January 10, 1994 12:00 PM

by Tony Curtis and Barry Paris

Tony Curlis’s career, as related in this scattershot memoir, is the very model of the Hollywood rags-to-riches-to-rags survival story. In 1949, the impossibly handsome Bernie Schwartz hit the big time as a studio-created sex symbol, and along the way he learned a thing or two about acting. That led to performances in several pictures and great wealth, followed by a drug habit, three busted marriages and a stay at the Betty Ford Center, where the actor blamed many of his problems on a controlling, long-dead mother.

Curtis reels off inside tales of Hollywood in the ’50s, and doesn’t hold back such peppery opinions as what it was like to make movie love to Marilyn Monroe in the comedy Some Like It Hot—an experience that Curtis has long told envious colleagues was as enjoyable as “kissing Hitler.” He still hasn’t forgiven his “unmanageable, unpleasant, and dirty” costar, who required dozens of takes. The actor is kinder to his first wife, Janet Leigh, who put up with his womanizing during their 10-year marriage, and he is genuinely moving when recalling other young performers who did not have the same combination of luck and talent as Curtis himself.

A voracious cocaine addiction sent the actor into a career tailspin that included appearances in the 1978 Mae West megaflop Sextette and cheapo epics like Lobster Man from Mars (1989). Although Curtis gets carried away recounting past slights, he is also sincerely thankful to the friends who persuaded him to clean up. Reading his story is like encountering the actor holding forth at a party—often funny and reflective, but never in danger of being too profound. (Morrow, $23)

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