Classic Hollywood: Tony Curtis' ever-hot career

Tony Curtis, the 1950s matinee idol who developed into an acclaimed actor in such classics as "Some Like It Hot," "Sweet Smell of Success" and "The Defiant Ones," was in a reflective mood recently.

"I'm just a lucky guy," said Curtis over the phone from his home in Las Vegas. "I am having such a wonderful life."



In a previous version of this article, the last name of escape artist Curtis Lovell II was misspelled as Love.

Perhaps it was his birthday on June 3 that sparked this mellow feeling. "I'm 84 years old and still kicking sand," he said with a laugh in his still-hearty Bronx-tinged accent. "I'm feeling good."

That wasn't the case a few years ago when Curtis had a near-fatal bout with pneumonia.

"That's over and now I am on the road to recovery," he said.

The onetime playboy and bon vivant now spends most of his time painting. "I make assemblages and collages," he said. "I am constantly involved in my artistic life."

He and his fifth wife, Jill Vandenberg, also operate the Shiloh Horse Rescue in Sandy Valley, Nev. "She goes out in the morning and maintains the ranch every day."

Curtis is leaving Las Vegas this week and visiting Los Angeles for "The Magic of Tony Curtis" Saturday at the venerable Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Presented by the Jules Verne Festival and the Los Angeles Historical Theater Foundation, the festivities include a matinee screening of Curtis' 1953 hit "Houdini," with escape artist Curtis Lovell II attempting the legendary magician's water torture stunt, and a 50th anniversary screening that evening of "Some Like It Hot."

Directed by Billy Wilder and widely considered one of the greatest American comedies, the film stars Curtis and Jack Lemmon as two Chicago musicians during the Roaring '20s on the lam in Florida after witnessing a gangland murder. Dressed as women, they find sanctuary in an all-girl orchestra where they also encounter the va-va-voom leading singer, Sugar Kane ( Marilyn Monroe).

Curtis also will be signing copies of his 2008 autobiography, "American Prince: A Memoir," at a special dinner in between the screenings at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown L.A.

Curtis recalled he first came to Los Angeles from New York in July 1948, to begin work in movies at Universal.

"What a time that was," he said wistfully. "I had never been to California except for when I was in the Navy, and here I was coming out with a movie contract."

Curtis credits his agent -- the legendary Lew Wasserman -- for "creating" and helping him.