American Prince: A Memoir Paperback – 6 Oct 2009
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For those of you who like honest, open memoirs written with "no holds barred"....this ought to be very appealing. I prefer when writers write openly about their revelations, confessions, regrets and joys with readers...and I felt Mr. Curtis did this. There is also plenty of info in here that I didn't know before but I can't say for sure if a die hard Curtis fan would already know these facts about his marriages, estrangements from children, resentments about roles that went to other actors, etc.
For me, much of the information was new and I also enjoyed the style of this book. For those he likes (Sidney Poitier), his affection is clear. For those he hates, he pulls no punches and isn't particularly kind toward Jerry Lewis or Danny Kaye, among others.
As hard as he can be on some actors, Curtis is also able to look at himself with judgment, admitting to his shortcomings as both spouse and father. He isn't particularly close to Jamie Lee Curtis or his other children.
Confession time...when I was young,I had a huge crush on Curtis. As a result, I'm a bit baffled about how and why he didn't get many parts as a mature or older actor, something noted by film critics and others. As Newman and Redford and others aged, they continued to appear on screen but Curtis seemed to have a smoldering, edgy sexuality that may have overshadowed his very real acting talent. Just a personal take. I heard rumors of drug problems, too, but I never delved too deeply into that so they remain rumors to me - and nothing more.
For those interested in art, do check out his artwork. Information about that can be found if you search online, very easily.
I was never a fan of Tony Curtis, he simply happened to be in films that I saw from time to time. His name on a marquee would not draw me into the cinema, but I enjoyed his first bio for the insight into movie making, especially the cost accounting, and finished it with a respect for the author's discretion. Sadly, this latest effort has changed that opinion. The book is simply a rehash with a few unkind and salacious titbits thrown in.
Much to his credit, Mr. Curtis is brutally self-aware and revelatory regarding his life in AMERICAN PRINCE. His honesty is admirable; his life, less so.
He seems to have no shame about the way in which he regularly cheated on all of his wives; if anything, he seems rather proud. He also is unashamed of--if somewhat perplexed by--the fact that he has not been able to sustain ongoing relationships with any of the children he had by three of those wives, or with his children's children in turn.
The report of his brother Julie's death is one of the most touching I ever have read. Taken in the context of this larger work, however, one cannot help wondering whether his failure to supervise the younger boy, as he was instructed to do by his parents, led to the circumstances which killed Julie.
Even the report of his mother's death, horrible as she apparently was to him, reflects so poorly on Curtis that one wonders why he included it in the memoir.
Still, Tony Curtis did arrive in Hollywood at the very end of the famous studio system and he has some wonderful anecdotes to share about that time. He knew almost everyone who counted in what was a golden era, most of them now long gone. His life was peopled with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Mae West, Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson, Debbie Reynolds and on and on.
He does not hesitate, either, to tell things as he saw them, even if his recollections are less than kind. He is nothing if not forthcoming. On the other hand, he and his editor do not get everything right. Contrary to the assertion contained in AMERICAN PRINCE, Debbie Reynolds did marry after her divorce from Eddie Fisher; in fact, she married another two times.
The studios fostered the theory that movie stars were America's royalty. Still, the simple fact is that movie stars are very ordinary people, often blessed with shockingly good looks ... perhaps a bit of talent ... and a great deal of luck. Certainly, in common with many others, nothing about Tony Curtis' life is particularly uplifting. Very much the opposite: Many of these people clearly are gauche, ill-educated and obsessively self-involved.
This doesn't take away from the fact that Tony Curtis was a genuine beauty when he was young, that he starred or co-starred in some classic films and that he has written a book that is a fascinating read.
I remember Tony Curtis from my youth as being a "pretty boy" who appeared mostly silly, forgettable movies, but also appeared in great films such as "Some Like It Hot", "The Defiant Ones" and "Spartacus".
So why not, I figured, and spent the very few hours this book requires to read.
It is, in a single word, awful. Or perhaps more to the point, Tony Curtis presents himself as a rather vapid person whose overriding interest was having sex with virtually every woman he met (even during the course of three marriages), essentially ignoring the children he fathered in each of those marriages (and then complaining that most of these children have strained relationships with him), who his "close" friends were and are (Sinatra, Brando and Hefner, of course, and oh so many others), what cars he drove and so on and forth till the cows come on.
