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Tony Curtis: “I’ve Got Nothing To Hide”

“I want to have people see my weaknesses before they see whatever assets I may have.”

Tony Curtis meant those words. They’re an important part of his approach to living. And he’s never lost a friend or a fan—or a movie role, for that matter—by practicing his Always Come Clean policy with everyone.

Tony figures he has nothing to hide. Not a darn thing. As a result, he has plenty to show by way of proof that his theory works like a charm.

Upstairs in the beautiful, spacious dwelling which so gracefully wad graciously expresses the personalities of both Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, baby Jamie Lee was asleep in her crib. But down in the den things were jumping the way they do when there’s a two-and-a-half-year-old like Kelly in the household.

Janet excused herself to go get dressed for the evening, and Kelly, her arms full of the odds and ends that little kids lug around from room to room, followed in her wake after piping a reassuring, “I’ll be right back.” That’s what she thought! Mama Janet had other plans—like dinner, bath and bed.

Tony embraced the scene with a smile that warmed the cool dusk of day’s end.

This was his home . . . his family . . . his life. A life crammed with the complexities of stardom, yet simplified by an almost startling no-holds-barred honesty.

“When people know my shortcomings right from the start,” he said, “they aren’t so likely to be disappointed in me later on, since they already know the worst.

“I think this hide-nothing policy started out as a defensive thing with me. I wanted to rob people of the opportunity of saying in that half condescending, half accusing way, ‘Hm-m-m, I never knew that about you!’ or, ‘You tried to con me into thinking you were an entirely different kind of guy!’ ”

“A few years back, when I was introduced to an influential man in the picture business who thought I had something on the ball, I naturally wanted to make a good impression. But just about the first thing I said was, ‘I know my speech is bad.’ It was like beating him to the punch. He didn’t get a chance to say, ‘You ought to do something about your speech.’ I think he was kind of pleased, though, to find out that I recognized at least some of my defects— which is the first step you’ve got to take if you’re ever going to correct them.”

Tony may have been warned by well-meaning friends to keep the public out of his private life, but he thought so little of the advice that he can’t remember any occasion when he tried to follow it. Certainly not when he was cautioned against marrying Janet because “it would make him less exciting to the fans.”

“If I’d thought my success hinged on remaining a bachelor,” he declared, “I would have given up acting and married Janet anyhow. But I don’t buy that phony romantic bachelor bit as a must for male stardom in teenagers’ eyes. They look for personality and performance just the same as everybody else does.

“No, the public hasn’t infringed or trespassed in any way on my personal life. People never have told me what to do or what not to do or forced themselves into my affairs. Still they’ve always been sympathetic and kind and understanding.

“As for me, I’ve never been self-consciously ‘nice’ either to individuals or the public as a whole. Nice or not, my attitude is simply the one I grew up with. I do whatever comes naturally. So does Janet. This is how we function best.

“Lately, however, I’ve had to become a little more selective than I used to be in parceling out my time. For a while, there was a period when I found I had no time for work because I was too busy doing interviews and picture layouts.”

Now, Tony’s too busy to spend more than a few hours away from the involvements of making movies. Between the time he finished “Some Like It Hot,” with Marilyn Monroe, and started “Operation Petticoat,” which he and Cary Grant are making together, his appointment book looked just about ready to burst its binding.

“My current and upcoming schedule won’t let me go back to those old, leisurely days,” he said. “I won’t try to hide that, either. But there is no basic change in how I feel about sharing this life of mine with the people who have made so much of it possible.

“Sometimes I’m asked if my nothing-to-hide philosophy gives me a feeling of living in a goldfish bowl. The answer is NO. I have no more to hide from fifty or five million people than I have from five.

“If five people know you by reputation—and almost everybody is known by reputation to at least five people—it’s little different from being known to five million.

“I don’t make a problem out of it because it’s not that difficult to be in the public eye. Maybe my outlook is a matter of temperament. You know how these things are. For instance, one man will feel secure and comfortable with $500 in the bank. Another, with a couple of million to invest, will feel jittery about the future.”

