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Hollywood Then and Now - Tony Curtis

A decade of decadence and debauchery were coming to a close. Dad wasn't doing well either in the late 1970s. He looked worn out, exhausted and I was worried about him. Little did I know that Dad would be gone in a year's time.

It was 1980 and we were filming a three-part TV drama based on the 1979 Garson Kanin novel, Moviola. Set in 1930's Hollywood, it was the story an immigrant who arrives in southern California at the start of Hollywood's Golden Era. Immigrant Farber narrates the story of his life, interwoven with the legendary events and people that made Hollywood the Movie Capital of the World. Farber's story involved interaction with Greta Garbo, studio heads, David and Myron Selznick and their search for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara, and experiences relating to the discovery of Marilyn Monroe, among other people and events. The three stories were The Silent Lovers, This Year's Blonde and The Scarlett O'Hara Wars.

They starred Tony Curtis, Bill Macy, Sharon Gless, Lloyd Bridges, Norman Fell and lesser known actors. Most of the miniseries was shot at Burbank Studios on Stages 12 and 19. The days were long. Our exteriors were filmed in large part on the backlot.

I remember one particularly long night. We were shooting the burning of Atlanta in the Scarlett O'Hara Wars. It took forever. We started shooting at 2pm and by the time we got the shot it was nearly 4am. Everyone was exhausted. As with everything in Hollywood, every little thing had to be right and look realistic. We didn't have the digital technology of today to manipulate a scene. It had to be as close to perfect as possible because there was only so much a film editor could do in the cutting room.

I was a stand-in and also had a small part as David Selznick's (Tony Curtis) secretary.

Tony was a kick--always the jokester and a genuinely nice guy. We would laugh and chat in-between scenes.

But all was not as it looked on the surface. He was going through a big struggle with his addiction to cocaine and alcohol. It was taking its toll on him. He would show up late to the set, and sometimes disappear altogether. His acting was spot on...but he wasn't.

Many involved in Hollywood had their bouts with drugs and alcohol back then. Some came out of it OK. Others are not here to tell the story. Because of this, Tony's career suffered for close to a decade. Fortunately, in the mid 1980s he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic. It saved him. He remained clean and sober for the rest of his life. Tony continued to work in Hollywood periodically. But his biggest passion was painting. He was an excellent surrealist artist with several of his works hanging in NYC and California galleries.

Tony's life ended in 2010 when he succumbed to COPD. I have fond memories of my short time with him.

Tony Curtis, born Bernard Schwartz of NYC, left his mark on Hollywood. His career spanned six decades achieving the height of his popularity in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. He acted in more than 100 films in roles covering a wide range of genres, from light comedy to serious drama. His films included Some Like it Hot, Spartacus, The Great Race, Sex and the Single Girl and many more.

Today, more than forty years later, some things remain the same. But much has changed. When an actor is hired, they sign a contract. The production company agrees to pay them X amount for their work. In the Golden Era of Hollywood, actors "belonged" to a studio, they were considered a "contract player" to MGM or Warner Brothers for example. Drugs were not as big of a problem then, although alcohol was. If an actor was late to the set or showed up intoxicated, they would be put on probation and/or replaced with another contract player. Not so much today. There is more leniency. However, to my knowledge the amount of drugs and alcohol consumed during filming has ebbed considerably. There is way too much money and reputation at stake. Not to say that finances and reputations were not important back then. Indeed they were. Life was just different. Movie-making was different. Films today can be made in a matter of weeks whereas it took months and months to shoot a two-hour movie back in the Golden Era.

Still, just as it was years ago, actors who are easy to work with and do what they're supposed to do, will likely find more work than those who don't. Those who fail to show up on time or pose some other problem may get blacklisted and find themselves out of work. After all, movie making continues to be an expensive enterprise and the last thing production companies want is to have a problem actor whose failure to produce ends up costing the companies gobs of money because of their dereliction.

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