Curtis is "oh, woe is me" from the first page on. His mom and dad were mean to him. He didn't have a lot of friends when he was a kid. He was sensitive to slights, real or imagined, because he was a (non-practicing) Jew. His wives didn't understand him. His children don't like him. When he was in his sixties, he no longer got movie parts. And on and on and on.
It is all about Tony Curtis, which would be fine if there was some depth of any kind to it, but there isn't.
The book is a chronological catalog of his sexual dalliances, his movies, his various marriages, his trips here and there, throwing barbs at mostly dead enemies and people who he feels didn't treat him right.
Overall, my conclusion is that Tony Curtis is a very shallow person who has spent his life feeling sorry for himself, still does, and used that as an excuse for the way he treated people, including his wives and children. Not a very nice person - and it is surprising to see that Curtis is arrogant and self-centered enough to believe people will want to read about his life.
About all that can be said in praise of this book is that co-author Peter Golenbock records this egotistical ramble in a readable style.
When Bernie was ten years-old, he and his younger brother Julius, who was six, were put in an orphanage for two weeks... a time that seemed like an eternity and would affect the future movie star for his entire life. As Bernie entered his teens he was made aware of his good looks by the way females started responding to him, and also by the way some guys would accuse him of being gay. His Mother would always make him take care of Julius and that would require Bernie to take his younger brother with him when he hung out with his friends. Most thirteen-year-old kids wouldn't want their nine-year-old brother hanging around with them when they were with their friends, so on one such occasion Bernie told Julius; "Go play with your own freakin' friends." Julius went on his own and didn't come back that night... and then the cops came to the door. Julius was hit by a truck and died very soon after. This was another major influence on the eventual psyche of Tony Curtis the man.
Bernie was so unhappy at home... and had no interest in school... so in 1942 during World War II, despite being only sixteen-years-old he enlisted in the Navy by forging his Mother's signature.
"FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I TASTED THE UNBELIEVABLE FREEDOM OF BEING ON MY OWN. MY MOTHER WASN'T SCREAMING. MY FATHER WASN'T SITTING THERE LOOKING MOROSE. ALL AROUND ME WERE THE EAGER YOUNG FACES OF GUYS LIKE ME, AND WE ALL BECAME FRIENDS. I ENJOYED THE NAVY BECAUSE OUR COUNTRY LOOKED AFTER US. THE NAVY WAS MY SURROGATE FAMILY. I HAVE TO SAY THAT I TOTALLY ENJOYED THE NAVY EXPERIENCE." When he got out of the Navy thanks to the GI bill he got involved in acting classes and did some theatre, and got discovered and sent to Hollywood and signed a contract with Universal Studios... and as they say the rest is history. But as Bernie becomes TONY CURTIS... though the history shared in this book is always interesting... the view the reader sees of the person Tony becomes is less than flattering. This in no way takes away from the enjoyment of the book... it just does not leave the reader with a very high perspective of Tony Curtis the person.
From falling in love with a young unknown Marilyn Monroe... and then both going their separate ways to pursue fame... Tony throws around his bedroom conquests like someone throwing away a no-deposit-no-return bottle. Curtis unabashedly drops sexual partners names... including ones he married... and shamelessly tells of his unconscionable continual cheating with women during numerous marriages. From Marilyn... to Anita Ekberg... to Yvonne De Carlo... to Janet Leigh (married)... to Gloria De Haven... to Playboy Bunnies (numerous)...to Christine Kaufman (who was seventeen when they started their tryst... and he was still married to Janet Leigh at the time... and he was thirty-seven and she was eighteen when he married her)... to Natalie Wood... to Penny Allen (married)... to Susan Hampshire... and many more. Yet when Christine fooled around on him, he had the audacity to say: "I FELT CHRISTINE HAD VIOLATED MY TRUST, WHICH MADE ME WANT TO EXPLODE. SURE, I HADN'T ALWAYS BEEN FAITHFUL TO HER, BUT I'D ALWAYS BEEN DISCREET. AND I'D ALWAYS FIGURED THAT AFTER I'D HAD A LITTLE FUN I'D GO HOME TO THE WOMAN I LOVED MOST OF ALL."
This book takes you through his later years which included cocaine addiction and on into his eighties. As I said earlier... when you are done reading this book, you may not think much of Tony Curtis the man... but you will have enjoyed the journey.