In what has to be a first for the normally sedate and reverential audiences at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, members of Monday night’s packed house for the 70MM presentation of 1960’s classic epic Spartacus stood and repeatedly chanted “I Am Spartacus” shortly after its 95-year-old star Kirk Douglas was introduced to a rousing standing ovation during the pre-screening Q&A (which I moderated). Cued by Academy President Hawk Koch after his opening remarks, Douglas was clearly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption and said he’d never seen that kind of response before. Koch’s predecessor Tom Sherak remarked to me later, “Did you see Douglas’ face when we did that? Priceless.” Sherak, an unabashed Spartacus fan (the original poster hung in his Academy office during his presidency and this was a special night for him) orchestrated it all telling me he came up with the idea during a morning yoga session, planned it with Koch and then prepped the audience before Douglas entered from backstage. It was quite a moment, almost surreal. It was also ironic since Douglas remembers that for some strange reason director Stanley Kubrick actually wanted to cut the now-iconic scene where Spartacus’ fellow slaves all uttered the famous phrase. It’s not the only time they butted heads. Kubrick also wanted to cut Douglas’ crucifixion closeup after the actor spent a full day on the cross. Suffice to say that idea didn’t play well with the producer/star and it remains in the film.
Talk about a fast turnaround. Turner Classic Movies will run a 24-hour marathon of 12 Tony Curtis movies on Sunday, October 10th. (In fact, Tony once joked that TCM stands for Tony Curtis Movies.) The movies to be shown are Beachhead (1954), Kings Go Forth (1958), The Vikings (1958), Operation Petticoat (1959), Who Was That Lady? (1960), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), You Can’t Win ‘Em All (1970), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), Trapeze (1956), The Great Race (1965), Don’t Make Waves (1967).
UPDATE: The actor who grew up poor in the Bronx, arrived in Hollywood in 1948 as unknown Bernie Schwartz, and became a legendary film and television star, passed away from cardiac arrest Wednesday evening in his Las Vegas area home, according to the coronor’s statement. He was 85. Many will forever remember Tony Curtis for his comedic work in 1959′s Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, or his dramatic work in 1958′s The Defiant Ones, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination opposite Sidney Poitier. But I will always admire his nuanced performance as press agent Sidney Falco in 1957′s Sweet Smell Of Success opposite Burt Lancaster. And his very moving portrayal of Iwo Jima’s Ira Hayes in 1961′s The Outsider. But he also shocked with his memorably menacing performance in the title role of 1968′s The Boston Strangler.
Curtis was that rare actor who could play with or against type, who could swing from light comedy to serious drama, and yet who remained a greatly undervalued thesp for most of his long career. Maybe if he hadn’t been so good-looking and become a teen idol in Hollywood’s Dream Factory days, he would have been taken more seriously as an actor sooner. (Who can ever forget Curtis hilariously playing a slave in 1960′s Spartacus with his heavy Bronx accent? When it was restored in the 1990s and audio had been lost, he redubbed the lines…) But Curtis also loved his stardom: he was married …