He opened his funeral to the public, the same way he lived his life.
Held in Las Vegas at the Palm Mortuary, Tony Curtis’ funeral was a multimedia event with spirited speeches superseding overt grieving.
Rabbi Mel Hecht officiated. Clips of Curtis’ movies were shown with a who’s-who of A-list co-stars. Several of his oils, photographs, and his brown leather director’s chair adorned the stage. A collage of film stills were accompanied by text in Curtis’ words with each photo: “I helped Cary Grant paint his pink sub. I took a bath with Laurence Oliver. I killed Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas killed me in Spartacus. I am chained to Sidney Poitier forever. I am a serious actor who took risks with The Flintstones. Elvis Presley fashioned his look (hair) after me. I made a deal with the devil with Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success.”
After prayers in Hebrew, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke of his dear friend of 30 years. Curtis encouraged Schwarzenegger pursue of an acting career when he was unknown and gave him a book on how to paint. (Coincidentally, the governor co-stared with the actor’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.)
“You must be wondering what I am doing here with the State of California in dire straights,” the governor said. “This is really a fundraiser for California!
“Tony was against aging and I just ignore it. He’d date younger women to stay young and wound up with wonderful Jill for the past 12 years.”
Some of Schwarzenegger’s remarks were so kaleidoscopic that Hecht commented, “As a Rabbi I’ve never heard a eulogy like that.”
Curtis’ daughter, Jamie Lee, took her former co-star’s lead with humor.
“Maybe you ought to sell some of your art to help the California economy. I’d buy one!”
She then referred to her Dad as a little meshuganah (Yiddish for crazy) and said she inherited some of his traits, especially his need for attention and to pose nude. She said that the night before the funeral, the family got together and read his favorite passages and some of his prose.
Over 40 years his junior, Tony’s widow, Jill Vandenberg Curtis, gave the final speech.
“We thought we lost him in August. But Tony survived it; he came home from the hospital for all of us to say goodbye. We’d watch his favorite film Transformers. Tony was an enigma, a word he loved. He came from humble beginnings and was always approachable. He was kind, gentle, tough and strong. He barely finished high school, but was self educated. I was just a horsewoman from San Diego when we met. What a ride this has been.”
Jill reported that Tony was buried in his favorite outfit – a Stetson hat, sweater and shorts (all white), driving gloves and an Armani scarf. She added a travel bag with his iPhone (called his IV), gold coins, a copy of Mr. Corey, a yarmulke from a Budapest synagogue he helped renovate, a bag of stones he collected from travels, paint brushes, sleep blinds, seven packets of Splenda (he added to everything), mementos from his father and ashes from his dog Jack.
Collages of Curtis photos graced the lobby. A Marilyn Monroe look-alike encouraged fans to be photographed with her. The event provided standing room only with eight additional rooms for monitor viewing.
Sue Facter writes about all things A-list. Her credits include USA Today, People, Los Angeles Times and Women’s Day Australia.