Tony Curtis, who died on Wednesday, was an eyewitness to one of the most momentous events of the 20th century: The Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in 1945. He had been a signalman on the submarine U.S.S. Proteus, and watched through a pair of binoculars.
But he also got an advance listen to one of the great speeches of the postwar period: John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
As relayed in his book American Prince: A Memoir, Curtis had been introduced to Kennedy, when he was still a senator, by Frank Sinatra. Curtis and then wife Janet Leigh held a fund-raiser at their home for Kennedy, and also struck up a friendship with Kennedy’s father, Joe, and it helped that Curtis could introduce him to starlets. On a visit to the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach in January, 1961, President-elect Kennedy called to his dad, and started reciting his inauguration speech. Joe Kennedy, Curtis wrote, “motioned for me to come over to the phone, lifted it away from his ear and said, ‘I want you to hear this.’ I put my ear to the phone and I heard Jack Kennedy say, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ The words were absolutely electric; the gave me goose bumps, and I told the president-elect so.”
The night of the inauguration, Kennedy spotted Curtis at one of the evening parties and told him he’d got an advance look at one of Curtis’ latest movies, “The Great Impostor,” the night before, and praised it.
“I knew I wasn’t ever likely to get a compliment to top that,” Curtis wrote.
Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV also writes of Curtis’ backstory on the infamous scene with Laurence Olivier in the movie “Spartacus.”