American Prince American Prince American Prince | Chapter 13 of 30 - Part: 1 of 2

Author: Tony Curtis | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1161 Views | Add a Review

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Dancing with Yvonne De Carlo

Jim Best, me, Rock Hudson, and Richard Long, 1949.

Soon after I signed with Universal, the casting department worked out a deal with a speech instructor over at MGM Studios to take me on as one of her students. The studio wanted me to improve my diction and to soften my New York accent, so I went to speech class. I didn’t go for very long, but I enjoyed the experience. We’d have to recite sentences like “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain,” the way Eliza Doolittle did in My Fair Lady. Our instructor even gave me marbles to put in my mouth, to make me more aware of my tongue and its movements. I swallowed one of the marbles by accident, and when it came out a few days later I washed it carefully and sent it to my instructor in a little box. She had no idea of the trip it had taken.

I loved going to the MGM lot for my speech class. I had seen a lot of MGM’s great movies as a kid, and on the lot I could even pick out certain streets and connect them to specific films. MGM was founded in the 1920s, and its first great epic film had been Ben-Hur. Among its roster of stars were Greta Garbo, William Powell, Buster Keaton, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable. MGM would go on to make wonderful musicals starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra.

After my very first speech lesson, I went to get some lunch at the MGM commissary. I sat down in an empty spot at the counter next to a couple of girls who were eating together and chatting. One of the girls greeted me in a friendly way, so I struck up a conversation.

“I’ve never been here before,” I said.

“You’ll love the food,” she replied, and we chatted for a minute. She was a pretty, articulate young woman who seemed very intelligent and sure of herself. I wondered if she was an actress. I asked her if she worked at MGM, and she said she did.

“I’m going to be coming out here again for class. Can we have coffee?” I asked her.

“Sure,” she said. She took out a pen and a piece of paper, and when I saw the name she wrote out—Judy Garland—I nearly plotzed. I took her number, but I never called her. To this day I’m sorry I passed up a chance to become friends with the woman who’d been so phenomenal in The Wizard of Oz. But Judy Garland was a big star, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence at that point.

Those first few months in Hollywood I met a number of other young actors who were making names for themselves, including Debbie Reynolds, Rock Hudson, and Marlon Brando. At the studio various actors would get together and talk about what they were doing over the upcoming weekend. After a while we all knew each other, either from parties or from working together. Rock Hudson was signed shortly after I was. The two of us hit it off, became friends, and went on to become mainstays at Universal Pictures. Marlon Brando and I also developed a friendship from spending time together at parties, but he was always the odd one. He’d come to a party late, or he would show up but insist on not coming inside, or he’d bring some weird girl with him as his date. He was always pushing the envelope.

I loved going out, but I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. After paying my rent and the installment on my membership in the Screen Actors Guild, I had about twenty-five bucks a week to live on, which was enough to get by but didn’t allow for any luxuries. I was netting roughly the same amount I had been receiving from the GI Bill of Rights when I was studying drama in New York City. Back then my dad would slip me a few bucks here and there, which helped, but I didn’t have his help here in Hollywood. Still, I loved being on my own. I just had to be frugal to make it work.

The important thing was that I had enough money to take girls out on dates now and then. There were so many beautiful women in Hollywood, and I was meeting more of them all the time. One girl I went out with had competed as Miss Sweden in the Miss Universe contest. She didn’t win, but as one of six finalists she was given a contract with Universal. She was a breathtaking natural beauty, a tall, eighteen-year-old blonde with a spectacular figure. Her name was Anita Ekberg.

The first time I picked up Anita to take her out, she threw her arms around me and we never got any further than her couch. At least she had a couch! I was fortunate enough to have a number of romantic moments with Anita, but we ran into the same problem I’d had with Marilyn Monroe: we were too young and too busy with our careers to make time for a serious relationship. Like Marilyn, Anita’s evenings were often taken up by big-shot film executives, and it was tough for me to compete with that. Anita ended up dating a string of movie stars, including Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner, and Frank Sinatra.

I went out with another actress, Betty Thatcher, who was also a knockout. I took her to a club in downtown LA owned by Benny Leonard, the Jewish prizefighter. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were working there weekends, doing their show. That’s when I met Jerry—and that’s when Jerry met Betty. It was obvious right away that he had big eyes for her. I had just met her, and we weren’t emotionally involved, so I stepped out of the way.

