Tony Curtis’ baby blue eyes and charming demeanor made for a straight shot up the Hollywood ladder soon after pursuing his silver-screen dreams. Throughout the ’50s, there wasn’t a woman who didn’t know his name or a movie-goer who didn’t look forward to his onscreen presence. However, even though there was plenty for Curtis to cheer about, not everything in his life was teeming with success — the public never saw his whole struggle..
It wasn’t easy to arrive on the scene as a Hollywood heartthrob in the ’50s, but Tony Curtis pulled it off, and with ease. The humble, and often difficult, beginnings he came from successfully carried him through the wild jungle of fame.
Photo by R. Jones/Express/Getty Images
Born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, Curtis grew up in an impoverished household. Both his mother and father were Hungarian Jewish immigrants running a tailor shop in New York City’s Bronx borough. Life didn’t come easy for the family.
Not only did the tailor shop serve as a means of income, but cramped in the very back of the building was their apartment. Curtis lived uncomfortably, sandwiched in with both parents and his two brothers, Julius and Robert.
As bad as the family’s financial situations were, things were even worse with the boys’ mother, Helen. She suffered from schizophrenia and physically lashed out at them. After their parents couldn’t feed them, Curtis and Julius were sent to a state institution. Life there was no better.
Because the brothers came from Jewish parents, trouble brewed between the rest of their classmates, and anti-Semitism ran rampant on the school yard. Then, when Tony was 11, another tragedy struck.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
His brother Julius was killed by a passing car. Devastated and depressed, Curtis sought an outlet for his anger, which turned out to be a local street gang that skipped school and pilfered stores. He was on a bad path — until a neighbor stepped in.
She sent him to a Boy Scout camp, where he straightened out. Curtis shook off the negativity of the state institution at Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Upon graduating, he took on an even nobler route in deciding to serve his country.
Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr
Instead of hitting the books for another four years at a conventional college, Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy, where he spent most of his time aboard the U.S.S. Proteus submarine. After his stint, he had another career in mind.
The New School for Social Research was where Curtis took classes, and it’s where really getting into the craft of acting. Funnily enough, he often shared the stage with legendary Walter Matthau (left), who also attended at the time.
It didn’t take long for the boyish look that Curtis wielded like a knight in shining armor to land a huge contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. His string of small roles quickly became huge ones thanks to a special marriage.
FilmPublicityArchive / Getty Images
The paparazzi had a field day when they found out Curtis wed Janet Leigh, an enormously successful actress and singer, in 1951. The high-profile buzz that followed the couple everywhere helped Curtis leap upwards.
With all the attention Curtis had with Leigh, he started landing lead roles in huge films at the time like Houdini (which even co-starred Leigh), Operation Petticoat, and the classic comedy Some Like It Hot.
Paramount Pictures / Getty Images
Curtis was also rubbing elbows with the biggest names in Hollywood, like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. But nothing compared to the joy he felt when he and Leigh welcomed their children into the world.
Graphic House / Getty Images
The Hollywood power couple had two precious daughters, Kelly Lee and Jamie Lee. One of the girls even followed in her father’s footsteps to become one of the biggest female names to ring through the Hollywood halls.
Bettmann / Getty Images
Jamie Lee Curtis has been a leading lady in countless Hollywood hits, and she helped carry on the Curtis legacy the proper way. Unfortunately, the close relationship Curtis had with his daughters didn’t translate to his wife.
After Leigh discovered Curtis was seeing a 17-year-old German mistress on the side, she divorced him. Curtis then worked his way through five more failed marriages and a slew of other high-profile relationships.
FilmPublicityArchive / Getty Images
Hollywood offered the opportunity to live in the fastline of luxury and satisfaction, and Curtis was fully indulging in the seemingly endless banquet of good times. But, like many other celebs, it all caught up to him.
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
Once the ’70s hit, so did Curtis’ realization he developed a substance abuse problem that imprisoned his ambitions. Finally, in 1982, he called everything quits and entered rehab. Sobriety then brought him new life as a painter and author.
Universal Pictures / Getty Images
Curtis dove heavily into creating fine art. But, he also wanted to share his journey with the world, so he wrote two autobiographies, Tony Curtis: The Autobiography and American Prince: A Memoir.
