No, he really wasn’t a handsome man. But he still managed, mainly because of his hair, to win the hearts of the young girls. Indeed, so overwhelmingly that the film studio, in which he briefly danced as an extra with Yvonne de Carlo, who is best known to the European public as the mother in the TV series „The Munsters“, received several thousand fan letters „to the handsome boy, who danced with Yvonne de Carlo“.
But back to the man, who not only became famous as a painter, but also as an author and most importantly as a film and TV actor.
He was Jewish and his real name was Bernhard Schwartz. Let’s just call him Bernie – the name he chose for himself in his first years in film. It sounds German, but was Hungarian. His parents, Emanuel Schwartz and Helen Klein came from a small Hungarian town called Mateszalka.
His father was a tailor there and in the twenties of the last century he emigrated to the USA, where he first had a tailor’s shop in Manhattan, then in the Bronx. Bernhard grew up there with his two brothers, with the family sometimes living in the working area in the tailor’s shop. He only spoke Yiddish and Hungarian until his sixth year of life. He wasn’t a diligent pupil, being more interested in cinema and Broadway, to the extent that he was almost expelled from school due to his constant truancy.
Following his school time and military service with the marines he returned disabled from the second world and received a disability pension. He simultaneously began to take acting and elocution lessons.
Ultimately he got the aforementioned extra role, which was to completely shape his future life, because shortly afterwards he was signed up by Universal Studios in Hollywood. From this moment on his acting career took off.
He was also famous for his coiffure, a sleek quiff treated with a large portion of pomade, which was to set the style for a whole generation. It was also to be copied by a ten year younger man from the town of Tupelo in the state of Mississippi, who went on to become one of the most famous rock singers in the country.
As his acting contracts were drafted in such a way that he received a proportional share of the box office sales and his films were extremely successful, he quickly became a rich man.
In 1959 he made the film, which would become his most well-known, with a young, blond, world famous actress, perhaps better known at that time as one of the greatest sex symbols in the country, and which is still regarded today as one of the best comedies in film history. The director of this film was an Austrian Jew, who had fled from the Nazis and, not only because of the numerous Oscars he received, is considered to be the most prominent Austrian
Hollywood director, maybe even one of the most famous in general.
Despite his success our actor was never to receive an Oscar. He was nominated once but went home empty handed.
However he does rank as one of the bridge builders between cinematic film and television, because in 1970 – when
his days in the sun as a film actor had begun to set – he accepted a role in a TV series, in which he, as a rich American playboy, solved criminal cases together with an extravagant English Lord. His partner in the series became mainly famous in other films in the role of a British secret agent, who repeatedly saves the world from super villains.
Our actor, Bernie, was known for all sorts of escapades – alcohol, drugs, divorce problems, custody battles, even a dubious child abduction – nothing could tarnish his reputation, on the contrary, it made him even more popular. For example, when Marihuana as well as other substances were found in his luggage on his arrival at Heathrow airport in London his media popularity increased immensely. His fine didn’t seem to affect him much: he was summonsed to pay 50 pounds sterling.
His popularity meant that he was financially secure for life, could afford to play in third-class productions and even in advertising films. He promoted tourism in his parents country of origin, Hungary, but also donated generously to the maintenance and rebuilding of Jewish graveyards and synagogues, to Holocaust memorials, as well as to orphanages or animal sanctuaries for abandoned or mistreated horses or mules.
When he was older he focused completely on painting and was successful again: his pictures, featured at numerous exhibitions, are traded today at prices of up to 100,000 dollars.
He was married several times and had four daughters and two sons.
Bernie died in 2010. He is buried at the Palm Memorial Park graveyard in Las Vegas.
After his death his name made the headlines again in the tabloids, as he had named his last wife as the sole heiress of his gigantic fortune estimated at 60 million dollars, a decision which his children (his first son, Nicolas, had died at the age of war 22 from drug abuse) fought vehemently but without success.
1. Under which stage name is our painter and actor known?
2. What is title of his presumably most famous film?
3. And who is the blond actress?
4. Who was the Austrian–American director?
5. Who was his series partner in 1970?
6. To which master spy are we referring?
7. And who was the rock singer, who copied his hairstyle?
ANSWERS : 1. Tony Curtis, 2. Some like it hot, 3. Marylin Monroe, 4. Billy Wilder, 5. Roger Moore, 6. James Bond, 7. Elvis Presley