, then got married again. It was never any trouble, you just had to be sure you signed a pre-nuptial agreement. Then, if anything went wrong, your wardrobe wouldn't go with the woman. Each relationship was in itself glorious and interesting.
One of the misconceptions you try to address here is that you thought Marilyn Monroe was a bad kisser. There's that quote of you saying, "Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler."
There was a scene Marilyn and I did [in Some Like it Hot]. They were screening the rushes and I was stunned by how good it was. It made me feel wonderful. Then all these guys who were watching the rushes with me started to needle me. "Hey Tony, where did you stick it? Did it work, or didn't it? Tell us what it was like." So I said, "F--- you. Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler." I was just pissed at them bringing it up like that. I thought I quieted it down. Little did I know that it would end up as a line that everyone remembered.
I loved Marilyn Monroe. We met when she was 18 and I was 21. She was such a beautiful girl, and back then I was lighting up with every girl I could meet. I never forgot what she looked like, and I'm not bulls---ing you. It was an incredible experience when this girls' clothes were off. She was exquisite. Perfectly formed. How many times in your life are you going to meet someone like that?
You were nominated for a Best Actor Oscar alongside Sidney Poitier for The Defiant Ones. Are you peeved that you never got more respect from the Academy?
There were other pictures I madeI don't want to complainbut I feel in my heart that there were other performances I gave that could have easily been nominated. And now that won't ever happen. I'm not doing any movies, and I'm not going to find a movie that's going to be nominated for any awards. So, my dear friends, I sit around in Vegas, with a beautiful car, a beautiful wife, a lot of dough in my pocket, and that's my revenge.