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Sonny Tufts

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Cause of death  Pneumonia
Years active  1943–1968
Resting place  Munroe Cemetery
Name  Sonny Tufts

Alma mater  Yale University
Role  Film actor
Occupation  Actor, opera singer
Education  Yale University
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Full Name  Bowen Charlton Tufts III
Born  July 16, 1911 (1911-07-16) Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Relatives  Charles Tufts (great uncle)
Died  June 4, 1970, Santa Monica, California, United States
Spouse  Barbara Dare (m. 1938–1953)
Movies  The Seven Year Itch, Cat‑Women of the Moon, The Virginian, The Crooked Way, Here Come the Waves
Similar People  Robert Strauss, Evelyn Keyes, Barbara Britton, Mark Sandrich, Robert Florey

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Bowen Charlton "Sonny" Tufts III (July 16, 1911 – June 4, 1970) was an American stage, film and television actor and opera singer. He is best known for the films he made as a contract star at Paramount in the 1940s, including So Proudly We Hail. He also starred in the cult classic Cat Women on the Moon.


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Early life and family

Bowen Charlton Tufts III (some sources give "Charleston") (nicknamed "Sonny") was born in Boston, Massachusetts into a prominent banking family. The Tufts family patriarch, Peter Tufts, sailed to America from Wilby, Norfolk, England in 1638. His granduncle was businessman and philanthropist Charles Tufts, for whom Tufts University is named.

Sonny Tufts Sonny Tufts 1911 1970 Find A Grave Memorial

Tufts attended the Phillips Exeter Academy and later broke with the family banking tradition by not doing business at Harvard but by studying opera at Yale University, where he was an editor of campus humor magazine The Yale Record. He was a member of the Skull and Bones society and played for the Yale football team. Tufts also performed in a musical group, the Whiffenpoofs, and toured with the group in Europe.

While touring in Naples, Tufts decided to study opera. He studied opera in Paris for a year and in the United States for three.


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After graduating from Yale in 1935, Tufts auditioned with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City but eventually worked on the Broadway stage. He appeared in the stage show Who's Who and Sing for Your Supper (1939). Tufts then began singing in hotels and nightclubs.


A Yale classmate of Tufts' later convinced him to move to Hollywood to begin a career as an actor. Upon arriving in Hollywood, Tufts' friend, hotel manager Jack Donnelly, accompanied Tufts to Paramount Pictures and introduced him to a casting director Joe Egli. Egli shot a screen test with Tufts who was then signed to Paramount.

His first role was as Kansas, an affable Marine and love interest of Paulette Goddard in the 1943 World War II romantic drama So Proudly We Hail!. The film was a critical and box office hit, largely due to the three female leads: Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake. Tufts' performance was praised by critics and the role served as a launching pad for Tufts' career. After the release of the film, Tufts received 1700 fan letters a week and was named "The Find of 1943."

Due to an old college football injury, Tufts was one of the few male actors not serving overseas in the war. He was borrowed by RKO who were looking for a leading man to support Olivia de Havilland in the comedy Government Girl (1944); Paramount got Maureen O'Hara in exchane. (This meant he had to drop out of Standing Room Only; he was replaced by Fred MacMurray.) The film was a huge hit and Tuffs was voted the number one "Star of Tomorrow" by exhibitors for 1944.

Before filming of So Proudly We Hail! was complete, director Mark Sandrich commissioned So Proudly's screenwriter Allan Scott to write a vehicle for Tufts and his co-star Paulette Goddard. That film, entitled I Love a Soldier (1944) was a mild hit.

Sandrich directed Tuft's next film, Here Come the Waves (1944), which was a huge success, due in part to stars Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton. Sandrich died in 1945.

Tufts made another musical comedy Bring On the Girls (1945) with Eddie Bracken and Veronica Lake, replacing Dick Powell. Tufts sang several songs but the film was a box office disappointment. He made a cameo along with most Paramount stars in Duffy's Tavern (1945), singing ""Swinging on a Star".

He was reunited with Lake in Miss Susie Slagle's (1946) alongside Joan Caulfield.

Paramount tried him in a Western The Virginian (1946), though it was in a support role. He was reunited with De Havilland in The Well-Groomed Bride (1946), replacing Dennis O'Keefe but she wound up with Ray Milland at the end of the film.

However Paramount did give Tufts the star part in Swell Guy (1946) opposite Ann Blyth. He also got to co star opposite Betty Hutton in Cross My Heart (1946).

Tufts was the romantic male lead in Easy Come, Easy Go (1947) a Barry Fitzgerald vehicle. It was directed by John Farrow who also used Tufts in Blaze of Noon (1947) playing one of four brothers who fly. After a cameo in Variety Girl (1947) Tufts left Paramount.

