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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis, "At Last We Meet"

I am deeply saddened by the passing of "a true Hollywood legend, a gifted artist, and a true Las Vegan, Mr. Tony Curtis."

That phrase is how I introduced him when I emceed the monthly media club meeting back on June 21, 2010. It was a great honor to be there as he spoke so candidly and honestly about his life, his career, and even some of his past loves. One great comment I recall from that day, "I married all of my co-stars except for Jack Lemmon."

Tony Curtis and Gene KilroyAs per my usual, I tried not to hover around the man nor be much of a bother. I generally don't get all that "excited" around celebrities and try to respect their privacy. However, on that day, it was very difficult to be a fan. This was, after all, Tony freakin' Curtis sitting with me and having lunch.

I'd written before about the day and some of the things he spoke about. I thought today I'd add a few personal thoughts and share with you something that I've only told a few people about the day. Apologies for a longer post. I know nobody has any attention span online anymore. Sue me.

First off, let me say that there was a moment of classic, "Andy Meets Legend" about that day. If you've read my blog or asked me about chance celebrity encounters before, you know I can say some rather irreverent (but not rude) things upon meeting (See: Robert Altman and Audrey Hepburn for examples). I'm sure I do this as some sort of gut reaction in an attempt to try and be funny. Of course, in the case of people like Sam Phillips, I funny admit to just being a moron. In any event, this meeting was no exception.

Tony Curtis at the Media ClubTony's appearance at the meeting was, for the most part, a complete surprise. The Media Club is primarily long-time Las Vegas residents, many (but certainly not all) of whom have ties to the media in some way. It is actually a wonderful group comprised of mostly seniors who share memories about Las Vegas long before there was an interstate running through the town. I enjoy the stories and get to make some excellent connections regarding my El Rey Club research.

While so many of the club's members were milling about, waiting for the meeting to start, that is when Mr. Curtis and his best friend Gene Kilroy (another very cool man) arrived. Mr. Curtis was in his wheelchair (He could still walk, just not much anymore.) and Gene was bringing him into the room. As it happened, I think I was the only person who recognized Mr. Curtis right away, not unlike when Malcolm McDowell entered the room at the Robert Altman shoot. Perhaps it was because he wasn't looking quite like his iconic Hollywood images, maybe it was because so many were otherwise occupied, or it simply could have been the white cowboy hat he was wearing, but nobody noticed that Tony Curtis had entered the room.

Gene Kilroy wanted to find someone from the group to let him know Curtis had arrived to be our guest speaker and went up to me, where I was standing with a few of the group's leaders, pointed to the guy in the wheelchair, and simply said, "Tony Curtis". I, in my "probably should know better" way, replied with a slight smirk and a sarcastic tone, "Yeah. I've heard of him." While nobody else immediately found it funny. Mr. Curtis looked up from his chair right into my eyes, and began to smile and laugh a bit, clearly getting the joke and I was SO RELIEVED!

Later, after he had spent some time chatting with me, signing my movie ticket, and generally being a very cool man to speak with (I am still touched by how generally interested he was in my life, and the lives of those around him) he began to address the entire group.

Tony Curtis at 85, looking a little like Don MartelloFrom the moment I met him I kept noticing how at 85 he looked like a combination of Carl Reiner and my dad. There was obviously plenty of Tony Curtis in his features, mannerisms, and demeanor, but there were those physical similarities as well.

Listening to Mr. Curtis speak so eloquently and fondly about his life and career, I kept getting the impression that he felt he was not long for this world. He was genuinely saying, "Thank you" to not only the people in the room for supporting him in his long career, but in a way, thanking the world helping "this skinny Jewish kid" enjoy what he described as "the best life." He spoke quite softly, never having fully recovered from pneumonia the year before, and in a room filled with otherwise chatty seniors who often complain they can't hear the speaker at the meeting, not a soul uttered a sound. Everyone was fully engaged by what Curtis had to say.

During his discussion, like a teacher, he briefly went into a little bit of acting theory and truly had some insightful things to say about his artwork and the artists who influenced him. It was during his talk about acting and how he survived in the business I walked into a different position in the room to try and get a few snapshots of the moment on my camera and then focus even more on what he was saying about the life of an entertainer.

Out of the corner of my left eye, I was certain I saw someone behind me and I moved to my right so as to not be in the man's way. Another glance to my left and I saw the man again, much more clearly this time, so much so that I really believed I SAW the man's face in full. It was then that I literally froze for a moment. The man I saw behind me looked EXACTLY like my dad. Now I knew it couldn't have been dad because he'd been dead for so many years, but I SAW him right behind me, listening to Tony Curtis speak.

Tony Curtis talks about his careerNot knowing what the heck was going on I turned around to see who this guy at the meeting was that resembled my father so much, if for no other reason to simply make sure I was out of the man's way. When I turned around and looked at the table behind me I found that there was nobody there. All seats were empty and nobody had disturbed a chair, a place setting, or even a water glass.

I looked around the room to see if there could have been anyone in the room that resembled my father so much, or see if anyone could have been behind me at that moment. There wasn't. I just smiled, held back a laugh, and turned around to see Tony Curtis in his wheelchair looking right at me, gesturing to me as he spoke about how blessed a man is who can make a living in show business. It was a most amazing moment for me personally.

It is not uncommon to "see" people you knew after they have passed. Most people encounter such things after a parent or relative has gone. Generally it happens in the most immediate time after a death. This particular phenomena hasn't happened to me in YEARS.

Until now I'd only told a few people about that moment as it does sound kind of corny, if I'm being honest. However, it seems that much more important to me now. Right now I'm not exactly "living the dream". While I am working a fair amount of corporate events and am hopeful "Red Light" will get off the ground soon, I'm not as busy as I was then, not making as much money nor feeling as accomplished in the business as I'd hoped I'd be by the time I turned 40 and hit my 25th anniversary as an entertainer. Thinking again about that day, my dad, and the things Tony Curtis said to me and the whole group, I am reminded that I am blessed because, for the most part, I have made a living in show business.

Andy Martello and Tony CurtisAt the end of the day, when Mr. Curtis had to leave, he received a standing ovation from the crowd. He shook a lot of hands and posed for many photos. When I asked if I could take one photo with him, he actually rose from his wheelchair for the photo.

Near as I figure, if I had to have one chance to meet a guy like Tony Curtis, I walked away with a lot of great memories.

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