Eric Robert / Getty Images
Curtis passed away in 2010 at the ripe age of 85. But it wasn’t with his family cheerfully at his side. For a long time, he’d been on the outs with everyone who loved him.
Following her parents divorce in 1962, Curtis’s relationship with her father began to deteriorate. In fact, Tony Curtis’ relationship with his children was so nonexistent that by the time he passed away in 2010 he’d cut all of them from his will — Jamie Lee included.
Still, there was something between them. Curtis began delving deeper into her Jewish heritage in the early ’90s and made an incredible gesture. Together with her father, Curtis helped finance the reconstruction of the “Great Synagogue” in Budapest, Hungary.
Before the church, and before pursuing a career in Hollywood herself, Curtis actually had very different plans for her future. While attending the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, Curtis majored in social work before dropping out after one semester.
Nevertheless, Curtis made her big-screen debut as Laurie Strode in the 1978 horror classic Halloween. Her performance was highly praised, and she went on to reprise the role in Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and the 2018 remake, Halloween.
Compass International Pictures
Following the success of Halloween, Curtis established herself as a leading Hollywood “scream queen” with performances in several other horror classics, including Prom Night, The Fog, and Terror Train.
Debra Hill Productions
Curtis shed her “scream queen” image after starring in 1983’s Trading Places, a role that earned her a BAFTA award for best supporting actress. She followed up with 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda, a cult film that established her as a comedic actress.
Despite her fame within the horror genre, Curtis has admitted she’s not a fan of the scary stuff: “I do not like horror movies. I do not say this for a joke, although it gets a laugh, I really don’t. There’s nothing I like about being scared.”
In fact, one of Curtis’ longtime friends — actress Sigourney Weaver, a fellow “scream queen” from the Alien films — knows this all too well. Hilariously, Curtis admitted in 2015 that she’s never watched the original Alien all the way through because it was too scary!
After spotting a picture of This Is Spinal Tap star Christopher Guest, Curtis turned to her friend Debra Hill and told her, “Oh, I’m going to marry that guy.” The pair wed five months later and have been together ever since.
The relationship had perks. Along with being one of Hollywood’s most beloved leading ladies, Curtis is also literal royalty. Following the death of her father-in-law, Curtis’ husband inherited the title of 5th Baron Haden-Guest, making her a baroness!
But, throughout all her success, she was suffering. In a 2019 interview, Curtis revealed that she suffered from alcoholism like her father and became addicted to painkillers early in her career. She sought help for her addiction and has been sober since 1999.
With nearly a hundred acting credits to her name, Curtis is easily one of Hollywood’s most iconic leading ladies. It should come as no surprise, then, that she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in 1990. But, it’s what she’s done off screen that makes her a star.
Since 1993, Curtis has penned a total of 13 children’s books. Her 1998 book Today I Feel Silly, and Other Moods That Make My Day was actually a New York Times best seller for ten weeks.
During her highly publicized partnership with L’eggs, Curtis’ long legs attracted plenty of customers to the pantyhose brand. In fact, her legs were so prized by the brand that L’eggs actually insured them for $2.8 million.
Strangely enough, Curtis actually owned a patent for a diaper designed with a built-in pocket for wipes until 2007. Since 2017, however, she’s held the rights to another diaper design, this one relating to biodegradability.
An LGBTQ-rights activist, Curtis appeared alongside Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt in 8, a staged reenactment of the trial that overturned California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage. She also appeared in a tribute video for the victims of the 2016 Orlando night club shooting.
American Foundation For Equal Rights / YouTube
Though you’d never guess it, Curtis is actually a huge World of Warcraft fan. She’s attended several Comic-Cons and Bliz-Cons in full cosplay and was even invited to attend the premiere of 2016’s Warcraft.
International Business Times
In addition to her humanitarian work, Curtis is also heavily involved in philanthropy. She currently serves on the leadership board of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and also works with the Children Affected By AIDS Foundation.
In addition to being the mother of two adopted children, Curtis is also godmother to actor Jake Gyllenhaal, having been close with his parents — director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner — for years.
Incredibly, Hollywood is filled with more godparent-godchild relationships than you’d think. Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton are one notable pair; during Miley’s radical image shift, Parton was one of the few people that stood by the young star.
