NEW YORK — To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, life on the road is nothing but second acts. Just ask Tony Curtis, star of “Some Like It Hot.”
“I’m 77 years old and I’m starting a brand-new profession. Ain’t that something?” Curtis says of his new stage gig in the musical. Back in 1959, the actor created the role of Joe/Josephine in the Billy Wilder classic of the same name. For the musical, retooled from 1972’s “Sugar” but renamed for the current road tour, he segues to the Joe E. Brown role of the lecherous old millionaire, Osgood Fielding III.
In the movie, Brown did his usual goofy slapstick. Curtis takes the high road, oozing fine-honed comic charm. “I am elegant,” he admits. “This character is now an eccentric, handsome billionaire. I would call it typecasting.”
Before he became a movie star, Curtis starred in “Golden Boy” at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village in 1948. Joyce Selznick discovered him, got him a six-month contract at Universal and sent him to Hollywood. There have been a couple of legit jobs between then and now, the worst being a stint in Neil Simon’s “I Oughta Be in Pictures” at the Mark Taper Forum.
According to Curtis, Herbert Ross misdirected. One day, the prop man informed him, “You know, they’re directing another guy downstairs to replace you.” Today, 22 years later, Curtis remembers Ross as being “cruel and unnecessarily blunt and the only reason I haven’t done theater since then.”
He wonders why the “Sweet Smell of Success” producers never asked him to star in their
musical redux of his 1955 classic, in which he immortalized every overeager young flack in the character of Sidney Falco. “I was pissed off they didn’t ask me,” admits Curtis. “I am now the perfect age to be J.J. Hunsecker.”
Instead, he is employed and on the road in back-to-back one-week engagements that he finds a joy but exhausting, not that it’s been all fun.
“We opened cold in Houston,” he recalls of the June 4 preem. “The props didn’t work, the stage didn’t work. I wanted it to be as close to complete as possible. It was all right. But people come to see a show, not a rehearsal.”
Since then, the production has worked out the kinks. “And night after night, to be able to say that line, ‘Nobody’s perfect,’ ” notes Curtis, is almost better than getting his weekly paycheck. “It’s worth joining Actors’ Equity.”