It was a night of high emotion and almost constant tears as crowd-pleasing favourites like Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan took home three of the four acting awards. The final one went to 64-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis, who referenced her Hollywood icon parents: “My mother and my father were both nominated for Oscars in different categories. I just won an Oscar.” Janet Leigh was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Psycho in 1960 and Tony Curtis in 1958 for Best Leading Actor in The Defiant Ones.” They were the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of their day – a glittering couple whose fame and glamour hid a turbulent and destructive home life. Jamie Lee has been happily married to Christopher Guest since 1984 with two children, but even admitted she was a “failed attempt” to save her parents’ toxic marriage.
Jamie has had to deal with accusations her whole life that she owes much of her career to her famous name, previously saying: “There’s not a day in my professional life that goes by without my being reminded that I am the daughter of movie stars. The current conversation about nepo (nepotism) babies is just designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”
She may have had a privileged childhood and certain fast-track access into Hollywood circles, but the actress has also spoken vividly about how hard and damaging life was for her and her older sister Kathy growing up caught in the brutal and constant crossfire at home.
And when Tony Curtis died in 2010 he declared in his will: “I acknowledge the existence of my children… and have intentionally and with full knowledge chosen not to provide for them in this last will and testament.”
Curtis said of the marriage: “No other husband-and-wife team came close to us until Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but that was 10 years later. They did it through scandal. We did it through the movies and people’s affection.”
The couple starred together in Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), The Vikings (1958), The Perfect Furlough (1958) and Who Was That Lady? (1960). Both enjoyed hugely successful solo careers, with Leigh’s greatest, most enduring success in 1960’s Psycho.
But behind the scenes, Jamie Lee recalled very little happiness: “‘There are only a couple reminders to me that I was born from love and not resentment, competition, jealousy and rancour which are the cornerstones of any unpleasant divorce.”
Curtis said he felt inferior to his wife in the beginning: “She, like most people I met in Hollywood, had more self-confidence than I did… I badly wanted her to admire me back. She was better educated than I was, and I was honoured that she wanted to spend time with me.”
Numerous anecdotes describe Leigh’s public impatience with her husband’s lack of polish, whether failing to light a lady’s cigarette or smashing a glass in front of Ethel Merman.
Their marriage was in trouble by the birth of their first daughter Kelly in 1956, with Curtis admitting: “I tried harder to behave in a way that didn’t anger her, and she made the same effort for me. We settled into a functional but unromantic marriage, the kind of life that was less unusual in Hollywood than you might think.”
Curtis was also unhappy his wife’s career was highly regarded while he kept being offered “silly romances.”
Despite being an admitted womaniser himself (including an affair during this marriage with Marilyn Monroe on Some Like It Hot) he was frequently jealous of any men around his wife, especially co-stars. He accused her of an affair with Frank Sinatra and revealed he wanted a divorce while she was filming The Manchurian Candidate with Old Blue Eyes in 1960.
Jamie Lee Curtis revealed that she had always felt she had been conceived in 1958 as a desperate bid to save the relationship: “Like any other save-the-marriage baby, I failed.”
The couple divorced acrimoniously in 1962, with Tony quickly marrying an 18-year-old co-star Christine Kaufmann. Leigh felt humiliated.
Jamie Lee added: “My parents hated each other my whole life. I was raised in a house of hatred…
“My mother persevered through it all and survived. I’m not sure my sister and I did. There was no Demi [Moore] and Bruce [Willis] amicable divorce or joint family vacations for us. No love was left between them.”
Curtis would have little involvement with his daughters for most of their lives and then spoke out in frustration about it towards the end of his life: “There was a long time after that when I didn’t get along with my daughters, because I didn’t see them. Not that Janet was stopping me. I was suffering a lot. I couldn’t be bothered with anybody.”
Jamie Lee refused to have anything to do with her father until her twenties but eventually built a cordial but distant relationship. In his final years, Curtis wanted to reconcile with his two eldest daughters.
In 2008, two years before his death, he said: “We’re getting to the point where they realize I’m 83, so let’s be friends, but they’ve got to stay out of my life if they come in bent and angry because I left their mother I don’t know how long ago. Don’t I get a chance to be forgiven?”