American Prince American Prince American Prince | Chapter 22 of 30 - Part: 1 of 2

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

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My Teenage Bride


With Christine Kaufmann on our wedding day, 1963.
© GETTY IMAGES/ERNST HAAS

Janet left Argentina because she had a movie to make, but the reason for her leaving as quickly as she did may have been jealousy of my beautiful young costar, Christine Kauf mann, who played my love interest in Taras Bulba, a Ukrainian version of Romeo and Juliet. I was playing Andrei, Yul Brynner’s son, a Cossack who falls in love with a Polish princess. The Cossacks and Poles are enemies, and to make our love affair even more complicated, I kill her brother in a sword fight. What no one knew at the time was that I didn’t have to act in my love scenes with Christine, because I really did fall in love with her.

To make the situation even more ticklish, Christine was only seventeen years old. That gave me pause, but there was a freshness about her, an exuberant joy in living that made me go all funny inside. To me, she represented all those girls I would have liked to have dated when I was a poor kid living in New York. I had never gone out with a girl like that, and now I was playing love scenes opposite one.

If Janet and I had been getting along, I might not have been so emotionally vulnerable, but that was not the case. Needless to say, the fact that my marriage was not in good shape meant that Janet and I rarely had sex, which didn’t help either. Christine made life fun again, and I wanted to be with her in the worst way. My dream came true when Christine and I launched into a torrid affair for the first three weeks of shooting. Then her mother arrived on the set, at which point she and I agreed to bury our feelings and stop seeing each other.

That wasn’t the only off-screen drama that was taking place during production. Yul Brynner disliked me because he’d wanted top billing, but United Artists had given it to me. Brynner was very pretentious and overbearing, not unlike the characters he played in his film roles. It got back to me that Yul was telling people I wasn’t a good enough actor to play the part of his son. Yul’s wife also made clear her distaste for me. On location she would bring a big pitcher of orange juice to the cameraman and the boom operator, and she was very obvious about not offering me any. I just shook my head.

Yul smoked all day long, and he had a lackey whose job was to light his cigarettes. When Yul was talking, he’d pull out his long cigarette holder, insert a cigarette, and then nod, which was the signal for his man to walk over and light him up. It was just another way for Yul to publicly demonstrate his power. He used this ritual to assert himself when he talked with the director, J. Lee Thompson. He’d say, “I don’t think the scene will work this way, Lee. Why don’t you have the horses come in from the other side instead?” Then he’d pull out a cigarette and wait for it to be lit.

After a while, I couldn’t take Yul’s behavior anymore, so I went out, bought an eyedropper, filled it with water, and brought it to the set. I stood behind Yul and waited for his servant to walk over to light his cigarette. After the cigarette was lit and Yul took a puff or two, he’d set it down in an ashtray. I’d tiptoe over, squeeze a couple of drops of water onto the end of the cigarette, and put it out. When Yul went to take another puff, the cigarette would be dead. After three days of this, Yul was about ready to kill his servant. I didn’t want to be responsible for Yul firing the guy, so I finally let Yul in on what I was doing. I have to give him credit: he laughed.

Another actor who didn’t like me was a bit player named Mickey Finn, a guy who weighed in at an impressive two hundred and eighty pounds. One day Mickey was sitting on his horse teaching a couple of other actors how to fence, and he said, “It’s like throwing confetti.” When I heard that load of horseshit, I realized Mickey had no idea what he was talking about, and I just had to correct him.

“You can’t do it that way,” I said. “You have to get close.” I got on my horse, rode up right alongside a mounted soldier, and struck him twice with my sword before he finally parried. I said, “That’s what you’ve got to do.” When one of the riders followed my example, I said, “You’ve got it.” Mickey became furious that I was showing him up, but there wasn’t a lot he could do about it because my suggestion worked. I’d had a lot of experience fencing in movies.

