Tony! Tony! Tony! Pique stargazer-at-large Velvet Jones talks to Tony Curtis, the man who dated Marilyn Monroe, about art, celebrity and Jamie Lee’s bosom. It’s not every day that one gets to interview a real celebrity, at least not at a weekly, small town newspaper. But this is Whistler, and anything’s possible. When given the opportunity to talk to Tony Curtis, star of Some Like it Hot, The Great Houdini and father of former horror-flick goddess Jamie Lee Curtis, I jumped. And why not? The actor/artist’s life has been as colourful as his Fauves currently hanging at the Plaza Galleries. Curtis’ presence on the silver screen has faded over the past couple of decades; he’s no longer the swinging Tony Curtis of the ’50s when he starred as one of Hollywood’s hottest sex symbols and its reigning box office tycoon. But he still has the same schuzpa that landed him roles opposite such icons as Marilyn Monroe, Mae West and Natalie Wood, and under the legendary directorial hands of Billy Wilder. At 70 years young, Curtis is sounding more like a kid ready to kick your ass at marbles and then steal your girl, than an ageing actor. This guy’s a true celebrity; with enough character to fill the Hollywood Bowl and then some. Last Friday I dialled the man at his Malibu home, and we spoke at large about his life, loves and getting into bars for free. Velvet Jones: Tony, what are you doing? What’s happening down there? Tony Curtis: Well, I’m finishing a few paintings, I’ve got some film work to do, and then I’ve got a showing of one of my movies on Tuesday, Crazy About A Girl, I’ve got a new grandson, I’m driving a Camero, I’ve got four cats, the weather is pretty nice today... so far so good. VJ: You’ve got a pretty busy day, not bad. TC: Not bad at all. VJ: You’re coming up to Whistler; what do you think about that? TC: I’m looking forward to that. So many people have told me what a beautiful place it is during the winter and they say in the summer it is magnificent. VJ: You are going to be presented the key to Whistler. TC: I am? No kidding. VJ: You are. What do you think you will do with that key? TC: I don’t know where I can put it. Where can you stick that key in Whistler? VJ: I think you get free entry into all the bars in Whistler. TC: (Laughs) Oh, well that’s not bad. VJ: Tony, you’ve lived a rather interesting life. What is your first and foremost passion? TC: I find that it’s hard to isolate it. I just have such a joy of living. Each day is another wonderful experience of exploring and seeing life. That’s what drives me, I have a great deal of energy and a great deal of curiosity and perhaps it’s that curiosity that gives me the passion that I have. There is always some hidden magic in all of the arts and all of the physical things that we do with life, like driving a car. You are always alert when you drive. That’s a whole different experience than just going to a restaurant. I like to take my lady-friend Jill out to a nice restaurant for dinner and that’s a pleasure. I have had a most extraordinary and privileged life, I really have. VJ: You have, you’ve done everything. TC: I’ve made over 110 movies, I’ve had six children, I have about five grandchildren now, I’ve taken out some of the loveliest women in the world... VJ: Yes, you have. TC: I drive a Camero and a Trans Am. God, when I grow up I want to be me. VJ: But if you had one love in your life, what would it be. And you’ve had a lot of loves. TC: Down to one love? (Pauses) The love of living. VJ: Where does art fit into all this? You’ve been painting for a long time. TC: I’ve been painting all my life. See, that’s the intriguing thing about painting, that we all are painters, every one of us. We may make a living at one thing but we still paint. Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life, well, maybe one painting I think. Does that make him less of an artist? Not at all. The fact that you can make money off it is not necessarily the achievement that one does with painting. Painting is a language unto itself. It’s an unspoken language. That is the reason why some child in Africa or some child in Canada can look at a Picasso or Matisse and get a feeling of something from the painting without having to have a language to explain what he meant by it. And that is what I find so appealing about painting. Curtis has painted more than 1,500 works, several of which are on display at the Plaza Galleries. Most are awash in a feast of brilliant colours and a broad array of themes. Like the artist behind the brush, Curtis’ paintings are bold, brash and explosive. His preference is landscapes over portraits, although he has produced several portraits of Marilyn Monroe, one