When I first met him, Jerry Lewis seemed very gregarious and open, just the way he was on stage. As I got to know him better, I saw another side to his personality. He could be very domineering, even mean, and sometimes acted like everybody worked for him. But at the same time, Jerry was absolutely hilarious to be around. He loved being outrageous. We’d be walking down the street together and he’d start skipping, just like a little kid. When we went out to eat, he’d stick his fingers in everybody else’s food. If you were driving a car with him in the passenger seat, he’d grab the wheel and force you onto the sidewalk. Jerry always had candy in his pocket, and if we were at a party, he would walk over to a girl, drop a piece of candy down her blouse, and go after it. I’m telling you, he was crazy, a helluva lot of fun, and completely impossible.

One day I was walking down a Universal Studios street when some guy stopped me and asked, “Can you dance?”

What, are you kidding me? Here I am, working to get my big break, so what am I going to say? “Of course,” I replied. “There’s nothing I can’t do.”

He smiled, and we made our introductions. He was Robert Siodmak, the director who had made The Killers with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Now he was making a movie called Criss Cross for Universal. He said someone from casting would call me. I was excited, but by now I knew enough about Hollywood to take a wait-and-see attitude.

Later that afternoon a girl from the mail department knocked on my dressing room door and handed me a note: Call Bob Palmer. Bob Palmer was the head of casting. When I called he said, “The director of Criss Cross just called and wants you in his film. Burt Lancaster is in it, too. The director wants you to dance with Yvonne De Carlo. Can you really dance?”

“Sure I can dance,” I said.

“He’s expecting you first thing tomorrow,” Palmer replied.

Most fans know Yvonne De Carlo as the TV character Lily Munster from The Munsters, but in 1945 she played Salome in Salome Where She Danced, a role that made her a star. Two years later she played the lead in Slave Girl, and audiences could almost feel the heat from her sultry sensuality. When I met Yvonne, her career was soaring, and now she was starring in a picture with Burt Lancaster, who was also a big star.

The premise of Criss Cross was that Burt and Yvonne were in a relationship, but had been divorced and he had left town for a year. While he was away, she worked as a dancer and a prostitute, and in this one scene she was dancing with me. I was on the screen for about two minutes. I was supposed to do the rumba, whatever that was. I just shook my body like crazy, and everyone loved it. When Yvonne’s character and I are dancing, Burt walks in and sees us. She goes over to him, and I’m left standing there, but I decided not to let that bother me. I was going to dance, dammit, girl or no girl. So I kept on going. They liked that too.

I was very attracted to Yvonne, and she took a liking to me as well. We started going out, and after a few dates we went to bed. The excitement of slowly taking off Yvonne De Carlo’s clothes was indescribable. Having her undressed with me in a bed on Mulholland Drive overlooking LA was like winning first prize in the lottery. It was like a sweet, sexy Hollywood romance, only it was real.

The picture was released a few months later. My family still lived in New York, and I had told my mother all about the film, so all my relatives and friends were waiting for Criss Cross to come out. My parents reported that when I appeared on the big screen in my bit part, the theater in our neighborhood exploded with cheers and applause. And my friends and family weren’t the only ones who liked seeing me up on screen. Fans mailed in hundreds of letters asking: Who was that guy who danced with Yvonne De Carlo? The studio was so impressed by all that mail that it renewed my contract right away and bumped up my salary to a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. I’d been on screen exactly two minutes, but they turned out to be the most important two minutes of my life.

As soon as I started getting fan mail, I knew I was on the right track too. And when I watched myself in the picture, I liked the way I looked and moved on screen. I’d already been working hard at learning my craft, but now I poured everything I had into it. I paid close attention to every last detail. Now I was in a hurry to be a movie star. I didn’t want to have to wait until I was thirty; I needed it to happen now. I needed it to counteract all the negative stuff in my head that I had heard all my life from my mother, from relatives, and from people in the neighborhood. You’re good for nuttin. You’re gonna end up a homosexual dancer in some lousy club. You’ll never make a living as an actor.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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