Tony looks on being in the limelight as a responsibility, and he doesn’t think it’s fair for him to meet the public unless he can do so with his usual open whole-heartedness. If he can’t, he keeps himself to himself till he is able to clear up the situation.

“On one of our Eastern trips, Janet and I were scheduled to attend a New York premiere,” he explained in making his point. “Neither of us was in the picture. We were just going to put in an appearance as guests. Meanwhile, a studio problem came up in connection with my next picture, and I spent most of the day trying to work it out with the policymakers concerned.

“Only we couldn’t get the matter settled without one of the key men who had gone up to New Haven for the weekend. It was growing late and the other men in on the huddle said I’d better knock off and get ready for the premiere. We’d take up our problem again the following day. I nixed that, insisting we all drive up to Connecticut and settle the matter right then.

“If I hadn’t given up the opening, feeling as I did, I’d have been like a man who knows he has an upset stomach, but still goes to a banquet and then gets sick in the middle of the meal. Hardly fair to the other guests at the party. I couldn’t take care of my responsibilities to the public unless I’d first taken care of my responsibilities to myself and the people I work with.”

Tony told me about a fellow who began in pictures around the same time he did. “He was good-looking, bright and loaded with talent,” he recounted. “But he cheated. With girls, money, the boss, and those bosses of the boss—the fans. I call the fans top boss over all,” Tony commented, “because they’re the ones who, in effect, hire the stars by buying seats at the movies.

“This misguided, double-dealing character insisted that hiding his offenses made them non-existent. He loved to yak about how the experts were off their rocker when they claimed ‘there is no such thing as the perfect crime.’

“ ‘How do they know?’ he’d argue. ‘The only crimes they ever discover are the imperfect ones!’ Maybe he had a point there, but the way things turned out, he wasn’t the guy to make it. He finally got caught in a situation that put him out of the running as a public figure. Hollywood brass might have given him another chance, but their hands were tied. Like actors, directors and writers, they’re working for the fans—and the fans turned thumbs down on the man they’d never trust again.

“I’ve found my nothing-to-hide policy the best insurance I could get against false rumors about me. It makes people give me the benefit of the doubt and encourages them to come directly to me for a straight answer about whatever is circulating on the rumor circuit.”

This business of hiding out on the public and making a federal case out of the natural human need for a certain amount of solitude is so much malarky to Tony, who refuses to dramatize himself or put on an act for the sake of creating an effect.

“Could be I never feel any special urge for solitude because I’m alone as much as I need to be.” Kidding, he assumed the satisfied air of a man settling an issue, and added in a matter of fact way, “When Janet takes her shower at night I’m alone in the bedroom for ten or fifteen minutes!

“Seriously,” he went on, “that just-before-lights-out time is a good one for thinking. For me, it’s also the time to pray. Yes, I say prayers,” he answered my questioning look. And I got the feeling that those moments of devotional yer give Tony more healing, revealing help and enlightenment than hours of ordinary hiding away from people could bring him—or anyone else.

“Then there’s the special kind of aloneness that comes with reading,” he said. “You can be in a roomful of people and still be alone with a book.

“Sometimes, too, I leave the house a little early in the morning and drive up some strange street above Beverly Hills. It always leads me to a mountain top.

“I did that yesterday, and up there on my newest mountain peak, I got out of the car and looked around. Very quietly. Maybe I was thinking of something and maybe I wasn’t. I can’t remember. But I do know I took in a lot of aloneness that somehow prepared me—got me into shape—for a hectic day at the studio.”

How accurate a picture does the public have of Tony, thanks to his philosophy of hiding nothing from them?

“I can’t tell. I honestly don’t know what the public image of me is,” he confessed. “And I hope I never find out. I’m not being naive now. I’m perfectly truthful when I say I don’t know what made me click when I got my chance, any more than I know why the public got all excited about the hula hoop. Who knows why? Not the hoop, that’s for sure!

“But I’m pretty certain I know what’ s the public image of Cary Grant, for example. It’s probably just about the same as mine. You know what makes me think so? Because I’m the public, too.

