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Tony Curtis Told Me: "I Won the Oscar of Life"

Neil Sean conducting his last interview with actor Tony Curtis in London. (Neil Sean)
Neil Sean conducting his last interview with actor Tony Curtis in London. (Neil Sean)

LONDON (CBS) Tony Curtis is without doubt one of the brightest stars I have ever encountered. Taking tea at the world famous department store Harrods in London, he was everything you could wish for - and more - in a true movie legend.

I was lucky enough to meet and interview Curtis, the star of such classic films as "Some Like It Hot" and "Boston Strangle," many times resulting in more than eight hours of interview footage.

Pictures: Tony Curtis

Looking back at some of that footage now, I am struck by the last interview, which proves to be the last full-blown, sit-down interview done with the star. He was in great spirit, worried only about the comfort of fans queuing up to see him.

He was eage to set the record straight about his rise to fame and his time in those early years working in the studio system.

"I was signed to Universal which, for me, was great," he told me. "I mean, I was in the movies! But looking back now, it was in a time when the heartthrob, or beefcake, was hot, you know. Tab Hunter. Rock Hudson. Pat Boone.

"I was put in with that crowd, which was fine as we were all young and good looking, but I was never that easy with the sex symbol thing. II wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, " Curtis said.

"I do feel that maybe 10 years before, things would have been slightly different for me, you know."

Asked about his now famous line comparing kissing Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot" to kissing Hitler, Curtis said, "I made a quip and that was all it was."

Standing in drag and high heels for several takes was hard work , he said, "but we knew that when she got it, Billy Wilder the director of the movie, was going to go with that take. It was sheer magic on screen and no, there really was no one else like her and never will be."

Curtis also revealed to me that he was unsure on whether he should take on what has become his most famous role: "I was all macho, you know, thinking I was a man etc, And then when Billy Wilder stopped by and told me how the story panned out ,well, I knew we had a unique movie on our hands. " But not even he, he said, could have foreseen just how successful it was - and still is today.

Curtis was so unlike other big stars I have met. He phoned me when I was back at the studio to ask if I had got everything I needed. Assured that I did, he then suggested we meet for dinner.

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During the meal, he was a gold mine of information but never crude or rude about anyone. He told me that of all the stars out there today, only George Clooney has that "old star movie magic."

"If Louis B Mayer was around now," Curtos said, "he (Clooney) sure would have been one MGM star."

The last time I met Curtis, he was in London for an art exhibition at Harrods. Apart from his admitted great passion for "women, women, and well more women," he was passionate about his painting.

In a nostalgic mood, he summarized his career as "lucky"

"I am lucky, you know. "I have had a great career. Some people say to me, ''You should have won an Oscar.' I agree," he said, laughing. "But, you know, to be here right now and see my own work hanging in this building, I can't quite believe that me, Bernie Schwartz, has come this far."

"So I did not get a gold gong," he added. "But if I have given people a lot of pleasure along the way, then I am truly happy.

"Frank Sinatra, you know, told me the best thing about been a celebrity was not the awards but people knowing you and remembering you. It's true. We all want to be remembered. If I get that, then really, I have the Oscar of life, right? Is there really a better award than that?"

At our final meeting, I was pouring Curtis a glass of water, and he said, "you pour just like Dean Martin."

I cannot tell you how happy that comment made me!. As I say, you meet many big stars in this job, but there was none quite as big - quite as bright or entertaining - as the wonderful Tony Curtis I shall miss you lots.