of many leading ladies he courted. Wherever he goes he takes a sketch pad, and in between takes Curtis can be seen scribbling and sketching away his interpretations of nearby objects. When he’s not painting he’s assembling discarded objects for his time box assemblages, which include tarot cards, bangles, beads, wine glasses, photos, jewels, letters and, not surprisingly, marbles made in the 1920s. In his twilight years the actor has become a time manager, having tossed aside many of the excesses that nearly robbed him of his artistic fervour: booze, drugs and everything that goes with said indulgences have taken a backseat to his new-found passion for living. "When I was a kid years ago I found that through alcohol and drugs I was able to succumb and quiet down these yearnings, that I had only to realize that it was killing me quicker than anything and that I wasn’t accomplishing anything," he admits. "But since my sobriety and the fact that I kind of have a grip on myself I am able to express myself in so may different ways." But this doesn’t mean Curtis doesn’t like to play a bit. The actor, along with his 25-year-old "lady-friend," Jill Vandenburg, will light up Whistler during a three day stay starting July 4. Curtis will be present at the gallery for two public receptions, July 4 and 5, where he will likely wield his Sunset Boulevard charm on all who attend. Whistler’s politicians, apparently charmed themselves, have jumped on the star-gazing bandwagon to declare July 1-7 "Tony Curtis Week." Not bad for a guy who grew up in the Bronx, left home in his teens and landed in Tinseltown with a bit of spare change in his pocket. Not bad for a guy who was born Bernard Schwartz. VJ: Do you think you will be doing any painting in Whistler? TC: I will be doing a lot of drawings, because it is from those drawings that some of my canvasses come from. So what I want to do is to take advantage of the landscapes up in... where am I going? VJ: Whistler. TC: Whistler. I would like to get a lot of landscape feeling. I want to capture the spirit. It’s interpretation and it has nothing to do with me being a celebrity artist. That is a lot of bullshit. VJ: Tell me about that. How do you like being a celebrity? TC: I love being a celebrity, there’s nothing wrong with that. VJ: You get into clubs pretty easy I guess. TC: You get into any place pretty easy, too easy. You get wonderful seats in restaurants, you can go to the theatre and get good seats, and people treat you with instant recognition and friendliness and that is really nice. I wish everybody could get an opportunity to be me. VJ: I guess you don’t have to worry too much about the senior’s rate. TC: No, and that’s another thing. It puts you in a position where if you are clever enough you don’t have to go out and work some shlocky job just to maintain yourself. Celebrity-ism, if you want to call it that, gives you a chance to improve your lifestyle. VJ: Did you ever expect this? You came from a pretty hard upbringing. TC: No, it wasn’t like I didn’t expect it, it was I never thought that I would find such pleasure in it. That’s the difference. Fame in itself is a profession, and some people know how to handle that fame better than others. VJ: Have you handled it well? TC: Well, yeah I have. I’m friendly to everybody, I don’t turn anybody down. If I may be so bold and not so crude, I have the ultimate Alzheimer’s disease — everybody knows me and I don’t know anybody. VJ: Tony, I asked my friend Maddy Jenkins what kind of question she would ask you if given the chance. Would you mind answering? TC: Sure, go ahead. VJ: How does it feel to have a daughter who is considered a sex symbol, like you were? TC: I am so pleased that Jamie has made a career for herself as a very attractive, appealing, sexy woman. You know when she did that picture Trading Places and took her blouse off and showed her bosom I felt wonderful about it. I said, "Look how beautiful she is. Look how beautifully proportioned she is." I don’t find anything salacious or lewd in any way about that. Lewdness and salaciousness comes in behaviour. VJ: Do you think it is different today for sex symbols than it was when you were in your prime? TC: Oh yeah, it is. I won’t say it is more free but it is not as important. It is not as overwhelming as it was then. When I started doing movies there where only a couple actresses who would allow you to even see their cleavage. Today even Rosie O’Donnell is showing you her cleavage. VJ: She has a lot of cleavage. TC: They all have a lot of cleavage. Hurray for cleavage. Velvet Jones is a local writer who hopes to grow up one day and be like Stony Curtis from the Flintstones.