Iconic Hollywood actor Tony Curtis, who starred in Spartacus, Some Like It Hot, and The Sweet Smell of Success, has passed away at age 85. He died after suffering cardiac arrested in his Las Vegas area home. In the NY Times' obituary, Dave Kehr writes a thorough examination of Curtis' career—acting and heartthrob/heartbreaker status alike ("Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early 1950s")—as well as his upbringing in New York City:
Behind the pretty-boy looks could be found a dramatically potent combination of naked ambition and deep vulnerability, both likely products of his Dickensian childhood in the Bronx. Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, to Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Emanuel operated a tailor shop in a poor neighborhood, and the family occupied cramped quarters behind the store, the parents in one room and little Bernard sharing another with his two brothers, Julius and Robert. Helen Schwartz suffered from schizophrenia and frequently beat the three boys. (Robert was later found to have the same disease.)
In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his parents found they could not properly provide for their children, and Bernard and Julius were placed in a state institution. Returning to his old neighborhood, Bernard frequently found himself caught up in gang warfare and the target of anti-Semitic hostility; as he recalled in many interviews, he learned to dodge the stones and fists to protect his face, which he realized even then would be his ticket to greater things. In 1938, Julius Schwartz was hit by a truck and killed.
Curtis, who later went to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side, famously married Janet Leigh in 1951 (one of their children is the actress Jamie Lee Curtis), divorced her, and remarried five more times. He is survived by his current wife, Jill VandenBerg (the couple operated a horse rescue and sanctuary farm), and five children.
When his career stalled in the mid-1950s, "Burt Lancaster, another actor who survived a difficult childhood in New York City, took him under his wing," and, after co-starring in 1956's Trapeze, Lancaster and Curtis starred in one of the best movies ever made about power, the media and New York City, the 1957 film The Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, the most powerful columnist in NYC, and Curtis is Sidney Falco, a press agent desperate to land an item in the column. Here's a trailer of the film:
Falco is trying to gain Hunsecker's favor by breaking up the columnist's sister's relationship with a jazz musician—here's a scene: