Turner Classic Movies debuts its third season of Private
Screenings with an interview of actor Tony Curtis by host Robert Osborne.
Although interviews with popular actors are often a
delight, this one proves that ignorance can be bliss. The hour is interestingly structured
and nonlinear, featuring clips not just from his triumphs -- like Some Like It Hot
and Sweet Smell of Success -- but also from Curtis' early work, some of which
are barely more than walk-ons.
Curtis has a few telling tales, such as the one about the
time when he was off to the side, rehearsing his one line in a film with Barbara Stanwyck.
The director overheard him rehearsing about 10 different readings of the line that his
character, a bellboy, would utter.
The director cut to the chase: "He just wants a
tip," he told Curtis. The actor clung to that symbolic phrase for motivation through
He also shoots down the most oft-told tale about him: He
never uttered, "Yonda lies the castle of my fadduh." He spoke a similar line,
and rather eruditely, at that. The quote started when Debbie Reynolds mimicked him on an
interview show, Curtis relates sourly.
Sour sets the tone for most of the hour, unfortunately.
"My peers hated me," he says. He chafed at the roles that he was given, even
thought they got him to Hollywood before more talented peers, including Marlon Brando.
He has charitable words for heroes, including Burt
Lancaster and Cary Grant (even though Curtis seems to take credit for the fact that their
joint effort, Operation Petticoat, was the highest-grossing film that Grant made).
But he takes unpleasant shots at other co-stars in his life, including Kirk Douglas
("diabolical") and ex-wife Janet Leigh.
He definitely has rejected the charitable senior-statesman
role. Osborne could have done more to prod him into anecdotes about the films that he
chose, or to explain tales that made little sense without some background.
They dwell a while on the danger of making Sweet Smell
of Success, but it doesn't make much sense unless you already know that the film
features a character like career-breaking columnist Walter Winchell.
Given the choice, skip the hour and let Curtis' work
speak for him. TCM follows up the interview -- which airs Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. -- with gems
including Curtis' Oscar-worthy roles in Sweet Smell of Success (Jan. 26, 9
p.m.) and Spartacus (Jan. 27, 8 p.m.).