“Before I got into pictures, I wanted to know everything I could find out about Cary Grant—where he was going for the holidays, how he was at sports, what his home life was like. So I can understand other people taking an interest in those things. What’s more, I enjoy having them want to know all about me!

“You can imagine what a great thing it is for me to be co-starring with Cary in “Operation Petticoat” now. Tony glowed like a kid who’s copped the brass ring on the merry-go-round. Come to think of it, that’s who he is, and that’s why we all love him.

There have been occasions when the reactions of the public influenced Tony’s subsequent actions. One such incident happened when he was getting his first solid foothold on fame. Putting up a bold front, he dug a foundation of courage on which to build a wish into reality.

“I’d been having trouble with a girl I was going with at the time,” he explained. “You see, she kept forgettingshe was going with me. I’d phone for a date and she’d say she had to go to a music lesson, or was expecting some girl friends, or that she was just plain busy. Anyhow, the way things were, I never got to see her at all.

“Then I went out on tour to plug a picture I was in, called ‘Johnny Dark.’ In one town a fellow came up to me and said, ‘Gee, you were great with that girl in the picture. A real powerhouse. Strong stuff, the way you told her off and she jumped. That’s the way to handle ’em.’

“That was all I needed. In those few minutes he talked to me, I learned from this stranger what he had learned from me—or from the role I played, that is. When I got home I phoned my problem girl friend and laid it on the line. ‘No more of that jazz about music lessons and being busy,’ I told her, giving a fairly good imitation of myself in ‘Johnny Dark.’ It worked fine, and from then on we had all the dates I wanted.”

It’s hard to think of any girl ever having turned down Tony for a date, but if he says it happened, you can be sure it did. You can also be sure it’s the kind of story he seems to relish telling on himself. He is far less likely to talk abut an incident like one I happened to witness in San Francisco several years ago.

The scene was the opening of a big feature film starring one personality who is still in the top ten on’ most polls, and another who might be forgotten by now if it weren’t for the late late, old old movies on television. Tony himself wasn’t in the picture. He’d merely been sent along by his studio to help plug it.

When the lights went up on the stage of the theatre where the gala premiere was taking place, Star Number One came out for a bow. He got a nice warm hand and retired smiling. Star Number Two stepped through the curtains, also received enthusiastic applause, and retired with similar success.

Then the m.c. introduced. Tony and a great roar rocked the theatre. For a second, Tony looked shocked. He started to turn his head to see who in the world could be standing behind him, drawing that kind of a reception. Nobody, of course. But his future was right there in front of him, so close he could reach out and touch it.

No one has ever been able to analyze exactly what it is that endears one person to a limited circle of family and friends, while another person has inside him something that endears him to millions.

Perhaps the universally acclaimed stars possess qualities we all dream of having. Perhaps they don’t actually have those qualities at all, but still can project the illusion of having them.

“Beats me, what it is,” said Tony. “But I do know that a star like Cary Grant (See? Back to Grant! I told you he was an old hero of mine.)—well, a star like Cary takes his special qualities lightly, with a sort of easy grace that makes everybody like him. Feel extra warm toward him.”

Tony’s right. But there’s another element you can always find in the top-flighters. It’s humility. And Tony has that. He’s openly proud of himself when he does a good job. But he’s just as frankly humble in his gratitude that he was able to do it. Nor is he inclined to cover up one attitude while exploiting the other.

His frankness about himself has neither enhanced nor hurt his life, according to Tony. “Anybody whose life teeters between showing off to the public and hiding things from them, can’t have much of a life,” he asserted. “Maybe mine is a selfish way of looking at it, but I can’t be bothered with either concealment or super-soul-baring. I just play it straight and so far that’s been all right.”

“Having so firmly established your life on this open-book basis,” I asked, “do you think if you had something to hide, you could get by with it now?”

Tony tousled his crazy mixed-up hair and shook his head.

“No,” he answered finally, “because I wouldn’t know how to do it!”