Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Navy 1
Birth:
The Bronx, NY 1
Death:
29 Sep 2010 1
Henderson, NV 1
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Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis
Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot
Janet Leigh & Tony Curtis
Janet Leigh & Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Orson Wells
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Orson Wells
Kelly Curtis and sister
Kelly Curtis and sister
Mr & Mrs Curtis and Mr & Mrs Lewis
Mr & Mrs Curtis and Mr & Mrs Lewis
Tony & Janet with Kelly and Jamie Leigh
Tony & Janet with Kelly and Jamie Leigh
Christmas with the Curtis Family
Christmas with the Curtis Family
Kelly, Jamie Leigh, Tony, Janet
Kelly, Jamie Leigh, Tony, Janet
Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Wedding Day
Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Wedding Day
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Tony, Janet, Baby
Tony, Janet, Baby
Mick Jagger, Madonna, Tony Curtis
Mick Jagger, Madonna, Tony Curtis
Frank Sinatra, Eva Gardner, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Frank Sinatra, Eva Gardner, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh
Tony Curtis, 1943
Tony Curtis, 1943
Tony Curtis, c.1943
Tony Curtis, c.1943
Tony Curtis, age 17
Tony Curtis, age 17

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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Bernard Schwartz 2
Also known as:
Tony Curtis 2
Full Name:
Anthony Curtis 3
Birth:
The Bronx, NY 2
Male 2
Birth:
03 Jun 1925 3
Death:
29 Sep 2010 2
Henderson, NV 2
Cause: Cardiac Arrest 2
Death:
29 Sep 2010 3
Residence:
Last Residence: Henderson, NV 3
Edit
Birth:
Mother: Helen (née Klein) Schwartz 2
Father: Emanuel Schwartz 2
Marriage:
Jill Vandenberg 2
31 Dec 1969 2
Marriage:
Lisa Deutsch 2
28 Feb 1993 2
Divorce Date: 1994 2
Marriage:
Leslie Allen 2
20 Apr 1968 2
Divorce Date: 1982 2
Marriage:
Andrea Savio 2
1984 2
Divorce Date: 1992 2
Marriage:
Christine Kaufmann 2
1963 2
Divorce Date: 1968 2
Marriage:
Janet Leigh 2
04 Jun 1951 2
Greenwich, CT 2
Divorce Date: 1962 2
Spouse Death Date: 03 Oct 2004 2
Edit

World War II 1

Branch:
Navy 1
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Occupation:
American film actor 2
Religion:
Jewish 2
Race or Ethnicity:
Jewish 2
"Some Like It Hot":
1959 4
"Spartacus":
1960 4
"The Boston Strangler":
1968 4
"The Defiant Ones":
1958 4
Social Security:
Card Issued: Nevada 3
U.S. Navy:
End: 1945 5
Location: South Pacific Ocean 5
Ship: USS Proteus (submarine tender) 4
Start: 1942 5

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Tony Curtis, Hollywood Leading Man, Dies at 85

Tony Curtis, a classically handsome movie star who came out of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s to find both wide popularity and critical acclaim in dramatic and comic roles alike, from “The Defiant Ones” to “Some Like It Hot,” died on Wednesday at his home in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. He was 85.

The cause was cardiac arrest, the Clark County coroner said.

Mr. Curtis, one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, became a respected dramatic actor, earning an Oscar nomination as an escaped convict in “The Defiant Ones,” a 1958Stanley Kramer film. But he was equally adept in comedies; his public even seemed to prefer him in those roles, flocking to see him, for example, in the 1965 slapstick hit “The Great Race.”

As a performer, Mr. Curtis drew on his startlingly good looks. With his dark, curly hair worn in a sculptural style later imitated by Elvis Presley and his plucked eyebrows framing pale blue eyes and full lips, Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early ’50s.

