Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz, in the Bronx, New York, in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrant parents (from Mátészalka, Szatmár, Hungary) Emanuel and Helen Schwartz. His father was a tailor who had left his home country to find a new life in the United States. In the early days the family lived in the back of his father's shop, parents in one corner and Curtis and his brothers Julius and Robert in another.
Curtis's screen debut came uncredited in the Criss Cross playing a rumba dancer. Later, he cemented his reputation with breakout performances such as in the role of the scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster (who also starred in Criss Cross) and an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted escaped convict chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
He was so popular during the 1950s as a screen hunk that Elvis Presley copied his on-screen ducktail hairstyle.