Tony Curtis, whose death at the age of 85 is being reported today, will be remembered by many as both a Hollywood heartthrob and an actor with a gift for comedy. As the author of his own story, however, he met with more mixed reviews. Curtis wrote his own life story twice, once in "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography" (1993) and then again in "American Prince: A Memoir" (2008).
In general, "The Autobiography" was better received. Library Journal wrote, "This is Tony Curtis's story in his own words, and it is a corker. His depiction of a boyhood as a poor New York City street kid ... is moving as well as philosophical and is a recurring theme throughout his life and remarkably diverse career.... This is a literate, first-class "star" autobiography, frank and absorbing but not for the prudish."
Publishers Weekly, however, was tougher on Curtis, commenting that,"If Curtis's vanity didn't interfere, one could more readily sympathize with the man as a survivor of a mean childhood and the drug addiction from which he is recovering. Unfortunately, he blames most of his troubles on others, beginning with his parents."
USA Today said of "An American Prince" that it was "[f]illed with fond recollections of [Curtis’s] friendships with the famous and powerful but punctuated, too, by harsh words for Hollywood legends he says did him wrong…. Curtis spares few intimate details about his years as a Hollywood lothario, including his teenage affair with a redheaded, ponytailed Marilyn Monroe.”
Most readers, however, seemed to feel that while Curtis's recounting of his childhood in a tough Lower East Side Manhattan neighborhood (the son of Hungarian immigrants, he didn't learn to speak English till he was 5) was absorbing, Curtis's bragging about his conquests of the opposite sex (he was married five times and had many affairs) was unappealing. ("Fun for a while, then kerplunk .... falls, like a promising cake gone bad," wrote one Amazon reader.)
In the end, however, it is not Tony Curtis the writer or even the man who will be remembered as much as it will be Tony Curtis the actor, star of "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), "The Defiant Ones" (1958), "Some Like It Hot"(1959), and "Spartacus" (1960). And perhaps that would have been fine with the man who wrote, in "American Prince," that “All my life I had one dream and that was to be in the movies.”
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.