Tony Curtis died a few days ago at the age of 85. I loved his films, especially The Vikings, Some Like It Hot and Operation Petticoat. He was so good-looking in the movie [playing opposite Cary Grant], that the two best looking men in the industry completely outshone the beautiful women like Joan O’Brien and Dina Merrill they played opposite.
Unlike Grant who as he grew older refused to have plastic surgery [apart from the removal of a mole on his left cheek], refused to dye his hair or wear contact lenses; Curtis felt the need for operations to keep him looking like Tony Curtis the matinée idol. Then again, it was Grace Kelly who famously said of him that “everyone grows old, except for Cary Grant”.
It was unkindly said of him in his latter years that his hair would always arrive five minutes before he did… So what. If you are in the public eye, there is a constant pressure on you to be presented in your best light. The pressure is so strong, that the use of surgery to retain you looks has become the norm even for beautiful people. The American television journalist and anchor woman Katie Couric for one, has had surgery to keep her looking at least twenty years younger than her actual age.
Some actors have had surgery for understandable reasons like Micky Rourke who was beaten up so badly in the boxing ring that he needed several operations to give him the strong face he has today. He looks nothing like his younger self, but it is a distinct improvement to the pre-surgery version.
Some stars like poor Michael Jackson took the process too far. But then again, he wasn’t so much trying to remain youthful as to become a different person all together.
So, where does this pressure come from? Us, of course. We, the movie going, media consuming public. I must admit to feeling betrayed when Sean Connery finally started acting without a hairpiece and desperately kept my fingers crossed that in the last Indiana Jones movie, Harrison Ford would still look good. He did, thank goodness…
The reason for this I think, is that the celebrities we become attached to have a meaning for us that goes beyond their role in the media or on the big screen. I remember wanting Alastair Cooke to keep broadcasting his Letter from America for ever, I wanted Cary Grant to be play James Bond although he would have been 64 at the beginning of the franchise. I wanted Sigourney Weaver to be as sexy in Avatar as she was in Alien. In other words, I want my celebrities to defy time.
Why would I want to do that? Perhaps because if they could do it, then it might just be possible for me to emulate them. I too would have a chance to remain forever young. It’s not something I consciously yearn for and if you were to ask me straight out what I think of plastic surgery, I would say things like ‘be happy with what you have” and “let nature take its course”. That want comes from somewhere else. Perhaps it has something to do with the secular days we live in and a need to create incorruptible heroes…