Modern Matinees

Tony Curtis

Sep 29–Nov 26, 2021


Tony Curtis, 1953. Courtesy Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

Proof of vaccination is required for on-site film screenings. Learn more about visiting us safely.

Born to Hungarian Jewish immigrants, Tony Curtis grew up with two brothers in the back of his father’s tailor shop in the Bronx, in a family beset by poverty and mental illness. Learning early on that his good looks could be his ticket out, he participated in high school plays and, after returning from a tour of duty in the Pacific submarine force during World War II, studied at the New School under the avant-garde theater director Erwin Piscator. In Hollywood from 1948, Curtis worked his way up in bit parts until landing the lead in the 1951 Arabian Nights adventure The Prince Who Was a Thief.

Boyish and soft-spoken, Curtis was also able to convey an inner wariness and aggression that served him well playing the series of outsiders, hustlers, and con men he came to specialize in as his career blossomed in films like Sweet Smell of Success and Some Like It Hot. He earned an Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones, but by the early 1960s had drifted into a series of undemanding comedies. After a final attempt to resurrect himself as a dramatic performer, in the title role of The Boston Stranger, failed to convince audiences, Curtis retreated into television and self-parodic appearances in low-budget movies, unable to channel his star charisma into meaningful character roles. Among the last notable creations of the classic Hollywood star system, he was one of the first casualties of the New Hollywood’s shift to naturalism.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film.

  • This film series is part of Modern Matinees.

    Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

    Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.


    If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

    MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

    If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


    This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].