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Working and rubbing shoulders with Academy Award winners and nominees - Part 1

I've been lucky to have acted opposite a number of Academy Award Winners and nominees, and since the Oscars are just around the corner I thought I'd share the names of some of the wonderful talent I acted or had contact with over the years.

Tony Curtis was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role for playing John 'Joker' Jackson in The Defiant Ones (1958). He could easily have been nominated for Sweet Smell of Success (1957) as Sidney Falco, Some Like It Hot (1059) as Joe, The Outsider (1961) as Ira Hamilton Hayes or The Boston Strangler (1968) as Albert DeSalvo.
The Vikings (1958) as Eric is one of my  guilty pleasure and also watching Houdini (1958) but after all both Harry Houdini and Tony Curtis were Hungarian. Also watching him fly high in Trapeze (1956) as Tino Orsini opposite that wonderful old circus acrobat turned actor Burt Lancaster and the beautiful Italian Gina Lollobrigida also known as "The Mona Lisa of the Twentieth Century". A circus tale with a beautiful bunch of actors in tights and skimpy outfits, as well as Burt actually doing the trapeze stunts himself. What more could one ask for?

My experience with Tony Curtis... While living back in my hometown of Santa Monica, California I had been working on a script idea which I wanted to shoot in Budapest, Hungary.
A coming of age Dramedy. I very much wanted Tony Curtis to play an old Hungarian gangster and I sent him an e-mail explaining the film and his part. I didn't expect Mr. Curtis to even respond since we weren't friends at the time, but about a month after I wrote to him the phone rang and when I answered a voice came back at me "Is this Richard Rifkin?" I said "Yes, who is this please?" and the voice said "This is Tony Curtis and I'm very interested in your project."  We both wanted to do this film and about a year later I was living back in Budapest and Mr. Curtis was coming for a visit to do some promotional work for Hungary. We managed to hook up and I introduced him to some prominent Hungarian film people. We wanted to move forward with the film. I had planned on using some well know Hungarian actors as well and it all seemed very possible. Unfortunately Mr. Curtis' health was beginning to fail him and we would have to get going post haste to get this done. The money for the film couldn't be raised quick enough and the project had to be put on hold. Then the worse thing happened, Mr. Curtis died. I would love to see this film made still and dedicate it to the wonderful and very talented America/Hungarian Tony Curtis.

Rod Steiger won an Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role for playing Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

My experience with Rod Steiger...
I was shooting a film back in 1992 called Living on Borrowed Time and though I didn't have any scenes with Steiger (My scenes were with John Hurt. More about this later) I wanted to see the great Oscar winning actor work. I mean no one can ever forget his scene with Marlon Brando "I coulda been somebody..." in the car in On the Waterfront and for me he was always one of the greatest American actors. Anyway I arrived on the set and the director introduced me to Mr. Steiger who seemed polite and I was totally surprised when he put his arm around me and said "Ya see that blonde woman over there? That's my wife. You go over there and introduce yourself and then you watch what I do and let me know if I'm doing something wrong OK?" I was astonished that such a talented man would care to even ask for my opinion, but he figured I was watching as would the audience when the film was released and he didn't allow his ego to get in the way. He was very particular about everything around him and was not shy in telling everyone how his performance would go, what he would do and why, but I never felt even once that his decisions were wrong or he was just wielding his star power. I saw him prepare for the scene he was about to shoot. He went into the other room and when he entered he was another man, totally in character. It was easy that day to see that this was a genius at work and I was so very fortunate to see him at work acting.

Goldie Hawn won an Oscar as  Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Toni Simmons in Cactus Flower (1969)

My experience with Goldie Hawn... Goes back many years when she was really just starting out on American TV in the very popular show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. It was 1968 and I was a young man working for a costume house call Cotroneo Costume in Hollywood. They were fantastic tailors and made original clothes for Movies and TV. I helped with fittings and also made all the deliveries to the studios and homes of the stars. We were making all the Laugh-In clothes and I delivered the costumes to Goldie in her dressing room a number of times. She was 23 at the time and so damn cute, funny and personable. Are paths crossed a number of times. A number of years later she gave a character actor friend of mine Ron Damler one of the kittens her cat had. And about 12 years ago I was in a popular Santa Monica Thai restaraunt when I noticed a friend at another table and I leaned back so I could talk easier and kept bumping into someones chair behind me. I didn't mean to be rude, but my friend that was having dinner with me said "Why are you bumping into her?' I said I didn't mean to and then he said "But do you know who you're bumping?" I said no and he leaned over the table and said "You're bumping Goldie Hawn." I turned around and sure enough it was her. I apologized and mentioned the old Laugh-In days and we had a quick laugh of our own. I think she still has that wonderful young 60s attitude, and certainly she has proved her talent was a lasting thing.

End of Part 1

Peace & Love to all,

Richard Rifkin