How’s Tony Curtis?

“Tony Curtis — just fine,” he sez. And he celebrates his 81st birthday June 3, with wife (of eight years-plus) Jill (“Jillie”) at their Henderson, Nevada home. It’s “just 35 minutes” from their 40-acre ranch in Sandy Valley where Jill has acquired 50 horses “which she’s saved from slaughter,” Tony proudly reports. These days, he spends most of his time painting.

Tony has art showings upcoming in Carmel, Maine, at Nice during the July festival where he’ll receive a Lifetime Achievement award. He has requests to appear at film fests — with or without his paintings. One of his canvases, “The Red Table” will hang in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he proudly told me. Curtis claims he makes more from his art today than his acting career back then. However, thanks to his agent Lew Wasserman, he “owns a percentage” of his films including “Some Like It Hot,” “The Defiant Ones,” “The Great Race,” “Sweet Smell of Success” etc. “They bring in $400-500,000 a year,” Curtis volunteers.

He has no films now awaiting his approval. “They all want me to play a grandfather. I want to be a girl again” — like “Josephine” in “Some Like It Hot.” Whereupon he laughingly segued into reminiscences of the film and Marilyn Monroe. We recalled my visit to the location on the beach outside the Del Coronado Hotel. Tony, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, the entire movie company and yours truly were on the broiling sand, waiting for Marilyn to emerge from her dressing room for the scene. I asked Wilder why he put up with Marilyn’s monkeyshines. Wilder shrugged his shoulders and said, “I could have gotten my aunt Tillie to do the part — she’d always be on time — but who would come to the box office to see her?” When Marilyn eventually appeared on the set Lew Wasserman politely asked, “How are you?” She abruptly answered “Lousy” and strolled off, Curtis recalled.

Tony has offers to write a book about Hollywood in that era. It would of course, include stories of him and Marilyn — whose 80th birth date was noted today, June 1. “I always loved younger women,” he laughed. How will he celebrate this 81st birthday? “Jillie and I and some friends will go to dinner — and dancing. I’m feeling great and looking wonderful. I’ve hardly changed.” He paused and laughed, “If I should go before you — don’t tell me.”

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