The great Tony Curtis died eight and a half years ago — on 9.29.10. A decade earlier I had a great little lunch-hour interview with the guy. It happened in a Starbucks at the Beverly Glen shopping plaza. Curtis wasn’t a dodger or side-stepper — all name-brand actors are bullshitters to some extent, but I didn’t sense much from him. Well, a little.

Halfway through our session I handed Curtis a list of the 120 films he’d starred or costarred in and asked him to check the ones he’s genuinely proud of. He checked 18 — a fairly standard batting average. Screen actors who’ve made it big or starred in zeitgeist button-pushers (like Sweet Smell of Success or Some Like It Hot) are always sent the best scripts. For a few years at least.

Curtis didn’t check The Vikings. He didn’t check The Outsider. He checked Houdini. Every film he made after Spartacus in 1960 up until 1968’s The Boston Strangler, he didn’t check. He checked his role as a pair of mafiosos — Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter in 1975’s Lepke and Sam Giancana in the 1986 TV movie Mafia Princess.

I wrote in a March 2000 piece that Curtis enjoyed his hot streak from the early ’50s to roughly ’68 — a 16-year run. The truth is that Curtis’s streak had that special incandescence (critical huzzahs + big paydays) for only four or five years.

Curtis wouldn’t have becomes “Tony Curtis” if he hadn’t starred or costarred in Sweet Smell of Success (’57), The Vikings (’58), The Defiant Ones (’58), Some Like It Hot (’59), Spartacus (’60) and The Outsider (’61) — six films in all plus The Boston Strangler (’68) for a total of seven. Plus that great little voice cameo as Donald Baumgarten in Rosemary’s Baby.

Which leads to a question: Which present-day heavyweight actors are in the same position that Curtis was in the late ’60s? Actors or actresses who’ve done a lot of great work over the years, but who no longer have the heat and are most likely never going to enjoy a reoccurence. That probably covers the vast majority of above-the-title actors, but nobody ever said this town was a bowl of cherries.