Tony Curtis died. He’s in the news. Who he was, I hadn’t a clue.
Elders stared at me in amazement, their voices high with shock and just a little outrage at my apparent ignorance of this star of fifties and sixties film, Tony Curtis. It wasn’t until my mother mentioned “Spartacus” that I began to have a clue, and to recognize the chiseled good looks of the well known actor.
No doubt this puts me in a class with the twenty-somethings and under. This group thinks of the eighties as “way back when,” making me stare at them, amazed at their ignorance. Now it seems I can join them in that ignorance, and perhaps learn from it.
As the world becomes smaller, it also seems to spin faster, making actors like Tony Curtis seem to spin out their lives and careers in splendor, only to fade into obscurity as the younger generations say, “Who’s Tony Curtis?” The indignity of it is amazing.
There is a cultural divide at work here. My husband’s mother will miss Tony Curtis, but her rural family also had Jim Nabors and Jim Reeves albums. I barely recognize the names. Perhaps it’s something to do with the lack of their voices in my household growing up. When I was coming up, the color line was still quite sharp, as was the divide between city and rural living. My city family listened to Motown. By the time I was wandering blithely through my first decade of life, it was Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and The Temptations.
Tony Curtis likely made an appearance on our black and white TV (my parents feared radiation from the “new” color TVs) but I can’t recall. His name was never mentioned. Sidney Poitier, on the other hand, made for dinner table conversation. Most of the actors of my father’s favorite westerns didn’t seem to have names, at least none that were of much interest in our household.
No doubt my parents know who Tony Curtis was, possibly even wife Janet Leigh, and what roles he played. It’s just that his significance was lost on me due to a lack of discussion in my sphere. I suspect that’s the same effect causing the younger generation to stare with blank faces at the mention of some of my favorite actors and singers. How can they know when we don’t tell?
It is interesting to note how that cultural divide closed in the bright glow of some personalities. Rural and city, black and white all know the names Sidney Poitier, Nat King Cole and John Wayne. Charlie Chaplin is an iconic figure who’s crossed cultural lines and isn’t likely to fade into obscurity.
As our world shrinks and the differences between rural and city cultures has less and less effect on stardom, it becomes less likely that stars like Tony Curtis will fade into obscurity. Talent and achievement shine through our “new” technology, allowing people in even obscure corners to discover their light, regardless of the remnants of the cultural divide that lead to my asking “Who’s Tony Curtis?”