Curtis, born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, New York, was a rare mix of mantinee idol good looks and acting talent. His acting career began shortly after his service in the Navy during World War II. He enrolled in acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop in 1947 and soon found roles on the Broadway stage.
While in New York, he was discovered by agent Joyce Selznick, niece of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. Joyce arranged a meeting between her uncle and Curtis, leading to the start of his Hollywood career.
His first film was a bit part in 1949’s Criss Cross, which led to a bevy of small roles–usually as the heavy–in a number of films until his breakout roles in Sierra and Winchester ’73.
By the late 1950s-early 1960s, Curtis had become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, starring in such critical and commercial successes as Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), Some Like It Hot (1959), Operation Petticoat (1959), Spartacus (1960), and Sex and the Single Girl (1964), among others.
Curtis was also known for he controversial private life, including battles with depression and his marriage to Psycho actress Janet Leigh, a 12-year marriage which resulted in in two daughters, one of which is noted film actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
Curtis was nominated for only one Academy Award in his career, for Best Actor for his role in The Defiant Ones. He lost out to David Niven for his role in Separate Tables.