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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 PAGE 17A Tony Curtis thinks his Jewishness hurt him in Hollywood By Adam Kirseh NEW YORK (NEXT- BOOK}--In "Cultural Am- nesia." Clive James' eccentric encyclopedia of modern culture, the Australian critic devotes some of his most enthusiastic pages to Tony Curtis. One might not think that Curtis. whose fame rests more on his beauty and outsized personality than on the quality of his movies. deserves to be ranked as one of the essential figures of the 20th century, alongside Thomas Mann and Margaret Thatcher. But to James, who saw Curtis' movies as a teen- ager in postwar Australia, the actor--with his frank sexi- ness, his adolescent intensity, his comic zest--seemed to incarnate the glamour of the American century. The irony, of course, is that to Americans, Curtis looked like anything but an all-American boy. Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda, with their WASP upright- ness. were the kind of actors chosen by Hollywood's Jewish filmmakers to be icons of American heroism. Curtis. on the other hand. was undisguisably ethnic. There may have been Jewish movie stars before Curtis. from Emmanuel Goldenberg (Ed- ward G. Robinson) to Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas). But none of them sounded like Bernie Schwartz. who even after he changed his name was unmistakably a Jewish street kid from the East Side of Manhattan. It's no coincidence that the one line of Curtis' that everybody knows is "Yonda lies da castle of my fadda" a silly phrase given an ethnic mangling, it seems to encapsulate his Whole career and persona. In "American Prince." his utterly synthetic, deeply unreliable yet fascinating new memom Curtis does not fail to defend himself against that infamous line. In the first place, Curtis insists, what he really said in "Son of All Baba" the 1952 film he describes, with admirable directness, as a "another sand-and-tits movie"--was "Yonder in the valley of the sun is my father's castle." More important, his accent was not especially notable in the movie no more so, at any rate. than in "Some Like It Hot" or "The Defiant Ones" or. "Sweet Smell of Success," to name some of his more enduring films. The line didn't become notorious, Curtis says, until Debbie Reynolds made fun of it on a talk show: "Did you see the new guy in the movies? They call him Tony Curtis. but that's not his real name. In his new movie he's a got a hilarious line where he says, 'Yonder lies the castle of my fodda.' "" "You could chalk her ridi- cule up to my New York ac- cent."writes Curtis (as chan- neled by Peter Golenbock), "but when she mentioned the issue of my real name on television. I began to wonder if there was something anti- Semitic going on there." And while immersed in "Ameri- can Prince." this roiling stew of Curtis' grievances and boasts, the charge Of anti- Semitism does seem plausi- ble. Everybody changes their name in Hollywood--after all. Janet Leigh. Curtis' first wife. was born Jeannette Morrison so why should Bernie Schwartz's fake name be especially noteworthy? And why should a Jewish accent be considered more inherently anachronistic than, say. the plummy Eng- lish of Laurence Olivier, with whom Schwartz played a famously suggestive scene in Spartacus? The answer. Curtis has no doubt, is that Hollywood in the 1950s was a closed caste that had no place for a Jew at least for a Jew like him. Curtis, born in 1925. had grown up in one of those very poor, very troubled immigrant Jewish families whose miseries you can read about in the fiction of Delmore Schwartz and Daniel Fuchs. or the memoirs of Alfred Kazin. His mother Tony Curtis in his memoir claims Hollywood in the 1950s had no place for a Jew like him--one from a poor, troubled immigrant family. was frustrated, vindictive and unstable later in life. Curtis writes, she would be diagnosed with schizo- phrenia-while his father, a tailor, struggled to stay afloat during the Depression. The family would sometimes have to squat in the tailor shop. On one traumatic occasion. when Curtis was 10 years old, his parents deposited him and his younger brother in an orphanage for two weeks. AS a young boy, Curtis writes, he was constantly bullied--by gentiles for being a Jew and by other Jews for being poor. The worst blow came when Curtis was 13 years old, when his younger brother. Julie, was killed by a truck at First Avenue and 78th Street. His parents sent Curtis to the hospital, alone, to identify Julie's body. No wonder Curtis dropped out of high school and joined the Navy when he was just 16 years old, forging his