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Tony Curtis, potential one-night stand.

stage dive

Stage Dive: The Night Tony Curtis Put the Moves On Me

I don't mean to brag, but Tony Curtis flirted with me once.

I was young(er), and we were in Newark. He was appearing in a rickety tour of Some Like It Hot (a quickie-rejiggering of Jule Styne's Sugar) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and he was 79, long past his cross-dressing days. They had him mugging in the Joe E. Brown role — the single-minded millionaire pursuing Jack Lemmon's Jerry/Daphne. ("Nobody's perfect.") Every night, he held his own in a marathon tap number, and the show was on the road for months. The man was an entertainer of the old-school, from the days before "exhaustion"-hab. He danced, he sang, he cracked wise, he hawked his paintings in the lobby. And he did press.

I was the press that day. The tape and transcript are long vanished, I'm afraid, so I'll have to paraphrase here:

We sat in the empty theater, Curtis in gym shorts, dark dad socks and a white T-shirt, lounging with his arms eagled over the seat backs, absurdly comfortable with himself. We might as well have been hanging out in his rec room. He was closing in on 80, but he still seemed every inch Tony "I Yam Spah-tacus" Curtis: those preposterously beautiful Disney-princess eyes, and the voice, that bottomless bubbling cauldron of caramelized old Bronx. Everything else had gone the way of all flesh, but, like a good caricaturist, he'd preserved the signal attributes. He was still Tony Curtis, so much so that I was suspicious. At that point in my career, I'd run across very few celebrities who were such perfect illustrations of themselves. Yet here was Tony Curtis, doing Tony Curtis, and good at it, too.

"Everything, Scott," he told me, draping a pal-o-mine arm around my shoulders, "is flirting. Acting is flirting. Performing is flirting. This, what we're doing now, this interview: What are we doing here? We're flirting."

Earlier: Actor Tony Curtis, Dead at 85

"I was in France," Curtis told me, not specifying the year. "I'm at the pissoir, and this Frenchman's beside me. The fellow looks down" — and here, so does Curtis, painting the picture with those near-obscene eyes of his — "and he says, 'Was that inside Marilyn Monroe?' And I say, 'Yes, yes it was.' And he says, 'May I touch it?' And I said, 'No, you may not.'"

(Sounds Mitterand-era to me.)

Two hours later, he was onstage, shuffling off to Buffalo, falling off the log, ball-changing like a madman. Flirting, for Tony Curtis, was an aerobic activity. The world's a smaller, cheaper place without him. That much, at least, is unambiguous.

Earlier: Actor Tony Curtis, Dead at 85

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images