When we drove up to the Peninsula hotel Monday evening, Tony Curtis and his wife Jill were waiting for us. Tony was in a wheelchair. His head was clean-shaved. His face broke into a wide Tony Curtis smile as he saw me getting out of the car to greet them.
I tried not to show my emotions when we hugged. After all, how could I expect to see the same Tony Curtis whom I had first met at Universal Studios in the late ’40s — or even the same Tony Curtis I had known through the halcyon days of “Some Like It Hot,” “The Defiant Ones,” “The Vikings,” “Sweet Smell Of Success,” and yes, of course, “Spartacus.” But it was indeed the same Tony Curtis with whom I’d kept up hilarious phone communications even through his marriages, children, and finally in his hegira to Las Vegas where he and Jill, his wife of seven years, had set up a new life — a rancher’s life, an artist’s life — and occasionally, the life of an actor comortable in the precentages he owned in these films — thanks to his agent Lew Wasserman.
A new chapter in our friendship had taken a surprise segue — an even more dramatic turn than any in his previous 81 years. We packed Tony’s wheelchair into the trunk of our car and headed to Mastros. Jill then wheeled him to the front of the restaurant, then took an elevator to the eatery’s second floor where Jill zig-zagged him thru the tables to ours by a window. A waiter parked the wheelchair and Tony started to unravel the mystery of the past six months as we had dinner.
It all started last December when we talked aout his attending the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He was to be honored, having served at sea and was present at the Tokyo surrender-signing. But he wasn’t able to attend the Hawaiian celebration. He was suddenly ill. He couldn’t breathe. Emergency hopitalisations followed — complications, pneumonia — loss of the use of his body. He described the tubes, needles, all the objects that were going in and out of his body. “For three months I had no idea who or what I was,” he said. “I still don’t know what happened during all of that time.”
He had nurses, therapists — and Jill, constantly Jill at his bedside and beyond and especially during the post-surgical periods. Up until five weeks ago he said he had appliances still protruding from his body. “But look at me now — 184 pounds,” he proudly displayed the new, muscular arms — and even raised his shirt to show a tight stomach. He was Tony Curtis again. “Next I’ll be on a walker,” he said, “then a cane.” And then…
He returned to show business today, Tuesday, as he posed for pictures to decorate the 50th snniversary issue of GQ. He is to personify the ’50s in the anniversary issue…”Who better?” he laughed. Curtis posed in a dazzling white suit for the occation. But he did not don his wig. “I’m going to try it this way — shaved — for the summer, at least,” he said. “Then — we’ll see.” Who knows, maybe a romantic role will change his mind — or head, that is?
When I returned to my office at Daily Variety to report to you, I lifted the large paper weight which regularly sits atop messages. It was a replica of the First Annual Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair which boasted pictures of Nicole Kidman, Linda Fioretino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Uma Thurman — and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in their femme facial makeup a la “Some Like It Hot”–with Lemmon in a woman’s slip and Curtis in only his jocket shorts and socks. He’ll look more glamorous for GQ…