So part of my daily wandering routine includes going to Borders and reading biographies of famous actors from the 50’s and 60’s. One of the best of these is Tony Curtis’ American Prince, which I’ve written about here before in various contexts. These books are also kind of depressing, as they represent a long gone era of movies far superior to the current mixture of awful remakes, market researched romance, shock cinema, child proof kids movies and preachily indulgent films. But blah blah blah…
Back to Tony Curtis’ American Prince. The most intriguing chapter deals with his marriage to Christine Kaufman. When he was aged 37, Tony Curtis fell in love with a young German actress named Christine Kaufman, who was only 17 or 18 at the time. He left Janet Leigh (he claims their marriage was over anyway) and promptly wedded Christine.
He recalls their romance:
Janet left Argentina, because she had a movie to make, but the reason for her leaving as quickly may have been jealousy of my beautiful young co-star, Christine Kaufman who played my love interest in “Taras Bulba,” a Ukrainian version of Romeo and Juliet. What no one knew at the time was that I didn’t need to act in my love scenes with Christine, because I really did fall in love with her. To make the situation even more ticklish…Christine was only 17 years old. That gave me pause, but there was a freshness about her, an exuberant joy in living that made me go all funny inside. Christine made life fun again, and I wanted to be with her in the worst way. My dream came true when we launched into a torrid affair for the first three weeks of shooting.
I honestly wouldn’t mind launching into (another) torrid affair this summer! (Cue the sound of crickets chirping…)
“Actors today achieve nothing. Nor do they have any glamour. They seem more interested in adopting babies than films. All the films are terrible, too, because the scripts are so bad and there are no decent film-makers. So I stick to Jill and my paintings” -Tony Curtis
Lately I’ve also been reading bits of actor Robert Wagner’s autobiography, Pieces of My Heart. My first memories of Robert Wagner are from when I used to watch the show Hart to Hart with my mom, (but I was probably too young to understand anything that was going on.)
The most striking difference between Robert Wagner’s memoirs and Tony Curtis’ is that Robert Wagner is simply a much more romantic guy, a gentleman even. When it comes to romance, Tony Curtis basically spends a lot of time bragging about his endless sexual conquests. He also cheated on all of his (several) wives, and when he talks of falling in love… it is generally reduced to a couple of paragraphs for just about every new girl he meets. He clearly just had a case of “new girl syndrome.” Robert Wagner on the other hand devotes about 80% of his book to being in love with Natalie Wood. This includes falling in love with her, marrying her, arguing and fighting with her, moping around for years when she leaves him, finally getting her back, living happily in their second marriage and then eventually being devastated when she mysteriously drowned off Catalina Island in 1981.
I personally never really got into Natalie Wood that much. I mean I’m sure she was really wonderful and everything like everyone thought, but I just never had like an actress crush on her or saw what was so magical…. and from reading Robert Wagner’s book, all indications point to her as being a pain in the ass to deal with (although he doesn’t frame it that way or try to paint her as such…but any guy who has been around the block can read between the lines.) She dumps him when her career is riding high, leaving him in the dust. Then later when he has a new wife and re-establishes his life with roles in The Pink Panther (60’s film version) and The Longest Day while her career has started going downhill and her high profile romances have all fizzled out…well you get the idea.
This online account of one of their first dates is telling:
He invited her to meet him for lunch the following day. Natalie’s indifference – and Wagner’s easygoing manner – are indicated by the fact she arrived three hours late, to find him waiting patiently and still in good humour. This mellow manner won her over. She found herself accepting an invitation to an evening aboard My Lady, the first of the many boats Wagner was to buy with his cinema earnings.
Actually, forget Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story and Splendor in the Grass…the only Natalie Wood movie I ever really enjoyed was Sex and the Single Girl (which coincidentally starred Tony Curtis!)
As much as I’d like to think I identify with Tony Curtis’ carefree philandering persona, deep down I must admit that I relate more with the sentiments in Wagner’s book. I spent most of my young adult life hopelessly romantic and mostly miserable, in spite of whatever I may have had going for me at the time, lookswise or otherwise.