One night at a cocktail party Mickey decided to vent his frustration by picking a fight with me. He came at me like a gorilla. I just stood there, thinking, If you want to kill me, give it your best shot, Mickey, but if you so much as touch me, you’re out of a job. I was the star of the picture, which meant I could have easily seen to it that Mickey was fired. I prepared to defend myself using some self-defense moves that my stuntman friends had taught me. Perry Lopez, who was playing my brother in the film, alertly jumped in between Mickey and me, preventing what could have been a very ugly scene.

J. Lee Thompson, our director, had directed a huge hit the year before: The Guns of Navarone. He was a forceful director who knew how to control a set. When we had to shoot some military scenes, he contacted the head of the Argentine army and said, “We need two or three battalions out here for a week, and we’ll pay you thirty thousand dollars.” The next thing I knew, we were dressing two thousand Argentine soldiers as Poles. We’d shoot a Polish army scene, then the shot assistant would say, “All right, let’s get these Poles turned into Cossacks.” An hour later, thousands of soldiers who had been Poles would come riding onto the set as Cossacks.

After we were through filming in Argentina, the entire cast and crew flew back to Hollywood to finish the picture on United Artists’ back lot. Christine’s mother came along, and I went home to Janet. Christine and her mother were both staying at LA’s Chateau Marmont, but I knew they were staying in separate rooms. I desperately wanted to be with Christine, but I knew the situation was fraught with danger.

I came up with a plan that involved driving up to the Chateau Marmont at five thirty in the morning. Christine would let me into her room, and we’d have our fun until about eight thirty. Then I would leave and go directly to the set, making sure her mother didn’t see me on the way out. When Christine and I met on the set that morning, we’d greet each other as if for the first time that day. The sneaking around made our trysts even more romantic.

I may have been fooling Christine’s mother, but Janet could tell something was up. She came by the UA lot one day when we were shooting and said something odd to me: “I want to see this Christine girl.”

“What are you asking me for?” I said. “Go on the set and see her.”

“Will you introduce us?” she asked.

“If I’m around, I’ll introduce you, sure,” I said. Janet was letting me know she suspected something was going on, but she didn’t come right out and accuse me. I couldn’t bear living with Janet anymore, so I often stayed overnight with Nicky Blair, a friend of mine who owned a restaurant in LA, or with Hugh Hefner. Whenever I needed to get away, Hef would let me stay in one of his rooms.

One night Janet and I were at home, having one of our terrible fights. Janet was drinking scotch and crying while she was trying to fix her makeup in front of a little mirror. There was a bottle of pills on her dressing table next to the mirror, and while I was standing there she opened the bottle, shook a handful of red pills into her palm, and threw them down her throat. In a panic, I slapped her hard on the back, causing her to cough up most of the pills.

That was the last straw. Soon after, I told Janet I was moving out. At first she took it calmly. “So move out if you want to,” she said.

I packed a few clothes, and after I walked out the front door to my car, carrying a small valise, Janet came and stood in the doorway, holding Kelly by the hand and Jamie in her arms. She didn’t say much, but she was crying, and when I saw the two girls, my heart was torn apart.

I should have found a better way to end things with Janet, but I had run out of energy. So instead, I just left. I found a hotel close by, and I stayed there while I finished the movie. Janet and I had parted, and not on good terms. Sad to say, Kelly and Jamie have always held it against me. It’s understandable. Janet had full custody of the girls, which was typical in those days, and I’m sure she filled their heads with all sorts of negative stories about me.

Meanwhile, the movie magazines were buzzing with rumors about Christine and me. One day I got a message on the set saying that Hedda Hopper was calling. I got on the phone, and Hedda said to me, “Listen, Tony, God help you if you lie to me, but are you going with a teenager?”

I said, “No, Hedda, that’s not true at all.”

All that did was postpone the inevitable. The story of Tony Curtis leaving his wife and two kids for the teenage daughter of a German air force officer made every newspaper in America. The media frenzy made Janet even more bitter, if that was possible. She was being humiliated in public, and she never forgave me for it. I managed to get visitation rights to see our daughters, but Janet often found ways to keep me from seeing them.

After the movie wrapped, Christine went back to Germany, and that cooled down the rumors about us, but we talked on the phone long distance every night.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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