Interview of the week: Tony Curtis

By KAREN BUTLER   |   March 29, 2002 at 11:27 AM   |   0 comments

NEWTON, N.J., March 28 (UPI) -- As his 77th birthday nears, Hollywood legend Tony Curtis has no plans to retire from show business. In fact, the Bronx, N.Y., native and star of nearly 120 films hopes to again enjoy the sweet smell of success by taking on one of his most challenging roles to date -- that of eccentric millionaire Osgood Fielding III in a touring, musical version of Billy Wilder's 1959 screwball comedy, "Some Like It Hot."

"I'm looking good, I feel excellent and I'm happily married. There's no obstacle in front of me," the energetic Curtis told United Press International in an interview Monday.

"I'm going to sing and dance my heart out," he promised. "I'll be the next Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire."

Best-known for his performances in "Spartacus," "Operation Petticoat," "Sweet Smell of Success," and "The Defiant Ones," Curtis cemented his star status when he and fellow movie icon, Jack Lemmon, donned dresses and joined an all-girl band to escape mobsters who knew they witnessed a killing in "Some Like It Hot," named by the American Film Institute as the funniest movie of all time.

Starting this June, Curtis can be seen playing a millionaire who unwittingly falls in love with Daphne, unaware that she is really a man. Lemmon played the hapless Daphne in the film, while Curtis' jaunty Joe doffed his dress and wooed Marilyn Monroe, a singer who had no idea that Joe is also Josephine, her homely band-mate and confidante.

To prepare for the stage version of "Some Like It Hot" some 43 years after he made the movie, Curtis has been taking dancing and singing lessons several times a week in his hometown of Las Vegas. He also takes his script everywhere he goes, so he can practice his lines.

The actor noted that no matter what one's age, learning the lines for an entire play is much more challenging than memorizing a few pages of dialogue a day for a movie. He said that's because one is permitted to forget their movie lines shortly after he shoots those scenes, while the stage actor must retain the whole play for the duration of its run.

"If I still had to remember all of the lines to 120 movies, I'd be in a straitjacket in a ward somewhere," he quipped.

Fit and happy, no ward of any kind in sight, Curtis said he hopes his latest endeavor "shows the other guys in my age bracket there's nothing they can't accomplish."

"Why should we be intimidated by age?" Curtis wondered.

The actor said he also believes post-Sept. 11 audiences might find a bit of comfort in the unique American humor of "Some Like It Hot."

"It's excellent therapy," said Curtis. "We have no pretensions about (the show). ... We're doing a musical to get laughs. ... It's a glorified burlesque show. ... If any of us can help alleviate the pain, we should. ... I hope people will see it and feel happy."

Although Curtis has described the opportunity to return to the comedy classic of his youth as a "great present" equal to winning the lottery, the actor also admitted the experience was a bittersweet one, since it reminded him of Lemmon and Monroe and other friends who have died.

"Jack Lemmon, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Burt Lancaster. It's sad for me because these people are not around anymore, and they were my chums. They were my buddies, and they're not around anymore. I don't want to get maudlin over it, but it's sad for me, and so with this play, I hope to resurrect that whole experience. People will see me on stage, and it will remind them of Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe and that whole ambiance of that era, and that makes me feel good about it."

A resurgence of interest in the musical is being supported by the film's recent release on DVD, the re-release of the film in Europe and a companion coffee table book. The movie also made the American Film Institute's list of America's Greatest 100 movies. Based on the film, the stage musical is re-conceived from a 1972 musical called "Sugar." It has a new book by Peter Stone, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill.

Rehearsals of the musical, which features a 30-member company under the direction and choreography of Dan Siretta, are scheduled to begin at the end of next month with the show slated to open June 4 at Houston's new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

"Some Like It Hot" will then move to the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas in July, followed by a stint in Vienna, Va., a Washington, suburb, from Aug. 27 through Sept. 1.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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