When Tony Curtis’s name was mentioned to me by Lew Grade as being one of the three possible co-stars for the 1971 series The Persuaders! (the other two being Glenn Ford and Rock Hudson), I was immediately grabbed by the idea. I thought Tony was a brilliant actor in films like Sweet Smell of Success, Trapeze, The Boston Strangler and, of course, he showed his comedic skills in Some Like It Hot, in which he based his English accent on Cary Grant. Incidentally, when director Billy Wilder later told Cary, he said, “But I don’t talk like that!” in exactly the same way in which Tony had taken him off.
Tony had worked with an impressive roster of directors, and while he rarely spoke ill of anyone, he did tell me he had a tough time on Spartacus with director Stanley Kubrick. The whole cast had endured an agonisingly long shoot, and one day Tony turned to co-star Jean Simmons and asked, “Who do you have to f*** to get off this picture?”
As part of the package of luring Tony to make a TV series, Lew Grade bought him a house in Chester Square in London’s fashionable Belgravia for an astonishing £49,000 – and it was Tony’s to keep. A few years later he sold it for £250,000 and thought he’d made a pretty good deal, but a couple of years after that, when he returned to England and looked at buying a similar property,he discovered the asking price was nearer £2 million.
One day on set Tony said, “Dear sweet Roger, Burt Lancaster once told me that if you’re ever in your dressing room at the studio with a young lady and your wife should walk in, continue with what you’re doing and when you get home deny it, and say, ‘But they have people who look like me.’”
I was never tempted into such a situation, though a year or two later I found myself filming in South Africa, and my character was to bed a rather attractive young lady in her apartment, demonstrating his Bond-like masculinity no doubt, and in a thick Afrikaans accent the young actress said to me, “I really wish there weren’t all these people around,” referring, of course, to the crew. “Oh, why?” I asked innocently. “Because I could show you a really good time!” I thought about Tony’s words for a split second, but that thought soon turned to my then wife [Luisa Mattioli], who was sitting downstairs and knew my stunt double was off that day!
Cubby Broccoli was a regular in the dining room at Pinewood [where The Persuaders! was the same one that had been reserved for Emeric Pressburger all those years earlier – a magical environment in which to impress visitors and inveigle finance.
Stars such as Bette Davis, James Caan, Peter Ustinov, Katharine Hepburn, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Stewart Granger, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor could all be spotted at the tables. Liz would be showing off her latest jewel, and they’d talk about what offers they’d refused, or gossip about who was sleeping with whom, all often punctuated by the unmistakeable laugh of Sid James and the Carry On gang on neighbouring tables.
“How many set-ups did you get this morning?” Sid would shout across, inducing a sort of friendly rivalry to anyone in earshot (he’d no doubt taken side bets on it). Tony Curtis was once prompted to boast that we’d managed “five”. “Oh, we slipped in eight,” Barbara Windsor chuckled back, much to Tony’s chagrin.