A vigorous heterosexual in his widely publicized (not least by himself) private life, he was often cast in roles that drew on a perceived ambiguity: his full-drag impersonation of afemale jazz musician in “Some Like It Hot” (1959); a slave who attracts the interest of an aristocratic Roman general (Laurence Olivier) in Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” (1960); a man attracted to a mysterious blonde (Debbie Reynolds) who turns out to be the reincarnation of his male best friend in Vincente Minnelli’s “Goodbye Charlie” (1964).

But behind the pretty-boy looks was a dramatically potent combination of naked ambition and deep vulnerability, both likely products of his Dickensian childhood in the Bronx. Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, to Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Emanuel operated a tailor shop in a poor neighborhood, and the family occupied cramped quarters behind the store; the parents in one room and little Bernard sharing another with his two brothers, Julius and Robert. Helen Schwartz suffered from schizophrenia and frequently beat the three boys. (Robert was later found to have the same disease.)

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his parents found they could not properly provide for their children, and Bernard and Julius were placed in a state institution. (Julius was hit by a truck and killed in 1938.) Returning to his old neighborhood, Bernard became caught up in gang warfare and the target of anti-Semitic hostility. As he recalled, he learned to dodge the stones and fists to protect his face, which he realized even then would be his ticket to greater things.

In search of stability, Bernard made his way to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During World War II he served in the Navy aboard the submarine tender U.S.S. Proteus. His ship was present in Tokyo Bay in 1945 for the formal surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, which Signalman Schwartz watched through a pair of binoculars.

Back in New York, he enrolled in acting classes in the workshop headed by Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research, where one of his colleagues was another Seward alumnus, Walter Matthau. He began getting theater work in the Catskills and caught the eye of the casting agent Joyce Selznick, who helped him win a contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. After experimenting with James Curtis, he settled on Anthony Curtis as his stage name and began turning up in bit parts in films like Anthony Mann’s“Winchester ’73” alongside another Universal bit player, Rock Hudson.

Mr. Curtis’s career advanced rapidly at first. He was promoted to supporting player, billed as Tony Curtis for the first time, in the 1950 western “Kansas Raiders,” and became, he recalled, first prize in a Universal promotional contest, “Win a Weekend With Tony Curtis.”

He received top billing in 1951 in the Technicolor Arabian Nights adventure “The Prince Who Was a Thief.” His co-star was Piper Laurie, and they were paired in three subsequent films at Universal, including Douglas Sirk’s “No Room for the Groom,” a 1952 comedy that allowed Mr. Curtis to explore his comic gifts for the first time.

In 1951 Mr. Curtis married the ravishing MGM contract player Janet Leigh. Highly photogenic, the couple became a favorite of the fan magazines, and their first movie together, George Marshall’s “Houdini” (1953), was Mr. Curtis’s first substantial hit.

Perhaps the character of Houdini — like Mr. Curtis, a handsome young man of Hungarian Jewish ancestry who reinvented himself through show business — touched something in Mr. Curtis. In any case, it was in that film that his most consistent screen personality, the eager young outsider who draws on his charm and wiles to achieve success in the American mainstream, was born.

Mr. Curtis endured several more Universal costume pictures, including the infamous 1954 film “The Black Shield of Falworth,” in which he starred with Ms. Leigh but did not utter the line, “Yondah lies da castle of my foddah,” that legend has attributed to him. His career seemed stalled until Burt Lancaster, another actor who survived a difficult childhood in New York City, took him under his wing.

Lancaster cast Mr. Curtis as his protégé, a circus performer who becomes his romantic rival, in his company’s 1956 production “Trapeze.” But it was Mr. Curtis’s next appearance with Lancaster — as the hustling Broadway press agent Sidney Falco, desperately eager to ingratiate himself with Lancaster’s sadistic Broadway columnist J. J. Hunsecker in “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957) — that proved that Mr. Curtis could be an actor of genuine power and subtlety.

The late ’50s and early ’60s were Mr. Curtis’s heyday. Taking his career into his own hands, he formed a production company, Curtleigh Productions, and in partnership withKirk Douglas assembled the 1958 independent feature “The Vikings,” a rousing adventure film directed by Richard Fleischer. Later that year the producer-director Stanley Kramer cast Mr. Curtis in “The Defiant Ones” as a prisoner who escapes from a Southern chain gang while chained to a fellow convict, who happens to be black (Sidney Poitier).

“The Defiant Ones” may seem schematic and simplistic today, but at the time it spoke with hope to a nation in the violent first stages of the civil rights movement and was rewarded with nine Oscar nominations, including one for Mr. Curtis as best actor. It was the only acknowledgment he received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in his career.

Mr. Curtis began a creatively rewarding relationship with the director Blake Edwards with a semi-autobiographical role as a hustler working a Wisconsin resort in “Mister Cory”(1957). That was followed by two hugely successful 1959 military comedies: “The Perfect Furlough” (with Ms. Leigh) and “Operation Petticoat,” in which he played a submarine officer serving under a captain played by Cary Grant.

Under Billy Wilder’s direction in “Some Like It Hot,” another 1959 release, Mr. Curtis employed a spot-on imitation of Grant’s mid-Atlantic accent when his character, posing as an oil heir, tries to seduce a voluptuous singer (Marilyn Monroe). His role in that film — as a Chicago musician who, with his best friend (Jack Lemmon), witnesses the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flees to Florida in women’s clothing as a member of an all-girl dance band — remains Mr. Curtis’s best-known performance.

Success in comedy kindled Mr. Curtis’s ambitions as a dramatic actor. He appeared in Mr. Douglas’s epic production of “Spartacus,” directed by Stanley Kubrick, and reached unsuccessfully for another Oscar nomination in “The Outsider” (1961), directed by Delbert Mann, as Ira Hayes, a Native American who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. In “The Great Impostor,” directed by Robert Mulligan, he played a role closer to his established screen personality: an ambitious young man from the wrong side of the tracks who fakes his way through a series of professions, including a monk, a prison warden and a surgeon.

Mr. Curtis’s popularity was damaged by his divorce from Ms. Leigh in 1962, following an affair with the 17-year-old German actress Christine Kaufmann, who was his co-star in the costume epic “Taras Bulba.” He retreated into comedies, playing out his long association with Universal in a series of undistinguished efforts including “40 Pounds of Trouble” (1962), “Captain Newman, M.D.” (1963) and the disastrous “Wild and Wonderful” (1964), in which he starred with Ms. Kaufmann, whom he married in 1963.

In “The Great Race,” Blake Edwards’s celebration of slapstick comedy, Mr. Curtis parodied himself as an impossibly handsome daredevil named the Great Leslie, and in 1967 he reunited with Alexander Mackendrick, director of “Sweet Smell of Success,” for an enjoyable satire on California mores, “Don’t Make Waves.”

Mr. Curtis made one final, ambitious attempt to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor with “The Boston Strangler” in 1968, putting on weight to play the suspected serial killer Albert DeSalvo. Again under Richard Fleischer’s direction, he gave a rigorously deglamorized performance, but the film was dismissed as exploitative in many quarters and failed to reignite Mr. Curtis’s career. That year, he divorced Ms. Kaufmann and married a 23-year-old model, Leslie Allen.

After two unsuccessful efforts to establish himself in series television — “The Persuaders”(1971-72) and “McCoy” (1975-76) — Mr. Curtis fell into a seemingly endless series of guest appearances on television (he had a recurring role on “Vegas” from 1978 to 1981) and supporting roles in ever more unfortunate movies, including Mae West’s excruciating 1978 comeback attempt, “Sextette.”

A stay at the Betty Ford Center — he had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse — followed his 1982 divorce from Ms. Allen, but Mr. Curtis never lost his work ethic. He continued to appear in low-budget movies and occasionally in independent films of quality. He took up painting, selling his boldly signed, Matisse-influenced canvases through galleries and stores.

After divorcing Ms. Allen, Mr. Curtis was married to the actress Andrea Savio (1984-92) and, briefly, to the lawyer Lisa Deutsch (1993-94). He married his sixth wife, the horse trainer Jill VandenBerg, in 1998, and with her operated a nonprofit refuge for abused and neglected horses.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Curtis’s survivors include Kelly Lee Curtis and the actressJamie Lee Curtis, his two daughters with Janet Leigh; Alexandra Curtis and Allegra Curtis, his two daughters with Christine Kaufmann; and a son, Benjamin, with Leslie Allen. A second son with Ms. Allen, Nicholas, died of a drug overdose in 1994.

He published “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography,” written with Barry Paris, in 1994 and a second autobiography, “American Prince: A Memoir,” written with Peter Golenbock, in 2008, and in it he described a romance with Marilyn Monroe in 1948, when both were young, relatively unknown performers who had recently arrived in Hollywood. The affair was only a memory when they worked together a decade later, both as major stars, in “Some Like It Hot.”

“Somehow working with her on ‘Some Like It Hot’ had brought a sense of completion to my feelings for her,” he wrote. “The more we talked, the more I realized that another love affair had bitten the dust.”

In 2002 he toured in a musical adaptation of “Some Like It Hot,” in which he played the role of the love-addled millionaire originated by Joe E. Brown in the film. This time, the curtain line was his: “Nobody’s perfect.”

His final screen appearance was in 2008, when he played a small role in “David & Fatima,” an independent budget film about a romance between an Israeli Jew and aPalestinian Muslim. His character’s name was Mr. Schwartz.

Tony Curtis dies at 85; actor was star of 'Some Like It Hot' and 'Sweet Smell of Success' Curtis may be best known for his role in the Billy Wilder comedy 'Some Like It Hot,' but he appeared in more than 100 films and was nominated for an Oscar for '

Tony Curtis was a strikingly handsome 23-year-old native New Yorker playing the lead in an off-Broadway production of "Golden Boy" in 1948 when he was spotted by a Universal Pictures talent scout. Sent west for a screen test, he signed a seven-year contract at $75 a week.

"I got into movies so easy it was scary," Curtis told the Denver Post in 1996.

The former Bernie Schwartz went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s and '60s, one whose early reputation as a "pretty boy" tended to blur recognition of his growth and range as an actor who starred in some of his era's landmark films.

Curtis, who died of cardiopulmonary arrest Wednesday night at his home in Henderson, Nev., at age 85, delivered memorable performances in films such as Billy Wilder's classic comedy "Some Like It Hot" and dramatic roles in "The Defiant Ones" and "Sweet Smell of Success."

And in 1959, he received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in "The Defiant Ones," the convict-escape film in which he was chained to costar Sidney Poitier.

He also lived like a movie star and was married five times, most notably to actress Janet Leigh, a union that produced another movie star, Jamie Lee Curtis.

"My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages," Jamie Lee Curtis said in a statement. "He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world."

Describing Curtis' death as "a personal loss for me," actor Kirk Douglas said in a statement Thursday: "Tony and I were two Jewish kids from poverty-level families who could not believe our luck in making it as big Hollywood stars.... I did three movies with him, and he was a much better actor than people realize: Look at 'Some Like It Hot' or 'The Defiant Ones.'"

Poitier told The Times Thursday: "Tony Curtis loved life and life loved him. That's as I found him throughout the shoot and across all the years that followed.

"I think he left a mark as a presence and a person. And I'm sure that many males around the world saw him as kind of like a model for themselves. He was young and he was handsome and he was full of life. And he was available to people. But that was a part of the man's nature."

Curtis failed to receive an Oscar nomination for another strong role, one that he felt sure would finally win him an Academy Award: Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler. That 1968 film of the same name provided Curtis with the last of his major roles.

