Tony’s most amazing stunt, however, was getting busted for pot in 1970 at London’s Heathrow Airport. The American Cancer Society-which had hired Tony as national chairman for its I QUIT program — was not amused. Still, the Bronx-born Bernie Schwartz kept enough of his sense of humor to waste David Susskind. After being repeatedly belittled by Mr. Middlebrow, Curtis blurted, “Better men than Susskind have called me lousy.”
Kid Jamie was of no age to understand. “My father was sort of a stranger, then a real stranger, then an enemy,” she remembers. “Now he’s a friend. My stepfather, who raised me since I was a little girl, is Daddy, the one I go to with dad problems. He has always been around and supportive — a complete papa.” Jamie was also kept relatively sane by levelheaded Janet Leigh. “My mom,” Jamie remembers, “was very good about reminding me that if I was to be successful, it would be because I was true to myself. It was very helpful for her to say, ‘You are okay. Show them Jamie. Don’t show them who they want to see.'”
Still, life ain’t easy when you’re twelve years old and The New York Times is running three-column pictures of your family skiing at Bear Valley. And misspelling your name. “It was just never forgotten who my parents were,” says Jamie. “Whenever I met anyone new, I was introduced as Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh’s daughter.” Despite her mother’s continuing pep talks, life for Jamie became a downbound train. “It screwed with my head,” she remembers. “You’re a child trying to develop an identity and a sense of self-worth, and all this Hollywood stuff plagues you and makes you kind of wonder who you are. Then you’re twelve through eighteen, and you’re developing sexually and emotionally. And it’s hard. My time in high school was just a fucking killer.”
Jamie did time in two L.A. high schools, including privileged Beverly Hills High, which she now writes off as a “designer school” chock-full of chowderheads. Then, in 1975, her mother took off for Broadway, and Jamie enrolled as a senior at Choate, the preppie Connecticut boarding school, where teenagers speak fondly of William Buckley and fly down to Venezuela on spring break to buy and smuggle kilos of coke.
As Jamie quickly discovered, an L.A. beach girl with a father named Bernie Schwartz is not exactly Choate material. Innocent as a Valley girl, she showed up for her first day of boarding school wearing frosted hair and bell-bottoms. Jamie took one peek around campus, then booked to Brooks Brothers for a complete line of chinos, Topsiders and crew-neck sweaters bearing JLC monograms. The point? “I didn’t want to be an individual; I just wanted to fit in and be normal,” says Jamie. “So if another girl was wearing her hair up in a ponytail, the next day I’d do that. I said I liked whatever kind of music they liked. It was a nightmare. I’ve never been so depressed.”
Jamie wanted to try acting, but she discovered that the inbred Choate theater scene was tighter than a Ma Maison pinkie ring. Jamie did get cast in one lineless role: the Oklahoma! lass who periodically scoots across stage, stops, then lifts up her dress for all to see. Near graduation, it came time for Jamie to choose yearbook inscriptions. While her peers were lifting favorites from Thoreau and Milton Friedman, she composed her own. Jamie Lee Curtis’ goodbye to prep school, as printed in the 1976 Choate yearbook, beats all: “Weirdness is a virtue that only some can project successfully. My bosoms aren’t big, but they’re mine.”
“I look back on that,” chortles movie star Jamie, “and go, ‘Whooo, you were fucking crazy.’ People were writing clever things, and I write something about tits and weirdness!”
Having burned her boarding-school bridges, Jamie headed back to California. Having no idea what she wanted to do, she briefly enrolled at the University of the Pacific, where she took a few drama courses. A few months later, a tennis-bum acquaintance decided he wanted out of the pro shop and into the exciting world of big-time Hollywood talent managing. Working the phones, he got Jamie an audition for the lead of the neonatal Nancy Drew TV series. Universal didn’t want Jamie for Nancy, but they remembered her face. She was soon signed to a seven-year, $235-a-week contract that the studio had the option to cancel every six months. So, while her Choate mates were taking freshman econ at Princeton, Jamie was playing junkies, sluts and blind girls on shows like Quincy, Marcus Welby, M.D. and Operation Petticoat. Though she had virtually no acting experience, she knew how to act. Explains Jamie: “It’s just never been hard for me to be someone else. I think the fact that I had very low self-confidence growing up and in high school made me a good actress. It was easy for me to be a preppie with preppie kids and a hippie with hippie kids. I learned early to be a chameleon, to turn whatever color was needed.”