Freelance Actor

He starred in a Western, The Untamed Breed (1948). He was in a thriller with John Payne, The Crooked Way (1949) where he played a villain. He was Victor Mature's friend in Easy Living (1949) at RKO. He was arrested for public drunken-ness in 1950 and 1951.

By the early 1950s, Tufts' popularity began to wane and his career began to decline. He separated from his wife in 1951 and she divorced him in 1952 saying his drinking had become "intolerable". He was unemployed for a year until he received an offer from Britain to make The Gift Horse (1952) with Richard Attenborough.

In 1953, Tufts was cast opposite Barbara Payton in the low budget comedy film Run for the Hills. Later that year, he was No Escape (1953) and starred in another low budget film, Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) which became a cult classic. He had the lead in the low budget Serpent Island (1954).


Tuft's career decline was compounded by his alcoholism and his off-screen antics.

In March 1954, a stripper named Barbara Gray Atkins sued Tufts for $25,000 in damages after she claimed he bit her left thigh while he and two friends were visiting her home. Atkins later dropped the lawsuit against Tufts.

In April 1954, a 19-year-old dancer named Margarie Von accused Tufts of biting her on the right thigh while she was relaxing aboard a yacht docked off the coast of Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach. Von sued Tufts for $26,000 claiming the bite left a three-inch scar. Von later settled for $600.

In August 1955 there was a third complaint against Tufts when Adrienne Fromann claimed the actor beat and bruised her at a restaurant. She demanded $20,000 in damages.

"He drinks too much and lives too lavishly," said his ex wife Barbara.

Tufts' career briefly rebounded when he was cast in a small role in the comedy The Seven Year Itch (1955), starring Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe. In 1956, Tufts had a supporting role in drama Come Next Spring for Republic Pictures. He was in "A Tale of Two Citizens" for Damon Runyon Theatre (1956)

After filming The Parson and the Outlaw in 1957, and being arrested for public drunken-ness again Tufts retreated to a ranch in Texas.

Later Career

In 1962 he returned to Hollywood to produce and star in a film All the Way about paratroopers. It was not made.

Tufts returned to acting in 1963 with a guest appearance on The Virginian playing the father of Trampas (Doug McClure) and in a Bob Hope TV special Have Girls Will Travel (1964).

He was in Town Tamer (1965) and "The Ordeal of Bud Windom" on The Loner (1965) with Lloyd and Jeff Bridges.

His final onscreen roles were Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers (1967) and the 1968 television movie Land's End. He appeared several times as himself in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in 1968.

Personal life

In 1938, Tufts married Spanish dancer Barbara Dare. They separated in 1949, and Dare filed for divorce in 1951, citing Tufts' excessive drinking as the reason for the breakup of their marriage. Dare was granted an interlocutory divorce on October 21, 1951 which was finalized the following year.


On June 4, 1970, Tufts died of pneumonia at age 58 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. Tufts' private funeral was held on June 7 in Beverly Hills after which he was buried in Munroe Cemetery in Lexington, Massachusetts.

In a non sequitur on the cartoon show Rocky and His Friends, in the Jet Fuel Formula story arc, Bullwinkle J. Moose becomes very upset when Boris Badenov steals his autographed picture of Sonny Tufts. Tufts is mentioned in the last sentence of the third sketch of the 48th show of the second season of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, first aired on May 13, 1961.

In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob sees a flying saucer that makes a noise "Uhny Uftz", which Rob mis-hears as "Sonny Tufts"

In an episode of My Mother the Car titled "And Leave the Drive-In to Us," Mother wants to go to a drive-in to see Sonny Tufts for her birthday; Tufts himself makes an appearance at the end of the episode.

In the November 26, 1966 episode of The Monkees, "I've Got a Little Song Here", Micky Dolenz, posing as a Hollywood studio head, says he's making a blockbuster movie, starring, "... Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, and Sonny Tufts." To which the other person exclaims incredulously, "Sonny T---?? What a production!".

Tufts is the subject of an urban legend, that he had been selected to host a well-known radio show as a last-minute replacement for a better known celebrity. The week before Tufts's episode was scheduled, the previous host introduced him with a combination of surprise and outrage, shocked that a relatively unknown actor would succeed him as host. There is no evidence, however, that such an incident occurred. Tufts himself parodied this legend in frequent appearances on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: seated in a director's chair with his name printed on it, he would turn around to face the camera and utter a word or phrase relevant to the previous bit, in mock contempt.

The lyrics of "Monk’s Aria from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice", by professor Peter Schickele's character P.D.Q. Bach, at one point reference "Mea culpa kyrie elei-Sonny Tufts et Allah in Pompeii".

Tufts soon became known as one of the semi-random people and places that TV host Johnny Carson used in his jokes on The Tonight Show.


Sonny Tufts Wikipedia