"After that, the pictures that I got were not particularly intriguing," he told the Seattle Times in 2000, "but I had lots of child-support payments."

For many film fans, Curtis' most memorable role was in "Some Like It Hot," the 1959 film in which he and Jack Lemmon played small-time jazz musicians who witnessed the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago and, pursued by gangsters, posed as women to escape with an all-female jazz band bound for Miami.

In 2000, the American Film Institute named "Some Like It Hot" the best comedy of the 20th century.

"I feel that he's the great farceur of his generation," said former Times movie reviewer Kevin Thomas, citing Curtis' many comedy roles. But, Thomas said, "he developed tremendous range" as an actor.

Curtis made more than 60 feature and TV films after "The Boston Strangler," including "The Mirror Crack'd" in 1980 with Angela Lansbury and a string of forgettable movies, such as "Lobster Man From Mars" and "The Mummy Lives."

He also frequently appeared on television shows and talk shows. Regardless of the role, "Tony always gave his absolute, total best," Thomas said.

Starting out in 1949 as a contract player at Universal, Curtis broke out as a leading Hollywood actor in 1952 with "Son of Ali Baba."

The actor made the well-regarded "Houdini" in 1953 and from 1956 to 1959 starred in a string of critical and popular hits: "Trapeze," "Mister Cory," "Sweet Smell of Success," "The Vikings," "Kings Go Forth," "The Defiant Ones," "The Perfect Furlough," "Some Like It Hot" and "Operation Petticoat."

His characters varied, with swashbuckling heroes as well as a smarmy press agent, and showed, when the role called for it, genuine comic talent.

And his costars were the biggest names in Hollywood: Burt Lancaster, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Poitier, Lemmon, Natalie Wood and — in "The Vikings," "Houdini" and other films — his first wife, Janet Leigh.

In his later years, Curtis was mainly reduced to being a celebrity without serious portfolio and this, combined with his early teen-idol image and a raft of mediocre films he did while under studio contract, left him with a reputation that was lighter than many of his earlier roles would otherwise inspire.

But Thomas noted: "He was just as terrific an actor at the end as he was at the height of his career."

Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, in New York City, the oldest son of Jewish Hungarian immigrants. His father was a tailor, and his mother raised their three boys. But the family was marked by tragedy: One of Curtis' brothers was hit by a truck and died at 9, while the other suffered from schizophrenia and was in and out of institutions throughout his life.

Curtis' early life was a series of struggles — he said he was constantly taunted for being young, Jewish and handsome. He grew up defending himself on whatever turf his parents lived on at the time: the East 80s in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan's Lexington Avenue.

At 17, he enlisted in the Navy, serving in the Pacific during World War II. After leaving the service, he used the GI Bill for acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.

That led to some work in the Borscht Belt in the Catskills and later to Yiddish theater in Chicago. He ended up back in New York doing "Golden Boy" at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Then it was on to Hollywood.

He changed his first name to Anthony and his last to Curtis — an Anglicized version of a Hungarian family name, Kertész. But before long, he was known simply as Tony Curtis.

One of the first things Curtis did on arriving in Hollywood was to learn to drive and then buy a convertible.

"Those days were great," he told the Daily Telegraph of London in 2001 about his early years in Hollywood. "The top down, the car door open.

"At these parties thrown by the studio, there'd always be a brand-new sweetie for me. I was the king of the hill then. And I didn't leave a skirt unmoved."

He reveled in his pretty-boy image and was regularly mobbed by teenage fans.

His acting career got its first boost with a bit part as a gigolo in the 1949 movie "Criss Cross," in which he had a brief dancing scene with the star, Yvonne De Carlo, that brought in a rash of fan letters. Soon Curtis had a bigger role in "City Across the River."

He made standard studio fare for many years for Universal, finally getting better roles when he linked up with powerhouse agent Lew Wasserman. After that, he starred with Lancaster in two well-regarded films, "Sweet Smell of Success" and "Trapeze."

