Thomas Curtiss, who made a lifelong career as a reviewer of theater and film for Variety and the International Herald Tribune, died Nov. 27 of natural causes in Poissy, France. He was 85.
A well-respected critic, Curtiss never felt comfortable watching a play or a movie unless he was writing about it. He carved a niche in the Paris entertainment scene after settling there in 1950.
Residing below the famed Tour d’Argent restaurant, Curtiss dined there while interviewing stars like Marlene Dietrich and Paulette Goddard. He often got acquainted with subjects on a personal level and made friends with literati like novelist Mary McCarthy.
Curtiss also had a reputation as a tenacious reporter. One of his biggest scoops came in 1962 when Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Russian ballet while in Paris. Curtiss discovered where the dancer was staying and approached him for an exclusive interview.
During the 1960s, Curtiss also reported for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. In addition to writing on the arts, Curtiss penned “Von Stroheim,” a biography of Erich von Stroheim, and “The Smart Set: George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken.”
A New York native, Curtiss grew up with a fondness for books, theater and silent cinema. After spending short stints at Columbia University and medical school in Vienna, Austria, Curtiss moved to Moscow to study filmmaking in the mid-’30s. He worked alongside prominent filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein.
Choosing to review films instead, Curtiss went on to serve in the Army during WWII. He was able to use his Russian language skills as an interpreter between the U.S. Army and the Red Army in Germany.
In 1968, Curtiss helped administer first aid to policemen during student riots against the French government. His effort earned him the Legion of Honor.