2. Marisa Tomei & Zoë Kravitz: After starring alongside Lisa Bonet on A Different World, Marisa Tomei was named godmother of her daughter Zoë, whom she had with first husband Lenny Kravitz.
Vogue / Hawt Celebs
3. Mariah Carey & Patti LaBelle: Not only is Patti LaBelle the “Godmother of Soul,” but she’s also godmother to none other than Mariah Carey! The pair actually performed together in 2016 for the VH1 Divas Holiday: Unsilent Night benefit concert.
4. Sting & Rocco Ritchie: The son of Madonna and Guy Ritchie, Rocco has all the tools and connections he needs to become a success. If he ever needs a little extra help, however, he can always look to his godfather, Police frontman Sting.
NC Register / Too Fab
5. Steven Spielberg & Drew Barrymore: After Barrymore’s role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial made her a star, Steven Spielberg was named the young actress’ godfather — and a protective one at that. Following her 1995 Playboy shoot, Spielberg sent her a quilt and told her to cover up!
6. Jennifer Aniston & Coco Arquette: Who knew that Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox-Arquette are actually close friends in real life? Cox never had any kids on the show, so Aniston will just have to settle for being one to Coco Arquette.
People / Life and Style
7. Macaulay Culkin & Paris Jackson: In 1998, child star Macaulay Culkin became godfather to longtime-friend Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris. Despite their godparent-godchild relationship, the two are more like close friends.
8. Sugar Ray Leonard & Khloé Kardashian: Not many would expect boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard to be Khloé Kardashian’s godfather, but the famous fighter was actually friends with Khloé’s late father, Robert.
TV Guide / Glamour
9. Steven Spielberg & Gwyneth Paltrow: That’s right — Drew Barrymore has some competition. Steve Spielberg also serves as godfather to Gwyneth Paltrow, whom he cast as the young Wendy Darling in his 1991 film Hook.
10. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman & Rupert Murdoch’s daughters: Aussies like to stick together, so it’s no wonder that media mogul Rupert Murdoch named the Australian actors godparents to his daughters Chloe and Grace.
Just Jared / Amber Jamieson / Twitter
11. Michael Jackson & Nicole Richie: After adopting Nicole, Lionel Richie chose friend and longtime collaborator Michael Jackson to be her godfather. The pop icon shares this title with jazz legend Quincy Jones.
The Daily Waster / Hollywood Reporter
12. Lady Gaga & Elton John’s sons: Being named godparent to one child is flattering enough, but to serve as one to both of Elton John’s sons is an incredible honor. That’s the case for Lady Gaga, who’s godmother to both Zachary and Elijah John-Furnish.
ABC7 Chicago / Pinterest
13. Hugh Grant & Damian Hurley: Remember when Hugh Grant’s high-profile relationship with Elizabeth Hurley ended in scandal? Well, it seems all is forgiven, as Hurley named Grant godfather to her son, Damian.
14. Bono & Brangelina’s twins: Citing their shared passion for improving the world through humanitarian efforts, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie named U2 frontman Bono the godfather of their twins, Knox and Vivienne.
The Independent / Us Weekly
15. Henry Winkler & Bryce Dallas Howard: This should come as a surprise to no one, as Bryce’s father, Ron Howard, co-starred with Winkler on Happy Days. Could you imagine having the Fonz for a godfather?
Vulture / Jurassic World
16. Johnny Depp & Tim Burton’s children: With their shared Hollywood history, it’s no wonder that Depp and Burton are close friends. That’s why he and Helena Bonham Carter named Depp godfather to their children, Billy Raymond and Nell.
Vanity Fair / HOLA
17. Elton John & Sean Lennon: Elton John has ten godkids in total – but not many know that he also plays the part for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son, Sean Lennon.
18. Eva Longoria & Harper Beckham: As far as Hollywood besties go, Eva Longoria and Victoria Beckham are as close as it gets. That’s why in 2011 Posh Spice named the Desperate Housewives star godmother to her daughter, Harper.
Popsugar / Hello Magazine
19. Sonny Bono & Anthony Kiedis: The resemblance between godfather and godson is uncanny! Sonny Bono was a close friend of Kiedis’ father, Blackie Dammett, and would even take the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman on weekend trips as a kid.