American Prince American Prince American Prince | Chapter 26 of 30 - Part: 1 of 3

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

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On the set of The Users, 1978, a TV movie starring Jaclyn Smith
and John Forsythe.

Soon after I came home from Israel, Penny brought up the subject of divorce, just as I had feared. For the third time I was in a marriage going down the drain. I was a mess, but I didn’t stop making movies. I felt like it was the only thing I really knew how to do.

In 1978 I acted in a film called Title Shot, about a mobster who tries to fix a fight. Les Rose directed it. It was a good payday, as was Little Miss Marker, one of two pictures I did shortly thereafter for Universal. Walter Matthau played a bookie, and I was cast as the heavy, Blackie. Julie Andrews played the girlfriend. I had fun doing it because Walter and I were together again. I loved that guy.

My next movie, The Mirror Crack’d, was based on an Agatha Chris tie novel about a group of actors who come to an English home to make a film. While they’re there, somebody gets murdered. The cast included Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, and Angela Lansbury, who played Miss Marple, the detective. I loved doing the movie with Elizabeth. She and I had a wonderful connection, which involved lots of good times but never crossed the line from friendship to romance. Kim Novak was sweet and very perceptive. She lived in northern California, outside San Francisco. Rumor had it that she was a lesbian, but we never talked about it, and I found her professional and easy to work with.

I hit another low point in my acting career in 1980, when Neil Simon and Herb Ross hired me to perform in a play called I Oughta Be in Pictures. I first met Ross at a restaurant. I was having dinner alone when he invited me over to his table and told me he was going to direct a play. Would I consider being in it? He was pleasant enough. I liked the title of the play, and when he told me what it was about—a down-on-his-luck guy who was a writer in the movies—I said I’d do it. I was already leaning in that direction because I had a good relationship with Neil Simon, who wrote the play.

I signed on for a good salary and a percentage, but when we started rehearsals, Ross turned out to be the most disagreeable man I had ever met. He was very dictatorial, with a mean streak that he loosed on everyone in the cast. I was a favorite lightning rod for Ross’s nastiness because he and I disagreed about how I should play my character. He’d tell me what he wanted, and I’d listen and nod, and then I’d turn around and play the part the way I thought it ought to be played. I knew what I was doing. I wanted the character to have the energy and drive that only comes from a New York background. I knew what this guy was like. He was like me: angry, aggressive, and fighting to get out of the mess he was in.

Meanwhile, Neil Simon was rewriting lines like crazy. If the problem with the play was the way I was portraying my character, then why was Neil spending so much time rewriting the script? The material obviously wasn’t working, and it wasn’t my fault. But try telling Ross that. He took being abusive to a new level. In rehearsal, he’d turn to me and say, “Don’t you know how to do this? After all those years in the movies, you’d think you’d know how to make an exit.”

At the end of rehearsal, I’d go out to the parking lot and get into my car, but I didn’t want to go home because things with Penny had hit rock bottom. I had no place else to go, so I drove to a downtown parking garage and slept in my Trans Am, which is no easy thing to do. Where were my friends? I didn’t know. At the time I was so depressed that it didn’t seem like I had any friends at all. I was living life in the lower depths. It was terrible. I told myself there was light at the end of the tunnel, but I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it.

We opened in Los Angeles, and despite constant rewrites that forced me to keep relearning my lines, I could tell from the audience’s reaction that I had done a terrific job. The next stop for the play after our run in LA was Broadway, and I was looking forward to that. Then one evening the propman, who was a friend, called me over. He said, “I overheard Herb Ross talking with Neil backstage, and Herb said, ‘We’ll get rid of him,’ and Neil said, ‘Who will we get?’ and Herb said, ‘Maybe Walter Matthau.’” Well, there was no one else in the play whom Walter could have replaced except me.

“You know this for a fact?” I said.

“That’s what I heard him say.”

At that very moment I was taking a break, halfway through the evening performance. I thought for a moment. I was being double-teamed. Neil wanted me out because I had negotiated a percentage, and Ross, the fucker, wanted me out because he had no control over me. I might have handled this news with more resilience if my marriage hadn’t been disintegrating and if I wasn’t sleeping fitfully in my car every night. But I just didn’t have much bounce at the time. Between the rewrites, the abuse, and the rejections, I had finally had had it.

When my cue came, I went out onto the stage and played a scene where my girlfriend and I are nasty to each other. My part ended with a tirade, which closed with the line “You’re a mean kid, and I don’t know why.” I ad-libbed an additional “Fuck you,” and then I walked off the stage before I was supposed to, and out of the play. I went up to my dressing room, picked up my little bag, and walked out to my car. I got in, fired it up, and drove off. Ding dong, the witch is dead.

Boy, did I feel good. Fuck ’em. There was no way I would work under those conditions, for them or anyone else. I was told later that my performance that night had been excellent. When the play opened on Broadway, Ron Leibman was playing my role, and Walter Matthau played it in the movie. I’m certainly biased, but I felt both variations lost something in translation.

