It’s very sad to hear of the death of Tony Curtis. Unlike many stars of his era, he remained something of a fixture on the Hollywood scene right up to his later years.
Not that many of the younger aspirant kids who crowd into LA every year would’ve known who he was. It’s both a strength and weakness of Hollywood that its knowledge of its own past is remarkably thin; while working there I used to be regularly amazed at the igorance of young would-be actors and directors when it came to names and movies I thought were universally known in popular culture. I recall having to explain what a great and important movie An American in Paris was to three twenty-somethings involved in a project I was working on. But then, to justify this I thought, at least the industry and the town are not simply museums, not simply living off past glory, and that that was a good thing.
Nevertheless, a growing lack of knowledge throughout the media means that context is lost. I noticed this yesterday in the reporting of Curtis’s death. Some of the BBC reports referred to him as the biggest male star of the 1950s, a legend etc. He was undoubtedly huge for a period, but could never seriously be put in the same category as, say, a Brando, a Gene Kelly, or even a Cary Grant (the star he so cleverly imitated in Some Like it Hot). He was a gifted comic actor, a hugely likeable screen presence. But he never really shook off a slight B-List quality.
Doubtless the coverage yesterday was infected with the curse of hyperbole which now accompanies the reporting of any celebrity passing. No longer knowing the ‘back story’, youngish producers and reporters fall back on superlatives, the biggest this, the best that. It’s almost as though they feel they have to justify reporting it. It’s exhausting, and lessens the effect. God knows what they’ll reach for when, at some hopefully distant date, Elizabeth Taylor passes away.
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