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Looking Back

Tony Curtis comes to the Byrd.


Joe and Jerry are out-of-work musicians in 1929 who accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. To avoid the Mob, the two disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band. The plot thickens hilariously when Joe/Josephine falls for the band's dazzlingly pulchritudinous singer (Marilyn Monroe), and Jerry/Daphne winds up entangled with a rich yachtsman (Joe E. Brown) who won't take "no" for an answer.

Curtis says the key to the success of the movie's cross-dressing element was that "there was no reason for us to be in drag except that our lives depended on it." He will share stories about the filming of "Some Like It Hot" when he comes to Richmond tomorrow night (Nov. 18) for a free screening of the film at the Byrd Theater.

Both lead actors enjoyed their roles in the movie, which along with "Ben Hur" was one of the top-rated films of 1959. "Jack loved it. He went to pieces over it," Curtis says. Although it was made during a culturally conservative decade, "We weren't embarrassed or afraid of it. I didn't want to look like my character enjoyed it too much, but I was never worried about it really."

Their tour-de-force performances paid off handsomely. It was arguably Wilder's funniest comedy ever, earning six Oscar nominations, and it was the top-grossing comedy up to its time. (Costume designer Orry-Kelly won the film's only Oscar, for Monroe's almost transparent gowns.)

"Billy Wilder was an ober-standartenfuhrer — he was Austrian, you know — and he kept a good strong hand on the project," Curtis says. "But he allowed Jack and me to develop the characters."

One of the film's funniest scenes is one in which Curtis drops his Josephine character to pretend he is a wealthy, yet impotent, businessman in order to woo Monroe's character. "I decided that morning to use a Cary Grant accent for that scene" to give the character comic sophistication. "Wilder let us work out our own roles to a great extent," Curtis says.

The son of a tailor from Hungary, Curtis served on a U.S. Navy submarine tender during World War II, and witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay through binoculars. He now lives in Las Vegas with his wife, Jill Vandenberg. He and his first wife, the late Janet Leigh ("Psycho"), are the parents of actress Jamie Leigh Curtis.

"A Special Evening with Tony Curtis" will present highlights from Curtis' career, which began in 1948, and the audience will have a chance to ask Curtis about his life and his movies. The event is sponsored by the Turner Classic Movies TV channel and Comcast Cable.

Curtis now spends a lot of his time painting. His art has been shown in prestigious galleries, and he sells prints of his paintings at His plans include a movie about the Holocaust, which he says is expected to begin filming in Budapest later this year. S

"A Special Evening with Tony Curtis" takes place at the Byrd Theatre with a live career retrospective at 7:30 p.m. followed by a screening of "Some Like It Hot" at 9. Admission is free, call 545-8582 to make a reservation.

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