mother's signature on the parental consent form. And no wonder that, when he came back to New York at war's end--never having seen combat he immediately found another kind of escape in acting. His first profes- sional job involved touring the Catskills in a"a play about anti-Semitism and the Jew- ish experience in America." whose bathetic title "This Too Shall Pass"--Philip Roth would have been proud to have come up with. Curtis also worked briefly in the Yiddish theater in Chicago, where he kept himself enter- tained in schlocky roles by ad-libbing lines like "I would rather be in the movies!" Soon enough he was. thanks to a Universal talent scout named Bob Goldstein. And here begin the reader's doubts about the anti- Semitism that. according to Curtis, froze him out of Hollywood's A-List. Bob Goldstein discovered Curtis; Jack Warner befriended him on the plane to Los Angeles (one of the many moments where Curtis' story conforms a little too perfectly to Hol- lywood archetype); Abner Biberman was his studio- assigned acting coach; Lew Wasserman and Swifty Lazar were the agents who made his career; Billy Wilder gave him his best part. All of these men. of course, were Jewish, as were the moguls who built the studio system in the first place, and many of the producers, directors and writers who still ran that system when Curtis was signed as a contract player in 1948. Curtis never remarks on this obvious fact. which rather undermines his in- sistence that being a Jew "was a strike against you in Hollywood as it was in most places." Yet "American Prince" makes it possible to understand why Curtis could believe this. He was not look- ing at the whole ecosystem of Hollywood he regrets. late in the book. taking so little interest in writing or directing, which might have sustained his career after he outgrew leading-man parts. Hewas only concerned about the intricate status hierarchy of Hollywood's stars, and in that hierarchy, it is true, WASPs held the highest places. Curtis writes feelingly about ancient snubs from stars like Debbie Reynolds and Henry Fonda and Ray Milland: To him. a New York Jewish dropout, such people seemed like prom kings and queens. Even late in life. when Curtis was rich and famous, he was hugely insecure about his Jewishness. He married his third wife, a model named Penny Allen, because she was "the shiksa goddess of my dreams. Heaven knows. when I was a kid I couldn't have imagined even talking to a girl who looked like Penny Allen." This insecurity, "American Prince" makes clear despite itself, helped to turn Curtis into a titanic narcissist. His need for approval is insa- tiable, leading him to pursue every woman he meets and accept every role he is of- fered, no matter how terrible the picture. His treatment of his parents, children and especially wives is frankly appalling. Of course, it is impossible to say how much of Curtis' unassuagable needi- ness can be chalked up to his Jewishness and how much to his other psychic traumas, or simply to the typical actor's neuroses. Yet Curtis doesn't fully appreciate how much his on-screen allure owed to his being Jewish. Like Marion Brando. Montgomery Clift and James Dean, who ar- rived in Hollywood at the same time he did, Curtis was a new kind of Hollywood leading man whose appeal flowed from his neurotic intensity and exotic, almost feminine beauty a whole different type from the Jimmy Stewarts and Cary Grants of the past. And itwas Curtis' Jewishness, includ- ing the wounds that resulted from it, that allowed him to fit this new image of American masculinity so perfectly. To the teenaged Clive James, watching "Son of Ali Baba" in Sydney, even"Yonda lies da castle of my fadda" sounded quintessentially American: "Nothing mat- tered except the enchanting way that the tormented phonemes seemed to give an extra zing to the American demotic." Adam Kirsch is the author of "Benjamin Disraeli," a new biography in Nextbook's "Jewish Encounters" series. Reprinted from Nextbook. org, a new read on Jewish culture. Wattenberg: Liberals aided neoconservative evolution By Aaron Leibel Washington Jewish Week When some liberals strayed from their principles, their betrayal helped create the neoconservative movement, says Ben Wattenberg, one of the leaders of that movement in the 1970s and '80s. The iconoclastic writer- TV personality-politico was becoming disillusioned with "radical" liberal leaders in the Democratic Party in the '60s, says Wattenberg, whose latest book is "Fight- ing Words A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Con- servatism" (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008). "It might have been the