The Magic Of Tony Curtis

Friday afternoon a friend handed me two VIP tickets to the Magic of Tony Curtis Jules Verne film festival, featuring Houdini and Some Like it Hot. I was so excited. The legend himself would be there. Plus they were recreating the water torture stunt that brought Houdini to his demise, there was the promise of a champagne and appetizer shin dig at the LAAC, and an after party at the Edison. Yes, thank you, I said—I’ll take ‘em!

One small problem. Wait a minute, the 13th you say? Shit. Ages ago, I promised a friend of mine to go with him to the Stoker Horror Writer’s Awards dinner in Burbank. I was double booked, and I felt a bad case of the flakes coming on.

I phoned my friend immediately and started grilling him. He was on a layover in Albuquerque. Why this convention? Do you absolutely have to go? Are you getting an award? Did it cost a lot?

A long disappointed pause came from the other end of the line. He sighed. He had two pitch meetings with publishers that day, and his friends were getting awards. Yes, the convention was full of horror nerds from the Midwest dressed in leftover Halloween costumes, and yes, the Tony Curtis thing sounded really really cool—but he just couldn’t.

I was on my own; it was time to choose. I went to Burbank to meet him for drinks that evening. We walked into the convention pre-party and I got handed a glass of merlot from a box.

“Oh! They have karaoke,” I asked, pointing to the woman in a corset singing on stage. Her outfit made her look like a cross between Vampirella and Betsy Johnson. Perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad after all, I thought.

“No,” my friend said. “That’s the band.”

I almost choked on a stale hors d’oeuvre. I apologized. I’m sorry my friend, I love you, but—I just can’t do it. He agreed. We finished our drinks. By the end of the visit my buddy gave me his begrudged blessing, and off I went, slightly soiled conscience and all.

Saturday afternoon I got up, grabbed my friend Fina, threw on a vintage dress and heels, some Viva Glam red Mac lipstick, and we hiked our way up to the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway.

The first thing that greeted my eyes as we approached the box office was a long line of vintage cars. I ogled each one, appreciatively. Tony Curtis had just arrived and we followed the flash bulbs, waving hands, and Tony’s giant white Stetson into the theater.

Once inside, we were ushered up to the front. I sat down and had a look around. The place was about 85% capacity and people were still filtering in. I looked up and marveled at the ornate Mayan and Egyptian styled winged figure at the apex of the front of the stage. The Million Dollar Theater is the oldest theater palace in Los Angeles, built by Grauman, who obviously went on to do other big things in the future. Next I had a gander at the intricate sculpted figurines and motifs in the box seats. Then the house lights dimmed, the curtain lifted, and the crowd grew silent. The creators of the Jules Verne film festival Jean-Christophe Jeauffre and Frederic Dieudonne walked out onto the theater stage.

They informed us that the festival was a non-profit organization started 17 years ago in France, and is now based both in Paris and Los Angeles, thanks to partnerships with the Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation and others.

They introduced the magician Curtis Lovell II onto the stage. He performed his version of the Houdini water torture stunt. Let me say briefly that there is no substitute for Houdini or Tony Curtis for that matter, but the performance was charming nonetheless.

Tony Curtis came onto stage at the end of the act and the first thing he did was walk over to Curtis Lovell, who had his hand outstretched, and introduced himself to the magician’s cute blond assistant. Everyone giggled. It seemed that Tony was a bit of an old dog, which became more and more evident as the afternoon’s activities progressed.

Tony was wearing a cowboy hat, and black jeans; he was charming and feisty. He reminisced for a little bit on stage, said thank you and then opened his arms as if to hug the whole audience. He called for the house lights to be raised, so he could get a better look at all of us.

I hadn’t seen Houdini since I was a kid, so I very much enjoyed watching it again with a fresh pair of eyes. I loved it when the audience clapped and cheered for all the escape scenes in the movie, it made me extremely happy. My friend leaned over and whispered that Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’s daughter was…Jamie Lee Curtis. A synapses fired, two long lost neurons in my brain said hello to each other, and my face lit up with a surprised smile. I could see the resemblance in the faces now. And yes…I have been living under a rock my whole life, I can admit that.

