Tony Curtis became best known in his 30's for the role of Joe/"Josephine" in the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot.


It was directed by Billy Wilder born, like Curtis's parents, in the Habsburg Empire, in modern Poland just north of Slovakia's border.



I am grateful to Mariana Fedorová for help with family information and Alexander Balogh, Sme, for help with tracing.

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In an unorthodox spelling, Tony Curtis gave his mother's country of birth as Czechoslovakia and called himself a half Slovak in a note (above and left) to his fan Otto Krmíček.


Tony Curtis and his acting partner Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1958) were both nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the same Oscar-winning black-and-white film, but neither actor received it.


Tony Curtis

Q: Was Tony Curtis half Czechoslovakian?

Tony Curtis was born as Bernard Schwartz in The Bronx, NY, on 3 June 1925. He adopted the name Tony Curtis in 1948. He said, confusedly, in his 1993 autobiography that his mother was born "between Hungary and Czechoslovakia." In two TV interviews in connection with the publication of his 2008 autobiography, he said she was born "in Czechoslovakia," and that his ancestry was Czechoslovakian and Jewish. He identified as half Slovak in a signed photo sent to a fan of his. Tony Curtis died in Henderson (Las Vegas) on 30 September 2010.


Historical countries

Tony Curtis inherited his blue eyes from his mother, Helena née Klein, born to a Jewish family in Vaľkovo, central Slovakia, in 1902. The hamlet is now incorporated in the village of České Brezovo where her parents Izidor and Matilda née Grűnwald are buried. Slovakia and modern Hungary were both part of the historical Kingdom of Hungary, a province in the Habsburg Empire then. She immigrated with her older half-sister Oľga on 26 Sept. 1921 (a note in his 1993 autobiography gave a wrong year). By that time, her birth place had been part of the newly created Czecho-Slovakia for about 2 years. She returned once, in 1965, to visit her parents' grave. She died in Culver City (Los Angeles) on 19 March 1974.

Helena (Helen) Klein married Tony Curtis's future father Emo (Manuel) Schwartz in New York on 22 May 1924. He immigrated with his mother and siblings from Ópályi, now incorporated in the village of Mátészalka, eastern Hungary, about 6 months before his future wife, but he and Helena did not know each other in the former Kingdom. Tony Curtis said that his parents had always spoken Hungarian at home and that he felt close to Hungarian culture. He explained his stage name Curtis as modeled on the frequent Hungarian last name of a relative of his, János Kertész (meaning "gardener").