reaction to the riots [in various American cities] in 1967 or when ]President John F.] Kennedy was shot and people said, 'What have we done wrong,' " Watten- berg says in an interview. "People were saying that law and order was a code for racism and burning flags, and the mainstream of the [Democratic] Party didn't denounce them. "It was one thing to be against Vietnam War. but I couldn't take people who wanted the U.S. to be humili- ated. I am still a registered Democrat. but I regard my- self as an FDR-JFK-Jackson [Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jack- son, D-Wash.. 1952-1983] Democrat." Especially in foreign af- fairs, many liberal Demo- crats betrayed their prin- ciples, Wattenberg, 75, be- lieves. "The quest for global liberty, and the strength to back it up" used to be an integral part of Democratic Party beliefs, he writes. "The idea that neo-conser- vatism broke new ground is wrong. It is the Democratic Party that changed. Liberal Democrats today too often sound as if they are not willing to pay any price or bear any burden," the author continues, making reference to Kennedy's inaugural ad- dress in 1961. Although the process had begun in the 1960s, it was Universal Nation" (1991) the 1972 Democratic presi- and "Fewer: How the New dential primaries that moved Demography Will Shape Our the party "towards the Far Future" (2004). Left." he writes in his book. Those primaries "became the splitting wedge in the Democratic Party and in America's political culture. That split remains in play today, to the Democrats' detriment." Wattenberg, who grew up in a nonobservant but Yid- dishkeit-laden home in the Bronx, N.Y., has a lengthy resume, which encompasses being a speechwriter for President Lyndon Baines Johnson; an adviser to for- mer Vice President Hubert Humphrey in his run for Sen- ate in 1970 and to Jackson in his 1972 and 1976 presi- dential bids; and a member of the board of directors of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. He has written many books--including "The Real Majority" (1970), "The Real America" (1974), "The Birth Dearth" (1987), "The First A senior fellow at the American Enterprise Insti- tute. he has put together PBS series and specials and hosts Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg. Although Fighting Words is a political screed for neo- conservatism, it is also, in part, a political memoir pep- pered with anecdotes, many with a Jewish slant. He first met President John- son, Wattenberg writes, when he went for a job interview as speechwriter and was ushered into LBJ's bedroom where the president was dressed in blue pajamas, getting ready for his midday nap. Johnson, he later notes, was under verbal assault on Vietnam from some Jewish liberals. But some of those same people also were lob- bying for more U.S. aid to Israel. The president called them "kosher hawks." When Wattenberg was on the board of Radios of Free Europe and Liberty, a Senate subcommittee under Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) had oversight duties. At a hear- ing, the senator wondered if the board was "too soft on anti-Semitism?" Wattenberg testified before the subcommittee that dur- ing the Kishniev pogroms in Russia in 1903, his maternal grandfather traveled from his home in Odessa to Kishniev to survey the damage. He returned home with a brick covered with the brain of a murdered Jew. That brick re- mained on his grandfather's clesk until his death, "a reminder of the intensity of European anti-Semitism." In 1969, Wattenberg made his first trip to Israel and had a private audience with Da- vid Ben-Gurion, the Jewish state's first prime minister who had retired. How could Israel's then 1.9 million Jews defend their country against millions of Arabs? he asked. No problem, Ben-Gurion answered, American Jews are going to come by the millions. Wattenberg tried to con- vince him that was not going to happen, but, in the end, the "father of the Jewish state" was wrong, not about the coming mass aliyah, but only its source the former Soviet Union, he writes. Of the politicians he has known during his 40 years in Washington, the author says in an interview, he most ad- mired Jackson. Wattenberg also greatly respected Hum- phrey ("a delightful human being, an anti-communist and agreat domestic liberal") and Johnson ("he knew what he was doing"). Of modern politicians he values, he mentions Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Republican nominee for president Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But he says that President- elect Barack Obama so far has done a good job. "I have high hopes for him," Wat- enberg says.