Friday, June 3, 2011

Tony Curtis & Roberto Rossellini

Due to a plethora of blogs and websites that devote their attention to the death dates of Hollywood celebrities, I have decided to revamp, broaden and somewhat narrow the scope of my blog (hmmm, confusing). In it, I will discuss both birth date anniversaries and death dates of the actors, actresses and directors who starred during the Golden Age of Hollywood, 1927-1960. Although this will include some people that overlapped from the silent era to talkies and some who transitioned into television, it is not my intention to include silent era or TV stars in this blog. The only other critieria is that they all must be deceased. This blog is devoted to the memories of the legendary actors, actresses and directors who made Hollywood great, it is a commemoration of their life stories and film achievements. This blog is not intended to celebrate death but since it is part of must be included. Thanks and enjoy, MTB

Born on this date:

Today would have been actor Tony Curtis’ 86th birthday. His acting career spanned six decades, but had his greatest popularity during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. He acted in over 100 films in roles covering a wide range of genres, from light comedy to serious drama. In his later years, Curtis made numerous television appearances. Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz On June 3, 1925 in the Bronx, New York. Following his discharge from the army following World War II, Curtis attended City College of New York under the G.I. Bill and studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German stage director Erwin Piscator. He was discovered by a talent agent and casting director Joyce Selznick. Curtis claims it was because he "was the handsomest of the boys." Arriving in Hollywood in 1948 at age 23, he was placed under contract at Universal Pictures and changed his name to Tony Curtis, taking his first name from the novel Anthony Adverse and his last name from "Kurtz", a surname from his mother's family. Although the studio taught him fencing and riding, Curtis admitted he was at first only interested in girls and money. Nonetheless, he was not hopeful of his chances in becoming a major actor, and feared having to return to the Bronx, a failure.

Although his early film roles were partly the result of his good looks, by the latter half of the 1950's he became a notable and strong screen presence. He began proving himself to be a “fine dramatic actor,” having the range to act in numerous dramatic and comedy roles. In his earliest parts he acted in a string of "mediocre" films, including swashbucklers, westerns, light comedies, sports films, and a musical. However, by the time he starred in Houdini (1953) with his wife Janet Leigh. He won his first serious recognition as a skilled dramatic actor in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with co-star Burt Lancaster. The following year he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in another drama, The Defiant Ones (1958). Curtis then gave what many believe was his best acting, in a completely different role, the comedy Some Like It Hot (1959). Thomson calls it an "outrageous film," and it was voted the number 1 funniest film in history from a survey done by the American Film Institute. It costarred Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, and was directed by Billy Wilder. That was followed by Blake Edwards’ comedy Operation Petticoat (1959) with Cary Grant. They were both “frantic comedies,” and displayed "his impeccable comic timing." He often collaborated with Edwards on later films. His most significant serious part came in 1968 when he starred in the true-life drama The Boston Strangler, which some consider his "last major film role." The part reinforced his reputation as a serious actor with his "chilling portrayal" of serial killer Albert DeSalvo. He gained 30 pounds and had his face "rebuilt" with a false nose to look like the real DeSalvo.

Curtis was married five times. His first wife was actress Janet Leigh, to whom he was married from 1951 to 1962, and with whom he fathered actresses Kelly and Jamie Lee Curtis. On July 8, 2010, Curtis, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was hospitalized in Las Vegas after suffering an asthma attack during a book signing engagement in Henderson, Nevada and died at his Henderson, Nevada home on September 29, 2010, of a cardiac arrest. He is buried at Palm Memorial Park in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Who died on this date:

On June 3, 1977, director Roberto Rossellini died. He was born on May 8, 1906 in Rome. His father built the first cinema in Rome, granting his son an unlimited free pass; the young Rossellini started frequenting the cinema at an early age. When his father died, he worked as a sound maker for films and for a certain time he experienced all the accessory jobs related to the creation of a film, gaining competence in each field.

In 1937, Rossellini made his first documentary, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. After this essay, he was called to assist Goffredo Alessandrini in making Luciano Serra pilota, one of the most successful Italian films of the first half of the 20th century. In 1940 he was called to assist Francesco De Robertis on Uomini sul Fondo. His first feature film, La nave bianca (1942) was sponsored by the audiovisual propaganda centre of Navy Department and is the first work in Rossellini's "Fascist Trilogy", together with Un pilota ritorna (1942) and Uomo dalla Croce (1943). To this period belongs his friendship and cooperation with Federico Fellini and Aldo Fabrizi. When the Fascist regime ended in 1943, just two months after the liberation of Rome, Rossellini was already preparing Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City 1945). Fellini assisted on the script and Fabrizi playing the role of the priest, while Rossellini self-produced. Most of the money came from credits and loans, and film had to be found on the black market. This dramatic film was an immediate success. Rossellini had started now his so-called Neorealistic Trilogy, the second title of which was Paisà (1946), produced with non-professional actors, and the third, Germany, Year Zero (1948), sponsored by a French producer and filmed in Berlin's French sector. In Berlin also, Rossellini preferred non-actors, but he was unable to find a face he found "interesting"; he placed his camera in the center of a town square, as he did for Paisà, but was surprised when nobody came to watch.

In 1948, Rossellini received a letter from a famous foreign actress proposing collaboration:

Dear Mr. Rossellini,

I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only "ti amo", I am ready to come and make a film with you.

Ingrid Bergman

With this letter began one of the best known love stories in film history, with Bergman and Rossellini both at the peak of their careers. Their first collaboration was Stromboli terra di Dio (1950). This affair caused a great scandal in some countries (Bergman and Rossellini were both married to other people); the scandal intensified when Bergman became pregnant. Rossellini and Bergman had three children, Isabella Rossellini (actress & model) and her twin, Ingrid Isotta, as well as a son Roberto Ingmar Rossellini. Europa '51 (1952) and Journey to Italy (1953), La paura (1954) and Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (1954) were the other films on which they worked together.

In 1957, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister at the time, invited him to India to make the documentary India and put some life into the floundering Indian Films Division. Though married to Bergman, he had an affair with Sonali Das Gupta, a screenwriter, who was helping develop vignettes for the film. Given the climate of the 1950’s this led to a huge scandal in India as well as Hollywood. Nehru had to ask Rossellini to leave. Rossellini's films after his early Neo-Realist films, particularly his films with Ingrid Bergman were commercially unsuccessful, though Journey to Italy is well regarded in some quarters. Roberto Rossellini died of a heart attack on June 3, 1977 in Rome, Italy and is buried at the Cimitero Monumentale del Verano in Rome, Italy., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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