In "Sweet Smell of Success," he played slimy publicist Sidney Falco to Lancaster's evil and all-powerful gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker.

"Curtis makes Sidney's naked ambition so tangible, you can almost feel his clammy palms, and it's Curtis' unsentimental, caffeinated study in amorality that gives 'Sweet Smell' its potent, bitter aftertaste," Entertainment Weekly said in a 2002 listing of the 100 best performances that were not nominated for an Oscar.

Ernest Lehman, the noted screenwriter who wrote the story on which the movie was based, said in 2001 that he viewed Curtis' performance in "Sweet Smell" as "one of the best performances by a male actor in the movies. Still gets me."

In 1959, Curtis starred in two of his best films, "The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot."

In the latter, director Wilder gave Curtis credit for one of the film's funniest scenes, aboard a yacht. The actor's character, Josephine, reverts to being Joe and pretends to be a wealthy playboy to woo Sugar Kane (Monroe), the sultry singer in the women's jazz band.

In an interview for Curtis' 1993 autobiography, Wilder said he told Curtis that after his character had stolen the yachtsman's clothes to romance Monroe, he had to talk differently, "not the English of a Brooklyn musician."

Curtis offered to do Cary Grant, which he had learned from repeatedly watching "Gunga Din," the only movie aboard ship for a time while he was in the Navy.

"And it was a huge, wonderful plus for the picture," Wilder said. "I did not know he could do such a perfect imitation."

In 1960, Curtis starred with Douglas in the swashbuckling "Spartacus," a box-office hit that was also notable for the bathtub scene that didn't appear in the original but was restored in the 1991 re-release.

In the scene, Laurence Olivier, playing a Roman general, tries to seduce Curtis, the young slave, in dialogue alluding to one's preference for oysters or snails. (Because the original scene had not been properly recorded, Anthony Hopkins dubbed the dialogue for Olivier, who died in 1989. "I did me," Curtis said of the restoration.)

Also during the '60s, Curtis played multiple roles in "The Great Impostor," and he had to choose between the love of the Cossacks and the love of his life in "Taras Bulba." He played a neurotic orderly in "Captain Newman, M.D.," was the white-suited daredevil in "The Great Race" and a killer in "The Boston Strangler."

Unlike many who rose to his heights only to decry having to live their lives in a fishbowl, Curtis enjoyed fame and its accoutrements.

Writing in his 1993 autobiography, Curtis said he was able to handle the adulation of fans because, "I'd had that all my life, even before I got into movies; in school, in the neighborhoods where I lived, always a lot of furor. Everybody liked the way I looked, including myself."

Norman Jewison, who directed Curtis in the 1962 film "40 Pounds of Trouble," said that Curtis' simple belief that the camera loved him "gave his work a distinctive quality."

"He never got uptight, never lost control," Jewison wrote in his 2005 autobiography. "He was always totally cool."

Movies, Curtis once said, gave him "the privilege to be an aristocrat, to be a prince."

Throughout Curtis' life, women loved him, and he loved women. He was married five times, most famously to Leigh, for 11 years beginning in 1951. Theirs was the Hollywood marriage of their era — bigger than Debbie and Eddie and long before Liz and Dick.

In 1984, after family and friends intervened to talk about his drug problem, he admitted himself to the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Memorial Center in Rancho Mirage.

Before it was common practice, Curtis cut a deal to earn a percentage of the box office income on his films. He later said he had received income this way from 34 movies, collecting $2.5 million on "Some Like it Hot" alone.

"I'm telling you, I'm lucky to be me," he told the Buffalo News in 1993. "When I was a kid, I wanted to be Tony Curtis, and that's exactly who I am."

Besides his daughter Jamie Lee, Curtis is survived by his wife, Jill; three other daughters, Kelly Curtis, Alexandra Curtis Boyer and Allegra Curtis; a son, Benjamin; and seven grandchildren. A son, Nicholas, died in 1994.

 

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