When the film ended, we headed up to the front to catch the black shuttle bus, which would be taking us to the LAAC for a dinner. But when we arrived at the Athletic Club, we were a little disappointed to find out that dinner was an extra $50. If you weren’t a member of the club, that is. Jan Perry had just begun speaking, Tony arrived in a wheel chair pushed by his wife Jillian, and there were pieces of art and memorabilia on tables around the place. Several people stood outside the event and watched from there…We headed out for dinner at Bottega Louie instead, then rejoined the group back at the Million Dollar Theater for the screening of Some Like it Hot.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this was my first time seeing this movie. But then again, maybe I was waiting all my life so that I could see it on the big screen at the oldest most fabulous theater in downtown Los Angeles, with the star and other cast on hand to introduce it. I’d like to think the latter is true. There was no better way I can think of to experience this film. I absolutely loved it.

But the best part of this whole thing was that Tony got up on stage to accept his award and started to tell stories from the old Hollywood days. We hung on his every word, gesture, and growl. Yes, he growls. Remember, I said he was feisty.

At some point he started talking about Marilyn. He described the day he met her and the fitted dress she wore, and how he turned the rearview mirror so that he could sneak looks at the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life—without crashing his car in the process. We giggled. He spoke about sitting with her on the deck of a beach house on a spring evening, and how they’d started to have a secret affair. We sighed. Tell us more, please.

Suddenly, Jean interrupted. Tony had strayed very far off topic. “You know, one of the funniest things Tony has ever said to me was about his wife Jillian,” Jean said. 

Our eyebrows raised, we looked at Tony. He looked wide-eyed back at us.

 “Jillian is in the theater with us tonight, in fact,” Frank continued, then paused to allow the audience to clap. “I asked him if it wasn’t dangerous to be having sex with such a young woman as Jillian. And he said—‘well, if she dies, she dies!’”

We laughed, but what happened to the end of the Marilyn story? Looked like it was back to the regular old Q and A.

 “So Tony, can you please talk about how it was daring at the time to be dressed as women?” Frederic chimed in from Tony’s left side.

Tony picked up the mic and raised it to his lips. Everyone went silent. “So, we went to this beach house, me and Marilyn…”

I just about rolled out of my seat laughing. To our delight Mr. Curtis went on revealing juice stories, priceless artifacts of old Hollywood gossip, and scandalous opinions. He never answered a single straight question, much to our delight. And we heard more than an earful about the affair with Marilyn Monroe.

Tony finished up, accepted his award along with two of his co-stars, some of the ladies from the band. He beamed, hugged them and groped them, and then everyone shuffled off stage. I heard later he escaped before the movie began. Which is what I would have done, if I were 84-years-old.

As soon as the film had ended, we got up and exited from the side doors. I ran home to change and we headed over to the Edison for drinks and Tony’s belated birthday party celebration.

When we arrived, it was 11pm, an hour after the arranged time. Made sense because the film actually let out around 10:45. There was an enormous line outside of the Edison of people with blue wristbands from the festival. And behind them was another long line of regular, pardon the expression—Saturday night bridge and tunnel types—standing on the sidewalk behind a grim faced bouncer.

The doorman told us that he had no idea there would be hundreds of film festival people arriving that evening. One woman standing next to me lamented because her birthday was at midnight, and the way it was looking, she wouldn’t even get inside in time for it. I urged them to go. The bouncer told us the club was at full capacity and they couldn’t let any more of us in. We stood outside for nearly 45 minutes, and when we got inside, it was a zoo.

When I left the Edison that night, I thought back to what they said on stage, a representative from the Downtown Center for Business Improvement, “We want to welcome anything that brings energy into Downtown.”

And here it was, hundreds of people from everywhere, the Valley, Orange County, Hollywood, Venice—invited to an after party that the venue wasn’t prepared for. I don’t know who is at fault here—but I think we could have done just a little bit better. Admittedly, it still beat the hell out of choking down bad wine with warbling Vampirella at the Marriott in Burbank that night. Boo-boo-be—doo—oo!

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