Tommy Curtis, whose aplomb as a promoter of The Yacht Club of Bethesda turned nightly capacity crowds of over-35 singles packed in a dreary Holiday Inn into what he dubbed “The Love Boat,” has died. He was 75.
Tommy Curtis’ brother producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, told WTOP from Hollywood, that Tommy Curtis died May 5, at home in Bethesda. He had a history of heart-related problems.
“He was quite a character,” Bruce Cohn Curtis said.
From 1989 to 2006, Tommy Curtis relished, nurtured and flogged his role as “Tommy The Matchmaker” — the good-natured co-owner and master of ceremonies at the Yacht Club, a suburban alternative for middle-aged single, divorced and widowed people who had aged out of the downtown D.C. club scene.
Perpetually holding court, introducing shy customers, boasting and advocating for the club’s female clientele — “Washington’s best and brightest” — Tommy Curtis claimed to have been responsible for hundreds of marriages and engagements.
In the 1990s, the Yacht Club’s success revolved around him.
“Tommy Curtis was a consummate pro and the ultimate host,” recalled Morris Jones, a well-known television anchor in D.C., during the The Yacht Club of Bethesda’s heyday.
“He made everyone feel special at his club,” Jones marveled. “You might as well have been a guest at a private dinner party — that’s how Tommy treated everyone who walked in the front door.”
Yale-educated, Tommy Curtis’ career included stints as a Hollywood producer, radio personality in D.C. and owner of one of the first singles bars in the nation’s capital.
“He was always ‘on’ — like Toots Shor, or Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns at 21 (Club) — he was a raconteur. That was his life. He was ahead of his time,” Bruce Cohn Curtis said.
Elfin, single, after a year at law school, in 1967 Curtis opened his first club, “Wayne’s Luv,” at 21st and K Sts. NW, catering to single men and women.
Tommy Curtis parlayed his knowledge and connection to the singles market into a radio host slot in 1972 at album-rock WMAL-FM, where his show blended rock ‘n’ roll with dating tips.
By the late 1970s, Tommy Curtis moved to Hollywood, where his brother Bruce was following in the family business — their grandfather and great uncle, Jack and Harry Cohn, founded Columbia Pictures.
“He was always out there hustling, he handled the business side,” Bruce Cohn Curtis said. Together they produced films including “Dreamscape,” starring Dennis Quaid, “Hell NIght,” starring Linda Blair, and “The Seduction,” with Morgan Fairchild.
“What a diverse career,” Bruce Cohn Curtis said.
In 2010, D.C. area filmmaker Dave Nuttycombe produced a short documentary on Tommy Curtis called “Match Me If You Can.”
“Tommy was an old-fashioned schmoozer and promoter,” Nuttycombe said. “He had an angle, and he was gonna stick with it, reality notwithstanding.”
“He could be very charming and fun to be around,” Nuttycombe said. “He’d told his story in his way for so long that I’m not sure he knew where the facts were anymore.”
“His heart was in the right place,” said Nuttycombe. “He did like playing the matchmaker, and making a buck out of it, as well.”