One afternoon I checked my mail and found a letter to Penny from City National Bank. Curious, I opened the envelope. Inside was a check for one hundred thousand dollars, made out to her, taken out of my account. Our divorce negotiations were still under way at that point, but we certainly hadn’t agreed to anything like this. She was being under handed, pure and simple, and I had caught her. I called my lawyer and asked him to call the bank and stop the check. We stopped the divorce negotiations, and instead I simply dictated terms that Penny was obliged to accept. She wound up getting a lot less out of me than she otherwise might have. After the divorce was final, Penny moved to Cape Cod. The settlement gave her all the furniture in our home, so she opened an antique shop and put all our furniture in the shop as merchandise.

To get away from my mess with Penny, I spent three full months in 1980 with Hugh Hefner at his mansion. Hef was a steadying influence for me, the kind of guy I could tell anything to and he would understand. I was so vulnerable in those days that I fell for every girl I met at the mansion. There was hardly anyone around to take them out, and Hef didn’t want them floating around the city unescorted, so I always had a girl on my arm.

But there were boundaries, even at the Playboy Mansion. Romances were to be conducted on the grounds, not taken to a hotel room or to someone’s home. The idea was to have a place where you could have some wholesome fun, a place that wasn’t sleazy. Life at the mansion felt like being on a luxurious college campus. Guests enjoyed private talks in the garden or watched movies in Hef’s screening room. The girls were happy to spend time with me, and I behaved properly. I enjoyed their friendship, and where appropriate, I enjoyed romancing them. The pleasure of spending time with these beautiful girls and having them find me attractive calmed me and made me feel good. That was far more important to me than the sex.

During that time I got to know Dorothy Stratten, a really sweet, beautiful girl. I also met her husband, Paul Snider, whom I disliked immediately. There was something untrustworthy and disturbing about him. He was a tight-lipped man whose eyes darted around the room, but if someone came over to talk to him, he would instantly change into an affable, friendly fellow. Anytime Dorothy was talking to another man, though, he’d suddenly materialize, jealous as he could be. He never let her out of his sight.

Hef was ill at ease with Snider. Everyone could see that Dorothy was much too good for him. When the director Peter Bogdanovich met her, he was smitten, and they fell in love. But when Dorothy told Snider she wanted a divorce, he murdered her and killed himself. It was a terrible tragedy that no one could have predicted, although it was obvious to us all that Paul Snider was trouble waiting to happen.

When I wasn’t falling in love with one of the girls at the Playboy Mansion, I lived pretty much like a hermit. I spent most of my time in my room at the mansion, and occasionally I’d go down to a party or watch a movie. As the evening went on, if I didn’t feel like socializing anymore, I’d go back up to my room.

After Penny moved out and took our sons, Benjamin and Nicholas, with her, I left the mansion and went back to live alone in our condo. There I was, living in luxury, miserable, waiting for jobs that weren’t coming in. Many of my contemporaries had already prepared themselves for the day when they would no longer be called on to act. They had begun writing, directing, or producing.

Lew Wasserman had tried to encourage me along those lines, but I wasn’t interested. As far as I was concerned, directing a film didn’t have much appeal. For one thing, I didn’t think I was very good at it, and for another, it seemed a little like cheating or playing it safe. A director didn’t have to come up with the emotions that allowed an actor entry into a character’s inner workings. A director didn’t have to find a way to interact with another actor as if their characters were real people. To me, being in front of the camera was where the creativity in filmmaking lay, and that was all I was interested in. Unfortunately, at the moment that meant I wasn’t doing anything at all. When I first hit Hollywood, I had really made a splash. Now the phone was silent. It was as if I had died, only someone forgot to tell me about it.

It was during this time—the early 1980s—that I began dabbling with what had become a very fashionable drug in Hollywood and other major cities around the country: cocaine. When the cocaine craze hit, no one knew how addictive it could be. Everyone knew about the dangers of heroin, but people thought coke was something you could try when you felt like it and stop using whenever you wanted to. I’m sure that dealers encouraged that misconception.

I was introduced to cocaine during the making of Lepke. We were working long, grueling hours, and I was getting tired. Then one day a woman in wardrobe said to me, “Here, try some of this.” She took a small paper packet out of her pocket, opened it up, and shook some white powder out of it onto a mirror. She handed me a little straw and told me to sniff some powder up each nostril. Almost immediately, I felt comforted by a new sense of confidence, and I noticed that even though it was well past midnight, I was full of energy. I took another hit, kept the paper packet, and worked until four in the morning. The next day I paid the woman for more. It was the start of my descent into hell.

Before long, the cocaine epidemic wrecked Hollywood. Actors became so addicted that they demanded coke in their contracts. A friend of mine at Paramount told me a story about Dodi Al-Fayed, one of the producers of Chariots of Fire. Dodi’s father owned Harrods department store in London and was one of the richest and kindest men in the world. Dodi had told his father he wanted to be a Hollywood producer, and Dodi’s father had made it happen. Anyway, my friend recounted a conversation between Dodi and Bob Evans, the head of Paramount. Dodi told Bob, “I’m having trouble with one of the actors. He wants me to get him some cocaine, and I don’t know what to do about it.”


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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