When I was a little girl, I was OBSESSED with old movies. Well, the comedies anyway. I saw them all. I loved Betty Hutton, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby…I loved them all…even Danny Kaye. Tony Curtis was on my list. He was cute and was silly enough to wear a dress in Some Like it Hot. And my young mind was unencumbered by all the faults of alcoholism and drug abuse and whatever. Those were invisible to me. He was just fun.
I went to France to go to school for a year when I was 17. I was trying so hard to be cool, but everything was new and I was not cool. Probably not for a single moment while I was over there. I learned a lot about myself…but one of the big things I began to become aware of while I was there was that I was closer to the fumbling around slapstick style glamour of those old movies I loved than the sophisticated bored glamour of the film and music stars of my day. I have totally settled into that now, but I was just figuring it out then and it was slow going.
I dragged two of my friends with me to the Cannes film festival that year. Somehow I was expecting the streets to be absolutely littered with movie stars. I had seen the pictures in the gossip magazines. We would see them in cafes and on the beach and walking down the street. Strangely, we saw almost no one. Almost.
On a side street we took to cut through to the main drag I spotted Tony Curtis walking down the street. It was just us and him. The rest of this tiny little back street was empty. Without thinking I yelled out “Mr. Curtis!” My heart was racing a mile a minute. He certainly looked a lot older than I remembered…but he still carried himself like a movie star and it was unmistakably him. I wanted to tell him how much his movies had meant to me as a kid. I wanted to tell him how cool I thought it was that it seemed like he did not take himself too seriously. I wanted to tell him that of all the movie stars I could have stumbled upon in Cannes that year, this unexpected meeting was far and away the most exciting one that could have occurred for me and that I could return to my dorm completely satisfied that I had met him. He turned toward the sound of my voice and I panicked. I jumped into a doorway and he did not see me.
I don’t tend to regret a lot about my life. What has happened has brought me to where I am and I rather like where I am. But I do regret that moment. I have no idea why I panicked. I am not typically afraid of approaching people. I have actually met and talked to some serious movie stars since then and it was not that big of a deal. But this was Tony Curtis. He was a little unreal to me. I just could not hold it together.
Tony Curtis died yesterday. And, of the many deaths of people I have grown up watching, this one hits me just a little bit harder than most.
That was me on the back street in Cannes, Mr. Curtis. I just wanted to say thank you.