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The artistic side to film legend Curtis

By Caroline Briggs
Arts and culture reporter, BBC News

Tony Curtis, the legendary film actor, needs little introduction.

Curtis compiled his paintings from hundreds of sketchbooks and photographs

The 83-year-old has more than earned his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame thanks to films like Spartacus and Some Like It Hot.

But Curtis has a second, lesser known career as artist, and has been drawing and painting since he was a young boy living in the Bronx.

To paint, explains Curtis, gives him freedom that he could never find working as an actor.

"You are alone when you paint," he explains, "there is no-one bothering you, there is no-one telling you to put more yellow in.

"You get a blank canvas, imagine this was a blank canvas once," Curtis adds, pointing to a vibrant green and yellow oil landscape, "that to me is miracle. Wow! That's why I love painting. It's like making a poem. You create."

Sporting a gray Stetson hat, and looking frail in a wheelchair which he has used since suffering from pneumonia in 2006, the ageing star visited Harrods, in London, to launch a collection of his new work.

There's a nude of Marilyn that I've never shown anybody... I look at it every now and again and I'm still stunned a little.

Tony Curtis

His oil paintings have become increasingly collectable of late, with his recent work on sale for up to £23,000. In 2007, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) acquired one of his works for a new gallery of celebrity artwork.

Among the vibrant green landscapes and striking still life paintings, sit several of his "photo giclees" - mixed media pieces that sees nostalgic film set photographs acting as a paint canvas for Curtis' brush.

As well as striking photos of a young Curtis, which he has painted over, many pieces feature Marilyn Monroe, his former lover and Some Like It Hot co-star.

"Marilyn loved my paintings," he explains. "She loved them because they were articulate and they were painted so freely.

"She had difficulty painting, she tried it with me but she found herself a little clumsy and never did it again.

Some Like It Hot film poster
Curtis starred with Monroe and Jack Lemmon in the cross-dressing comedy

"For some people it is easy, it's flowing and they learn about perspective quickly. For Marilyn it was not like that."

"I made some drawings of her, which I've got somewhere in a sketchbook, and there's a nude of Marilyn that I've never shown anybody.

"It's too personal. I look at it every now and again and I'm still stunned a little."

"Marilyn was a part of my life that was a period of joy and love and I had an opportunity to be with her.

"She was a beautiful girl, when it came to her freedom and her flow, she was never ashamed of anything, and I loved her for that."


Today, Curtis mostly paints in his outdoor studio on top of a hill just outside Las Vegas, where he lives with his sixth wife, Jill.

It's a "beautiful" spot, he explains, and one that continues to inspire him.

Give me a pad and pencil and I'll draw all day long. I love it.

Tony Curtis

"I just love painting. I wouldn't think of doing anything else now. And since I'm able to do it... aren't I lucky?"

"I've painted all my life, but I never thought of it as a profession - I still don't think of it as a profession.

"Funny enough I don't think acting is a profession. They are turning it into one with acting schools and painting schools, but all you need is your own energy."

Despite the painting, and dwindling film roles, Curtis has not completely left Hollywood behind.

"I don't find much difference between painting or acting because you need an audience for both. By making these paintings and have people look at them I am able to do like I do in the movies.

"It's frustrating for me. To get a good part in a picture in the movies is impossible and I'm not going to chase it any more. Fifty years of movies and 10 or 12 of them were outstanding, really performance-wise and picture-wise, but they weren't nominated for awards.

"I don't feel fulfilled," he admits. "I could never be fulfilled by it, even if I did good. So knowing that I am able to pursue it without breaking my heart. I don't want to sound like a poet, but that's what happens.

"With my painting, I don't have to run anywhere. Give me a pad and pencil and I'll draw all day long. I love it."

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